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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?

Chapter Text

Tim rises to awareness slowly, grimacing internally as he recognizes the significance of the telltale fogginess and aching head. He’s been drugged. Worse, he can’t remember anything after heading out on patrol last night.

Wait... Something about Red Hood and the Tricorner Yards? There was a general call for backup on the comm from Oracle, and no one else was available. And then what?

Oh, yeah. Red Robin made it to the warehouse just in time to fend off some attackers before watching in horror as Hood crumpled slowly to the floor. He’d tried to get to him, but he doesn’t remember making it. After that, his memory is just blank.

Damn, I can’t even remember being hit. Considering the strength of my headache right now, I’m guessing someone managed to get the drop on me. My injuries are actually fairly minimal, so physical state isn’t a current priority. I’m bound, which means getting free is my first objective.

He takes a moment to take stock of himself and internally winces at what he finds.

It doesn’t feel like I’m wearing a mask right now, which puts damage control at the top of the list of things to deal with once I get loose. Somehow, I have to protect everyone’s secret identities. If someone knows one, they can figure out the rest from there. Need to think of a way out of this…

Eyes closed and continuing to breathe evenly, Tim checks his bonds and listens. Soft respiration indicates he isn’t alone. By the sound and location of the breathing, there are two other people—no, three—in the room with him, all either actually unconscious or feigning it well. One of the bodies to his left releases a soft snore, and Tim barely refrains from giving himself away.

That sound was completely unmistakable. He’s heard it often enough over the years to be sure.

Dick’s here! Concern flares in his mind, quickly overwhelming the tiny part of him that feels guilty relief at having an ally at his side. It would be better if I were the only one in danger. But since I’m obviously not, I’ll just have to think of a way out of this situation for all of us.

Because if Jason was also captured, as seems all too probable given what he remembers, it’s an easy guess who the fourth person in the room is likely to be. That’s concerning in and of itself, considering they were at different locations. Maybe Nightwing and Robin responded to the call after Red Robin went down, and were then captured in turn? There’s not enough information to be certain of the sequence of events, but he does know anyone who can manage to bring down all four of them is a real threat.

Damn, who the hell successfully got the drop on us? And what about Steph? Not that I want her to be trapped here with the rest of us, but if someone’s collecting former Robins she might be targeted. Oh, right. She’s out of town so it could have been too much of an undertaking to capture her as well. Plus, she’s with Cass and no one wants to risk tangling with her. Yeah, that’s probably it.

Plans and contingencies begin to take shape in his mind, hindered by his lack of knowledge about the physical condition of his companions as well as the identity and ultimate goals of their captors.

Please don’t be Ra’s… The others don’t need to know how creeptastic that guy is. Seriously, if they see how that asshole flirts with me, Dick’ll go completely overprotective alpha, Jason will be his usual mocking bastard self, and Damian might actually die of secondhand embarrassment. He’s at an awkward age and he definitely wouldn’t react well to finding out his crazy grandpa has a weird crush on me.

Actually, Tim kind of wants to see that. Not that he wants the brat hurt or truly upset—it’s just really refreshing when he acts like a normal child for a change. Although considering the fact that their current situation is diagnostic of their daily lives, maybe it isn’t that surprising he doesn’t usually act like a kid. When has he ever had a real chance to be one?

A chilling laugh echoes tinnily through a speaker.

Oh fuck, Tim thinks. Goddamn it, I’d take Ra’s and his slimy innuendos and wandering hands like, a thousand times over this. Fuck.

There’s a muffled gasp from the person immediately to his left, and then their breathing begins to speed up, going ragged.

Oh, shit. Jason!

Tim opens his eyes.

Dick is already awake and testing his own bonds where he lies on Jason’s far side, as is Damian to Tim’s right. Because of course the Joker laid them out in order. His heart begins to pound as he shoves down thoughts of what, exactly, the mad clown may have in mind for them in favor of examining his bonds.

They’re unfortunately high quality and well designed, not the kind of thing any of them can slip quickly. Even Dick with his impressive flexibility will be hard-pressed to escape, particularly if the Joker is actually monitoring them visually through cameras as seems likely. Considering the villain’s past exploits, the large, windowless white room is almost certainly rigged with gas and other traps he can trigger from afar as an incentive for them not to break free.

Best hold still for now and wait for an opportunity. He’ll tell us his plan before long, and then we can formulate our own in response. Meanwhile, take in as much data about the situation as possible and start working out contingencies just in case they may come in handy.

Tim’s breath catches at the realization that all of them are completely naked. Our masks... Well, I already knew our identities were going to be a top priority here. There are plenty of ways to help someone forget, after all. We have compounds in the Cave that can take a few hours or days of memory, depending on how much is applied, and if worse comes to worst there’s always Martian Manhunter.

Whatever, one thing at a time. Make a plan, escape before that psychotic clown manages to clip another Robin’s wings. Keep Jason from falling back down the rabbit hole into the Pit madness which still dogs him on a good day, let alone when he’s captive and being forced to listen to his murderer’s manic laughter.

Protective fury rises within him at that thought. He momentarily loses himself to the dual desires to utterly annihilate the monster who’s taken so much from them all, and simultaneously hide Jason away somewhere safe and protect him forever.

Tim forces himself to focus. Jason is breathing more steadily now, having pulled himself together. Well, his eyes look a little greener than usual and a slight twitch in his jaw gives away his internal struggle, but that’s probably about as good as can be expected under the circumstances.

“Oooh, you’re all awake! I thought I was going to have to give you a wake-up alarm. Now, what would four little birdies far from the nest find most alarming? Whaddaya think, a little gunfire? That’ll getcha chirping. Oh, or a real fire! Of course, that’s a sealed room you’re in, something something lack of oxygen blah blah boring, eventually the fire would put itself out which is a burning shame. Oh, but that wouldn’t matter to you, because you’d be dead by then! Roasted robins! That’ll cook your goose! Ha ha HA!”

A pause, and then Tim hears the ominous scrape of metal dragging on concrete. Beside him, Jason’s entire body stiffens, and he goes cold inside at the harsh, rasping gasp of the other man’s breathing.

Oh no…

“Or maybe we should stick to the classics! How’s about the good ol’ crowbar, for old time’s sake! Did we ever decide which one was better, Number Two? Forehand, backhand… I know I could never decide! They were both so. Much. FUN!” The Joker’s maniacal laughter fills the cell again as the sound of the crowbar hitting something hard rings out, making Jason flinch.

Tim’s teeth involuntarily clench with how much he wants to hurt the clown right now, do anything just to get him to shut up.

“What do you want?” Dick’s strong voice calls out, cutting through the mocking echoes. “You’re always all about the show. So, what are we starring in tonight?”

Joker chuckles without amusement. “Straight to the point, so boring! You sound like Robin number three, all dull and logical. That’s the one I should’ve killed. Oh well, no time like the present for fixing past mistakes! Anyway, this is my show, you little birdies are just the disappearing act. But where’s the banter, the puns? C’mon, show me why you were always my favorite.”

Of course, Dick immediately demonstrates his lamentable inability to refrain from making ridiculous jokes even in the direst of situations. “I’ll pun-ish you later! Right now, I just want to know what you’re planning. By the way, I hope it doesn’t involve leaving us in here for long, because I’m claustrophobic. I do my best thinking outside the box, so how about you let us out of here?”

Oh my god, that was so dumb. If he had a functioning sense of shame, he would be embarrassed right now. Heck, I’m embarrassed for him. Although it’s obvious he’s just trying to draw the Joker out to give the others time to find us, this is still downright painful.

He doesn’t want to think about the fact that Batman and Oracle are the only other heroes in the city right now. This couldn’t have been timed worse. Of course, that’s probably according to plan for the villain who has them in his grasp. Damn it!

The Joker crows with delight. “You see? That’s why you’re my favorite. Granted, the alternatives aren’t much competition—Zomboy, the boy scout, and, well, the less said about that little one the better. I never much cared for assassins—they’re all such backstabbers! Ha ha HA!”

Damian stirs. “Why, you insufferable—”

Dick shakes his head, throwing his youngest brother a quelling glance. “Robin, don’t let him bait you.”

“How dare he—”

Joker ruthlessly cuts off their exchange. “And as much as I’d love to listen to you all cheeping so delightfully at each other, I’m on a schedule. Or rather, you are. The main effects of the drugs I injected into every last one of you should be kicking in any minute. And then, you’ll be putting on the show of a lifetime. Your lifetime! Because afterward, most of you will be dead, get it? Get it?!

“You motherfucking piece of shit, I’ll fucking rip your goddamn head off!” Jason snarls.

“Crude. It’s such a shame you couldn’t manage to stay dead. Oh well! Adds to the drama.”

Jason growls, yanking at his bindings viciously. “Shut your fucking face, jackass! When I get outta this I’m gonna tear off your balls and feed ‘em to you. Be the first time anyone had their mouth on you in a long-ass while, right?” He gives a sharp-edged, malicious grin.

Gross. Don’t talk about Joker’s balls, no one wants to think about that, Jason! Ugh, now you’ve made me picture them. All white and pasty with green hairs—oh my god, why am I thinking about this? You suck.

Unaware of his inner monologue, the man to his left inhales in preparation to continue speaking. His teal gaze sharpens into that intent look that always comes just before he uses his words like weapons to deliver blunt-force trauma right to wherever his opponent is most vulnerable.

Tim would know, even if it’s been almost a year since the last time that caustic, emotionally crippling stream of invective was directed his way. It’s really satisfying to see it aimed at someone who deserves it.

Jason’s eyes narrow. “Heard your girl left you for Ivy. Good for her, poor thing probably puked every time she had to touch you. Not like anyone would ever choose to be with you of their own free will, I mean, look at this.” Jason rattles his cuffs. “This is how you hafta treat your guests cause every sane person avoids you like the fucking piece of shit you are.”

He snorts derisively. “You think you can get away with this? You really believe you can take out all four of us? That I won’t end you just for trying?” He raises a brow and gives a slow, dismissive shake of his head. “Fuck, I always knew you were insane and an asshole, I guess I never realized you’re also a fuckin’ moron.”

The rest of them lie still, waiting for the Joker’s reaction. He’s unpredictable enough it may be laughter… or possibly flooding the room and then releasing sharks to eat them alive. You can never tell which way the madman’s going to go until he’s already there, laughing at you.

