Summary- The Joker captures Nightwing, Red Hood, Red Robin, and Robin and forces Batman to make a terrible choice. Can Batman find a way to save his sons, or will the Joker succeed in breaking the Dark Knight?

Rated T for violence, language, and possible character death.

Dick is 24, Jason is 20, Tim is 16, and Damian is 10.

This story will have three chapters.

The Choice

Nightwing was already halfway to Gotham when he got the call from Batman. A nagging feeling had been haunting him all day and as soon as he had gotten off work, he changed from his cop uniform into his superhero uniform and headed to Gotham on his motorcycle.

"Nightwing. There's been a Arkham breakout, led by the Joker. Two Face, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, and Harley Quinn have all escaped. We need all hands on deck," Batman said.

"I'm on my way. Have you gotten in touch with Red Hood?"

"Negative. He's not answering my calls."

"I think I have a way to get in touch with him. I'll rendezvous with you later. Nightwing out."

It was only another five minutes until Nightwing reached the outskirts of Gotham. He headed towards one of Jason's safehouses. Jason wouldn't be pleased to see him, but Nightwing went anyway. Jason would have heard of the breakout by now. It was important the someone in the family found Jason before the young man found the Joker. Jason's hatred of the Joker would make him take unnecessary risks. Dick didn't want to lose his brother again.

He found Red Hood outside the safehouse, as if waiting for him. "Didn't know we were meeting up tonight, 'Wing," he said casually. "You know, these houses are supposed to be secret."

"I try to keep an eye on my little brothers," Nightwing responded.

"I haven't been little in a while now, Shorty. I suppose you're here to tell me to stay away from Joker?"

"If I did, would you listen?"

"Hell, no."

"We need your help. There's some serious villains out there tonight, and some of them are known for recruiting henchmen within a short time of their escape. We need to stop this before it gets out of hand and civilians get hurt. Are you in?"

"If I work with you, I'll have to do it your way," Red Hood said rudely. "No guns, no killing?"

"Yes to the second. If I can trust you to only do non-fatal shots, you can use your guns, if you stay away from Batman."

"Aw, thank you," Red Hood said sarcastically. "Glad to have your permission. Tell me why I don't just walk off and take care of this by myself?"

"I told you, we need you. A coordinated attack will take them down faster. And the faster we return them to Arkham, the fewer innocent people will get hurt."

"Fine. But I refuse to partner with the Replacement."

Nightwing rolled his eyes. Usually he would take this opportunity to defend Tim, but he knew Jason was just blowing off steam. He didn't like working with the family and only did it in extreme circumstances. An Arkham breakout fell in that category."Will you partner with me?"

"Sure. I guess you're not as annoying as the others. Most of the time."

"Thanks for the compliment." Nightwing radioed Batman. "I found Hood. We'll patrol the West side."

"Understood. Red Robin, Robin, and I will get the East side. Keep in radio contact and ask for backup if needed."

"We won't need your backup," Red Hood said under his breath. He didn't have a communicator. He had destroyed the last few that were offered to him. He didn't like his family keeping tabs on him. "So, are we going to chat all night, or can we go beat up some bad guys?"

They found Mr. Freeze first. He was skulking around an alley which made Nightwing nervous for a trap. Freeze usually headed straight for something he could use as a lab. Nightwing gestured to Red Hood to go around and surprise Freeze from behind. He took his bolas and prepared to tie the villain up. He waited to see if Freeze was going to lead them to a hideout, but when Freeze just walked back and forth, Nightwing threw the bolas. The ropes wrapped around Freeze's legs, knocking the man off balance. Mr. Freeze went down.

"Well, that wasn't so hard," Red Hood said, appearing behind the villain. "Tell me again why you needed my help so much?"

Penguin and ten of his men took that opportunity to show up. "Guess that answers your question, Hood," Nightwing said.

On the other side of town, Batman and the two younger heroes had their hands full with Two Face and a dozen men, all of them armed with machine guns. "Spread out," Batman ordered a moment before Two Face ordered, "Shoot them!" Red Robin moved to the right, Robin to the left. Batman charged straight forward, knocking two men down before they could get off even a single shot. Red Robin extended his bo staff and alternated between sweeping the men's legs out from under them and delivering quick blows to their heads. Robin relied on hand to hand combat since his sword was not allowed on patrol. The lack of his favorite weapon didn't hinder him. He easily dodged bullets and went for the pressure points of his victims.

