Duke maintains that this whole thing is definitely Clark’s fault.
And look, he likes Clark. How could he not? The dude is Superman, whose stories Duke and every other kid on the freakin’ planet grew up on. Plus, when Duke actually got to meet the man he was super nice and down-to-earth; ironic considering the man in question can literally fly . As far as Clark is concerned, Duke’s got no beef with him.
Up until about two weeks ago.
What happened two weeks ago? Oh, man. What didn’t happen?
For starters, Duke’s family was focussed on checking out a new threat in Gotham; new money by the names Jared and Megan Hyde. A secret benefactor had poured cash into their pharmaceutical enterprise, and now they were making serious bank.
Not overly suspicious, except human trafficking rates in the city rose at about the same time. You didn’t need to be the world’s greatest detective to put two and two together.
But overall, not the most nefarious scheme this city’s ever seen, not top ten or even top fifty. Day in the life, right? A simple mission: scope ‘em out, catch ‘em doing some Shady ShitTM, lock ‘em up.
Yeah, not exactly.
As the daytime Bat, Duke found much of his patrol time spent checking out the Hyde Labs building, but he never managed to catch even a glimpse of human trafficking or experimentation. Nobody did. The place was spotless, and it irritated the hell out of everyone.
(“What the fuck,” Jason seethed. “How the fuck are these… these bastards hiding these people?!”
“They’ve got to be somewhere. They can’t have just dropped off the face of the Earth!” Tim said hysterically.
Famous last words, they would soon find out.)
On top of that, the Justice League had been uneasy for a good few weeks over a group of alien ships gathering at the edge of the solar system. Despite multiple attempts to contact them, whoever it was didn’t feel much like talking.
After that particular meeting, Bruce had locked himself in the Cave for hours doing some classic BroodingTM. The house was on a distinct edge the whole week.
(“He’s just upset,” Dick said, not looking too happy either. “B wanted to take a ship up there, ask ‘em what’s up, and if they didn’t respond he wanted to take defensive measures.”
“That’s a perfectly reasonable response,” Damian noted.
Dick sounded tired. “Yeah, well, Big Blue didn’t seem to think so. Talked about the importance of diplomacy and giving everyone a fair chance.”
Jason snorted. “That’s bullshit.” Dick shrugged helplessly, like whaddaya gonna do?
“I don’t think he really likes it any better than B does, to be honest.”
“But he’s Superman ,” Duke pointed out.
Dick just shrugged again.)
Frustrating, yes, borderline Pretty Fucking Bad, of course, but hey; day in the life.
Then, the next day, Tim appears from his seclusion looking like an unholy trash demon taken the form of a raccoon, pale as Greek yogurt, half-screams something about needing to go to the Clock Tower and runs manically out of the manor.
(Oh yeah, this whole thing is probably also Tim’s fault too. And Cass’s… and Dick’s, and definitely Jason’s. Fuck it; this is everybody’s fault. Even Duke’s; he’s not proud of it, but that was !00% some enabling he did. Rule number one: never enable.)
Anyway , Duke gets back after another day of frustratingly fruitless observation at Hyde Labs with only a little bit of excitement all day in the form of Poison Ivy’s escape from Arkham, and he’s just about to settle down for a nice well-earned sleep, when Jason , the bastard, appears in his doorway.
“Family meeting!” he sing-songs cheekily, and Duke groans into his pillow.
“ You people have a family meeting. Some of us have normal sleep schedules and that means right now, dude.”
“Sorry, but Dickiebird says you gotta be there,” Jason says. Duke sighs hard enough to move mountains. “Tim’s got a theory, says he wants you to help him check it out.”
“Well, you and Cass,” Jason amends.
Makes sense. Duke sighs again. “Alright, alright,” he rolls over and slips out of bed. “What could be so important that you need me at,” he glances at his alarm clock, “10:00 PM?”
“No idea,” Jason shrugs. “We’ll find out together.”
When they get down to the Batcave, Tim is crowded into the chair in front of the Batcomputer, and surrounded by siblings and sibling-adjacent people swarming excitedly, like bees in a hive. When he spots Duke, he exclaims, “Finally!”
He checks to see if Tim’s maybe talking to Jason, but no, Jason’s wandered over to glare at the display case, which means Tim wants him, and that’s never good . “What’s going on?” Duke says warily.
“Okay,” Tim says, only a little manic, “Work with me and Cass on this mission.” Cass also stares pleadingly at him, eyes wide.
“Um,” Duke says.