“You’re very loquacious still. I admit I expected more grunting and posturing at this point from the alphas, and possibly a slightly less boring demeanor from the beta. Oh, who’m I kidding! Robin number three is a little robot. He’s incapable of being anything but boring, even under threat of imminent death by two alphas in rut.” The Joker cackles insanely as everyone in the room freezes at the implications of his words.

Tim pales. His entire body tenses as the meaning behind the madman’s taunt becomes instantly clear.

Well, I guess he finally decided to share his big plan. Too bad it isn’t one for which I have a contingency ready to go like I do for ransom, blackmail, or interrogation. Forced rut… His mind flies, following and discarding possible plans even as the others react to the Joker’s horrible threat.

Dick chokes a denial, Jason growls viciously, and Damian lets out a shocked little noise that sounds almost hurt.

Oh shit, Tim thinks, risking a quick glance to see the pup who is now eying both Dick and Jason with open suspicion and mistrust. This situation has the potential to go very poorly, very quickly.

Joker’s glee is audible. “You’re right, Hood, my little Harlot left me for another woman. I went after her, like a gentleman, and the little bitch and her new squeeze attacked me. Not all was lost, though, because I walked away with this fascinating new pollen Ivy was working on. Amazing how cooperative she was once I took back my omega! I didn’t even need to use weed killer, Ivy just gave me what I asked for in exchange for not hurting my precious Harlequin any more. HA! Can’t wait till she wakes up so I can go for a ride on my Harley to celebrate! Ha ha HA!”

Dick and Jason both growl loudly at the implications and Tim feels physically ill at the thought of what might happen if they don’t manage to get out of here fast and stop the Joker before he does the unthinkable.

Okay, add rescuing Harley to the list. Top priority, right after keeping Dick and Jason from tearing each other apart or killing me, and then getting all of us out of here… He swallows, knowing that the list is getting too long. Harley doesn’t have the luxury of time right now. Maybe Batman will find her. He’s got to be tracking us down and unraveling the Joker’s clues even now.

The Joker’s voice rises again, gloating over his plan. “Apparently this stuff acts very fast, causing hormone surges yadda yadda, induces unnaturally intense unusually violent rut in alphas, desperately brutal heat in omegas, and as for betas…” He snorts contemptuously. “Well, betas are just boring, okay?”

Dick’s voice is hoarse with suppressed fury. “So, you’re just exposing us to this, this outrageous substance, and torturing us by leaving us here, bound and drugged?”

He has to know that’s not all. But he’s asking anyway, to get as much information as possible out of the villain before they’re left to their own devices. It’s what they’ve all been trained to do.

Tim squeezes his eyes shut, knowing what Joker is going to say. Knowing exactly what the evil madman is planning to do.

Damn it. Damn it all to hell, not like this. Not here, not now.

The sound of locks clicking free fills the room as all of their bonds simultaneously release. They sit up, shaking away loose bindings and beginning to rise to their feet as the Joker answers. “Of course not! You and The Evil Dead get to fight, probably to the death, and whichever one wins this little impromptu alpha challenge gets mating rights to the beta.”

Jason and Dick both whip their heads around to stare first at each other, then at Tim, in growing horror. By spontaneous unspoken agreement, the two alphas then stumble back away from each other toward opposite sides of the room, ending up as far as possible both from one another and from Tim.

Joker continues, sounding mockingly regretful. “The beta might last a few rounds, but betas aren’t built to take knots. This particular beta is kinda scrawny and delicate to start with, and alphas in normal rut aren’t known for being particularly gentle.” He laughs cruelly. “You’re going to tear him apart. Ooh, and when he’s dead, you’ll probably jump the baby alpha next. He’s too young to go into rut himself, so he won’t stand a chance against your enhanced strength and instinctive desire to take. He’ll only be good for one knot at best. Kids’ bodies can’t—”

Damian and Tim crouch side by side in the center of the room, frozen in horror at the unspeakable atrocities being described by the malevolent voice. Dick’s shaking his head slowly back and forth, the scent of his protective fury and underlying fear for their safety rising as his scent blockers hit their limit under the pressure of the situation.

“Shut up shut up SHUT UP!” Jason roars, lunging at the camera and speaker hidden in the ceiling. He manages to rip down the camera, but the speaker is flush-mounted and he can’t get a grip on it. “Fuck you very much, just because we’re alphas doesn’t make us goddamn animals!”

“Well, now that you’ve taken away my camera you little shit, I guess the winner will just be a surprise when we open that door. I’ll be back to check on you in the morning, and we’ll see who’s right, and who’s dead.” The Joker’s voice is horribly cheerful. “And when I hand the survivor over to Daddy Bats, I’ll make sure to tell him exactly what you did to his other little birds. Doesn’t that sound like fun?"

“Eat shit and die, you motherfucking psychopath,” Jason snarls.

“Seriously, Robin One, I’m rooting for you. Don’t let Zomboy win! Bye, beta and brat! See you never! Have fun, kiddies! Ha ha HA!”

The speaker cuts out, and an ominous silence falls. Jason takes the opportunity to grab the fallen camera and smash it repeatedly against the speaker and audio pickup assembly until sparks fly. Well, at least the Joker no longer has the ability to eavesdrop on them.

The scent of enraged alpha rises steadily, Jason’s blockers apparently having given up the ghost a few moments after Dick’s failed.

Tim starts moving into a more defensible position, automatically cataloguing their surroundings now that he can see everything. The four of them had been chained to the ground in a row near the center of a rectangular, dimly lit room with plain white walls and an exposed concrete floor. A bare mattress rests at the other end of the room like a glaring reminder of what the Joker expects to happen here. Gross.

Welp, I’ll definitely be staying the hell away from that.

He begins edging slowly back toward the far wall, hoping to increase the distance between himself and the alphas in their corners. If he can just get the wall at his back, at least no one will be able to grab him from behind.

Jason snorts, body tense as he watches. “Are you already trying to run, Replacement? Goddamn it, I’m not a fucking rapist,” the alpha hisses angrily, glaring and looming aggressively in his corner by the mattress, huge shoulders hunched and hands tightening into fists.

Tim reluctantly stops moving and tries not to look at the frankly impressive evidence of Jason’s rut, focusing instead on his snapping teal eyes. He looks… wounded by the lack of trust.

Busted, Tim thinks, continuing to inch away from the alphas who, great, are now both staring at him. And aroused. His eyes flick down against his will and he blushes, looking away firmly. Very aroused.

Oh god.

“Holy shit, this is so fucked up,” he blurts out. This is not something he expected to ever have to deal with as a group. Sex pollen is one thing, but they usually have antidotes readily available. Actually having to go through with anything… He shivers.

“Tt. Although this display of rank cowardice is nothing less than I have come to expect from Drake, perhaps in this single case he may have a point. You and Grayson are, according to our enemy, dangerously compromised. As by far the weakest, Drake no doubt intends to avoid the initial battle in order to extend his life for a few paltry moments.”

Tim bares his teeth in a silent snarl at the annoying thirteen year-old.

Weakest? Really? How about all those times I handed you your ass, huh? Remember that? You lost the moment I started trying.

“What, Bat Brat, are we just saying to hell with the code names now?” Jason pauses. “It feels weird when I’m the one enforcing the rules.” He frowns. “Wrong, somehow.”

“It’s not your fault, Jay. We’re drugged,” Dick consoles him from his own corner at the other end of the room. “And our identities are already compromised, so we can call each other whatever we want right now.”

“Dick.” Jason grins meanly, taking way too much enjoyment in using the older man’s name as an insult.

Dick rolls his eyes. “You’re hilarious. Tim, Dami, spotted any way out yet?”

Reluctantly, Tim shakes his head. “The walls and ceiling are painted reinforced steel, no windows. Ventilation grate too small for any of us to fit through. The camera’s toast and what’s left of the electronic components for the speaker are inaccessible. And... You and Jay aren’t looking too great, Dick.” Tim sways as he speaks, gasping as a wave of painheatcramp rolls through his core. “Oh, shit.”

He pants, clutching his lower belly and trying to remember how to breathe through the agonizing waves of pain. He hears someone move and instinctively leaps backward, landing with his back to the wall and assuming a defensive stance, teeth bared as he glares viciously at the wide-eyed alphas.

Chapter Text

Ivy awakens sooner than Batman anticipated, her unique biology burning through even his strongest sedative in less than a minute. When those vivid green eyes snap open and meet his, he sees a lucid expression of wrenching pain, worlds apart from the overpowering rage that showed there before.

At least he managed that much. Her grief-inspired rampage is at an end now, and maybe she’ll finally be able to provide some of the answers he so urgently needs in order to track down the Joker and rescue his children.

Not that I don’t empathize with her reactions, but the best chance of saving those we care about is going about this intelligently, not snapping and snarling at one another like mindless beasts.

“Ivy,” he begins, desperate to find his children but with the sinking suspicion that he’ll receive no help from the woman in his arms.

“I can’t,” she hisses, gaze darting around as though searching for unseen watchers. “He has her! That bastard has Harley!” Her jaw clenches as she bites back her emotions, maintaining her control with difficulty.

Damn. It is as I suspected, then. The Joker somehow captured Harley first, and is using her as collateral to induce Ivy to do his bidding. No wonder she fell into line to abet him in his plan. If there’s anyone in the world for whom she’d give everything, do anything, it’s her lover.

“I need to know where they all are before I can save them,” he growls. “If you know, Ivy—for their sake, tell me everything!” He stares into her eyes, willing her to believe him. “I swear, I will make every effort to rescue Harley as well. You have to trust me.”

She regards him for a long moment, a faint flicker of hope in her eyes before anger and sorrow overwhelm it. “I don’t know where she is, and that’s all that matters to me. Just follow the clues,” she spits as she jerks away from him and rises to her feet. “He left them for you. That damn clown did all of this for you.” Her faces twists. “He always does.”

So it is Joker. I had been nearly positive, but this confirms it. She mentioned clues, which means he’s trying to lead me to something, show me what he wants me to see. I have to find them before his grand finale, whatever that may be. I have a terrible feeling if I fail… There might not be anyone left to save.

Ivy backs away from him to the shelter of her surviving plants, absently stroking one as it wraps a tendril around her shoulders. “Go,” she whispers hoarsely, eyes filling with angry tears at having revealed her pain and loss before him. “There’s nothing for you here. Just go!”