Batman maneuvered himself behind the gang. Now the three vigilantes had the thugs surrounded. Already five of men were down. Batman trusted that his sons were capable of handling themselves in a fight, but whenever he was with them in a skirmish, part of his attention was on them. He saw one of the thugs, who had been down a moment before, gain his feet at aim his gun at the back of Red Robin's head. Before he could shout a warning, Robin threw a birdarang, which clipped the wrist of the man, causing him to drop his gun with a howl of pain. Red Robin took out the man in front of him and then gave Robin a quick nod of thanks.

Just then, there was a mad cackle that caused Batman's blood to freeze. He found the figure, clothed in a purple suit, standing at the end of the alley. Batman surveyed the scene behind him. Six of the men were unconscious, another four were groaning on the ground and didn't look like they had any fight left in them. Red Robin and Robin could take down the remaining three on their own, and the boys had proved that they didn't let their animosity at home interfere with the job. "I'm going after the Joker," he called to the Robins.

"We've got it here," Red Robin called back as Batman ran after the Joker. He smacked a gun from the hands of one of the men, which left all three criminals still standing unarmed. "You want to surrender?" he offered to the men.

"They don't want to do that," said a feminine voice from behind Red Robin. Before he could turn, a thick vine wrapped around him, pinning his arms to his torso. The vine lifted him several feet in the air and began to squeeze. His staff fell to the ground. Robin growled and rushed Poison Ivy, birdarang in hand.

"Robin, don't!" Red Robin managed to get out before Ivy blew some kind of powder in the boy's face. Robin blinked a few times and coughed. "Rebreather!" the teen reminded his younger brother.

Robin got the rebreather on, but Tim worried that he hadn't done it fast enough. He pulled out a birdarang of his own and began sawing at the vine that was holding him prisoner. Robin threw his projectile at the vine. It sliced through the plant. Ivy screamed and more vines attacked the younger hero. Red Robin landed on his feet and was immediately confronted by the men who had taken the opportunity to retrieve their guns during the distraction. He reached for his staff, but froze when he heard a cry from Robin. He looked over at his brother to see that the vines had wrapped around his chest and neck.

"Surrender, or I'll break his neck," Ivy said with a smile. Red Robin evaluated his options. He didn't have many. The men seemed eager to pay him back for the injuries he had caused them and Ivy didn't look like she was bluffing. He raised his hands in surrender. One of the men stepped forward and used the butt of his gun to knock the teen unconscious.

Red Hood moved forward to fight without a second thought. Nightwing rolled his eyes at his impulsive younger brother and then moved to cover his back. Penguin stayed to the rear, letting his thugs do the work. He didn't just escape Arkham to be sent immediately back. The men were careful to not get in each other's way. Nightwing wondered how Penguin had managed to get qualified henchmen on short notice and then worried that the breakout had been in the works for a long time. The better the villains planned, the more he would have to up his game.

Red Hood was shooting at kneecaps and shoulders, keeping his promise of non-lethal attacks. Nightwing wished that Red Hood would team up with him more often. He missed his younger brother and knew that the isolation wasn't good for the other man. A ricochet make Nightwing refocus on the fight. He knew how to dodge bullets, but the cramped quarters made it difficult to maneuver. The only blessing this alley offered was the fire escape, which allowed Nightwing to claim the high ground and attack from above. That also split the criminal's attention. They had to look around and up to keep both foes in sight.

The fight was wearing Nightwing down, but he could see that he and Red Hood were winning. The number of unconscious bad guys on the ground kept growing. When the last criminal was down, Nightwing remembered Penguin. The short man had seemingly disappeared. The hero thought back to when he had last seen Cobblepot, but was hard pressed for an answer. He chided himself at letting the other man get away.

