Thanks to everyone who read this story, especially those who reviewed. Here's the final chapter.
Tim must have dozed off in the chair because when he woke up, Batman was standing next to him. He tried to decide if Bruce coming into the Batcave and changing with waking Tim was a sign of Bruce's stealth or of how bad off Tim was. His brain was sluggish, so he let that thought go.
"Where's Jason?" Batman asked.
"I told him to stay here."
"He told me that you weren't the boss of him. I extrapolated that he also didn't consider that I was the boss of him. Plus, I'm not really in a position to stop him." Batman's eyes narrowed, but Tim had been on the receiving end of the Batglares enough that he was mostly immune.
Tim's head was definitely hurting now. He looked around the cave to give him something to focus on. Dick had suited up, but Damian's hero garb was conspicuously absent. The boy scowled, his arms crossed. So, Robin was benched. Tim hoped that Alfred was up for running interference. He wasn't in the mood to deal with an angry little brother.
Batman and Nightwing left. Tim sighed and turned back to the computer. He was vaguely aware the Damian was still behind him, probably pouting, but since the boy wasn't doing anything to disturb him, Tim decided to ignore him. Then Tim's stomach revolted, and the teen fled to the bathroom. He retched painfully over the toilet. Great, this was his favorite symptom so far. He cleaned himself up and went back to the computer. Damian was still standing there.
"What?" Tim asked unpleasantly.
"You should be in bed," Damian replied.
"I need to get this done. Who else is going to do it, you?"
"I have more than a basic knowledge of chemistry," Damian said evenly.
"You need more than that. Scarecrow is a genius when it comes to creating new chemical formulas, and he's had decades to experiment. There are still parts of this compound that the computer hasn't been able to identify. I might stand a chance of creating an antidote. I don't think you do."
"Show me what you're working on. I'll take over while you rest. Then I'll wake you when I need your assistance."
Tim stared at the other boy. Damian said 'when' not 'if.' And he didn't get angry over the jab to his intelligence. "Who are you and what have you done with Damian?"
"I do not understand."
"You're being nice."
"You are ill and dying, and the only person in the world has access to the antidote is a villain. I thought this was one of those times where I was expected to show... compassion."
"You never cease to amaze me, kid." Tim looked at the screen. "If I rest, it will just make it harder to refocus when I come back. I need to press on." Tim covered his mouth as the rest of the contents of his stomach threatened to leave. Damian quickly acquired a small trash can and brought it to Tim's side. Thankfully, the teen didn't need to use it.
"Can I have Pennyworth get anything for you?"
"I don't know."
"Perhaps some pain reliever?"
"It might cloud my judgment."
"You know, if things get bad, there is a cure close by."
"Where? Scarecrow's hideout? That's where Batman and Nightwing are going." Tim wondered if the reminder that the other heroes were out while Damian himself was stuck here would set the boy off.
"No, here." Damian indicated the sample Tim had recovered before the bomb had gone off.
"Yeah, but that's my test sample. If I use it, it will make it more difficult to come up with an antidote for you and Jason. Plus, it's Joker's modified version, so it will knock me unconscious for several hours. I won't be able to work on the antidote. "
Damian gave Tim a look. Tim wondered if the younger boy was trying to communicate that he knew that, and he was willing to take that chance, but Damian turned away before Tim could figure it out for sure.
"I'll fetch Pennyworth. I'm sure you'll think of something you need." Damian turned and walked away.
"Hey, Damian?" Tim called when the boy was halfway up the stairs. "Thanks."
Nightwing and his mentor were silent as the Batmobile raced down the streets. Part of the reason for his silence was that he didn't want to remind Batman he was there and have the older hero change his mind about Nightwing coming along. The other part of him worried about his brothers. What if Scarecrow had destroyed the antidote and the notes on how to create it? Would Tim be able to reverse-engineer a cure in time?
