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Sentinel Over the Golden Bough

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Jason Todd pops the last bite of the chili dog into his mouth, licks the spilled sauce off his thumb, and stretches his shoulders. His break tonight has been longer than normal. It’s been an oddly slow night for crime in Gotham. Nights like this usually mean someone has something truly, spectacularly awful in the works.

As long as the Joker isn’t about to break out of Arkham and wreak havoc, Jason can handle whatever the petty criminals have planned.

“Back to work,” he mutters, pushing himself to his feet.

It’s a cool night in September. The sky earlier foretold rain, but Jason can’t smell it — not over the pollution in the city, not even twenty stories in the air. 

He’s reaching for his helmet when he hears a cacophony in the alleyway: a series of vulgar curses and a yowling cat as what sounds like a trash can lid slams into a brick wall down below.

“What do you mean, he’s escaped?”

Jason looks over the edge of the building. It’s a crew of three — wait, one shifts into the flickering streetlight, stepping out of a door that leads into the alleyway — four and he doesn’t recognize them. Whoever these people are, whoever they were holding hostage, they’ve never set foot in his territory before. He would know.

“We’ve been looking over an hour, Boss. No sight of him,” an underling snivels.

“How could you lose the trail? He smells like a bakery!” the Boss screams, before backhanding his own crew member with brass knuckles.

The underling collapses to the pavement with a harsh cry, blood spilling from his busted lip.

A bakery? 

Jason trembles with rage. Are these pieces of filth kidnapping and trafficking Omegas on his turf? Well, not usually on his. One of the street kids would have told him about it; he doesn’t allow crap like that in the Narrows and everyone knows it. Which means one of the Bats missed this in their patrols, and now it’s spilled over and become Jason’s problem.

There’s nothing in the world that Jason hates more than people who traffic in Omegas and Pups.

Not even the Joker.

As much as he loathes being in physical pain, Jason can’t stand seeing the innocent in pain. If the choice is between suffering himself or watching or letting innocents suffer, he’ll throw himself in the way every single time. 

Jason has already been tortured and died. What could they possibly do that’s worse?

Frustration-anger pours out of the Boss so thickly that Jason can smell it where he is twenty stories up. It’s so thick he can almost taste it.

“If you don’t find me Robin,” the Boss bites out, pulling a Glock from his shoulder holster and shoving it against the fallen man’s forehead, “before sunrise, you’re dead. He’s our meal ticket, boys. You think we get paid a lot for snatching and selling regular Omegas in heat? Imagine how much we could get for the Boy Wonder!”

Omega. Robin. Heat. 

Jason doesn’t even remember drawing his gun, but there are now four brains splattered on the cement below. The copper-blood-brain-matter is pungent, drowning out the stench of refuse.

Sometime tonight on patrol, his pup presented Omega.

And while monsters were stalking his pup through Gotham, Jason was sitting on a rooftop eating a chili dog, complaining to himself about being bored. If anything irreparable has happened to Damian al Ghul Wayne, Jason is never going to forgive himself. 

Jason yanks on his red helmet and switches over to the Bat comms. He hacked them ages ago and either they haven’t realized yet, or Bruce Wayne decided to allow Jason to keep tabs on them. It’s heads or tails as to which is true.

The comm line is a scramble of everyone talking around and over each other, hunting for Robin. 

“Robin, report!” Batman bites out.

There’s no response. If Damian has really presented Omega, there won’t be. Not to any of them.

“O, what about—?”

“Nothing on the traffic cams so far,” Barbara Gordon interrupts before Dick Grayson even finishes the question.

“Keep looking! I’m halfway through his patrol route. There’s no sign of him.”

How many check-ins has his pup missed for that feral edge to be skating Dick’s tone? And there’s no doubt about it, that vicious protectiveness isn’t Nightwing; it’s all Dick Grayson.

“Little Prince,” Jason says in League Dialect, ignoring the silence that falls over the all-call line as he forces as much Omega-Command into the words as possible, “tell me where you are.”

There’s silence for about two seconds, and then Jason’s shoulders cave and he shakes as Damian’s voice comes over the line.

“Mother?”