"Nightwing!" Red Hood called the warning a second too slow. Nightwing turned and saw that Mr. Freeze had been defrosted, courtesy of Penguin. Nightwing wished he had a moment to appreciate the irony of a penguin getting rid of ice, but Mr. Freeze had already used his freeze ray to cement the hero's feet to the ground. Nightwing saw Red Hood go for the freeze ray and barely dodge another attack. The elder hero opened his utility belt to grab for something that would free him from his icy restraints.

Another blast of cold enveloped him from the shoulders down, and his hand was still too far from the laser to do any good. He was helpless to aid Red Hood, who was busy avoiding both bullets and blasts of ice. Nightwing watched as they fought, looking for advice to shout to the other hero, but Hood was doing well on his own. Red Hood took down Penguin with a bullet to the shoulder and kicked the criminal's umbrella away. He spun around to deal with Mr. Freeze, but the other villain was too quick. Red Hood was completely encased in ice. Then Freeze walked leisurely toward Nightwing. "You failed," the man said.

"What do you want? This isn't your style. How is this going to help your wife?" Nightwing asked.

"My benefactor has offered me a great deal of money for your capture. That money will help fund my research to help my wife. Plus, I have a guarantee that Gotham's heroes will not stop me from doing my work."

Penguin stepped forward with a cell phone pressed to his ear. "Yeah, Joker, it's done," he said and hung up the phone. Then he smirked at Nightwing. "Your night's about to get worse."

Nightwing didn't doubt it.

It had been two hours since the breakout, plenty of time for the Joker to have set one of his plans in motion. Batman was on alert for traps as he followed the madman. The Joker led him on a chase through alleys and abandoned buildings. Several times Batman worried that he had lost track of his prey, only for the clown to appear a minute later.

Just when Batman was thinking of calling for reinforcements, he turned the corner and was confronted with the sight of a young woman tied to a chair with a bomb strapped to her. The prisoner was in a business suit and heels, and a gag was in her mouth. She looked terrified. Harley Quinn stood next to her, mallet dangling carelessly from her hand.

"Guess you found me, Batsy!" the Joker cried with glee as he stepped out of the shadows and moved towards his girlfriend. "Now it's your turn to hide."

"We're not playing Hide and Seek," Batman said. "Let the woman go."

"You're right. There is a bigger game in the works tonight. But I think I'll hold on to her a little while longer."

"What do you want?"

"Shouldn't you be asking me how I escaped from Arkham?"

"How did you escape?" Batman asked. The answer wasn't important. Once he alerted the Arkham guards to fix the security breach, it wouldn't take long for the clown to find another hole in the system. Batman considered the idea that Joker was stalling.

"Not gonna tell," Joker said smugly. "Can't reveal all my tricks, now can I?" Batman tensed at a buzzing sound, but the Joker just removed his cell from his pocket. "Well? Yes, I see. Good." He hung up. "Nothing to worry about," he told the hero.

"One way or another, you'll end up back at the asylum. It doesn't matter what you have planned."

Harley giggled. "He has no idea what is in store for him."

The phone buzzed again. Joker answered it. "Yeah? Both of them? Good."

Batman felt dread settle in his stomach. He touched his comm. "Nightwing, report." No response. "Robin? Red Robin? Come in." He wished that Jason would have taken a comm tonight so he could try him as well, but Batman had a feeling it wouldn't have made a difference. He couldn't get a hold of any of his sons.

Joker cackled gleefully. "Oh, now he sees. Well the game is set up and waiting for you. I just need a few minutes to get into position. And that will give you time to disarm this bomb, here. I'll see you soon." Joker said an address and then he and Harley ran off. Batman wanted to follow them immediately, but there was a civilian in danger.

He approached the woman cautiously, on alert for booby traps. There weren't any. The woman was still crying softly. "You'll be fine," he told her. "I am going to get you out of here."

Batman deactivated the bomb and untied the hostage. "How did he capture you?" he asked as soon as the woman pulled the gag from her mouth.

"It was Harley. I was walking and she hit me with her hammer. When I regained consciousness, I was tied to that chair." The woman wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

"Did she or Joker say anything about their plans?"

The woman nodded. "Joker said he was going to hurt you badly, but it was going to be your fault."