They reached the hideout before too much time had passed. Even though it was still early evening, Batman knew all the back alleys and shortcuts to get anywhere in Gotham quickly. That was good; lives were on the line. Batman signaled for Nightwing to join him on the roof. The two heroes used their grappling hooks to get to the roof. Batman motioned to their point of entry- a small skylight. They burst through and glided to the floor. Nightwing didn't see Scarecrow, but he did hear screaming from one of the villain's victims. Nightwing rushed to the table to help the man while Batman swept the area looking for Scarecrow. Nightwing was shocked to find the man tied to the table was his missing brother. "Hood?" he asked in surprise, years of training keeping him from saying Jason's civilian name. Villains had a tendency to hide in corners and hear things they shouldn't.
Jason screamed again as Nightwing undid the straps. Nightwing made sure to duck the other man's wild swings as soon as Jason's arms were free. Then he stepped in close and wrapped his arms around Red Hood's middle, pinning the other man's arms to his sides. "Batman! I need an antidote to the Fear Toxin!" Nightwing knew that Batman had brought along antidotes to Scarecrow's last three fear toxins. Batman kept samples of all the previous versions of the antidote in the Cave.
Batman returned to Nightwing's side and injected the antidote into Jason's neck. Jason stiffed, then slumped over in Dick's arms. Nightwing found a pulse and then let out the breath he had been holding. "He's going to be okay."
"That is if the Fear Toxin and antidote don't react poorly with the drug Joker gave him," Batman said grimly.
Batman and Nightwing whirled around as a figure entered the room. "Rebreather," Batman commanded, but Nightwing was reaching for the item even before the older man had spoken. After Nightwing put the rebreather on, he started to put a spare one on Jason's face. It could have been a different strain of the Fear Toxin than what the young man had been infected with earlier. His preparedness was unnecessary, however. Batman knocked the villain out with one punch. When he was sure the danger had passed, Nightwing put both rebreathers away.
Jason was coming back to consciousness. "Wing?" he asked blearily.
"Yeah, it's me. You're safe. We're going to take you back home. Can you walk?"
Red Hood swung his legs so they dangled over the side of the table. Nightwing kept his arm around the other man to support him. "You'd better hope so," Jason replied, sounding more like himself. "Because you can barely bench press your own weight, much less mine."
"You know, some people think it's an accomplishment to bench press their own weight."
"Some people aren't Bats."
"True. C'mon, lazy butt. You've been resting long enough."
Red Hood grunted in reply and slid the rest of the way off the table.
"How bad was it?" Nightwing asked quietly.
"Bad," Red Hood said shortly, his tone making it clear that he wasn't going to elaborate. Nightwing gave his arm a comforting squeeze and they made their way over to Batman, who was going through the papers on Scarecrow's desk.
"I found his notes. There's only a small sample of the antidote here, though. It's up to Red Robin now." The three men hoped that the teen wasn't already too far gone.
Damian was pacing the length of the Batcave when the other heroes returned. "Do you have it?" he asked as Batman exited the car.
"We have the notes and a sample of the antidote. We'll have to synthesize more of the drug before we administer it, or we won't have anything to compare our drug to. We should also check the dosage for each of you," Batman said.
"That's good," Damian said, looking worried. "Drake is not doing well. He passed out shortly after you left, and his internal temperature has been hovering around 103 since then."
"Where is he?" Dick asked worriedly, removing his domino mask.
"Pennyworth insisted that he go to bed. Drake left his notes on the computer for when you returned. He hoped that you would be able to create an antidote if he was... incapacitated."
Batman went to the computer and got started without another word. He didn't even pause to remove his cowl. Dick helped Jason from the Batmobile. "Here or upstairs?" Dick asked. "Either way, you're lying down."
"Bossy," Jason said. "I guess the action's all here." Dick kept his arm around his younger brother as they walked slowly to the exam table. "Don't suppose I could get some blankets? It's freezing down here."
"Can you get them?" Damian asked his oldest brother. "I would like to be here in case Father needs help with the notes. Drake explained them to me."
Dick nodded and went upstairs. This would also give him a chance to peek into Tim's room to see how the teen was doing.
Damian stood uncertainly between Jason and his father. He didn't want to offer his help to Bruce without being invited for fear of being rebuffed, and although he had a feeling he was supposed to say something comforting to Jason, the boy wasn't sure what to say.