Dick’s inhale is so swift that it’s audible over the comm line, even though their tech is built to filter out sounds like that so words transmit more clearly. 

“Baby Bat, where—?”

“Give me your location, Little Prince,” Jason demands, all his weight on the balls of his feet so that he can spring in whichever direction is necessary.

“The Bowery, on the roof nearest the southwest corner of Crown Point.”

Damian doesn’t have to say anything else for Jason to understand. His pup presented Omega and instinctively ran straight to Jason for safety. Hell. That means his pup crossed through Crown Point in heat. It means his pup is experiencing his presentation heat in The Bowery.

This could turn ugly.

Jason sprints across the roof he’s on and throws himself headlong to the next roof, landing in a roll. His momentum sets him right back on his feet when he comes out of it.

“Kill anyone who comes near you,” Jason says as he leaps off that rooftop for the next.

“How could you say that?” Dick asks. “Robin doesn’t do that anymore!”

“We don’t kill people!” Batman states, unshakable in his insistence.

Jason’s molars ache as he grinds them together. The Bats have no idea what’s going on. The odds that they overheard criminals discussing Robin’s presentation are beyond miniscule. They don’t have the information he does; even knowing that, Jason wants to rip them to shreds for daring to suggest that Damian not protect himself from … Alphas.

Jason is desperately trying not to imagine the worst case scenario. 

If his pup gets overpowered, the Bats are going to find out why Ra’s al Ghul said that Jason is never more beautiful than when he’s bathed in red. He will create a bloodbath the likes of which Gotham has never seen, not even when Jason returned to take over the underworld and get Bruce to kill the Joker.

“As your Pack Omega,” Jason says, voice so rich with Omega-Command he can feel it vibrating in his bones, “I order you to kill anyone who comes within ten feet of you until I arrive, Little Prince. Acknowledge.”

Silence falls over the comm line.

“Acknowledged, Mother.”

Jason fires his grapnel gun and swings as far as he can before releasing it and shooting again. He’s being more reckless with his safety than he usually is these days, but on a night like this he’s willing to risk being a pavement pancake if it means getting to his pup more quickly. Damian is much too close to the worst sort of criminals — that aren’t currently imprisoned — for him to tolerate it.

Omegas smell tempting on the average. In heat? Alphas with poor self-control or a lack of morals have been known to entirely lose their heads. 

An Omega with Damian’s impeccable bloodlines and breeding?

Jason is terrified his heat might affect every Alpha he’s not blood-related to.

“Three minutes out,” Timothy Drake, Red Robin, says over the comm line.

Jason almost releases his grapnel gun at the update. Tim’s supposed to be off-world right now. Apparently, he got back early. And if he’s that much closer to Damian, when Damian had headed right for Jason, Tim must have been tracking Robin like a bloodhound through Gotham with his superior sense of smell.

“Twenty-three minutes out,” Batman growls.

“Eleven minutes out,” Dick says, voice winded, which means he’s moving dangerously fast. Perhaps as fast as Jason is.

Timothy Drake is absolutely everything an Alpha should be, and nothing at all that an Alpha shouldn’t be. He’s patient and calculating and intelligent and honorable and his self-control is something to be admired on every level. Even when Jason loathed Tim with every fiber of his being for replacing him — in the Pack and as Robin — even when Jason was suffering the deepest depths of Pit Madness, he never once doubted Tim’s moral fortitude.

But—

Damian is Jason’s pup. His only pup. 

If Damian is in danger of being legitimately overpowered and … assaulted, he’ll turn his sword on himself and slit his own throat.

Jason chooses to fully put his trust in an Alpha again. It’s the most terrifying thing he’s done in years, but … how can he not? It’s Timothy Drake.  

His voice is a vicious rumble as he says, “I’m trusting you with the very heart of me, Red.”

“I won’t fail you,” Tim replies resolutely.

Jason almost clips the side of a building as he takes his next swing. The closer he gets to his pup, the more frantic he gets. He grew up in the slums of Gotham. He knows precisely how hellish The Bowery and Crown Point are. The longer Damian is stationary, the wider his scent will spread. There isn’t a scent-blocking patch in the world — not even their own — that can suppress the scent of an Omega in heat. However many Damian layered on to escape the crew that Jason killed in the alley, they will have failed by now.