"You need to get home quickly," Batman told her. The woman retrieved her purse from the ground. "It's not safe to be outside tonight."

With the hostage taken care of, Batman rushed to the address the Joker had left him. None of his sons were responding to his calls. He told himself that they would still be alive. He just had to make it in time before that changed.

Batman checked the perimeter for traps before he went inside. When Batman entered the room, he was shocked by the scene in front of him. His sons were up against the wall in a line, restraints at their neck, wrists, and ankles. Their gloves and utility belts had been taken. Red Robin's cape had been removed, but his cowl remained. Red Hood's helmet was also gone, but the domino mask was still in place. Joker never did care about discovering their identities. What horrified Batman, though, was the syringe that was positioned so that it pressed up against each hero's throat. They weren't even able to turn their heads for fear of injecting whatever it was into their necks. Joker was nowhere in sight.

Batman's gaze quickly went over each of his sons. They were conscious and didn't appear to be injured, but they were all silent. He took a cautious step forward to a console that stood in between himself and his sons. The TV screen above the prisoners turned on, revealing the Joker's smirking face. "Oh, Batsy, so nice of you to join us. Your boys have been waiting oh-so-patiently for the game to start."

"What game?" Batman growled, his mind already jumping ahead to figure out the Joker's scheme. He could get everyone out of this alive if he just thought fast enough. He had outwitted the Joker before. He could do it again.

"It's a simple game, but it's important that you listen to the rules. The first rule, I've already told the Robins, they are not to talk until the game starts. The second, no stepping off the platform before the game is finished." Batman looked down and saw that he and the console were a step higher than the rest of the room. There was enough distance that he wouldn't be able to reach any of the prisoners without stepping down. No beams to attach a line to so he could swing across. Maybe a batarang, if he aimed it just right, could take out the contents of a syringe, but would he be able to break all four before the Joker retaliated?

"Now, how the game is played. You see in front of you four birds. There are four buttons on the console. You'll see that each button is labeled with a name. The button will activate the machine that will inject the drug into the neck of the chosen hero. Don't worry, it's a fast acting poison. Shouldn't cause too much pain." The Joker cackled at that. "All you have to do is choose. Pick one to die, and you can walk out of here with the other three. Very generous of me, I think. I could just kill them all. But that wouldn't be very sporting. You have five minutes. If you don't decide, you'll have four dead birdies on your hands. Choose quickly!" He laughed again and then the screen went blank. Batman had no doubt that the villain was still watching though.

"Batman!" one of the other heroes was calling, but he pushed it aside. Batman bent to inspect the console. He pried the cover loose and examined the wires inside. If he could cut the wires, then it would be safe for him to manually move the syringes away.

The TV flickered back to life. "Uh, uh, uh!" Joker said, wagging his finger. "No cheating!" He held up a remote. "If you can't play by the rules, then I'll press this button and end the game. One dies, or they all die."

"Release them," Batman commanded. "Take me instead."

"That's not how this game is played." Joker sounded petulant, though he had to know that Batman would offer himself up to protect his sidekicks, past and present. "Choose a Robin, or I'll choose for you." The TV turned back off.

Batman felt sick to his stomach. How could he make a choice like this? The timer was already down to four minutes, ten seconds. His sons were talking to him, drowning out his thoughts, but Jason's voice cut through the noise.

"Y'know you're going to chose me, so just get it over with. There's no point in keeping up the charade." There was anger in Red Hood's voice.

"Red Hood," Batman said sternly.

"You lost me once and got over it. I'm sure you'll survive a second time around."Jason's defense mechanism of pushing people away had kicked in immediately. He was so worried about being betrayed that he decided to force the issue to get it over with.

"That's not fair!" Nightwing insisted. "Don't do this, Hood."

"If we just think about this logically-" Red Robin started, but Robin cut him off.

"Logically decide who should die? Really, Red Robin..."

"That's not what I meant."

"Then what did you mean, Red Robin?"

"Maybe there's another way around this."

Red Hood interjected sarcastically, "The four of us can't move, we don't have our lockpicks, Batman can't step forward or tamper with the console, the Joker's watching our every move and if he suspects we're up to something, he'll kill us all. Am I missing something?"

