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It was a lazy Tuesday.  It was supposed to be a lazy Tuesday.  Batman was off-world for a Justice League mission, which meant that Tim got to spend a week at Titans Tower.  He needed some time to himself after getting claimed as part of Bruce’s pack.  That had been…overwhelming, and the part of him that was a cat had been shrieking to find high ground and hide all weekend.

 

Being claimed was everything that thirteen-year-old Tim Drake had wanted.  Bruce had certainly acted like Tim was pack from the very start, though he’d toned it down when Tim got spooked—he was pretty sure he didn’t need to be groomed once a week, his parents only did it once every few months—but only after Tim’s old pack had passed away had Bruce offered a claim.

 

It had taken the combined efforts of Dick and Alfred to coax Tim’s cat down from the bookshelf after that, and nearly two months before Tim accepted the formal offer.  He wanted to be part of Bruce’s pack, he liked being part of Bruce’s pack, it was just—a lot.  Tim wasn’t used to pack being around all the time.

 

Hence the relaxing vacation.  No pack, no plots, no being trapped between an overgrown puppy and overexcited cat.  Nothing but Robin and some quiet time.

 

“Hello, Replacement.”

 

The bo staff was snapped out before Tim even finished turning around, his blood freezing as he caught sight of the obnoxious red helmet.  He hadn’t heard a peep.  His security system—reinforced and adjusted and bolstered until it could keep Lex Luthor out—hadn’t made a sound.

 

“Hood,” Tim said flatly.  They were in one of the common rooms.  There was a door behind Tim, to the left.  The Red Hood was ten steps away.

 

There was a reason that Bruce hadn’t wanted Tim to stay in Gotham when he was gone, and that reason was six foot two with Lazarus green eyes.

 

“You’re a long way from Gotham,” Tim continued, keeping the staff up in a basic guard.  Hood was armored.  Hood was armed.  Tim was in workout clothes with a bo staff while Hood had guns.

 

Tim pressed the distress beacon in his pocket, but didn’t feel any better.

 

“So are you,” Hood said, distorted voice echoing out from the helmet, “Decided to hide, Replacement?  Lock yourself in a tower so the big, bad dragon doesn’t find you?”

 

“You’re hardly a dragon, Jason,” Tim said levelly.

 

Hood unholstered a gun.  “And you’re not a bird,” he said flatly, “I’m going to hammer that into your thick skull if I have to pluck your feathers myself.”  He took a step forward, and Tim took a step back, heart pounding.  His staff felt laughable in his hands.  “You stole the suit from me, Replacement.  Let’s see if you deserve it.”

 

Tim backed up further.  If he got to the door—there was a panic room a floor down, an armory three floors down, he could hide in the elevator shafts, he could make a break for the zetas, he could—

 

“Oh, I’ve been looking forward to this fight,” Hood laughed, and the mechanized sound was chilling.

 

“Really?” Tim arched an eyebrow, tone flat, “You looked forward to ambushing a teenager?”  Hood’s movements jerked the slightest amount.  “What’s this going to prove, Jason?  Who has more armor?  Who has guns?  Who came prepared for this fight?”

 

Hood paused.  Holstered his gun.  “You’re right,” he said, and Tim gawked at him.  He’d just been stalling, but Hood was as unpredictable as the reports stated.  “Let’s make this a fair fight.”

 

Tim could almost see the grin on Hood’s face as he yanked out a gas canister and pulled the pin free.  A white fog immediately came whistling out, filling the room, and Tim tried to cover his face as he blindly stumbled towards the door, but his rebreather was floors away.

 

Jason’s voice was free of the distorter as he called out, low and malicious, “Cat to cat.”

 

Tim felt his limbs jerk.  Felt the cat awaken.  Thought-screamed no inside his head as his body shifted and changed, forced down and smaller as the cat stretched free.

 

The fog was everywhere.  The room rapidly grew around him, the perspective almost dizzying in its suddenness, and Tim unbalanced on four furry limbs as terror choked him tight.

 

There was a gleaming black panther in front of him, and it bared its teeth in vicious satisfaction.

 


 

Jason felt the thrill of challenge sink into his bones as the cat settled into place.  The panther wanted to hunt, and he had the perfect prey.  The worm that had stolen his place, the cat that thought it could poach from his territory, only Timothy Drake had never expected Jason to come back and fight for what was his.

 

So they were going to settle this, right here and now.  Jason had spent months training as a panther after Talia told him that the Replacement was a feline shifter, months to be sure that he could shred this interloper to—where the fuck was he?

 

The fog was dissipating, the astringent smell of the gas that would force and lock a shift fading away, but there was no sign of a big cat.  No leopard or jaguar or—Talia said that the Replacement had black fur, but Jason couldn’t see a single black cat, had the little shit already made a break for it—

 

There was a ball of fluff on the floor.  As Jason stared at it, it moved, skittering towards the door, and Jason moved automatically to bound forward and block it off.