He’s two minutes away. It feels like eternity.

“Red Robin has arrived,” Damian states. “He’s staying over ten feet away, Mother, as you ordered.”

For the first time since he overhead those bastards in the alley, Jason feels like he can breathe again.

“Baby Bat! Are you okay? What happened?” Dick asks.

“Robin, report!” Batman barks, still in superhero-mode.

Jason isn’t surprised in the least when Damian doesn’t answer. They might have left the League of Assassins, but the League’s customs and teachings were always with them.

“How many dead?” Jason asks.

“Two,” Damian replies. “The rest fled when Red Robin arrived.”

Dick makes a wounded noise over the comm line, but doesn’t berate Damian for it; he still doesn’t know what’s going on. After all the years Damian went without killing, Dick has to know that Damian would only kill again for a very good reason. 

Batman’s silence is painfully loud.

Blood-copper-viscera pummels Jason’s olfactory sense, even through the filters in his helmet from three blocks away. Damian apparently disemboweled some Alphas while defending himself.

Jason drops onto the roof just feet away from Damian. He catches the swing of Damian’s sword on the barrel of his gun; sparks fly. A moment later, the sword clatters to the rooftop as Damian throws himself into Jason’s arms and latches onto him fiercely. He rips off his helmet and scent-blocking patch, dropping them on the roof, so nothing impedes Damian’s ability to catch his scent.

His pup may be sixteen and very skilled with weapons, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel fear. That doesn’t mean Damian doesn’t need reassurance like everyone else. Since Talia al Ghul brought Jason to live with the League of Shadows, Damian has been Jason’s pup and Jason has been his safety — the first person to ever love him.

It kills Jason a little bit inside that he wasn’t here earlier to protect his pup.

“Mother! I—” Damian’s voice breaks. “I apologize for my failure to reach your side in a timely manner.”

“You kept yourself safe, Little Prince. I couldn’t ask for more,” Jason says, before pressing a kiss to Damian’s forehead. 

He nuzzles against his pup, scent-marking him, and then inhales deeply. Thankfully, there are no foreign Alpha scents on his pup. So while Alphas definitely got close — as proven by the disemboweled corpses — none of the Alphas actually physically touched Damian.

But— 

The Boss in the alley was wrong. 

Damian doesn’t smell like a bakery; his heat-scent puts even the finest French Patisseries to shame.

Swinging through the city will leave a trail for people to follow. That’s unacceptable. It looks like they will be waiting for Batman and the Batmobile, which has air filters that will completely erase the scent trail. But until he arrives, Jason’s not taking Damian down to street-level. Even as skilled as the three of them are — make that four; Dick just tumbled onto the roof with a cry of “Baby Bat!” — it’s possible for them to be out-numbered and out-gunned.

Jason won’t take a chance with his pup’s safety.

Not when he knows the consequences should they fail.

“I apologize, Mother. I failed to ascertain changes in my own—”

“None of that now, Little Prince. There’s no possible way you could know you were going to present tonight,” Jason says, nipping that thought in the bud. 

He will absolutely not tolerate Damian thinking this is his fault. No one can control the time or manner in which they present: not even those trained extensively by the League to understand and control their bodies.

“I would not have come on patrol if—”

Jason hugs Damian harder and sets his chin atop his pup’s head, scent-marking him in a manner he hasn’t since Damian was a young pup, and purrs. Damian sighs and safe-cherished-content mixes in with his heat-scent.

“I know, Pup. I know.”

He glances towards the sky, wishing for the rain that’s expected to fall. It will help wash away the scent that’s rolling off Damian in waves. It’s an advantage they can desperately use in the current situation. Their location is precarious. Jason has no way of knowing who has caught his pup’s scent and is hunting for him with nefarious intentions. 

If Dick’s arrival is any indication, Batman is still twelve minutes away. That’s an eternity to protect an Omega that smells like Damian does in The Bowery.

