Bart had never in his entire life seen a clock move so slow before. In the length of time it took for the second hand to click heavily onto the next notch he ran upstairs to reconfirm the time with the digital in his bedroom, checked to make sure the living room clock had the right amount of batteries in the back, and slowly dragged his finger along his phone to swipe and unlock. It seemed to take an age for the screen to light up but when it did it declared the same time as last he had checked; what seemed like hours ago.
He sighed in frustration, slumped back onto the sofa, and stared at the second hand on the clock. Still. Then finally moving ponderously one more notch.
“Totally. Not. Crash.”
A voice. Slowed and distorted beyond comprehension. Bart looked up in shock, saw the figure in the doorway, and the movement of her lips. It took a moment for his speeding brain to consume what he was seeing, trip, and reel back to sync in time so he could understand what was being said.
“—nd down the stairs sixteen times in the last two minutes.”
He blinked, forced his voice into a playful laugh, and rolled onto his back. “Sorry, nana.”
Iris lifted an eyebrow at the nickname but didn’t comment. “You don’t need to be sorry, Bart. I’m just trying to stop you from wearing out the carpet in boredom.” She was a discreetly beautiful woman with ruddy red brown hair, coppery eyes, and the neat non-obstructive curves of a female beta. Between her hips her belly was just starting to protrude; the result of IVF and reason why she was staying off her feet for most of the day. Pregnant betas were becoming more and more common but it was still a riskier process than if the bearer was an omega. Bart wasn’t worried. One of the two babies inside her was, after all, his father.
He himself was evidence towards the survival of the twins.
“Barry is coming," Iris reminded him. "You running around isn’t going to make him arrive any sooner.” Sympathetically. “Have you figured out the remotes yet? Do you want me to put on the TV?”
“Can’t I just go myself? San Francisco isn’t really that fa—”
Barry appeared in full Flash regalia with a blur through the front door. “Sorry I’m l—”
“You’re late!” Bart leapt to his feet and threw off his casual clothes in a whirlwind to reveal the sleek shape of his Impulse costume beneath. “What if we miss it? Come on!” He grabbed his grandfather’s hand and dragged him back out the door at super speed.
“This is going to be so totally crash!” He cried as he started running in earnest; body singing as he finally got the chance to move. “Did you go online last night? We’re trending. Or, well, Superboy’s trending but wait until all those Teen Titan fans go there to see him and get us. Cassie’s even got this sexy new costume.” Realised his mistake as the man’s head snapped around to look at him. “Not that I find her – it – sexy,” he amended quickly. “I mean, really, it’s not sexy at all. What’s so sexy about an alpha showing all that muscle? Or leaving all that hair out? Like, wow she’s got a lot of hair. But, really, I didn’t even notice. No no, totally good chaste omega here. No alphas for me.”
Barry’s look through the mask wasn’t convinced. “If you’re no—”
“No no no! I’m ready! It’s been three months and I haven’t skipped school, stolen anything, or done any superhero stuff. That was the deal. Now I’m going to be a Teen Titan!” He beamed up at the man running beside him. “Today’s the day.”
“And Wally’s going to be looking out for you,” Barry told him sternly as he lengthened his stride. “Go to him if you have any trouble.”
He laughed and saluted. “Sure thing, leader.”
“I mean it, Bart.”
“I know, and I will.” He smiled; wide, earnest, and excited. “I’m not going to let the pack down. I promise.”
They arrived at the zeta tube hidden under the Flash Museum moments later and transported to the city they needed. San Francisco wasn’t large when you could move faster than sound and it didn’t take them long to weave between the stacks of multicoloured cars and dash across the bridge to get to the new Titan Tower overlooking the bay. Bart saw the small collection of assembled reporters and people – a large portion teenagers in red and black Super shirts – and his friends already standing on the threshold of the building before them.
“Oh man, we’re late!” He bolted ahead, zipped through the crowd, and appeared beside the line up. Tim in his Red Robin costume stood with Batman; both looking intrinsically out of place under the pristine blue skies, Cassie had bundled her golden hair back into warlike braids, and Conner looked a lot smaller standing between Wonder Woman and Superman.