"There has to be something," Red Robin insisted.

"Enough." Nightwing's strong, clear voice broke through the argument. "Batman, I want you to chose me. I'm the oldest. You need to protect the others."

Batman looked at the young man, the boy he had taken in fifteen years ago and loved as his son. "I can't."

"You have to. Time is running out. There's no way around it- we've all tried to think of something. Someone has to die. I'm fine with it being me, if that means the others survive."

"No, Nightwing!" Robin's voice cried out. "Batman, don't listen to him."

"So you'd rather one of the rest of us dies, Robin? As long as it's not Nightwing?" Red Hood said.

"Be quiet, Hood," Red Robin commanded. "Batman, how much time left?"

Batman looked down at the timer. "One minute, forty seconds."

"Do you see another way out of this, Batman?" Nightwing asked. " 'Cause I don't. If there was a way to get all of us out alive, I'd take it, trust me. I wouldn't throw my life away needlessly. But I'd do it to protect my family."

There was silence for several seconds. Then Red Robin spoke up quietly, "Is there a way to save all of us, Batman?" The Dark Knight shook his head guiltily. "Then choose me. Listen, you haven't known me as long as Nightwing or Red Hood, and I know you can't give up Robin... Let me make the sacrifice."

"No, Red Robin! It has to be me!" Nightwing insisted.

"Great, so now we're going to run out the clock with self-sacrificing gestures," Red Hood said rudely. "If I can remind everyone, I did offer myself first."

"Batman, we're running out of time. Please, say you'll do it," Nightwing begged.

Batman gave a tiny nod, even though the father in him was screaming no.

"I love you all," Nightwing said. He couldn't turn and face his brothers, but he strained his eyes to catch a glimpse of them. "This is my decision. It's not Batman's fault. Please help him remember that. Don't let him be like... Like before." Everyone knew he was referring to how Batman had been after Jason's death.

Bruce wanted to say something. He was never good at expressing love for his children, and the time constraint just made it worse. Besides that, he knew the Joker was still watching, intruding on this last moment he had with his son. He couldn't even call Dick by name without exposing their identities. "You were... It was an honor to have you as a partner." That was all he could say. His throat was closing up. "Nightwing, ten seconds."

"Do it," the hero said. He smiled one last time and closed his eyes. Batman watched the timer count down, six, five, four, hoping for a miracle. At two, it became clear there was no miracle coming. He pressed the button.

The machine jammed the syringe into Nightwing's neck. The young man gritted his teeth as the poison was injected into his bloodstream, then his head fell forward limply. Batman moved towards the prisoners. He forced himself to momentarily abandon Nightwing. Joker's games usually had a second part that leapt up unexpectedly when they thought they were safe. He had to get everyone out of the building at once. Batman headed for Red Hood instead. He unfastened the bindings and then ordered, "Release the others." Only then did he turn to his fallen son.

The TV turned on again, confirming Batman's fears. "Wow, I can't believe you actually did it. I didn't know you had it in you, Batman! I suppose you're waiting for Round Two. I wouldn't want to disappoint! There is a bomb underneath the floor. I've just activated it. You have sixty seconds to get out before it goes BOOM!" The TV turned off, leaving the heroes to move more frantically. After Red Hood released Red Robin, the man moved to Batman's side while Red Robin unfastened Robin's bindings. An unexplained hunch made Red Robin take a full syringe with him. Robin grabbed the box that contained their stolen belongings.

"We've got to get out of here, B," Red Hood said.

"I'm not leaving him," Batman said. He had checked Nightwing's pulse and found nothing. He was now undoing the bindings. Red Hood knelt to unfasten the straps on Nightwing's ankles. Soon, everyone was free. Batman carried Nightwing's body while Red Hood ushered the two younger boys out of the building. They had just crossed the street when the building exploded.

The four stood there, trying to let their minds come to terms with what just happened. Robin broke the moment by stepping closer to Batman and Nightwing. Batman made a decision. They wouldn't all fit in the Batmobile. If he didn't get Red Hood home, his wayward son would disappear and he would never have a chance to talk with him. He pressed the button on his utility belt to summon the Batmobile. "Red Robin, take Robin home. Hood, you're with me."