Batman retreats quickly from the battle zone of Robinson Park, the sound of Ivy murmuring brokenly to her plants falling away behind him.

Ivy knows more than she was willing to reveal about the circumstances under which his children were taken, he’s certain of it. She must have witnessed Joker taking Nightwing and Robin, likely has at least some idea of the madman’s plans. Her words implied she is ignorant of Harley’s location specifically, which may indicate she does know where his boys are. It’s tenuous, but the possibility is there.

The fact that Harley is missing as well renders Ivy currently useless to him as a source of information. He may just have to follow the Joker’s clues and play into his hand, if that’s the only way he can be sure of tracking down his missing children. He narrows his eyes, everything in him protesting against the idea of going along with whatever that madman has in store for them.

Unless… If he’s able to track down the missing woman, Ivy is likely to tell him everything she knows out of spite if nothing else. He may be able to circumvent whatever grandiose plans the Joker has if he uses that information as a shortcut to the boys’ location and makes it there earlier than the villain has accounted for in his nefarious plans.

That’s the way to go. But I can’t neglect the Joker’s clues, either. The best way to go about this is to solve it using both potential routes to the answer simultaneously to maximize the probability of achieving a desirable result.

“Oracle,” he growls. “Any idea what clues the Joker may have left behind?”

Her answer is immediate, leading him to suspect she has already started working on the problem. “Well, we’ve got a series of creepy clown-themed children’s toys visible on various cameras around the city. Knowing Joker, those things are rigged with Joker gas to go off if handled incorrectly. The idea is obviously to send you singlehandedly careening around the city, keeping you busy disarming them one by one as they appear.”

This is where our work sharing information and training with GCPD pays off. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have trusted even the police to safely deal with a Jokerized device. Now, though, there’s an entire team ready to contain the situation and defuse the potential disaster. Gordon’s work to clean up the department has really paid off and it shows in how well they are able to handle incidents like this.

“The GCPD specialized division?” He’s already moving as he speaks, heading back to the Batmobile. Once inside, he begins driving fast toward the one place he most strongly suspects Joker would have taken Harley.

“Yes. They’re already mobilizing to contain the toys. Field crews have cordoned off each one I’ve identified, and the bomb squad is heading out to disarm them in order. I’ll analyze the footage and get back to you with the messages or clues if there are any, but I think it’ll be a while. The Jokerized toys have been showing up at a rate of one every few minutes. I’ll keep you updated as I learn more.”

Through the windshield, he spots the distant silhouettes of defunct rollercoasters rising against the brooding, cloudy night sky. He’s there.

Amusement Mile. Joker’s home turf. I doubt this is where he’s holding the boys because it’s both far too obvious and he knows it’s the first place I’d think to look. I suspect he’s holding them somewhere completely outside his normal stomping grounds to make it more difficult for me to track them down without following his clues.

He parks a block away and then makes his way silently through the shadows toward the derelict amusement park.

This is his territory, the closest thing to a home he has besides Arkham, so I suspect it’s where he would have taken Harley. He knows Ivy doesn’t dare come after him while Harley is in his power and he thinks I’m too focused on the boys to waste any time on her.

Well, he’s wrong about that.

Batman enters the eerily silent amusement park, carefully observing the motionless attractions while remaining on the lookout for traps or clues. The rollercoaster looms overhead, creaking softly in the light, chill breeze.

There are no signs of recent activity, but it’s all too likely the Joker has been focusing the majority of his attention elsewhere. Wherever he’s holding the boys.

Even if I am wrong and Harley isn’t here, I should still be able to find some clue as to his current plan. Chances are he came here first when he escaped Arkham, so there should be some signs of his activities since then.

He moves resolutely forward, taking a direct route to the Joker’s Funhouse. The garishly painted clown at the entrance seems to laugh mockingly at him as he slips inside. Bypassing the maze of deceptively designed rooms intended to fool the eye, he makes his way straight to the backstage areas meant for employees.

It was here that he’d found evidence of the Joker’s day-to-day living arrangements after the last time the madman was incarcerated. The rooms are much as he remembers; a simple employee kitchen, breakroom, and restroom all repainted and decorated in Joker’s colors. The dressing room, which was made up as a lavish bed chamber last time he set foot here, is locked.

I was right, he thinks triumphantly, and then hesitates with his hand on the door. If Joker already… claimed Harley against her will, she will require immediate medical attention. The last thing she needs is a strange alpha barging in on her. He grimaces. It’s times like these he truly regrets his own secondary gender, which is never conducive to comforting victims.

Well, there isn’t enough time to bring anyone else out here, even if he could justify doing so on what still amounts to a hunch. He picks the lock and then pushes the door open, stepping to one side just in case.

That proves to be a good idea when a nightstand goes flying past his head and crashes into the opposite wall a moment later. The unusual projectile is followed in the next instant by Harley Quinn in a revealing negligee, yodeling a war cry as she charges out of the room wielding what looks like a bed post over her head in an alarmingly threatening manner.

Batman considers the fact that she was obviously preparing to defend herself from physical assault by the Joker, and mentally congratulates her for her efforts. He catches the post in his gauntlet to slow the petite omega’s pell-mell rush, careful to avoid the numerous rusty nails he spots protruding from the wood.

Sharp, he notes approvingly. I strongly suspect she would have done some real damage with this.

The blonde gasps in shock and dismay as he catches her weapon, her rage quickly turning to fear, and then does a double take when she sees his face.

Relief flows through her expression and she sags, wobbling in place now that the adrenaline of preparing to fight is leaving her. “Bats! I sure wasn't expecting to see you here! Didja already catch Mistah J, then?”

He carefully releases the bed post and she obligingly lowers it but doesn’t let go. Smart woman.

“Not yet. I need Ivy’s cooperation for that.” He eyes her carefully, noting minor bruising and a lump on her head. Her scent is frightened but beginning to settle, and there is no indication of… other injuries, which is a tremendous relief. The Joker must have been too interested in accomplishing his plan to spend any time abusing this particular captive. Still… “Do you require immediate medical attention?”

She snorts. “Oh, Batty, I’ve had way worse than this before. Just take me back to Pammy and I’ll be fine.” She gives him a tired smile that’s a mere shadow of her normal bright expression, then rolls her eyes. “Oh, don’t look at me like that!”

He frowns, unaware of having given her any particular look.

Harley lifts a brow. “Like that! You always look like you’re constipated, and it ain’t a good look on you. What’s got your panties in a twist, anyway?”

Batman resists the urge to sigh. This is what it’s always like with her and he should be used to it by now. “Joker took my boys.” He begins moving down the hallway, retracing his steps.

Her big blue eyes widen and she gasps. “Oh, not the cute little birdies! He hates those guys!” She frowns. “You think my Pammy knows anything about that?”

He nods, whipping out an arm to stop her from stepping on one of the trick tiles hidden in the floor of this hallway. “I believe he forced her to assist in his plans by using your capture to ensure her support.”

Her gaze darkens and she presses her lips together firmly. “Well, we’ll just see about that, now won’t we? My girl don’t like to be kept on a leash. I think maybe this time Mistah J finally went too far.”

They exit the Funhouse and make their way across the amusement park unmolested. Joker must have all his forces concentrated at wherever he’s keeping the boys in preparation for the planned confrontation. That reminds me…

He activates his comm. “Oracle, report.”

She answers instantly. “The ground crews have intercepted and successfully defused twelve Joker gas bombs disguised as children’s toys and are moving in on the next. There’s a single encrypted fragment of an audio message embedded in each one. I’ve decrypted what we have so far, but the message isn’t complete yet.” She sounds distracted and he hears typing in the background.

If the angle I’m working now doesn’t pay off because Ivy refuses to help or simply doesn’t know enough about Joker’s plans to make it worthwhile, I will need to fall back on these clues.

“Play what you have so far.” He braces himself for the Joker's voice, and it’s still something of a shock to his system to hear that madman speaking over his comms.

“Heya Bats! You still think you’re so much better than me, don’t you? You and all your little brats. Well, have I got a gift for you! Those little birdies you’re so proud of, with their morals and code? I’m giving them a little test for you! And the one who passes gets to live!”

He goes still for a moment, cold fear washing through him. If the Joker is planning to kill them off one by one, perhaps has already murdered one or more of them… A wave of red crosses his vision for a moment before he grits his teeth and shoves his emotions aside, shaking slightly with the effort of controlling his rage. Not yet. I need to hold on, for just a while longer. Harley looks up at him with huge, worried blue eyes, probably picking up on his distress and fury, but he can’t focus on her right now.

In his ear, the Joker’s voice is still talking. “Because I’m going to show you… All the training, the rules, that thin veneer of civilized morality you value so highly—when the cards are down, it means nothing. Your little birdies are going to tear each other apart. They’ll destroy each other, while I sit back and watch. And the last one standing? Your present is you get him back, if you still want him that is. So come on down to Ro—”

Batman tenses, waiting for the voice to continue only to experience a crushing sense of disappointment and horror as he realizes they’ve reached the end of the audio file Oracle has obtained so far.

What was he going to say, damn it?!

They finally reach the Batmobile and he unlocks it, eyeing Harley with trepidation as she squeals and climbs in, bouncing like an excited child. He ignores her antics as he pulls out and drives back toward Robinson Park at a fast clip.

“Oracle. How close are you to decrypting more of the message?”

Oracle answers immediately. “Actually, I just got the next portion. Here goes.”

Joker’s voice speaks in his ear again, picking up a second before the message broke off before. “So come on down to Robbinsville—get it? Robins! It’s gonna be a hell of a show! You better come to collect your gift, or I might just get bored and you know what I’m like when I’m bored. Heads tend to roll… literally!”

A beat of silence follows before Oracle speaks, tones clipped with worry. “There are more jokerized toys showing up, so it’s possible he’ll provide further clues, maybe even an address. I’ll keep you updated.”

“Proceed.” He forces himself to reduce the force of his grip on the steering wheel and breathe calmly. It would take hours to search all of Robbinsville, unless they manage to find another clue or get a lucky break.

Ivy has to know something.

He glances over at his passenger, who subsided into a relatively quiet state while he was speaking to Oracle. Now Harley perks up, apparently realizing he’s finished with his conversation.