“—formally acknowledge these young heroes,” Superman was saying, “and place them with the Teen Titans – a team fully recognised by the Justice League and deputised by this great city – to learn, grow, and help the SFPD and SFFD to keep this city safe.”
It was the end of a speech. Once he finished the reporters all started talking at once, a few of the teenagers called out to a blushing Conner, and one of the bloggers near him turned to him.
“Digging the costume, bro! Are you the new Kid Flash? How does it fe—” he blinked, and his eyes went wide. “Are you an omega?”
Unlike the Bats already moving towards the Titan Tower none of the speedsters completely removed their scent in costume. They didn’t, however, go completely unmasked like the Supers did either. There was a spray they wore that took the defining edge off a scent and made it harder to read and identify. For Bart, it had never been enough to entirely hold off the sweet scent of his omegahood.
“Yeah,” he replied flippantly. “I’m going to be the team’s first. Ain’t it cool?” He grinned at the startled man, relished the sight as a few more people turned towards him, and was promptly dragged back towards the tower by Barry.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” The man hissed once they were safely inside and out of sight. “You can’t go talking to the press like that! You can’t just tell people your caste!”
“I didn’t say anything they didn’t know,” he protested. “Or were going to find out.”
The man opened his mouth to reply, stopped, and scowled. “You do not talk to the press,” he said again.
Conner walked in the doorway behind him; an unhappy frown plastered onto his face. “Tim’s an omega,” he reminded him. “You’re not the first. You both are.”
He rolled his eyes. “I know, big guy, but he’s a secret omega. Ain’t that right Red!”
Tim was talking with Batman who was in the process of scraping the cowl off his face. It peeled off revealing someone far younger than the bulk of the costume made him look. “Oh God,” he groaned. “Batsuits do not do good in the sun. I swear when I take this off you guys are all going to need gas masks. I’m sweating like a Kryptonian on Apokolips.”
Superman raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment.
“But,” Batman continued lightly, “I think that went well apart from some late arrivals,” a look at Bart and Barry. “So, thanks mentors but the Titans will take it from here.”
“Wait,” Cassie mumbled in confusion. “Aren’t you a mentor?”
Batman laughed. “Don’t let the threads fool you; I’m a founding Titan. Just working the suit while the boss takes some ‘me time’.” He mimed inverted commas around the last two words. “You won’t be on the field with me so just call me Dick.”
“Dick,” Cassie tried out the name. “Alright.”
“And you’re the wonderful wonder girl, Cassie,” the man replied. “Awesome.” He clapped his hands together. “The rest of the team can’t wait to meet you guys; Young Justice may have been disbanded but it was a hell of a resume, let me tell you, so I’ll send you mentors on your way and you lot into that elevator.” He motioned towards the sleek metallic door. “It’ll recognise you now. Top floor; common room.”
“Wai—” Barry started.
“This is so awesome!” Bart flung his arms around his grandfather’s shoulders. “Titan with a capital T! Coming back in time was so worth it! I love this century!”
“Bar—” the man tried again.
“Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you! I won’t scavenge anything else ever!” He hugged him tighter, smiled, and bolted into the waiting elevator before his grandfather could protest. Tim followed, then Conner suspiciously close behind, and finally Cassie. The moment the lift doors were closed they all turned to each other. It was the first time they had all been together in the three months since Young Justice was disbanded.
“Man,” Conner began, “I missed you guys.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t all die without me,” Cassie said with a laugh.
“He almost did,” Tim accused with a nod towards Conner. “Several times.”
“Your pack is scary,” was the alpha’s only response.
Bart snorted. “His pack? Try my pack. One and only omega in pack of betas; might I remind you. Here are normal levels of protectiveness,” he held a hand at his hip, “this is your era’s level of protectiveness,” he lifted his palm, “and my pack is somewhere up there,” he pointed at the ceiling. “They’re awesome and all but it would be nice to be allowed to have someone around during a heat or two. I’m not dum; I’m not going to get pregnant.” An old idea sprung to his mind. “Man, did I tell you grandma is pregnant? It’s going to be weird when my dad and auntie are born. Do babies even have the same scents as adults? Like will I recognise them? Should I tell grandpa their castes? Cause, my dad was, is, will be, an alpha and auntie Dawn a beta.”