"How are you feeling?" Jason said, breaking the ice first.
Damian shrugged. "I am beginning to show the symptoms Drake described at first- headache and dizziness. It has not progressed to the point where it is interfering with my abilities." He paused. "And yourself?"
"So sick of drugs and toxins and antitoxins," Jason muttered. "Are there any more drugs that people want to pump me full of?"
"Perhaps just one more, to save your life," Damian said with a slight smile.
Jason groaned and laid his head back on the table. "Who do I have to kill for a pillow?" Damian quickly looked at Bruce to see his reaction to the ill-humored joke, but the man didn't look up. Damian fetched a pillow and offered it to Jason. Then he went to Bruce's side.
"Can I offer my assistance, Father?" he asked hopefully.
"You should be resting," Bruce answered.
"I have been monitoring my symptoms. I am functioning perfectly to interpret the notes. Drake explained what he was working on earlier."
Bruce spared him a glance. "Fine. The first thing you can do is figure out the amount for the dose based on your bodyweight."
"Drake already did that. See?" Damian pulled up a chart on the computer. "It has our weights and approximations on how much of the antidote we need. He calculated it so that it is comparable in each column. There's a low, medium, and high dose. He recommended that we start with the lowest dose, and after an hour if there is no positive change, administer the medium dose. Drake also has notes on what actions to take if that is still not effective. He was very thorough. Drake also thought it best not to take any other medicine because we don't know how it will interact with either the toxin or the cure. " Damian lowered his voice. "Drake has followed his own advice. He has not taken anything for the pain."
Bruce paused, then said, "Good work. To both of you."
"You don't have to worry, Father. Drake is good at this sort of thing. We will all be fine." Jason took this opportunity to vomit on the floor. Father and son turned to look. "Keep working. I'll get Pennyworth to help with Todd."
The tired father forced himself to ignore Jason's distress and concentrate on the work in front of him. If he couldn't get the antidote created in time, he wouldn't be able to help anyone.
The next twelve hours were excruciating for the Wayne family. Dr. Thompkins was called in when Tim's high fever reached the four hour mark. She was frustrated that she couldn't give the teen any medicine to lower the fever, but when the others explained the unknown drug in Tim's system, she was forced to agree. They used ice instead to lower his temperature.
Jason was transferred to his room and soon Damian ended up in his own room as well. Bruce created an antidote with the help of the notes and compared it to the sample. The boys received their first dose at 11 PM. After an hour of no change, a second dose was administered. Dr. Thompkins watched over Tim, Alfred stayed with Jason, and Bruce was with Damian. Dick went from room to room, bringing supplies and relieving the caregivers as they needed breaks.
There were several scares throughout the night. Jason threw up blood and Tim stopped breathing for three terrifying minutes. Finally, as the sun came up, positive changes became apparent. The fevers broke and breathing became normal. Damian was first to open his eyes at 8 AM, but then fell back asleep. Tim woke briefly an hour after that and was also conscious for a short time. The drug had taken its toll on their bodies and all they had energy for was sleeping. Jason took the longest to recover. Bruce knew that Scarecrow's fear toxin plus the antidote could not have reacted well with the poison Jason had been drugged with initially. When Jason finally regained consciousness at 10:30, everyone breathed easier. Like his bothers, he was only awake for a few minutes, and he didn't seem to be aware of his surroundings.
When they were sure the danger had passed, Bruce, Alfred, and Dick thanked Dr. Thompkins. She was hesitant about leaving. "If they relapse, you will call me," she ordered. Only after extracting promises from all three men did she leave.
Alfred went to prepare something for a late breakfast, leaving the other two men in the front hall.
"We need to talk," Bruce said before Dick could leave. He was dreading the conversation with his oldest. He wanted to pretend that everything was okay, but there had been enough words left unsaid in the last several years between them. Fate had seen fit to return his son to him when it appeared that the young man was dead, which he was eternally grateful. But if they didn't clear the air, Dick might take off again like when he was a teenager and one too many arguments prompted the young man to leave Gotham.