She giggles and puts her feet up on the Batmobile dashboard, attempting to press buttons until he becomes legitimately concerned she’s going to accidentally eject herself from the car. As it is, she manages to deploy the emergency raft somehow and then winces in comical dismay as she watches it bounce off the car behind them and nearly cause a traffic accident.

“…Oopsie?” She gives him her best apologetic smile, then reaches out to fiddle with another button. “Ooh! What does this one do?” He shoots out an arm to stop her just before she launches the rockets.

Batman sighs in relief as he finally pulls up at Robinson Park again.

Driving with her is even worse than driving with Dick as a hyperactive young child. And that’s certainly saying something, considering all his memorable exploits.

Ivy doesn’t seem to have moved from where she was when he left. The grieving woman doesn’t even glance up at his approach. “I told you to leave me be. You fool, don’t you understand yet? There is nothing for you here!” She finally turns to level an accusing stare at him just as Harley finally untangles herself from the Batmobile’s state-of-the-art safety restraints and quite literally tumbles out of the vehicle. Ivy’s eyes widen in shock and her voice is hoarse with emotion as she calls out, “Harley—”

“Pammy!” The grinning blonde throws herself jubilantly into her stunned lover’s waiting arms and the two clutch at each other, pressing close as though attempting to merge themselves into one being through sheer force of will.

Batman clears his throat and looks away, trying to ignore their whispered sentiments as they soothe and scent one another, sharing comfort after their ordeal. Finally, thoughts of his own missing Pack members and the Joker’s accursed gift overcome what little social grace he possesses and he interrupts.

“Ivy. I’ve removed the Joker’s hold on you. Now, tell me what you know.” This is the moment he’ll finally get ahead of the Joker in this twisted little game he’s being forced to play. It has to be.

The redhead turns to face him, an expression of worry and regret in her eyes. “I didn't have a choice,” she tells him, sounding both defensive and as though she is trying to apologize for something as-yet unconfessed.

His heart is sinking, and he doesn’t even know why yet.

She closes her eyes, shaking her head, and then opens them again before turning to face him squarely. “He wanted something special to use on your boys. Demanded a drug based on my strongest aphrodisiac pollens.” Her lips twist in disgust.

No. Not my boys. Without an antidote, they may be unable to resist the effect of the pollen. But that doesn’t explain the gist of his message—non-consensual sex is a terrible crime, a violation of their bodies and personal autonomy for which the Joker can never be forgiven… But that would not result in any of their deaths under normal circumstances. What am I still missing?

He’s shaking his head in mute denial as she continues. “It gets worse. He didn’t just want the aphrodisiac, he wanted an uncontrollable, violent rut for the alphas. Unnatural and powerful enough to overcome everything, their Pack bonds, their morals, their very reason and turn them into mindless beasts, capable only of fighting or fucking everything around them.”

She glances away, swallowing. “He plans to set them against each other until only one is left alive, then present you with the survivor who’s beaten and raped his own Packmates to death. A gift, he called it.” She sneers in revulsion and loathing. “To open your eyes to the true madness that lies behind humanity.”

There’s a beat of silence after her words, then Harley lets out a soft little sob and Ivy turns to comfort her.

Batman barely notices their movements, because all he can see is red.

Chapter Text

What the flippety fuck? Jason stares at Tim, his initial disbelief giving way to stunned realization as the smaller man’s defensive posture and scent add up to give away something the younger man’s apparently been keeping secret for fuck knows how long.

Timmy’s an omega? Oh fuck, that means he’s probably going into heat right now, if what Psycho the Clown said was true. Goddamn it, this bullshit just keeps getting worse. What’s next, Demon Brat’s gonna present and pop his first knot while humpin’ Replacement’s leg?

He shudders at the thought and then blinks, shaking his head to clear away that choice little mental image. Tim flinches at his movement, causing him to freeze in dismay. The smaller man is clutching at his belly, obviously in pain, and his scent is scared.

He thinks we’re gonna hurt him. Tim thinks I’m gonna hurt him. Fuck, I think I’m gonna puke.

Jason stiffens in horror at the thought of the other man being afraid of him. The urge to protect the omega is screaming at him, his own natural concern for a Pack member strengthened by the rut forcing all of his alpha instincts to the forefront. It sure as shit doesn’t help that this is Tim, the guy he’s been bringing coffee at the office and pizza on patrol for a month now while trying to work up the nerve to ask him out.

What the fuck are we supposed to do? I want to convince him I ain’t gonna hurt him, but if what the fuckin’ clown said is true, I might. God damn that soulless bastard to hell. When we get outta here…

A noise from the opposite corner of the room draws everyone’s attention to Dick, who’s standing there practically vibrating with how damn hard it is for him to keep still. He’s staring at Tim with a dangerous intent in his eyes, and Jason starts growling low in his chest at the sight.

Maybe the drugs are affecting him more already. Who knows, could be Joker injected us with this shit at different times or the effects vary for each person. Whatever. I’ll break his legs before I let him hurt Tim.

He takes a step, intending to move between the omega and the other alpha, but he doesn’t get a chance to make it any farther. Suddenly, Damian is in his face, managing an almost impressive growl considering his unimposing size and age.

“Back off, Todd! If you believe I am going to allow you to violate an omega in my presence, you are even more of a fool than I took you for!” The pup plants himself squarely in front of Tim and braces as though he’s planning to fight off both full-grown alphas all on his own, snarling in warning.

“Damian, no!” Tim’s eyes widen in horror at the sight of their littlest brother facing off against adult alphas in rut. He lunges forward to grab the pup in his arms, then spins in place to put his back to the room and curl protectively over the boy. “I’ll keep you safe, don’t worry. Just don’t draw their attention, okay? Please?”

What the hell? Ah, Jesus fuckin’ Christ, they’re trying to protect each other from us. God damn, I hate this. Fuck that fuckin’ clown to hell with a rusty chainsaw.

The boy growls, twisting in his brother’s protective grip to try to change places. “Drake, can you not see that you are the one at greatest risk in this situation? I shall not allow you to sacrifice yourself for me!”

They stare at each other, breathing hard, scents breaking through their blockers and giving away their mutual worry and concern.

“Um, guys?” Dick’s voice breaks the tableau.

Oh, shit! I forgot about him! If he’s going after Timmy…

Jason turns to face the other alpha, teeth bared in a ferocious snarl and fists already clenched ready for battle. He’s not actually certain who would come out on top in an alpha challenge between him and Dick. The older alpha won back when they tangled for the cowl, but he was riding the Pit hard back then and obviously not making the best decisions. This time, protecting Tim, he’s got a feeling things would end differently.

Then he notices that while the older man is still vibrating with excitement, clearly barely restraining himself from leaping at the omega, he doesn’t look like he’s in a sex-crazed frenzy. Actually…

Jason rolls his eyes, snorting in relief. “Dickie, you fuckin’ wanna hug those little shits right now, don’t you?” He facepalms, shaking his head and letting his body relax out of his fighting stance.

Why are you such a goddamn embarrassment of a human being?

Dick emits a tiny squeal of joy. “Of course I do, Jay! They’re getting along! Do you know how many years I’ve been waiting for this moment?” He gives a little shimmy, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

The younger boys look at both alphas, then turn to each other. They stare at one another for a long moment, blinking, and then recoil and spring apart as though just realizing they were actually embracing.

Tim shakes off the shock first and clears his throat, blushing as he looks back at Dick and Jason. “Ahem. Anyway. So, I can’t help but notice… You guys don’t seem particularly aggressive or uncontrollably horny right now. Not that that’s a bad thing! I’m just wondering, is the drug weaker than Joker implied? Or does it just take a while to kick in?” He bites his lip, eyeing them carefully.

Dick tilts his head. “Well, so far it just feels like a normal rut? Kind of elevated aggressive response, low-key arousal that I can ignore if I try, generally more in touch with the alpha than usual. Like, I really want to put you and Damian in the corner farthest from the door and build you a nest out of that floor-mattress over there, then alternate between cuddling you guys and stalking the perimeter of the room while Jason stands guard at the door.”

Damian edges a small step away from the floor-mattress in question, eyeing his oldest brother mistrustfully. “I am not a mere pup fit only to be coddled and protected!”

Yeah, whatever, Squirt.

Jason takes stock of himself, then shrugs. “I just feel on edge, like I should be doing something. Punching faces in, screwing, I dunno.” He shifts awkwardly in place, looking away. “I’m not sure if that’s normal for a rut or not, I never…”

He hears a tiny gasp as at least one of them realizes what he means, and rolls his eyes. “Yeah, so I was dead or maybe in a walking coma during the time I shoulda presented, and I came outta the Pit a full-fledged alpha without ever going through a rut. Everything about my life’s been kinda fucked up, but at this point, who even gives a shit?”

“Um…” Tim sounds incredibly hesitant, but continues anyway. “Just to be clear, you’ve never had a rut? Aren’t alphas supposed to experience an annual rut as part of their natural biology?” His brows draw together in concern. “It’s been a few years since you came out of the Lazarus Pit, Jay, so you should’ve…”

Jason grimaces and tries not to look too uncomfortable and conscience-stricken. It doesn’t feel like it works.

Dick throws his hands up in the air. “Jay, have you been suppressing your ruts for the past however-many years? Do you even know how dangerous that can be? Suppressants are meant to delay inconveniently timed ruts or heats for a while, a few months at most! Using them for longer than that is a terrible idea.”

He snarls at the perceived attack from the other alpha. “Well, I’m sorry I couldn’t fuckin’ trust myself enough to have a rut—too much chance the goddamn Pit rage would take over and make me do something else you assholes would never forgive me for, fuck you very much! Anyway, Timmy’s apparently been doing the same damn thing! Otherwise, how the fuck would he have managed to hide the fact he’s an omega from everyone all this time?”

Everyone turns to look at Tim, who shrinks back into the wall looking guilty as hell. Jason feels a stab of remorse over deflecting attention his way, then mercilessly crushes it.

If I gotta get raked over the coals for this bullshit, then so does he.

“I haven’t been using suppressants!” Tim glares at Jason, then subsides with a sigh. He looks over at Dick, worrying his bottom lip with his teeth. “It’s just… I presented during a really inconvenient time. It didn’t seem like it was important enough to mention. And it hasn’t quite been a year yet since my presentation heat. I haven’t had a heat since then, so it just… hasn’t come up.”