“Bart,” Cassie put her hand on his head. “Breathe.”
“I’m breathing. Totally breathing. In out in out in out. Like a pro. What makes you think I’m not breathing? I’m superfast! I can breathe all the air in this elevator before we get to the top.”
Tim. “Please don’t.”
“Won’t, but hey; were you worried about me?” Bart pressed himself against Cassie’s side. “That’s so hot. Just saying. I know you like alphas and everything but if my sheer sexiness ever makes you change your mind no one would blame you.”
“Yeah,” she replied wearily with a fond smile. “I know. What’s a gay alpha without an eccentric infatuated omega following them around anyway?”
He grinned. “Exactly.”
Tim was frowning through the shape of his mask. “I thought it was the other way around. An eccentric infatuated alpha follows around the gay om—”
“Dude!” He stared at him incredulously. “Since when did you become so moded, man? Not cool.”
The boy smiled. “Sorry.”
“We’re there, guys,” Conner spoke softly.
The elevator arrived at the top floor like a dancer moving into a final step and the doors slid elegantly open. Bart didn’t know what he thought the inside of the Titan tower would look like or who would be occupying the space but it hadn’t been what lay before them. The room beyond was wide, strangely sparse, and spotted with small signs of habitation; the most interesting being a Playstation hooked up to the massive JL monitor screen hanging against the far wall. The closest person to the elevator and the only one that rushed to greet them with a shrill cry of delight was a baby in a stained dress who seemed to have just mastered the art of walking.
She ran straight to Bart, sat at his feet, and waved her arms above her head; asking to be picked up.
Cassie snorted with laughter. “They did say this was the Teen Titans, right? That’s what I heard.”
“Me too,” Tim said as the two left the lift followed by Conner.
“Wait,” Bart looked down at the girl and up at his retreating friends. “What do I do with her?”
The baby yelled at him – a long wordless sound – and waved her fists above her head. He took the hint, nervously stooped forward to pluck her uncertainly off the ground, and dashed after his old team.
“Seriously guys; I’m holding a baby, what do I do?”
The girl laughed as an alpha appeared; scent agitated, and an alarming amount of guns hanging off his belt. He stopped when he saw Bart, quickly scented the air, and paused.
“You got my kid.”
“Your kid?” A surge or relief. “Oh awesome, here, take the kid. She just ran to me.”
“Yeah,” the alpha’s lips were thin as he accepted the squirming creature. “She’s been doing that.”
From one of the Titans lurking nearby. “Maybe she’s telling you to find a mate, Harper. Running at an omega like that.”
Threateningly low. “Shut your mouth, Lagoon.”
“I’m just saying; a kid that age should have…”
“I said shut your God damned mouth before I put an arrow between your fucking fish eyes,” he snarled, spun on his heel, and disappeared into the tower with the babbling baby.
“Yeah, fuck you too,” the other man made a face at the alpha’s retreating back.
He looked up in shock and saw the rest of the team assembled in the middle of the room in front of what looked like a welcome party of Titans.
“Wait!” He zipped over to stand in the line.
Cassie. “Why are you the one that’s always late?”
“It is a speedster trait,” he informed her with a grin.
A woman stood before them, red hair around her calves, and purple costume contrasting sharply with the extraterrestrial orange of her skin and glowing green of her eyes. The scent flowing off her was that of an alpha, a mid level leaning towards high, and coloured with an undeniable exotic inhuman sting.
“Greetings,” she spoke with a light implacable accent. “My name in these walls is Starfire but you may know me as the Princess Koriand’r, second daughter of the prevailing and peaceful Queen Luand’r and her chosen the consort King Myand’r of Tamaran; home of the kingdom that may bloom forever.” A small secretive smile. “Kori for short.”
“Hey,” Conner said; sounding relived.
“I will be your mentor during your induction into this team.”