"About what?" Dick looked genuinely confused.
"About me letting you die. Choosing for you to die," Bruce corrected.
"Bruce, don't worry about it. I'm fine."
"No, this is important. I don't want to you to think that it was easy for me to- Look, you know how much you mean to me, right?" The man felt like he was pleading, desperate for his son to understand. As a child, Dick had been good about trusting in Bruce's love even when the older man struggled with showing it. But the rocky patch in their relationship during Dick's late teens and early twenties made Bruce worry that he was losing his son in a different way.
Dick's smile was exhausted, but still as bright as ever. "Bruce. Listen to me. Everything I said back there, I meant. I love you all, and I would die to protect any of you, without hesitation. Joker put you in that situation because he knew it would hurt you. Don't let it break you. Don't let him win. We're all alive, and we're together. We won." When Bruce didn't look convinced, Dick put his hand on the other man's shoulder. "I don't blame you, so don't blame yourself."
"Sometimes I wonder what I did to deserve you."
Dick laughed. "Remember that the next time I wreck a motorcycle." Bruce smiled a little in return.
"You should go to bed. You're still recovering," he said. "You won't be able to help anyone if you run yourself into the ground."
Dick snickered. "Pot, kettle."
"Soon, I'll relax. You go take care of yourself, then I'll rest too." The two men climbed the stairs. Bruce paused outside Jason's room and watched as Dick walked down the hall. But Dick didn't head to his own room. Instead, he went into Tim's. Bruce followed him to give him a lecture on talking care of himself, but when he looked into the room, Dick was lying on the bed next to Tim. His arm was wrapped protectively over his little brother.
Bruce quietly left the room and went to Jason's. The young man was still sleeping. Bruce sat on the chair by the bed quietly so he wouldn't disturb him. Jason's hand twitched, so Bruce placed his own hand over it. He rubbed his thumb gently on the back of Jason's hand. Why was it easier to show affection to his children when they were asleep?
The man sat there for close to an hour, keeping vigil, until finally Jason awoke. After the young man's eyes focused on his surroundings, he saw Bruce's hand covering his own. Embarrassed, Bruce pulled away and folded his hands in his lap. Jason coughed, so Bruce passed him the cup of water from the bedside table. He waited until Jason drank and handed him back the cup before speaking.
"Jason, we need to talk."
"And you waited until I was recovering from almost dying to do this talk so I wouldn't run off."
Bruce shifted uncomfortably. "That wasn't my intention..."
"Yes, it was, but I see your point. Just make it a quick conversation, or I might try leaving anyway."
"When you and your brothers were captured by Joker... You seemed to think that I would just give you up without a fight. That I would be willing to sacrifice you."
"It was a life or death situation. Don't read too much into it."
"I think critical situations like that are when people's real feelings come out. You don't think you are important to me."
Jason looked up at the ceiling. "I know you say you care, and I wanna believe that. Really, I do. It's just that- well, people haven't had the greatest track record of standing by me."
"You've been betrayed before. By your father. By Catherine and Shelia. I know that you feel I betrayed you too. I want- I want you to know..."
Jason's eyes flicked over to Bruce. "What?"
Bruce sighed and stood up. Jason cried out, "Hey, not fair! You can walk out on this conversation, but I can't?" The young man sat up. "I call bull. You waited until now to talk, so get it out. What do you want me to know?"
The man sat again. "I would gladly die to keep you safe. You are my son, Jason, no matter what you do or don't do." He paused, and for a moment Jason wondered if the other man was going to say 'I love you.' Then Bruce looked away and the moment was over. Jason knew that sentence was difficult for Bruce to say. But he could tell that the sentiment was there.
"Bruce?" Jason waited until the man's gaze returned to his face. "Thanks."
By that evening, all the Arkham escapees had been returned to their cells, courtesy of the Birds of Prey and Gotham's Finest. All the breakouts except the Joker, that is. Batman went on patrol alone, insisting that his sons stay at home until he called for them. He was met with unhappy looks (and one mutinous one). Worried that one or more of them would suit up and leave without backup, Batman explained his plan. They were more agreeable after that. Jason insisted on a small addition to the plan which Batman agreed to. Dick pointed out the value of sharing plans with your partners. Batman gave him a look and then left.