Don’t get him wrong; Duke likes Tim, in that vague, I’m pretty sure you’re clinically insane way that he loves all his siblings. None of them are bad people, not at all, it’s just that Duke thinks maybe therapy is a good option and these shadow bitches think it’s a fate worse than death.
Worst of all, Duke can feel himself turning into One Of Them: he’s lived in the manor for about six months and he can sense the slow creep of the Waynes’ paranoid ass habits creeping in on him when he’s not paying attention. Like, he’ll be peacefully just doing homework or looking over a case, and then Dick will squeal from across the room about how he “did the tilt, you did the Head Tilt!” or Steph will comment off-handedly, “Wow, all you Batboys do the same squinty thing with your eyes,” and an impending sense of doom would dawn on Duke like a bat-shaped sunrise. Take now, for example.
“-Please!” Tim is begging. “Everyone else is gonna deal with the Justice League, and we really need your powers for the infiltration.” He gestures toward Dick, Babs, Jason, and Damian, who are all watching them eagerly, but silently.
“Wait, why are we ‘ dealing’ with the Justice League,” Duke asks, and there’s that impending doom sunrise. “We work with the Justice League. And what exactly are we ‘infiltrating’?”
Tim exchanges a glance with Cass. Then he smiles unconvincingly. “Of course we work with the Justice League,” he says. Duke’s gotten better at spotting lies, so he can tell Tim is skirting delicately around the whole truth.
Duke should say no. He should tell Tim to take his medicine, and he should definitely call Bruce. But.
But. Defeated, he sighs and relents, because crazy as his family is, they’ve never led him too far astray. “Alright,” he says. “What’re we doing.”
Cass grins at him, and that? That’s exactly how he knows he’s in too deep.
Needless to say, Duke is an idiot and his family is full of lunatics who are, in fact, the worst.
“What the fuck !!” Signal whispers, “Are we doing ?!”
It’s a trick question, Duke knows exactly what’s happening, and that he’s totally gonna go along with it. He just thinks it needs to be said.
Black Bat smooths a gloved hand over his cheek, but it’s less effective since they’re in masks. “Little brother. Be brave,” she says, playfulness infecting the hardened determination in her voice.
On Duke's other side, Red Robin is practically vibrating with anticipation. “Two minutes,” Tim murmurs excitedly.
Duke’s manipulating the shadows so they’re hidden above some sort of loading dock, which is holding a bunch of cages full of the missing people, in an alien spaceship. Tim had “borrowed” a spaceship from the hangar in the Watchtower while Cass delivered some first-class nerve strikes to the poor chum on watch duty. Then Duke, Cass, and Tim shot toward and snuck into the alien ship while the rest of the family (excluding Bruce) stayed in the Watchtower to buy them as much time as possible.
(“Again, why are we stalling the Justice League?”
“I, uh. Well, we don’t exactly have… solid proof of the, uh, abductions.”
“ Whoooa , who’s we? And if what d’you mean we don’t have proof ? Why are we even going?”
“Call it a hunch. And buddy, hate to break it to you, but you’re just as much in this as everyone else.”)
The hunch in question is annoyingly obvious once you see the picture big enough. That’s why Tim’s the detective, Duke supposes. He really hates it when bad guys team up.
So turns out the “mystery benefactor” the Hydes had gotten their money from was actually extraterrestrial in nature, as in, honest-to-god aliens, and the Hydes were the only ones stupid and/or suicidal enough to sell out the human race for money.
They’d been carting up victims for weeks to be experimented on by some genocidal planet’s society. That’s why nobody could find the human trafficking victims in Gotham, they were literally not on the face of the planet.
No, instead, they’re stuck in cages being experimented on.
Just the thought makes Duke’s blood boil .
The only silver lining is that the aliens in question look pretty weak sauce, which is probably why they needed the Hydes' help in the first place, so. Small mercies.
Pretty ugly, too. Duke suppresses a shudder. He definitely won’t feel bad about punching these guys. They resemble naked mole rats, just… upright, and wearing the most trash ass jumpsuits Duke has ever laid eyes on.
In one of the cages, a woman cries out when she brushes against the electrified bars.
God, he can’t wait to punch these bastards.
“One minute,” Red Robin whispers. “Remember the plan?”
Black Bat and Signal nod simultaneously, but Duke doesn’t take his eyes off the people in the cages. His muscles tense in anticipation.
“Ten seconds. Five.” Red closes his wrist computer, a hard grin visible under his domino. A pause.