Bart’s stomach dropped. “Our mentor? But I thought…”
“I will train you,” she went onto explain, “teach you to work as part of this team, and assign you missions. Outside of such times you are free to take recreation and refuge at this tower though until you turn eighteen we ask that you receive your pack’s permission to do so.” A pointed look at each of them in turn. “Come, I will show you the dorms we have set aside and introduce you to some of our members you’ll likely be working with.” As they moved off into one of the corridors her eerily pupil-less eyes turned to him. “I noticed you, young speedster, have already met Arsenal and Lagoon Boy and know you are acquitted with our current Kid Flash.”
“Wally?” He fidgeted with the glove on his costume. “Oh yeah, he’s pack. But, um, I was just wondering why we need a, well, a ment…?”
“He’s a very old and dear friend of mine,” Kori continued sagely. “You are lucky to have a member of your pack actively involved with the Titans looking out for you.” She looked over her shoulder at the others walking abreast. “I’m afraid we’ve never had a Super through our door before, Dick isn’t currently active now he’s taken on the mantle of the cowl, and after Donna’s death you are our first Amazon, Cassie.”
She bowed her head. “It is an honour.”
Bart twitched unhappily. “He won’t really need to look out for me, though. I mean, I’ve superheroed before; I know what I’m doing. Plus, when I’m from we all lived together a lot anyway. Well, sort of. Ever been camping? It’s kind of like that but the technology is better.”
Kori smiled softly down at him. “I’m sure you will be fine.”
He bit the inside of his cheek. “I know. That’s what I’m saying.”
“Don’t worry about him,” Cassie told the older woman. “He looks scrawny…”
“… but I’ve seen him unbuild a giant killer robot in a millisecond and still have time left over to… find some food.”
Bart sent her a betrayed look. “What are you implying? I did find that food. I learnt my lesson and I don’t steal anymore.” A hand on his chest. “Scavenger’s honour.”
Kori lifted a long eyebrow. “Impressive.”
They arrived at a room and Kori opened it and beckoned them inside. “This is the new alpha dorm. Currently it’s mostly older Titans but now that we have a younger division I’m hoping we can find some others your age to fill up the beds.”
Conner. “We sleep with the alphas?” He asked miserably and looked at Tim.
“What a terrible shame,” Cassie said; her features assembled into a resolute poker face.
“Yes,” she told them. “Bart and Tim. You two are our first ever omegas and are getting your own shared room at the end.” She strode off and Bart followed with Tim at his heel. The room itself was compact and clean with pristine walls, a window overlooking the bay, and two militaristic beds.
“What we, ahem,” Kori cleared her throat; nervous for the first time, “we weren’t able to supply was a private bathroom for you guys. Don’t worry; we’re all very nice here and hopefully we’re going to get some more fundraising soon but until then…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Tim said as he moved towards the bed at the window.
Bart zipped in and stole it before he got the chance. Smiled innocently up at him.
Tim sighed. “We’re not puppies; we’ve showered communally before.” He moved towards the other bed. “Spend the money where it needs to be spent.”
She regarded him; her gaze distinctly respectful. “I’ll let the team know that’s how you feel. Thank you.” She stepped out the doorway. “I’ll let you get comfortable and decide if you want to stay here tonight. If you’re free I’m training tomorrow from three thirty till dinnertime. Meet in the common area.”
“Man,” Bart rolled around until the bed was a mess and smelling of him. “Not really Young Justice, is it? I mean all the rules.”
Worriedly. “What did you expect?”
“I don’t know. But it wasn’t a mentor, training, and assigned rooms. Kori seems nice though.”
“I think it’ll be alright,” Tim declared and sat down on his bed. “I mean, the fact that we’re allowed to join means they’ve forgiven us for sneaking out and forming Young Justice. That’s a big step.”
“Talking about big steps,” Bart grinned. “You still haven’t told me what happened with you and Conner. He sure seems protective of you.” He wriggled his eyebrows.
Tim blushed; the colour visible under the edge of his mask. “I—eh—it was—um—just…”
A tell tale pause. “…not exactly.”
Bart laughed. “Oh, more than once?" Playfully. "Wow. You slut."
A small smile.
“Did he bona fide it?”