Dick stalks across the rooftop toward them, seemingly uncaring of the corpses. Tim follows at his left side, the optics of his domino mask darting every which way. He’s likely calculating angles of attack and defense, his genius mind spin-spin-spinning as it races to keep his Packmates safe. Jason may have yet to speak the words aloud, but Tim is smart enough to realize that Jason chose him as Pack Sentinel last year.

Jason had holed up in Tim’s Nest for his heat while Tim was in San Francisco with the Titans, knowing he would be safe there. Jason didn’t even have to break in. The door opened as soon as he touched the doorknob and grocery deliveries came whenever Jason started to run out of food, left outside the front door.

Tim is the kind of Alpha that — even thousands of miles away — will do anything for his Packmates.

And Jason knows he developed a large portion of that instinct while he was a pup in Dick Grayson’s care.

Dick stops a foot away, shaking from head to toe, leaking I’ll-destroy-you-if-you-hurt-them in a steady stream. It’s cloying, which means he’s been scenting like that for at least an hour. He’s almost feral with his protective rage. It soothes Jason, even as the hair on the back of his neck stands on end.

“Little Wing,” is a rumbling, begging-demand.

Jason jerks his head sharply in consent and Dick embraces them both so tightly it hurts. 

“Why didn’t you answer when we called, Baby Bat? Don’t you trust—?” Dick’s voice breaks entirely. His shoulders heave as he squeezes them like a vise in his arms.

“N, Robin’s a Royal League Omega. He’s not allowed to reveal his location, for his own safety, without his Pack Omega’s express permission,” Tim says as he turns away from them to keep an eye on the door to the roof. He spins his bo staff around his hand in the exact same manner he twirls his pens when he’s working as the CEO of Wayne Enterprises.

“How do you know that?” Dick asks. “I’ve never heard—”

“I learned a lot while B was lost in time, N. Ra’s was delighted to elucidate several topics in his efforts to convince me to be his heir,” Tim replies absently, gaze darting to the left as a hook latches onto the roof. Tim smacks it loose with his bo staff and doesn’t flinch when a scream starts and then stops abruptly.

“Red!”

“Tt. I suppose Mother’s choice for Pack Sentinel wasn’t hasty, after all,” Damian says.

Jason watches Tim’s shoulders straighten at the compliment; he stands tall and proud, with a vicious fierceness to him that Jason appreciates. 

“You made T-Red Pack Sentinel?” Dick queries, sounding stunned.

Jason hates how the tone of Dick’s voice causes tension to build in Tim’s body, as if he thinks that Jason will revoke his position after that question. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

“Pack Sentinel” is an honorary title; it’s not like the rest. 

Every pup is a “pup.” And “Pack Alpha” is the default title for the Alpha who founded the Pack. “Pack Second” is the title bestowed on the Pack Alpha’s right-hand person, chosen by the Pack Alpha. Even “Pack Omega” is a default title for the oldest Omega in the Pack.

But “Pack Sentinel” is a title bestowed by the Pack Omega upon the Alpha in the Pack that is most trusted — the one the Pack Omega appoints to watch over and protect all the Omegas in the Pack, particularly during their heats.

“I slit his throat and stabbed him in the chest. My pup cut his line and tried to kill him multiple times,” Jason explains bluntly, “and he never retaliated.”

“I—”

“I was tortured and murdered and neither you nor B got there in time,” Jason interrupts.

Dick releases them abruptly, paling as he staggers back a step, horror-regret filling the air. “I—”

“I know you weren’t on the planet, Nightwing. I don’t blame you. I never did,” Jason tacks on, before Dick starts drowning in misplaced guilt. 

Dick’s always been too quick to accept the blame for things that aren’t his fault. Jason needs to explain, but he doesn’t want to unnecessarily hurt him in the process. 

“I forgive you both. I forgave you years ago, Nightwing.” Jason locks gazes with Dick the best he can through their dominos and states, “But I’m never going to forget.”

“Red Robin has proven his ethics to Mother. There will be no more discussion on this topic,” Damian says firmly. “Mother is Pack Omega and his word is law. Red Robin is Pack Sentinel.”

The Batmobile roars from mere blocks away. 