It took two hours for Batman, with Oracle's help, to track down the villain. Once Batman confirmed that Joker was in that location, he called the Cave to summon his sideki- no, his partners. Batman guessed correctly that the four of them had been suited up and waiting in the Cave for the call. It only took a few minutes for them to show up. Nightwing and Robin swung in on lines, and Red Hood and Red Robin arrived on motorcycles. Batman looked them over carefully to make sure they looked up to the task. Robin noticed the scrutiny and tsked. "Tt. We are perfectly able to do our parts. As I recall, it is a lot of standing around."
Batman pushed down the fear of having his sons in the same room as the madman who tried to kill them twice in the past two days, with the bomb and then poison. He would keep Joker from hurting them again. He nodded, and the heroes moved into position.
Batman went in first. Joker was alone, pacing the room and muttering to himself. Batman positioned himself behind the clown, so when Joker turned and saw him, the villain flinched. "Batsy! I didn't know you were coming! I was hurt when you didn't invite me to the funerals. After all, I was such an important part of their lives, and well, their deaths too."
Batman resisted the urge to punch the villain in the face. "There wasn't a funeral."
"No?" Joker asked. "Scarecrow swore the birdies would be dead in twenty-four to thirty-six hours. It's so hard to get good help these days." Joker sighed, and then continued, "We had a bet on which one would go out first. He thought it would be the littlest one, but I was hoping for the one who stole my look."
Batman stood still, not betraying how much the Joker's words were affecting him. The villain frowned, not liking how the banter was one-sided. "So if the birds are still alive, where are they? Are you too afraid to let them leave the nest?"
"Right behind you." Joker turned at the voice to see Nightwing.
"Ah, Nightwing. I was so surprised that Batman chose you to die. Were you? I guess you never really know someone until-"
"You never stop talking, do you?" came another voice. Joker turned to see Red Hood.
"Hoodie! You know, I've never told you, but I think you're my favorite. Which is good, since Batman doesn't seem to care. You and I have had some good times, don't you-"
"I'm hurt, Joker. You told me I was your favorite," Red Robin chimed in. Joker turned again to get a look at the newcomer.
"Well, you see-"
"You know you can't take anything this clown says at face value, Red Robin," Robin said. "I don't even think his brain is connected to his mouth."
Joker turned his head to scan his opponents, who had formed a tight ring around him. "Well, look! A family reunion. I'm so glad I could bring you all together again. Why don't we play a game-"
"Red Hood," Batman said, and the other hero nodded.
Joker faced Red Hood to see what the hero had planned and was punched in the face. He fell to the ground and complained, "Ow! That's not sporting at all."
Red Hood kicked the villain in the head, and the Joker fell unconscious. "Finally. I get so tired of hearing him talk."
"I still don't understand why Hood got to be the one to hit him," Robin complained.
"Seniority," Red Hood said, then remembered Nightwing. "And I deserve it."
Red Robin snorted. "Keep telling yourself that."
"Let's notify the police and go home. I think this deserves a movie night," Nightwing interjected before a fight could break out.
Batman nodded. "Let's go home."
After changing into more comfortable clothes, the boys gathered in the den because it had the biggest TV and a couch big enough for all four of them to fit. "So, what movie are we going to watch?" Tim asked.
"I want a Western," Jason said.
"Rom com," Dick said, and the other boys threw pillows at him.
"You are such a weirdo," Tim said.
"Not the word I was thinking of," Jason said.
"I would prefer something intellectually stimulating," Damian said.
"Not another documentary!" Tim exclaimed. "The last one was so boring."
"It was very insightful," Damian replied.
"I think we should do sci fi," Tim said.
"That is not intellectual," Damian argued. "It has 'fiction' right in the name."
"You got to pick last time, so I think it's my turn," Tim said.
"I got closest to dying," Dick said.
"Yeah, you were faking it. I actually died," Jason argued.