 

The ball of fluff froze in place.  Jason bent down and saw wide blue eyes amidst dark fur.  No, some part of him thought in dull horror.  No, this couldn’t be—Talia had said—the Replacement was—he was supposed to be a big cat, was supposed to be a fucking replacement, not—not this goddamn kitten the size of Jason’s fucking paws.

 

Jason growled in sheer frustration.  The kitten cheeped—fucking cheeped—and went streaking for the other end of the room.  Well, as fast as a baby kitten could run, and wait a fucking minute, the Replacement was a teenager, why was his shift still a baby?

 

There were too many thoughts crowding into his head—dissections of Talia’s cryptic words, half-remembered articles about pack abuse, musings on whether that gas had been laced with something—and Jason gave into his instincts and chased the moving ball of fluff.

 

Panthers were apex predators designed for the hunt.  House cats were only a shallow imitation.  Kittens didn’t even have that.  It was the work of seconds to corral the Replacement into the corner and he stalked forward as the tiny kitten backed itself against the walls, trembling.

 

It made the tiniest, most piteous meow that Jason had ever heard.

 

Oh no.  Oh no no no.  It was upset.  It was terrified.  It was calling for pack but there was no pack here, there was no one but Jason in a tower he’d already proved susceptible to hacking and every one of his instincts went on hyper drive.

 

Fact: there was a small, defenseless baby kitten locked into his shift.  Fact: the baby kitten was alone, aside from Jason.  Fact: Jason was going to maul anyone who so much as looked funny at this tiny little ball of fluff.

 

The kitten made a lot of panicked meowing as Jason bent down, but succumbed to silence when Jason gently, carefully, precisely bit down on his scruff to pick him up.  Fuck, he wasn’t any bigger than a mouthful, and Jason kept careful attention on his teeth as he carried the kitten away from the corner.

 

He needed someplace safe.  But he didn’t know where safety was, and the cat wanted to go somewhere high but the kitten was already so tiny and Jason was afraid of dropping him, especially when he barely weighed anything at all.

 

There had to be somewhere safe in this Tower.  Somewhere that Jason could curl around his kitten and protect him from any intruders and enemies because the baby kitten couldn’t do anything with its needle claws or tiny teeth.  It was so fucking small, Jason could’ve killed him with an absent-minded swipe, and the thought filled him with so much horror that he could feel the panic beginning to surge.

 

He needed someplace safe.  The kitten was in danger.  He needed someplace safe right fucking now, he needed to protect, what kind of fucking pack was he if he couldn’t even protect one tiny little kitten

 

Safety.  He knew where safety was.  Jason ran, bounding through hallways and up stairs, running as fast as he could while keeping the kitten safe, desperate to reach a place that had always represented safety.  The door was closed and so he crashed through it, stumbling into the dusty room beyond.  The scent was weak, but it was still present, so Jason climbed onto the blue bedspread before gently, carefully lowering his head to deposit the kitten in the middle of the bed.

 

And then he growled, loud and fierce, warning anyone in earshot that Jason was prepared to defend his charge with tooth and claw.  The kitten was his, and anyone who tried to take it from him would pay dearly.  Jason settled on the bedspread after stalking a few circles, and curled around the trembling little ball of fluff, until the kitten was tucked between a paw and the side of Jason’s face.

 

Safe.  Warm.  Protected.

 

Pack.

 


 

Tim cursed as he tried to shift again, and slammed straight into the mental wall blocking it out.  He didn’t want to be stuck as a kitten.  He especially didn’t want to be stuck as a kitten with a giant panther smothering him between his paws.

 

A particularly rough lick caused Tim to tip over, and he hissed at the indignity, puffing up and baring his teeth.  The panther took no notice, and merely licked over him to smooth the fur down.  Tim deflated, defeated, and slumped into the mattress.

 

Tim had expected to be eaten.  Or mauled.  Or attacked in some fashion, any fashion, because Hood had clearly been looking for a fight—except Jason had carried him here and instead of chomping off his head, had started grooming him.

 

He had tried valiantly to struggle.  To escape.  To fight back.  But Tim’s tiny claws could barely prick the panther, Jason had only chuffed when Tim tried to gnaw on his paw, and whenever he managed to wriggle free of the panther’s cage of paws, he was again plucked up by the scruff of his neck and deposited back in the center of the bed with an admonishing growl.

 

If there was any question that Jason was Bruce’s kid, it had been thoroughly destroyed.

 

This was torture.  The Red Hood was torturing him.  Tim snarled at the indignity of it, except it came out as a tiny, despondent wail and fuck, he hated being a kitten.

 

Jason made a low rumble, pressing firmly against him, and Tim refused to admit that it soothed him.  Refused.  He flicked his tail against Jason’s face in irritation.

 

There was a teasing nip to his tail and oh, Jason was looking so pleased with himself.  Well, he could just go and fuck himself, because Tim would wait until he was sleeping before clawing his eyes off to prove that just because he was small didn’t mean he wasn’t dangerous and—

 

Was that barking?

 

Tim perked up even as Jason tugged him back, the panther growling low and vicious.  Tim struggled harder against his grasp—if that was a Titan, if he could just reach the door, if—

 

A large golden retriever came bounding into the room.  Tim froze, caught between relief and suspicion.  The panther’s growls stuttered.  For a moment, the room was silent as the shifters stared at each other.