Jason scoops up his helmet and scent-blocking patch, tosses Damian his sword, and walks to the edge of the building that’s closest to where Batman will have to park. It’ll be fastest and safest to grapple down. There’s no telling who all is lurking in the building and stairwells, planning to overpower them in the closer surroundings when they have less room to maneuver.

“If he had taken any longer, I was prepared to call Superman for a pick-up,” Jason mutters.

Batman might hate metas and other superheroes being in Gotham, but Jason couldn’t care in the least when his pup’s safety is in question. A lecture of any length about inviting people into the Pack Territory without the Pack Alpha’s permission would be worth it. Jason wouldn’t even hesitate.

The Batmobile screeches to a halt and opens up. Without stopping to discuss it, they all grapple down and squeeze into the seats. It’s a tight fit to get them all inside now that they’re nearly all full-grown.

Damian ends up sitting on Jason’s lap and falls asleep as soon as Batman takes off, driving them away from the worst parts of Gotham at a speed that’s almost reckless.

“Was he—?” Bruce Wayne asks, voice wavering. And it is Bruce, not a hint of Batman — the Sire, not the Superhero — asking, mind surely tripping with a horrific slideshow of possibilities.

“No one laid a hand on him, B,” Jason reassures him. 

Even when he and Bruce disagree on other things, they’re never at odds when it comes to keeping Damian safe.

Bruce’s voice is more firm, but still slightly tentative when he asks, “Where do you want me to drop you off, Jaylad?”

Jason surrenders to the inevitable, to what was always going to happen, regardless of how many times he denied the reality of it to himself over the years.

He kisses Damian’s hair and whispers, “The Manor.”

All three of the Alphas turn to look at him, snapping around so quickly that he won’t be surprised if they gave themselves whiplash. It’s only Bruce’s instinctive slapping of the auto-pilot function that saves them from a horrendous crash.

Jason has been in the Batcave while they planned missions, to exchange information, and when he occasionally sought help with an injury in a location he couldn’t reach by himself. But he hasn’t been inside the actual Wayne Manor since he returned to Gotham.

For all that they have the exact same members, the Bat Pack is not the same as the Wayne Pack. And until tonight, Jason hadn’t been ready to be part of the Wayne Pack again; he hadn’t been willing to chance it.

Dick rips off his domino mask without reaching for the solvent, leaving angry, inflamed red skin around his eyes and across his nose. “Little Wing … you’re coming home?” 

The Batmobile is flooded with aching-hope so thickly that Jason almost gags on it.

Jason closes his eyes, unable to bear the sight of Dick’s long-since-flickering hope as it transforms into an inferno.

“Might as well,” Jason says as if it’s no big deal.

Bruce audibly sobs in the driver’s seat. It’s just one watery gasp of breath, but Jason knows that’s the equivalent of an average person bawling their eyes out for hours.

He … he hadn’t realized it meant that much to Bruce after all these years. That he means that much to Bruce after all these years.

But, as Jason tightens his grip on Damian, he thinks he’s starting to understand how traumatizing it must be to not reach your pup in time to save him from the unthinkable. Because if Jason hadn’t made it in time, if Damian hadn’t been able to defend himself until Jason arrived, if Damian had turned his sword on himself … Jason never would have forgiven himself.

“I meant what I said to Dick, B. I forgive both of you.”

That single, soft sob sounds again.

Jason’s head falls on Tim’s shoulder as his adrenaline crashes. He’s starting to feel all the aches and pains caused by his mad dash through the city. He’s going to hurt like the dickens for the next week. 

He hasn’t fallen asleep around them without being drugged since his return. But Tim is at his side, wearing his bandoliers, armed to the teeth. And Jason wraps himself up in Tim’s protective scent, knowing he’s safe. He can trust his surroundings and sleep.

The Pack Sentinel is on guard.

“Tim,” Bruce whispers, voice so soft it barely reaches Jason as he teeters on the edge of Morpheus’s Realm, “if anything happens to them … I can’t … I’ll …”

Tim’s implacable response is the last thing Jason hears before he falls asleep.

“If anything harms our Omegas, I’ll already be dead.”