Tim frowned. “What?”
Bart snapped his teeth together in answer.
Tim’s recoiled. “No! No way, my pack would kill me. No bites.”
“Oh man, I hear you. I once picked up one from this cute alpha in school and I had to wear a hoodie for a week.”
The other omega stared at him. “You had a bite?”
“I’ve had a few,” he replied. “It’s not that big a deal. As long as you don’t keep it up it doesn’t mean a bond.” A bite was the mark an alpha left on an omega’s neck when they sunk their teeth into and tasted an omega gland. Omega glands were typically near invisible, highly addictive, and output a large portion of the omega’s unique sexual allure especially in heat. If an alpha kept biting an omega, kept marking them, it would eventually create the two way hormonal addiction – mutual dependency and understanding – that meant a mate bond.
“Did you get away with it?” Tim asked.
“I… well… mostly. Wally saw but I made him not tell.”
“Usual. Pretended I had been dumped; learnt my lesson; cried for a bit.”
Tim stared at him. “You’re terrible.”
He grinned. “Jealous?”
“Yeah. If I did that with my pack my brother would murder all the alphas in school. And Kon. Especially Kon. He would probably torture Kon. Defiantly torture Kon.”
He pouted. “I wish I had an alpha brother.”
Tim snorted. “No, you don’t.”
Conner poked his head in the door with a discreet knock. “Hey guys.”
Tim. “Kon. We were just talking about… people.”
Bart. “Where’s Cas?”
“She’s, um, made some friends.”
Wretchedly. “She has?”
“Oh I…” Bart stood. “I’ll go check on her then.”
Tim sent him a thankful look as he walked out of the room.
“Just so you know,” he spoke through the door as it swung shut behind him. “I can still hear you two really well so if you’re thinking of having fun I wouldn’t recommend it unless you want all the Titans bursting in to watch.”
“We’re not…” Tim began.
“We’re not?” He heard Conner ask.
“I… thank you, Bart.” The other omega said through the door. “We’ll be fine.”
He found Cassie deep in conversation with an alpha and a beta in costumes he didn’t recognise, decided not to disturb her, and walked back into the common room to be introduced to a collection of other heroes; all of them at least four years older than him. It seemed the word Teen before Titan was a pretty loose one. Cassie was seventeen so it wasn’t too strange to see her chatting with people in their early to mid twenties, Tim and Conner were both – biologically – sixteen and seemed to bounce off each other, but he was fifteen. The last Titan who was fifteen, he learnt, was Beast Boy back when he went by the name Changeling.
Bart had never really felt young before.
Beast Boy – Gar Logan he insisted on being called – was nineteen now, had a very wide white smile, and when they shook hands his green skin was warm to the touch. He was a mid level beta, a down time TV star before he became a superhero, and was striking in a decidedly a-typical way for someone of his sexual caste. Bart chatted happily with him, warming to the quirky shape shifter after he transformed into a grass green cheetah and raced him around the common room.
Hours later they were interrupted from a wrestling game on the Playstation by a team of Titans coming back from a mission. Wally was among them, so was a black cloaked woman who Gar jumped up to greet, and a fully armoured Reach Warrior. Bart stared, his stomach knotting and heart racing as the jarringly familiar lethal soft hum of the alien wings filled the air.
It was just Blue Beetle, he tried to remind himself; he knew there was a strong chance he would bump into the hero once he joined the Titans. The man – whoever he was – was a hero… even if the armour looked like the exact same armour Reach One would wear. That didn’t prove anything. That didn’t mean…
“Hey, Bart-man,” Wally appeared beside him. “How was your first day as a Titan?”
“Fine? Just fine? That’s it?” He looked at him. “You okay? You look greener than Gar.”
“I’m okay,” he forced himself to say and smile. He was being stupid. Even in the worst case scenario nothing was due to happen in the timeline for years and even if it did he was in the best place to try and stop it; to save it. This was what he wanted. This was good.
Wally looked at him; concern shining through his mask like torchlight through the skin of a tent. “Sure, okay… are you staying here tonight?”
A pause. “Or, you could go back to Barry’s tonight. Linda and I are coming over and Joan is going to cook.”