"Oh my God, Todd, when will you get over that? That was years ago." Damian glared at the other man.
"I'm still waiting on the perks it gets me."
"I don't think dying gets you perks. That's why no one wants to die," Tim said thoughtfully.
"Look, we can argue about what movie to watch until the sun comes up, or we can just agree on something," Dick said in a reasonable voice.
"Agree on what you choose, you mean," Damian said.
"Maybe," Dick said with a smile.
Alfred came into the room. "Have you decided yet, young sirs?"
"Drake is being impossible."
"Jason's playing the 'I died that one time' card."
"I think it should be my turn to pick."
Alfred moved to the movie cabinet and pulled out a boxed set of DVDs. "How about this? It's not a movie, but a TV show."
"Firefly? It says it's a space western, so you'll be happy, Jason," Tim said, looking at the back of the box.
"Any humor?" Dick asked hopefully.
"He means is there any romance, the sap," Jason interjected.
Tim had already turned to his laptop for more information. "This says there is both romance and humor."
"So everyone gets what they want except me," Damian pouted.
"They speak Chinese sometimes," Tim offered.
Damian considered it and then nodded. "I can translate for the rest of you."
Tim opened his mouth to remind Damian that he was fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese, but changed his mind and said, "Sure, sounds good."
Alfred waited to be sure no last minute objections were going to be voiced and then put the first disc in. "The pizza is almost ready," he informed them and then left to check on the food.
He returned just as the trailers had finished. Tim had insisted on watching them. "We never have time to watch movies, so seeing the trailers is the next best thing," he pointed out.
Alfred set the meat lovers pizza on the coffee table closest to Dick and Jason, and the half veggie/half cheese closer to the younger two boys. Jason immediately claimed three slices of pizza. "Hey, you'd better share!" Dick insisted. "I'm not getting stuck with the weird vegetable pizza."
"The vegetarian diet is healthier and more kind to animals," Damian said in the voice of someone who knows his argument will go unheeded but still feels the need to say it anyway.
"I am sure I can make another pizza if you are still hungry," Alfred said. "And there is popcorn coming, too."
"Just start the episode," Jason said, his mouth full of pizza.
When the Reavers appeared onscreen, Damian commented, "The next time I think about commenting on your appearance, Todd, I will remember that in comparison to these creatures, you are not hideous."
"You're just jealous that the girls all swoon over me and they don't look twice at you," Jason retorted.
"They'd better not!" Dick said. "Damian, you are way too young for a girlfriend."
Damian snorted. "As if I have time for trivialities such a romantic ventures."
"Which is what someone would say if they couldn't get a girlfriend," Tim said.
"Drake, I will-"
"Enough! Let's just watch the show, okay?" Dick said.
"Yeah, rewind that last bit. You guys were talking too loud," Jason said.
As the episodes continued, the pizza (and later the popcorn) were eaten, and the conversation died away. Bruce came in and settled in a chair to watch with them. They found themselves drifting off. Alfred came in to check on them and found all of them asleep. He turned off the TV and rearranged the blankets. He gathered up the trash and paused at the door to look at his sleeping charges. Alfred had very nearly lost them. But here they were, safe at home. "Good night," he whispered, and turned off the light.
A/N And that's the end! I hope you liked it.
One of the guest reviewers was right about the Joker giving the antidote to the son that Batman chose to die. All of the boys received a dose of the poison, and Dick did receive the antidote (that was mixed with the drug to make him appear dead). If Bruce had buried Dick before the drug wore off, then Dick would have been buried alive. Joker was planning on the Batfamily not being able to synthesize more of the antidote in time to save the other three. And even if everyone survived, Joker thought this would drive a wedge between the members of the family. If he didn't kill them, he wanted to destroy their relationships. I couldn't kill any of the characters, though. I'm a sucker for a happy ending.
I wanted the Batfam to beat the Joker up, but then I realized that Joker likes that kind of thing. He likes the verbal sparring and the physical fights. The best way to show Joker that he didn't win was to show that they were alive, and still a family. That's my thought, anyway.
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