 

And then Dick jumped forward, clambering smoothly on top of the bed—his bed, Tim realized, they were in Nightwing’s room—utterly ignoring Jason’s warning growl growing louder and sharper.  Dick shoved his face towards Tim, trapped in Jason’s paws, before the panther decided enough was enough.

 

One paw squishing Tim in place, Jason snapped the other towards Dick.  Dick didn’t move, letting the paw land on his face.  Tim made a high-pitched sound and writhed against Jason’s grip.

 

But there was no blood.  Jason hadn’t extended his claws.  Dick waited patiently in place—or as patient as a golden retriever could be—until Jason huffed and dropped the paw in resignation.  Dick immediately bent over Tim and licked enthusiastically, messing up his fur, until Tim yowled, at which point he moved onto Jason.

 

Jason showed his displeasure with a growl and batted at Dick again, but this time Dick danced out of reach, seemingly intent on peppering Jason’s face with doggy kisses.  The distraction finally, finally let Tim worm himself free and he staggered forward and to the side to lick his hair back into place.

 

Stupid Dick.  Stupid Jason.  Stupid tiny kitten shift.  Tim hissed his displeasure at the world.

 

The world answered, in the form of Jason realizing that he’d lost Tim and making several panicked chirps before pouncing on Tim again and aggressively cuddling him.  Tim wearily submitted to the grooming.

 

And he’d come here to get away from pack.

 

Tim mournfully meowed and curled up to wait it out.

 


 

The gas wore off for Jason first, as he’d planned, the Lazarus Pit burning through the toxin.  Originally it had been a failsafe if something had gone wrong—if the Replacement was actually a match for Jason on four legs—and this wasn’t the same kind of emergency, but Jason was still glad to shift back and wriggle away from the pile of limbs and fur without getting barraged by questions.

 

“Alright, I’m out,” Jason said as two sets of blue eyes snapped his way, resolutely ignoring the looks on their faces.  He hadn’t gotten what he’d come here for, and he had some very pointed questions for Talia.  Feline shifter, his ass.  Talia had known full well what she’d been sending him into.

 

The kitten didn’t say anything, but Dick bounded to the edge of the bed, making a mournful expression and whining.  “Nope,” Jason said flatly, “I didn’t come here for cuddles, and I still don’t like you.”

 

The whining got louder, but Jason left the room without looking back.  Nightwing’s room.  Yet another thing to get embarrassed about, that he’d gone running straight to his older brother for protection.

 

He didn’t need protection.  He was the goddamn Red Hood.

 

He ignored all further yelps and whines as he stalked out.  He’d left his helmet two floors down, and he had a long drive back to Gotham.  Jason was already mentally composing his rant at Talia—the statement ‘he’s a feline shifter, just like you’ carried some implication that Tim was a big cat, like Jason, not a fucking tiny kitten, and Talia better have a fucking explanation, and—

 

An oddly muffled bark sounded behind him, accompanied by nonstop meowing, and Jason spun around, finger raised.  “I don’t care—what the fuck are you doing to him?!”

 

Dick was carrying Tim in his mouth, except he was doing it wrong, and the baby kitten was struggling against the grip, meowing as he tried to win his freedom.  Jason dropped in front of Dick before he made a conscious decision to, and held out his hand.  “Drop him,” Jason snarled.

 

The dog opened his mouth, and Tim fell into Jason’s hands.

 

The poor little kitten was trembling.  “He’s not a puppy,” Jason snapped at Dick, who had transformed from cheerful to repentant, “You have any idea how dangerous that was?”  Especially to such a tiny little kitten—one wrong move and Dick could’ve broken bones.

 

Jason clutched Tim tighter to his chest.

 

“Where’s B?” Jason asked testily.  Jason hated the guy, but Bruce was at least a fucking cat, and could take care of the kitten a whole lot better than this enthusiastic but dumb dog.

 

Dick tilted his head back and barked at the ceiling.

 

“Upstairs?” Jason asked, confused.

 

Dick shook his head and stood up, nearly toppling over as he pointed his nose straight up.  If not upstairs…then beyond that?  The sky?

 

“Space?” Jason asked slowly.

 

Dick woofed, tail wagging.

 

Jason groaned.  Tim was attempting to climb his armor, tiny claws sticking as he scaled his way up, and when he reached the top, he tucked himself underneath the collar of Jason’s jacket.  Jason could feel fur tickling his neck.

 

Godfuckingdammit.

 

Fine,” Jason hissed, raising a hand to protectively cup the little kitten, “I’ll come back to the Manor, but only until the gas wears off.  None of you idiots know how to take care of a kitten.”  And there was clearly some long-term pack abuse to unpack, if Tim’s shift was a baby animal.  Jason could make sure the shifter was being treated right.

 

Dick woofed happily, nearly tackling Jason as he jumped on him, and Jason had the stark, sinking feeling that he would regret this decision.

 

This was all Talia’s fault.