He sat up. “She is?”
“I’ll give her a call, hey?”
He hesitated. “If I have too…?”
Wally read between the lines. “Oh, you have to. I have to win back my dignity after that last cake eating contest. Come on; let’s ditch these losers. Race you to the transporter.”
He laughed. “I’m so much faster than you.”
“Yeah, but you still have to say goodbye to your friends. Ready, set, see you at the finish line.” He vanished.
“Hey! No fair!” He bolted around the tower. “My pack says I have to sleep at home tonight," he told Cassie. "I begged - hands and knees - but it didn't work. Have to go. You know how it is; anything for the pack, right? Knew you would understand.” He yelled the same thing through the still closed door at Conner and Tim, and practically flew back into the common room. He saw the Blue Beetle one more time before he left and froze; the warrior’s wings were folded into the gleaming blue shell on his back, feet planted on the ground, and plates of armour around his face sliding back in slow motion. He was young – or as young as anyone was in the Titans – looked undeniably like an alpha, and had stern, simple, yet fiercely expressive features. His skin was dark, hair darker, and eyes even darker still. A fathomless reflective black.
Those eyes started turning towards him; the movement agonisingly slow. Bart spun on his heel and bolted for the emergency stairs. By the time he managed to frantically piece his brain back together and make his way back towards the zeta tubes Wally was waiting for him with his arms crossed and a broad, victorious, smile on his face.
“That’s one for the Wall-man.”
“You’re going down at dinner,” Bart told him and stepped onto the teleporter pad. “I’m going to win that cake eating contest by so much you’ll be begging for mercy.”
He didn’t. Cake eating contests in a family full of speedsters wasn’t about eating the most cake – they weren’t billionaires – but who could eat their cake the quickest and then how much they could steal from the other speedsters at the table. As one of the fastest of the pack and the only semi accomplished thief among them it was a game he usually excelled at. He didn’t that night.
His mind was far away. In a future he left behind.
Despite everything he wasn’t arrogant enough to believe he could single handily change what was going to happen. He had clung to that fantasy as he built the time machine but, the truth was, it has been an escape. A selfish one way trip that meant he could live his life in a better time and hope somehow the timeline went down a different road.
What could he do? The history books had been scrubbed clean of any reference to how the invaders had come. He didn’t know how the war started. He didn’t know how to stop it. Didn’t even know the dates it was meant to begin. He was too afraid to even tell anyone in case the League finding out was the event that started everything. He wasn’t responsible… he didn’t want to be responsible… he didn’t know how to feel like he wasn’t responsible. Like it was his duty to somehow save everything.
He hadn’t expected to see signs of its approach after only a few months living in this era.
Blue Beetle wore the armour of the enemy… did that mean he was the enemy? Should he stop him? Kill him? No. He wouldn’t… couldn’t… the armour didn’t mean anything. Blue Beetle was a Titan, a hero, and a good guy. Wearing a lab coat didn’t make someone a doctor and wearing the scarab didn’t make him Reach. He wasn’t. He was human. He was... hot.
And now he’s crushing on the not-enemy. Bad. That’s totally bad. But was it really? He’s the not-enemy, after all. Were not-enemies really taboo to crush on? Besides, he flirted with most attractive inappropriate alphas when his family wasn’t paying attention; that was part of his hopelessly adorable charm. It wouldn’t be too strange if he flirted with this one too. He should act normal around him either way; what if Blue Beetle did know something, what if Bart figured something out, what if he really could change the future?
Somehow rewrite a history he didn’t know? Figure out what was going to happen and lead people to change it; all as an omega in a time when – despite the wave of liberating new law – still didn’t have half the influence or power as the oral histories of this time suggested.
It was an impossible task but – Bart realised grimly – he was already setting it for himself. He’d been trying to give up the future since he arrived but no matter what some part in him still told him he had to try to do the right thing. Now, at least he had a place to start; a possible point of information. Or, at worst, a trigger that may be waiting to be pulled; something he may be able to stop.
It was a slim chance, a desperate grasp at a distant salvation, but it was all he had.
And he was going to take it.