Jason does the math, and realizes with a sinking feeling he knows when Replacement must’ve presented. What he was going through at the time, what all of them were dealing with back then.

Well, fuck.

“Aw hell, it happened while you were off looking for B, didn’t it?” He huffs an unamused laugh, the alpha in him raging at the thought of an omega in his Pack on his own, unprotected and facing off against the damn League and worse. One he himself had attacked and injured badly again during that last bad flare-up of the Pit before he finally started to get a handle on it.

“When I took Robin away from you?” Dick’s voice sounds so quiet and small. When Jason glances over at the other man, he looks stricken.

Damn it, we all really fucked him over back then, didn’t we? Even Dickie, but especially me and the kid. And he had no one left to turn to… Shit. No wonder he hasn’t said anything. I wonder if he even feels safe enough to go into heat on Pack territory, or if he would’ve just holed up in a safehouse somewhere when it finally happened again? Fuck, we gotta fix this shit. Omegas in heat should have comfortable, safe spaces and people they trust to bring them food and water and protect them.

Tim hears the underlying pain and guilt as well, and his face floods with concern. “Hey… No, Dick—this is exactly why I didn’t want to tell everyone! I knew you’d all overreact!”

Damian rolls his eyes and scoffs. “You lost your spleen during the time period in question, Drake. It is not overreacting to be concerned when a Pack member loses an essential organ, particularly during an encounter with a villain such as my grandfather. The fact that you apparently presented as an omega whilst in his power is gravely concerning.” His green eyes flash and he loses his composure, snarling at whatever nightmare scenarios he’s imagining. “Grandfather is not… kindto omegas. What else are you hiding from us, Drake?”

Oh, shit. Did Ra’s do something to Tim? Is that why he’s been hiding all this? Because if that’s true, I guess I got to add that old bastard to the list of shitstains I’m gonna castrate once this is over.

“I’ll destroy him,” Dick growls, voice almost unrecognizable as the scent of hot alpha rage fills the room. Jason can’t even tell how much is pouring off him and how much is from his brother. It all just merges in his mind into the scent of Pack and protect.

He starts growling along with the other alpha, pleased at the thought of hunting those fuckers down with his Packmate. Dickie’s fucking vicious when his Pack is threatened.

“What?” Tim’s voice sounds startled and he blinks, then looks disgusted. “Oh my god, gross. No, Ra’s didn’t do anything to me, ew, thanks, Damian, for bringing that image to all our minds. He did try to get one of his alpha relatives to, um, get an heir on me at one point, but Cass fought her off—”

He breaks off, probably because his voice can no longer be heard over the sounds of the alphas growling and cursing. He rolls his eyes and raises his voice. “Anyway, turns out Ra’s is like, super-impotent? Apparently, it’s a side-effect of all those immersions in the Lazarus Pit.”

Inevitably, everyone’s eyes are involuntarily drawn to Jason. Specifically, to his crotch. He snorts a laugh, blushing and gesturing down to his junk. “Yeah, well, as you can clearly see, it must take more than one dunk in the al Ghul jungle juice to keep me down.” He leers, chuckling when Tim quickly glances away with a fierce blush. Dick just lifts a challenging brow and scoffs while Damian looks like he’d rather be literally anyway else in this moment.

Tim rolls his eyes. “Okay, moving along. Acting on the assumption we’re all just going to keep exhibiting normal heat and rut symptoms because the Joker’s an idiot and not a trained biologist… Jason and I were picked up at Tricorner Yards. I didn’t manage to get a last message out, but Oracle was definitely monitoring us so she and B will be looking. You guys?”

Damian raises a brow. “As you know, we were fighting Poison Ivy. She felled Grayson by base trickery, pretending she required our assistance to help her rescue her paramour. It was all a trap, of course, and as soon as he drew near and lowered his guard she attacked with her insidious poisons.”

Dick clears his throat. “She tried to go for Dami, actually, and I, well…”

Of fuckin’ course Dickie would go down trying to protect the brat.

The kid scoffs derisively. “Grayson was so foolish as to expect me to run after he was compromised. I refused, of course, and was captured in my turn.” Damian looks and scents guilty as hell and Tim reaches out to pull the pup into his side for a hug. It’s hard to tell which of them is more surprised and discomfited by his action.

Jason laughs at the expressions on their faces. “Right. Makes sense. I think Little Red was actually supposed to be with you guys, from what I heard Joker saying when I went down. I guess they didn’t realize any of you would come to help me. He was pissed as fuck not to get a chance to play with me more, but he had to stop when Timmy showed up.”

This time the scent of rage spiking and filling the room has an omega element as well as alpha. He can even smell Damian’s undifferentiated pup scent, furious and protective as either of the others at the idea of Jason hurting.

Well, damn. He blinks back unexpected tears at their silent show of support. Fuckin’ Pack. I gotta be nicer to these assholes.

“We’ll definitely be dealing with him, Jay.” Dick’s voice carries that same dark promise that makes Jason believe him, and want to hunt.

Fuck yeah.

Tim continues, his brow furrowed as he works to analyze their situation. “Okay, so that means B and O have two lines of evidence to trace the Joker back to this location. At least two opportunities for his men to have made mistakes, and that’s not even taking into account the probability Joker himself will give away our location in hopes of staging some kind of confrontation with Batman.” Tim’s eyes narrow and he smirks faintly. “Given our current symptoms and the lack of a monitoring camera in here—thanks for that, by the way, Jason—I suspect we’ll be in better shape than Joker expects when that door opens.”

Dick breathes out a long, slow sigh. “And if our condition… deteriorates?” They all wince at the implications.

Jason gives a quick, decisive nod. “If either of us start showing stronger symptoms, the others break his leg.”

They all turn to stare at him, horror and disbelief in their wide eyes. He shrugs. “What, would you rather let me and Dickie fight to the death and then rape the shit outta Timmy?” Even just putting it into words makes him grimace in disgust. “Ugh, fuck, I think I’m gonna puke.”

They all look at him in concern until he manages to get himself under control, then Damian clears his throat. “Your plan to mitigate the danger should any present stronger symptoms is… acceptable.”

Dick and Tim look less enthusiastic, but eventually shrug and nod their acquiescence. Waiting it out seems like the best bet. The alphas slouch to the floor in their respective corners, still wary of moving too close to each other just in case the drug turns out to strengthen over time.

Jason scrubs at his hair and tries not to look at Tim. The omega’s starting to smell really nice, and it sure as shit doesn’t help that this is the guy he’s had a crush on for a while now. They even maybe had a little thing going, flirting on patrols and hanging out... He buries his face in his hands and groans.

A soft touch on his back and stronger whiff of Tim’s pleasant, alluring scent has him turning his head to see the younger man crouching beside him, looking at him with worried eyes. “You okay, Jay?”

His first impulse is to send him away, back to the dubious safety of the other side of the room, but he really doesn’t want to be alone. And honestly, he feels fine, just tense and uncomfortably wound up and embarrassingly hard. But Dick and Tim are in the same state, so it’s not like he’s alone in his humiliation and discomfort. “Yeah, I mean, I guess. It’s not like any of us are really fine right now, y’know?”

Tim sits comfortably at his side, tilting his head back against the wall. “I’m glad.”

He doesn’t smell scared anymore, but Jason’s still hesitant to be right next to him after everything Joker threatened, all the filth he expected when he locked them in here together. “Timmy… You know I’d rather gnaw my own arm off than ever hurt you like that, right?”

The other man turns to face him, eyes widening. “Is that what has you worried right now? Jay, of course I know you’d never want to do that. Even if it happened, it would be because of drugs and non-consensual for both of us. I’d never blame you.” Tim bites his lip, eyeing him with apparent worry. He’s so gorgeous and sweet, with his big blue eyes and soft black hair, slender and small but so damn strong.

Jason flushes in mortification as his own scent of arousal abruptly intensifies, echoed almost instantly by Tim’s answering wave of heat-scent. Damn, this is awkward as fuck. They both studiously avoid making eye contact with each other for a moment before Tim clears his throat. “So, uh… I was going to tell you I’m an omega. Eventually.”

“Yeah?” Somehow the implied level of trust brings a stupid grin to his lips. “You really just didn’t think it was worth bringing up?”

Tim shrugs, looking tired. “I guess? Honestly, our lives are so full of crisis after disaster after doomsday, a little thing like finally presenting just seemed small in comparison. Not really worth all the drama that would come if I brought it up. Plus…” He fidgets, the tips of his ears turning red. “You were starting to spend more time with the Pack and I was enjoying finally getting to know you. I didn’t want to mess things up now that we’re all kind of getting along for once. And… I wanted to see if you’d like me for myself, not for my secondary gender.”

“Well, I do. I hope you know that.” Jason reaches out a hesitant hand and Tim takes it, smiling.

“I do. I think the daily coffee delivery was my first hint, but what really clued me in was the fact that you keep finding out more of my favorite foods and learning how to make them for me.” He chuckles, squeezing Jason’s hand. “That, and you growl a little whenever I get hurt on patrol.”

“I do not!” Jason doesn’t.

“Yeah, you totally do!” Dick answers from across the room, where he and Damian have been playing some kind of memory game together to kill time.

“Indeed, Todd, it is ridiculous.”

“Shut up and go back to your stupid game!” Jason rolls his eyes and shifts slightly so he’s completely facing Tim, making it easier to ignore their annoying cellmates. He sees the omega’s gaze drop to his now fully-exposed lap and realizes he may have made a mistake.

Tim’s eyes go dark with renewed arousal and he whimpers slightly, making a soft, pained noise as though he’s hurting, not getting what his body wants. What he needs.

Jason rumbles in response, churning out alpha protection and care as he leans in to take the omega in his arms, kissing him reassuringly on his temple and rubbing his cheek affectionately to share scents.

Tim lets out a soft, blissful sigh and throws his arms around Jason’s broad shoulders, turning his face so their lips make contact.

Oh, fuck yeah.

Tim’s gaze cuts to the mattress nearby and Jason’s eyes light up. Yes.

A loud yelp from across the room shakes them out of their haze of arousal and they look to see Dick staring at them in utter horror, apparently having caught that sexy little exchange. “Nope!” he calls loudly, rising to his feet and crossing the entire length of the room in moments while frantically waving his arms back and forth in denial. “No. I am noping right the hell out of this situation. This—” he gestures back and forth between the two of them, “—is not happening. At least, not right now, and definitely not in here.”