Red Hood and Robin started to protest, but Batman cut them off. "Stop," he commanded in a voice like steel. "Do as I said." The Batmobile pulled up and Batman laid his precious burden down in the backseat. Batman got in the front seat and Red Hood joined him in the passenger seat.

"See you kids at home," Red Hood said, trying to sound casual. "Be careful." The car roared away. Red Robin waited until the car was out of sight before speaking.

"Look, I know you're feeling a lot of emotions that you're not used to dealing with in ways other than violence, but let's get back to the Cave before we fight, okay?" Red Robin said tiredly to his successor. Robin gave a terse nod and the two boys went to the closest hidden door that led to the Batcave.

Red Robin opened the secret passage and they stepped inside, the door shutting behind them. Lights flickered on down the passage. Tim entered the code that would summon a motorcycle to their position. He wished there was a second bike that was programmed to come. It was five miles to the Batcave, which meant five minutes sharing a motorcycle with Damian.

He looked over at Damian to see if their truce was close to wearing off. If it had been anyone else in the world, Tim would swear they were close to tears. But this was Damian Wayne. Then again, Dick was the one person in the world the boy was close to. Since Damian didn't have a sword on him, and probably didn't have any knives either, Tim risked putting his hand on the boy's shoulder. "I'm sorry."

"It should have been you."

Tim was too tired to argue. "You know what? You're right. Dick held this family together. We've proven that everyone can function without me around. It should have been me."

Damian turned, and Tim could see there were tears on his face. "I didn't mean it. Sometimes I say things-" his voice broke.

"I know," Tim said. The motorcycle arrived then, and the boys climbed on without another word.

Bruce knew that he should have taken the opportunity to talk to Jason in the car while he could keep the young man around for the conversation, but words stuck in his throat. When they pulled up in the Cave, Jason immediately got out and walked away. Bruce called out before it was too late. "Jason! Stay the night." When the young man didn't act like he had heard him, Bruce added, "Please." Jason paused.

"One night," he agreed, and then continued away, passing Alfred in the process.

"Master Jason, it is so good to have you back home," the butler said, not offended when Jason didn't respond. Alfred almost said something about wearing costumes in the house, but he saw Jason pull off the domino mask as he climbed the stairs. It was late enough that Jason could get to his room to change without being seen by someone outside the family. And without the hood or mask, the rest of his clothes wouldn't be obvious as a hero's costume.

Alfred looked at Bruce, who had taken Dick from the Batmobile and was now carrying him. "Good heavens, why didn't you tell me? What medical equipment do you need?" The butler rushed toward Bruce's side, but Bruce didn't pause in his way to the med table in the middle of the Cave.


Alfred had to veer to reach Bruce. "Nothing? Is he unconscious?" Both men reached the table at the same time. Bruce set down his cargo and set his palms on the table, allowing his weight to rest on it.


"But Master Bruce-" Alfred caught on to what was being implied, but he had to check for himself. He touched the young man's throat, and when he didn't find a pulse, he whispered, "Oh, no."

Bruce went to the Batcomputer and initiated a protocol that would inform Oracle that the Birds of Prey would be needed to patrol tonight. The police would need all the help they could get in taking down so many villains. The Bats were done tonight. Then he returned to the exam table where Alfred stood by the motionless body. "My fault," Bruce admitted aloud.

"Master Bruce, I have every confidence that you-"

"Not now, Alfred."

Alfred had been working for Bruce long enough that he knew what the man needed, and he knew that anything he said by way of consolation would fall on deaf ears. He tried another question, hoping that he wouldn't receive more bad news. "Masters Timothy and Damian?"

"On their way."

Alfred thanked God for not compounding the grief tonight with multiple deaths. "I shall see to them when they arrive, sir." In a rare physical gesture, he put his hand on Bruce's shoulder. "If you need anything, you know I will be close by."

Bruce managed a small nod of thanks, then resumed his undivided attention on his son's body. Alfred moved away to give Bruce privacy to mourn, and to give himself a chance to deal with his own grief. He cared for Bruce as his own son, and he privately thought of the boys as his grandsons. While the butler seldom showed his emotions outward, that didn't mean that this did not affect him. Dick's death weighed heavy in his heart.