Signal, Black Bat, and Red Robin spring from their positions, Red Robin sprinting immediately for the cages, leaving Double-B and Signal to fend off the extraterrestrials. Just how he likes it.
Duke feels a feral smile spread across his mouth as his fist connects with an alien’s face with a meaty, satisfying smack.
Oh, he’s definitely being influenced by this family, but he can’t quite bring himself to feel any regrets.
So you see? Everything is Clark’s fault. No, Duke will not be accepting corrections.
The thought is actually pretty comforting as he stares into the Superman insignia on the man’s chest as they’re getting chewed out.
There’s a special form of guilt when you’re getting lectured by Superman. Adults always say they’re “not mad, just disappointed,” but from Supes you really feel it. Doesn’t help that practically the whole Justice League is behind him in a disapproving wall of solidarity.
The room is essentially split in half; the Leaguers on one side, the Bats on the other. Duke’s pretty proud of the united front they’re putting up, even if Damian has a sprained wrist, Cass is favoring her left leg, and Duke definitely has a concussion.
“-can’t just maverick it. You have to trust us enough to let us in on your plans, especially when it concerns the whole world,” Clark is saying when he tunes back in. Duke’s still kinda high on adrenaline, so the lecture isn’t really sinking in as much as it probably could.
“Oh, c’mon.” Dick finally decides to step forward as the unofficial representative of the Bat clan. “You can’t be mad at us if we were right. Did we save those people or what?”
“We’re not mad about you saving people, Nightwing,” Clark backtracks reflexively. “We just take issue with your methodology . You shouldn’t just do whatever you’re inclined to; you have to work with us, do things our way.”
“Your way,” Tim argues indignantly, “was to wait, and let more people get abducted until those guys came down and handed you a ransom note.”
“ No ,” Clark says, “we were using our resources to establish a solid link. That’s how justice works. You can’t just attack whenever you have any suspicions.” He sounds annoyed, now.
Jason scoffs. “Maybe you can’t. Seemed pretty easy to me.”
Duke elbows him. “Not helping,” he murmurs. Jason makes a face at him.
Diana frowns. “Listen and take this to heart, young warriors. The whole purpose of a team is-“
Before she can finish, the door hisses open, effectively silencing everyone. Batman stalks in, cape drawn up around him, and all at once, every Bat kid tenses up in a way they hadn’t when the Leaguers were speaking.
Batman just gazes at them, one by one, expression blank and unreadable for a few seconds.
“Let’s go,” he finally growls, and his voice is low. He sweeps back out of the room.
“We’re not done-“ Oliver tries to protest, but Bruce shoots him a chilling glare from the doorway. Duke and every other Batkid just pivots to follow their father. Duke has to hold in a grin at how startled the Leaguers look when all the Batkids turn in unison. He’s really starting to get in sync with his siblings and it’s so worth it for moments like this.
Of course, this comes with the major caveat that Duke’s about to get chewed out by the Dark Knight, so.
In the elevator (which is starting to get really cramped), Bruce just glares broodingly ahead at the lead/steel wall as they descend. Everyone else squirms for a solid minute.
Finally, Tim decides to break the silence. “...B,” he starts, possibly to take responsibility, possibly to launch into one of those rambling explanations he’s known for.
But then Bruce’s shoulders start shaking. His head drops, and the elevator goes silent.
For a horrifying second, Duke thinks he’s crying or something, but no, the caped crusader of Gotham is laughing.
“...Father?” Damian says with uncertainty, but Bruce just chuckles harder, and even Dick looks out of his element now.
Bruce’s laughter lasts for all of a minute, in which Jason tries to discreetly check for Joker gas poisoning and Bruce waves him off. When it peters out, Bruce sighs contentedly.
“... Bruce? You okay?” Dick says. His tone is hesitant.
Bruce says nothing for several seconds.
Then, quietly, “The looks on their faces .”
Jason, Tim, and Duke all startle. Dick stutters, “Wait, what?”
Bruce breaks out into clear, coiling laughter that settles warmly in Duke’s stomach. Say what you will about Batman, but Bruce Wayne has one of the best laughs Duke’s ever heard, even if he only employs it occasionally. Each Wayne, even Jason-With-The-Stick-Up-His-Ass, relaxes at the sound. “God,” Bruce says, turning to meet their eyes, “ thank you. That’s the best thing I’ve seen in forever. Good job.”
“So…” Tim hesitates. “You’re not mad?”
“Mad? No.” Cass grins her megawatt grin, and Damian slumps in badly-concealed relief.
Then, “Oh, but you’re all still grounded.”
The elevator erupts in groans.