Jason growls warningly, and Tim pants in thwarted desire. Dick winces, looking down at them not unsympathetically. “Geez, you guys are pretty far gone, aren’t you?” He thinks for a moment, and then his face lights up. “Dami, get over here!”

Damian growls. “I do not wish to contaminate myself with the reek which surrounds them right now. State your reasoning as to why I should wade into the miasma, and perhaps I will be convinced.”

“You’re still a pup, Dami! If you come over here, we can make a nest and they’ll go into pup-protection mode instead of trying to mate.” Dick lifts a brow as he attempts to cajole his recalcitrant Packmate.

It’s a reasonable idea. Jason really wants to just be with Tim right now, but if that’s not in the cards, taking care of a pup will probably help keep their hormones balanced and under control until this damn drug wears off.

Damian scowls, bridling. “I am not a mere pup, Grayson—”

“Little D, do you want them to mate right in front of us? If not, work with me here!” Dick gestures to where Jason and Tim have surreptitiously begun embracing again and are both making small whimpering noises as they kiss.

Damian gulps, eyes large and alarmed, then stalks angrily over to the mattress. He settles on it, and then sighs angrily before whining softly in a near-perfect imitation of a frightened, helpless pup in need of cuddles and protection.

Tim and Jason both pivot to stare at him, and then dive to snuggle him close while rumbling reassuringly and rubbing their faces on him like he’s a baby. He glares impotently at Dick as the relieved older man joins the cuddle-pile. “You owe me for this, Grayson!”

Chapter Text

The scent of smoke and distressed omegas—not Pack, not his—is in his nostrils and the barrage of sensory data from everything is so intense his head spins. An injured omega nearby nods tearfully at another omega who hugs her fiercely before sending her away, presumably to safety. They are unimportant and he turns from them.

He knows he has to get to his Pack right now, so he prepares to take off at a run toward the general location the enemy provided. Suddenly the uninjured omega is at his side, her bright red hair falling over her shoulder as she tugs him towards a large black car. It’s his, and she smells like… not Pack, but at the very least an ally. He allows it.

The tinny voice in his ear is annoying, but he recognizes it as Pack and listens to what it says. It offers to remotely drive the car to the coordinates the ally omega provides. That will take him closer to his imperiled packmates, so he grunts his acquiescence and waits in tense silence for their arrival.

“You know, you’re not actually much different from usual when you’re red-zoning.” Allied Omega smirks in dark amusement.

Pack Leader ignores her, as well as Voice who is telling him to be careful and rattling off a stream of information in his ear. Both are unimportant right now because his first and only priority is to find his lost children. He wrenches open the door the moment the car begins to slow, then charges directly into the ordinary, unassuming home which houses their targets. The door splinters beneath his assault, no match for an alpha in the red.

My Pack, my pups…! Find, protect, defend!

Allied Omega follows in his wake as he uses brutal tactics and blunt force to make his way through the waves of mediocre fighters in garish makeup who attempt to block their progress. Bones crack amidst shouts and screams, but he barely notices as he injures each sufficiently to prevent them from threatening him or any of his again any time soon.

He follows the sound of voices, seeking targets. His pups will most likely be held in the most heavily guarded portion of the building, so that’s where he heads. Groans and cries for help are ignored in his single-minded focus, although he does note the condition of each fallen opponent if only to be certain none will rise soon.

Around a corner, and then Allied Omega is grasping his shoulder to get his attention, ignoring his warning growl. “Your pups are in there!” She points at a locked, barred door. “I’m going after the Joker myself.”

He growls loudly, wanting to sink his own teeth and fists into the one who took his pups from him, the inhuman monster who dared threaten them so despicably. The reprehensible threat who murdered one of his before, who may have taken some of them from him again already.

No!

She shakes him, bringing him back to an awareness of his immediate surroundings. “Go to your pups, you hormone-raddled idiot! I can take care of the clown, but your boys need you!”

At the reminder, he jerks his attention back toward the door, all his focus bent on examining it and finding an immediate way in. Allied Omega slips away and he barely notices because he has found the access panel and is busily at work attempting to break through the security. His fingers move automatically, fury rising with every moment the recalcitrant panel keeps him away from his children.

His pups are strong and well-trained, but nothing could have prepared them for this situation. He bares his teeth as he imagines his big, grown alpha pups being drugged and forced to attack his slim little beta and his sturdy but still very small youngest. His baby, who isn’t even old enough to present yet.

Whatever he’s about to find on the other side of this door… four, or three, or however many are left of his pups… He grits his teeth, gathering himself to face what is to come. He will likely need to act immediately to subdue his alpha pups if they are still fighting each other, locked in a forced alpha challenge.

If one gained supremacy over the other, he will need to review the scene and then make a judgment call to determine his initial actions. Either give first aid to his defeated alpha pup… if he even survived the battle… or attempt to… separate the winner from his beta pup. The thought of that causes his stomach to twist painfully and he has to choke back his gorge.

No no NO!

The locks finally click open. His growl of fury and pain blends into an anguished whine of dread as he throws open the door to confront what remains of his Pack.

Mine, my precious pups! If he’s taken any of them away, if they’re hurt—

It takes him a moment to make sense of the scene that greets him. There’s no blood, and he is not assaulted by the expected odors of pain, terror, and violation. The scents of arousal and rut are heavy in the air, but there’s no accompanying aroma of sex, semen, and sweat to indicate any actual knotting has taken place, voluntary or otherwise.

Instead, all four of his missing pups stare at him in blank surprise from a bare mattress pushed against the wall at the far end of the room. They’re curled together in a tight puppy pile, sharing comfort and emitting clean, healthy scents. The alphas are in rut, as anticipated, but they’re very clearly in protect mode, wrapped defensively around their younger, more vulnerable Packmates.

The whine that tears from his throat at the sight barely sounds human as relief floods through him like a cleansing wave.

Pack, my pups, my precious pups. Alive, all alive. Well?

He stalks forward, scenting the air and inspecting them for any visible injuries. They appear healthy and whole, but there’s something… different. A scent that isn’t quite right, doesn’t match his memories. The altered scent strengthens as he approaches and kneels on the mattress to lean over the boys. With a shocked twitch, he recognizes both the smell and its source in the same instant.

Omega?! Beta-pup? He noses worriedly at his slender third pup, who is lying curled around his youngest while the older alphas wrap their larger bodies protectively around the two in the middle. Has the Monster done something to cause one of his children to become an omega?

He growls at the very thought. Such a violation of his pup’s body and autonomy is not to be borne. He rubs his face on his child, marking him with his scent to show he’s protected and loved, no matter what has been done to him. The boy giggles and twists, apparently ticklish.

“Oh my god, B. I can’t believe this is what you’re like when you red-zone, wow.” Beta—no, Omega-pup rubs a soft cheek reassuringly along the side of his face. “Yes, I’m an omega, if that’s what has you snuffling at my face right now. It’s fine, we were just kinda busy with more urgent things back when I presented. I was going to tell you guys eventually…”

The other pups snort derisively and he is dimly aware he’ll have to investigate this issue more fully at a later time, when the detective is back. For now, though, he is the protector. He inspects their injuries carefully, deeming them fine for the time being. Omega-pup is still talking, waving his arms around and gesturing as he speaks. “No, seriously! It just never seemed that important, I guess?” One flailing hand smacks Younger Alpha-pup on the chest and Pack Leader tenses, ready to intervene should his more aggressive pup react poorly to the accidental assault.

His eyes widen in shock as instead, Younger Alpha-pup catches the errant hand in his own and draws it to his lips for a moment before rubbing it softly with his thumb. Omega-pup blushes and looks down to hide his smile.

Hn.

The Pack will be stronger now that these two have finally worked through their differences. He eyes them approvingly. It has been many years since there were new pups in the Pack, and they are certainly able to provide for more should the pairing be fruitful. He will be sure to arrange for extra food and nesting materials to be readily available at home, just in case. Pack Leader stands, well-pleased with this new development but unable to relax back into the detective until he knows they are safe.

Allied Omega is strong, but the Monster may well prove to be stronger. He stalks the perimeter of the room, expertly blocking gas vents and hidden traps with batarangs and other items from his utility belt. Eldest Alpha-pup attempts to rise and assist him, but subsides when he growls warningly. “Stay. Protect.”

“Damn, his verbal skills might actually be better while he’s in the fuckin’ red zone,” whispers Younger Alpha-pup, smelling pleased and amused. The pups whisper together, bickering and bantering back and forth. He ignores it as he assures himself of their relative safety.

Once the room is secure, he scans his pups again and notices they are all nude. Cold?

He approaches, removing his cape as he walks, and then carefully drapes it over all of them. “Thanks, B!” Eldest Alpha-pup beams at him. He and Younger Alpha-pup both seem as well as can be expected under the circumstances, but the other two are so tiny…

Food.

Pack Leader reaches for his belt again, displeased to find only two energy bars in the emergency rations pouch. He should start carrying more, at least enough to provide for every Pack member should the need arise. After breaking them in half, he carefully hands a portion to each of his pups.

They’ve finished their snacks and are lying in relatively companionable silence as Pack Leader completes his seventeenth circuit of the perimeter when the door creaks and opens. He places himself squarely between the door and his children, all of whom jerk to their feet and begin moving to defensive positions to back him up.

It’s only Allied Omega. He stills his pups with a signal, then moves forward to check the hallway and make certain she was not pursued. A warning cry from Youngest-pup causes him to begin to turn around, but it’s already too late. Allied Omega is too close and too fast for him to block the syringe before she sinks it deep into the muscle of his shoulder.

“Fair’s fair, right?” she murmurs as he slowly collapses to his knees, blinking hard and trying with all his might to fight the lethargy which creeps up his body like the slowly rising waters of an inexorable flood.

The last things he hears as his vision goes dark are the protesting cries of all his children. It will be fine. They are each very strong, and even stronger together. Working as a team, they will be able to bring down Traitor Omega and avenge him. The Pack will carry on. His eyes fall closed and he doesn’t even feel his body hit the ground.

*

Batman snaps to awareness in an instant, every muscle in his body poised ready to spring into action even as he listens and scents the air for clues as to what has happened. Memories of his red zone wash through his mind and he involuntarily tenses slightly in embarrassment at having been seen in such a state.