A few minutes later, Alfred heard the engine of a motorcycle approach. He stepped forward to intercept Tim and Damian. Tim immediately pulled off his cowl, but Damian left the domino mask on. A desire to hug both boys overcame the butler, but Damian walked away before Alfred could decide whether or not to act on it. The boy headed upstairs. Tim noticed that Alfred didn't say anything about Damian wearing the Robin uniform upstairs. "It's good to have you home, young sirs," Alfred said before Damian was out of earshot. Damian didn't pause or respond.

"Thank you, Alfred," Tim said quietly. He looked over at Bruce's still figure.

"Best not to disturb him tonight," Alfred said, following the teen's gaze.

Tim nodded. "I'm just going to run something on the computer." He paused. "Maybe you should check on Damian. This is hitting him pretty hard."

"It is hitting us all hard, Master Tim." Alfred went upstairs to check on his other charges.

Tim carefully extracted a sample of the poison and set the computer to analyze it. He sat in front of the computer while it ran its diagnostics. After several minutes, a voice asked, "What are you doing?"

The teen looked back at Bruce, whose eyes were still fixed in front of him. Tim wondered if Bruce was really talking to him. "I brought home one of the syringes. I'm testing it now."


Grief from losing his brother, guilt from Damian's accusation, and now being questioned by Bruce all made Tim snap out his answer. "Why? Because I need to do something. I can't sit here and be helpless, useless, again." Tim broke down in tears. He heard Bruce come up behind him, but he still flinched when Bruce put his arm around him. "It should have been me."

"No, Tim." Bruce's heart was breaking again.

"You don't need me, not really."

"Don't say that. We need you. I need you." Tim turned into Bruce's embrace and sobbed. After a minute or two, the teen composed himself. As much as he wanted to stay in his father's arms, he forced himself to move away before Bruce could be the one to end the hug.

The computer beeped, alerting both heroes that the diagnostic was complete. "That's weird," Tim said, looking at the results.

"What is?" Bruce said, leaning over him to see. Even though he could probably figure it out on his own, he knew that Tim needed a self-esteem boost, and a good way to do that was letting Tim do what he did best.

"The major component of the drug injected into Dick was Succinylcholine. That's a muscle relaxant. It can be used as an anesthetic. And the dose of that alone wouldn't be enough to-" Tim cut himself off before he could say 'kill Nightwing.'

"Why would Joker use that in a poison?" Bruce asked, still staring at the screen intently. "And what is the rest of the compound?"

"I'm not sure," Tim said, his fingers moving over the keyboard as he tried to gather more information. "The computer doesn't recognize it. It could be a new drug. And usually when there's a drug the Batcomputer doesn't recognize, it's probably-"

"Crane's work," Bruce said. "But that leads to another question. Scarecrow likes his fear toxins. Why would he create a drug for Joker that would kill someone, without causing hallucinations and a spike in adrenaline?"

Tim shook his head. He didn't have answers yet. "I'm telling the computer to disregard the Succinylcholine aspect and compare the rest of the drug to the formulas we have on file of the Fear Toxins that Scarecrow has used before." When he finished typing, he looked back up at Bruce. "It will take longer to the computer to have results. Probably a few hours."

"You should get some sleep." Tim opened his mouth to argue."Please, Tim. You need your rest. This has been a... difficult night."

"What about you?" the teen asked, knowing before he received an answer that Bruce wasn't going to sleep tonight.

"I'm staying here."

"Goodnight, Bruce," Tim said, and he went to the Cave's bathroom to change out of his uniform. Just because Damian was going to break the rules didn't mean Tim was going to as well.

Upstairs, Tim paused by Damian's door, wondering if he should check on the boy. Then he heard voices inside and realized that Alfred was still with the boy. Tim also spared a glance down the hall at Jason's room. The teen came to the conclusion that he wasn't in the best shape to comfort anyone. He went to his own room and fell asleep, thoughts of losing everyone he loved haunting his nightmares.

A/N Stay tuned for part two.