The momentary feeling of shame dissipates rapidly, buried beneath waves of joy and relief at his children being alive. Although…

“Ivy,” he opens his eyes to glare at her, “did you have to administer the drug to end my red zone without any warning? This could have been avoided.” He gestures toward his own body, lying half on the floor and half across Dick’s lap. Apparently, his eldest son was the quickest and actually managed to catch him before he hit the ground.

Damian is practically standing over the two of them, snarling at the woman in an attempt to keep her at bay. He’s armed with multiple batarangs which he almost certainly liberated from Batman’s utility belt, considering the boys were all nude and unarmed previously. She doesn’t seem to pose much of a threat at the moment, anyway, pinned down with her arms trapped in a painful-looking hold behind her back by Jason as Tim frantically attempts to analyze the remains of the material in the syringe using the portable mini-lab from Batman’s gauntlet.

The woman lifts her head from the ground and grins at him unrepentantly. “Well, you broke my red zone by stabbing me with a syringe without any warning. I don’t see how this was any different.”

He narrows his eyes and rises to his feet. “How long was I out? What is the Joker’s status? Why didn’t the boys react as expected to the formula the Joker forced you to create?”

Ivy twists and tugs, but Jason doesn’t let go of her until Batman nods for her release. Even then, he can see his alpha son edging protectively between the woman and his Packmates.

Good lad.

“You were only unconscious for about two minutes,” Dick reports. “We haven’t had a chance to check the rest of the facility yet.”

Ivy nods. “And they didn’t react the way he planned because I didn’t give him exactly what he wanted. What he asked for was despicable. I just gave him a mixture of my usual heat- and rut-inducers. Any decent person would be able to resist the heightened urge to copulate or fight, just like during a natural heat or rut.”

Batman glares at her. “If that’s the case, then why didn’t you just tell me so? Your description of Joker’s inhuman plan is what drove me into the red zone!”

She tilts her head to one side, smirking. “Well, I wanted you to go red. It was the only way I could think of that would allow for me to confront the Joker by myself when the time came.”

He frowns. He’ll come back to that in a moment, but first he needs to understand why she was willing to risk angering the Joker while he still had her lover in his power. She must have given him the weakened formula well before she had any assurance the omega woman would be saved. “But Harley…”

Her brow furrows. “She would never want me to put anyone through that, not even to save herself. I’m… not a good person.” Her voice roughens with emotion. “But for her, I’m willing to try.”

Tim clears his throat. “Ah, guess we owe Harley a fruit basket or something.” Ivy narrows her eyes at him and he quickly amends his suggestion. “Um, fruit tree? Alive and thriving, in a pot ready for you to plant it in the soil near your home?”

Ivy chuckles and graces him with a nod before turning her attention back to Batman. She sobers as she regards him steadily. “As for the Joker…” Her beautiful face twists into an ugly expression of hatred and satisfaction. “He won’t be bothering anyone else, ever again.”

A tiny part of him feels guilty relief at her words while the rest of him recoils from ever celebrating the death of another human being, even one so twisted and evil as the Joker. “What did you do?” he growls.

“What someone should have done a long time ago.” She shrugs.

None of the boys look very upset about Ivy’s actions, but he cannot condone this. He moves toward Ivy but is halted by Dick’s hand on his shoulder. He turns to his son, who shakes his head and then nods toward his brothers. Batman frowns.

Jason is smiling faintly and blinking back tears.

He takes a step toward his son, already knowing he’ll probably say something unintentionally hurtful and bungle everything, but then Tim’s already there.

“Hey, Jay, you’re safe now, yeah? He’s never going to be able to hurt you again.” The boy moves in close and slides an arm around the taller man’s waist.

Jason’s body shudders and he laughs. “Fuck yeah,” he manages after a minute. “I’m fuckin’ glad that piece of shit is finally dead.” He buries his nose in Tim’s hair and wraps both arms around him, drawing him near.

“Oh, he isn’t dead.” At Ivy’s words, all of their heads snap around to face her.

“What? But you have just informed Father that he was—” Damian’s angry protest rises and Batman rests a hand on his son’s shoulder to quiet him.

“What do you mean, Ivy?” His stomach twists at the thought of that threat still being out there. What could she have done that rendered him harmless but somehow did not result in his death?

She smiles slowly. “Why, he was so interested in my experimental formulas, I couldn’t resist showing him another one up close. I used a special concoction on him, and turned him into a vegetable. Quite literally. He’ll never hurt anyone again, and maybe he’ll be happier too, as long as he gets plenty of sunlight in his room at Arkham.” She shrugs unapologetically. “I like him much better this way.”

…What?

“That’s unconscionable!” And probably irreversible, the alpha part of his mind whispers. The Pack is safe now. But at what cost?

“Well, damn,” Jason says, and whistles.

Dick grins slowly and Batman experiences that particular sinking feeling he always has right before his oldest son makes one of his execrable puns. “Guess he’s just a has-bean now!”

Why are you like this? Where did I go wrong?

He shakes his head, drawing in a long breath. Oracle’s voice is in his ear demanding an update, and he should answer. He needs to gather his children, find them some clothing and bundle them into the Batmobile to send them home so he can wrap things up here and deliver the Joker’s men and whatever’s left of the Joker himself to the proper authorities.

Then, he’ll go home and join them. Right now, spending time with his Pack in a safe place sounds like the best possible ending to a long and hellish night.

Batman looks at his assembled children, now trading various atrocious vegetable-related puns back and forth while Ivy tries to pretend she isn’t fighting laughter, and his flagging spirits rise.

They’re all safe. We’re going home. It’s over now.

The corners of his mouth lift in the barest suggestion of a smile.

Chapter Text

Tim lies curled on his side, Jason’s warmth pressed along the entire length of his body behind him. The taller man’s arm is wrapped protectively around his middle, his steady breathing a comforting pressure against his back.

He feels warm, drowsy, and comfortable in a pair of the soft pajamas Alfred provided for all of them when they got home. Everything would feel pretty much perfect if it weren’t for the persistent, low-grade arousal and ache in his midsection.

Well, that and the fact that they’re lying in a makeshift nest in the Cave along with most of their family. Someone’s elbow bumps into his chest and he grunts in protest, getting a sleepy apology in return. There’s an arm draped over his neck and he legitimately has no idea to whom it may belong. He considers shifting slightly to dislodge it, but the attached hand is stroking his skin soothingly and it feels really nice, so he allows it.

This is so much better than all the other ways I thought tonight might end.

Tim shivers at the memory of the Joker’s mocking voice as the madman gloated over his plan to destroy them. If it had worked… He shakes his head, trying to chase away the images of fighting and blood and pain. Behind him, Jason stirs slightly, nuzzling at the back of his neck and rumbling reassurance. He realizes he must be scenting of distress, and works to calm his thoughts. After all, whatever Joker planned, it wouldn’t have happened.

Even if Ivy hadn’t tricked the villain into using a mild, relatively harmless inducer instead of the devastatingly potent stimulant he’d wanted, they would have found a way out. Of course, it probably would have involved the alphas breaking each other’s legs during their last lucid moments and then Tim and Damian caring for their injured Packmates while they waited for B to find them. Yeah, that would’ve sucked, but at least they would only be a little physically banged up and not destroyed like the evil madman wanted. Their Pack would have survived.

As though reacting to the thought, Damian stirs in front of him and makes a ridiculously cute little snuffling sound in his sleep. Tim’s face forms an embarrassingly fond smile without his conscious approval.

Geez, he’s cute when he's asleep. We’ll probably always snark and bait each other, but I think we’re finally in a good place. He really tried to protect me back there, and I realized I’d do almost anything to keep him safe. Guess we really are brothers. Not going to admit it to Dick, though. I don’t think I’m ready to face his exuberance about that little epiphany just yet.

Steph and Cass are piled up on the other side of Damian. They made it home just in time to join the others in the massive nest Jason and Dick insisted on constructing in the Cave, their rut instincts having selected it as the most defensible place. Steph had looked at Tim sympathetically and then produced several cartons of ice cream from… somewhere, insisting it was the best way to make it through a heat.

He’s not sure if it was the ice cream or the company, but he definitely started feeling a little better after that. It might have been the backrub Jason initiated once they were in the nest, come to think of it.

Bruce administered antidotes from Ivy after checking them all over with the equipment in the Cave, so their various symptoms should fade naturally in less than a day. Ivy herself had accepted the short-term amnesia-inducing drugs with surprising grace once she verified they were compatible with her unique biology. She’d been very insistent on only receiving the exact dosage required to forget the Bats’ identities because she didn’t want to lose her memory of the Joker’s ignominious defeat. 

Fair enough.

Tim’s more than halfway convinced all the rut hormones in the air have B and Cass keyed up to a pre-rut state themselves. They keep taking turns rising to walk the Cave perimeter, alternating with Dick and Jason so the nest is continuously defended. As he watches, Cass stands and slips quietly from the nest, apparently intent on performing yet another perimeter check.

Babs won’t even let go of her tablet, using it to keep constant watch as she lies on the other side of the nest. One hand moves over the screen while the other gently strokes Dick’s hair.

“Havin’ trouble gettin’ to sleep?” Jason’s low whisper right in his ear sends a thrill through his entire body and Tim barely manages to suppress a soft whimper as his arousal spikes.

He blushes fiercely, knowing the scent will have reached everyone else in the nest by now. At least most of the others are sleeping at this point. Well, except for Babs, who just glances their way and smiles before she rolls her eyes, shaking her head admonishingly.

Yeah, no worries Babs, we are definitely not going to consummate our almost-relationship here and now with the entire Pack as witnesses. That seems like nearly as much of a nightmare as what the Joker had planned for us.

Tim thinks about that for a moment, then reconsiders. Nothing is as bad as what that asshole had planned. He shivers and Jason protectively pulls him in closer, reminding him of the other man’s question. He blinks, trying to figure out how he feels right now.

“A little bit. Just kind of keyed up still, I guess.” He bites his lip, realizing that’s not the only reason he’s having trouble drifting off. His mind is still whirring away trying to process everything that’s happened.

I think we left a little too much unsaid earlier and my mind isn’t going to let me rest until I figure out exactly how this thing between us is going to work. If there even is anything between us. For all I know, Jason just wants to mess around or have a fling or something.

The thought leaves him feeling cold and bereft. A low, concerned whine and nuzzle tell him his scent is betraying his emotions again. He sighs, then squirms, twisting around in the larger man’s arms to face him. This conversation will probably work better if they can actually see one another’s faces.

Jason’s lying on his side facing him, their heads resting on the same soft pillow. His beautiful teal eyes are worried, scanning Tim carefully as he tries to discern the cause of his distress. “You hurting, Baby Bird? Want me to give you another massage, try to relax you? Or maybe when Alfie gets back, we can ask him for some more snacks—”

Tim shakes his head slightly, reaching out to rest his hand reassuringly on Jason’s chest. “I’m not in pain. Well, no more than normal for a heat based on what I’ve read. It’s just…” He flushes, glancing away as he continues, “we kind of got interrupted when we were talking earlier, and I’m not sure exactly…”

The other man finishes for him. “…Where we stand?” His voice sounds like he’s smiling. He’s probably thinking about just how and why their conversation was interrupted. Memories of their frenzied, almost desperate kissing before Dick separated them cause Tim’s cheeks to flush red as his scent gives him away again. Jason’s eyes go dark with answering interest but he remains in control.

So embarrassing.

Tim nods, finally looking back up. “Yeah.” It definitely sounded like Jason was interested in him, but they hadn’t really had time to establish exactly what he wants. If it’s just sex… Well, he can handle that. Probably. He just needs to know beforehand so he can prepare himself.

He feels the chest beneath his hand expand as Jason inhales deeply. The older man stares right into his eyes as he speaks, a blush rising to his lightly freckled cheeks. “Well, I wanna be able to bring you coffee and dinner whenever I want, make you fuckin’ home-cooked meals every damn day and take care of you when you get sick or hurt on patrol. I wanna be there for you when you go into heat, even if it’s just to guard the damn door and make sure you know you’re fuckin’ safe.” His blush intensifies. “Fuck, Timmy, I just want you.” He falls silent, looking uncharacteristically pensive as he awaits Tim’s reply.

Like there’s any chance I’d say no to all that. C’mon, Jay, don’t you realize I’m totally gone on you?

“Sounds good to me,” Tim whispers, curling forward to bury his grin in Jason’s chest. The scent of happy alpha surrounds him and he breathes it in, reveling in the moment. He feels a kiss being pressed to his hair as arms close gently around his body and draw him in.

I can’t wait for the drugs to wear off so we can spend some time together without the whole Pack breathing down our necks. Well, on the bright side at least everyone else seems to be asleep right now—

Damian’s griping, sleepy voice rises up from behind Tim’s shoulder and he closes his eyes, suppressing a snort of laughter. “Excellent, now if you are quite finished establishing the boundaries of your plebeian relationship, will you kindly cease your blathering? Some of us were attempting to sleep!”

Of course all of them being asleep was too good to be true. Now all we need is—

Dick chimes in next. “Timmy! Jay! Do I need to separate you two again? I thought we all agreed, no mating in the family nest while drugged!” Tim turns his head to peek back over his shoulder and sees him lifting himself up on an elbow to eye them consideringly. The older man’s eyes narrow with suspicion, then widen in sudden horror. “Wait, where are your hands? Tim, where are your hands?”

Welp, this is absolutely hands down the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to me. Even beats that time I was so sleep-deprived I almost showed up for an important meeting at Wayne Enterprises in my Star Wars underwear and Tam laughed at the positioning of Han Solo’s blaster first before shoving me into my office to change.

He lifts his wrongfully accused hand away from Jason’s chest and raises it in the air, giving a desultory wave. “Right here, geez, Dick.”

“And the other one?” Damian sounds highly suspicious.

Tim sighs, flopping onto his back so he can dig the other arm out from under the pillow. “Here, also totally innocent. Seriously, you guys? We were just cuddling!”

At his side, Jason’s suddenly grinning like a bastard and that definitely means he’s about to make trouble. Well, Tim doesn’t even care at this point. The others brought this on themselves.

“Hey, why the fuck is no one asking where my hands are?” Jason’s grin widens and everyone stares at him warily before glancing down at his hands. Which are now disappearing beneath a blanket he must have just dragged over Tim’s waist. He can feel the other man’s hands resting chastely on the outside of his hips, but that’s not what it looks like he’s doing.

“Oh my god,” Tim whispers, putting his own hands over his face to block out the horrified stares of his Packmates, all of which are fixed on his midsection where the blanket is now moving rhythmically as Jason moves his hands in a very suggestive pattern, still just barely touching Tim’s hips. It kind of tickles. The big alpha curled around him chuckles, clearly deriving fiendish enjoyment from their Packmates’ horror because he’s an absolute asshole. A lovable asshole, but still.

Well, I knew what I was getting into when I started liking him. Tim smiles against his will, trying not to laugh at the tickling sensation. His body spasms slightly with the effort of suppressing his laughter and he hears several shocked, mortified gasps.

“Jay, think of the children,” Dick hisses, covering a protesting Damian’s eyes with his hand and then snatching it back fast when the belligerent pup snaps at him warningly. Babs watches the entire proceedings with an amused air, clearly seeing right through Jason’s prank.

“Cuddling,” Cass states quietly from the edge of the nest, apparently having crept up on them in silence while everyone was talking.

“Mmm, yes,” Steph mutters, not even opening her eyes entirely as she reaches out a flailing arm to grab the alpha and tug her back into the nest. “Cuddles, now,” she demands blearily.

“That doesn’t look like cuddling,” Dick whispers, still staring mistrustfully at the misbehaving blanket.

A large hand descends out of nowhere and whips the blanket out of the way, revealing the innocuous positioning of Jason’s hands. “Boys, stop teasing your brothers.” Bruce raises a firm eyebrow at an unrepentant Jason before allowing himself a slight smirk.

Jason snorts, looking up at Bruce with a wry grin. “And what the fuck would you have done if I had been doin’ something naughty under there, huh old man? Probably died of embarrassment on the spot.”

Bruce’s brows draw together in a frown. “Cass said you were just cuddling.” Apparently considering this enough of an explanation, he completes his check of the security of the nest, then turns and prowls off for another perimeter check of the Cave.

Well, Cass does have an uncanny ability to read body language. Still…

Tim meets Jason’s eyes and snorts before they both break into laughter, only stopping when a pillow wallops them both in the head. “Ow!” He turns to see a satisfied-looking Dick.

“That’s for being jerks and pretending to desecrate the nest while everyone’s in it,” the older man says smugly.

He really shouldn’t have phrased it that way.

Babs’ face lights up with an evil grin. “Oh, you’re going to regret saying that, Boy Wonderful…”

“You’d rather we actually desecrate the nest while everyone’s in it?” Tim snarks back immediately. “Because if that’s what you want…” He reaches suggestively for Jason, only to pause in surprise upon finding he’s not there anymore.

Sitting up, he turns just in time to see Jason throwing a very startled-looking Dick out of the nest with a triumphant, “Now we can desecrate the nest without everyone in it! Thanks for the suggestion, Dickie!” He settles back in and reaches for Tim before a katana appears between them, aimed very pointedly at his balls. Displaying a healthy amount of self-preservation, he freezes.

“The only thing anyone will be doing in this nest is sleeping,” Damian hisses.

A slim brown hand deftly disarms him and the katana disappears somehow into the depths of the nest. “Cuddles,” Cass says firmly.

The pup sighs, rolling his eyes as he lies back down, still eying Tim and Jason warily. “Yes, yes, very well. Cuddles are included in the list of allowable practices. But all hands must remain above the blankets at all times!” He scowls warningly first at the boys, and then at Steph who blushes and guiltily slides her hands back above the coverings as Cass smirks at her side.

Dick settles back down beside Babs, who pats his face soothingly. “Sounds good to me, Dami.” He rolls his eyes. “Although I’m not sure Jay’s gonna be able to resist. The pranking instincts run strong there.”

Jason snorts. “Whatever, Dickface, you taught me everything I know about trolling and you know it.”

That’s… probably true. Dick’s the worst of them all when it comes to teasing and playing practical jokes.

“Anyway, with Timmy lying next to me I may not even be able to control it. Hands don’t hafta go under the blanket for me to have a wet dream about him.” Jason gives an exaggerated leer and Dick rolls his eyes in response, unimpressed.

Oh dear god why, why are you like this, Jason?

Tim whimpers, hiding his face again. The alpha next to him gently cuddles him close and kisses his hair apologetically.

“No one will be having any wet dreams tonight,” Bruce intones from right beside them because of course he does. He ignores everyone’s startled jumps as he drops a stack of boxes down into the center of the blanket and pillow pile. “Those who do not wish to use this time to sleep may play board games. Under my supervision.” He lowers himself into a sitting position and regards them stonily, possibly trying to think of an excuse to physically separate the couples for the time being so as to preserve the peace.

Alfred saves the day as usual, sailing in with several loaded trays somehow balanced in his shaky hands. As the old beta distributes the various teas, coffees, hot chocolates, and other refreshments he brought down for them, Tim makes eye contact with Jason again.

They’ll have plenty of time to figure themselves out later. Right now, they’ve got a chance to spend time with and enjoy their Pack. Their crazy, ridiculous, awesome Pack.

Tim feels Jason’s hand gently close around his. “Fine, but I call Timmy! We’re gonna whoop your ass at—” Jason glances down at the pile of boxes before them, raises his eyebrows, and then shrugs, “—Exploding Kittens, Settlers of Catan, Betrayal at House on Haunted Hill, Warlocks and Warriors, and Cards Against Humanity? What the fuck, B, where the hell’d you even find all these?”

“Tim’s locker,” Bruce growls, because he’s a horrible traitor determined to out Tim’s inherent nerdiness to the boy he likes. Also, there’s no way he has any idea what all of those games involve and he’s definitely in for a rude awakening when he finds out. A suitable punishment for embarrassing him in front of everyone.

Jason turns to him, eyes shining with delight. “Oh, Baby, you just keep getting better,” he crows. “Let’s kick their asses!”

Well, there’s only one way to answer that.

“Hell, yeah!” Tim says, smiling as he watches the others form teams and squabble over which game to play first. It’s really not how he expected tonight to end, but he’ll take it.

And if they’re sneaky about it, he and Jason will definitely be able to slip in a few more kisses while everyone else is distracted with the games. He grins.

Best near-death experience ever.