Chapter 1: Think On Your Feet
There was a flash of white light that hurt his eyes even through the filters of his helmet, a sizzling sound, a moment of dizziness, and then Jason was dumped on his ass in the middle of the alley.
He realised something was wrong immediately, aside from the strobing lights still half-blinding him. The silence. No Nightwing laughing at him. Jason had just been knocked on his butt in - yes, that was a puddle, icy cold and probably filthy, fantastic - so by rights Dickface should be splitting his sides right about now. Jason blinked away the afterimages, straining his ears for the sound of the fight.
Sirens. People arguing above him. Cars on a nearby road. No full-bodied laughter from Dick. No sounds of fighting. Nothing but the sounds of a relatively peaceful Gotham night.
It definitely hadn’t been his imagination. He had definitely been fighting someone. More specifically, fighting a meta-baddie too stupid to know that Ol’ Bats didn’t like metas in Gotham. If it went for the people who were supposedly his friends, it sure as shit went for his enemies.
He blinked away the last of the purple spots and looked around, ready to spring into action if he needed to. It was Gotham. He’d need to.
But it was just an empty alley. Cans Alley. He’d walked through here a dozen times, jumped or grappled over it a few dozen more. Jason got to his feet, gun out, finger near the trigger.
Still nothing. No flashes of light, no sign of ‘Wing or Batman himself. Nothing he could hear except those distant sirens and nearer traffic. A game show host’s voice narrated something enthusiastically, floating through a nearby apartment window.
He put his gun away and climbed the nearest fire escape, all the way up to the roof. His ass was freezing, possibly in a literal sense. It was a cold night. The water from the alley ground had seeped right down to the skin, and he was definitely feeling every bit of chill to the breeze.
Had it got colder than it had been earlier in the night, or was it just him? The dampness in the air had turned to drizzle. That could be it.
When Jason got to the rooftop, the view took his breath away, for all the wrong reasons. The Gotham skyline was different.
It was still the Gotham skyline, for sure. The Wayne Building was off to his left, its giant W lit up like a Christmas tree. Good old Bruce and his family’s even older ego, making it easy for him and everyone else to tell what city they were in. But it wasn’t lit up brightly enough.
Also, a few skyscrapers seemed to have vanished. What the fuck?
Jason knew the Gotham skyline. He was a Gothamite born and bred. A central Gothamite born and bred, not one of these Johnny-come-latelies like Dick. Bruce and the Replacement were rich boys, who might have lived their lives in Gotham’s paper-and-law boundaries, but never in its concrete heart. This was like looking at a mouth with some of its teeth smashed out.
Where was the experimental apartment block, thirty stories of purple-tinted mirrored glass in twisting patterns? It should be about twenty degrees west of Wayne Tower; it wasn’t. The Lexcorp contribution to the grand architectural tradition of penis compensation was nowhere to be seen either, and that monstrosity was almost as visible as Wayne Tower. The more modest Cobblepot Building, a relic of the days when the Penguin’s family had been a little less awful and a lot more cashed up, wasn’t covered in scaffolding.
There was something seriously wrong here, and Jason had only the clothes on his back to deal with it. Current theory: he was in some sort of alternate Gotham. One with fewer skyscrapers.
He knew more or less how to proceed with alternate Gothams. First step was always finding out what sort of alternate Gotham it was. The Wayne family was clearly still a thing, going by the tower. Jason pulled out his phone. The internet was the first port of call. Even if his comms were down, he should still get some sort of signal -
Only his phone was dead. Its screen was black and unresponsive.
He’d fallen on it, into a puddle.
So now his ass was wet, his pants were dirty, and he had no phone.
This was not the interdimensional journey Jason had wanted. Fuck, he hadn’t wanted any interdimensional journeys. He was perfectly happy (okay, maybe not happy, but existentially comfortable) in his own dimension. All he’d wanted when he left the house that evening was to kick in a few heads. Was that so much to ask? Could he manage to do that without being zapped to bizarro-Gotham?
No point whining about it. He’d have to find out what sort of bizarro-Gotham he was in the hard way, no internet to help. Best way to start was probably by finding a TV. Local news would help.
Jason took off his helmet. Who knew what the Red Hood meant here? Better safe than sorry. And if someone was watching and recognised him as Jason Todd, what of it? He wasn’t planning to stick around. He didn’t have a bag to hide it in, so he was stuck passing it off as a motorcycle helmet if anyone asked.
Back to street level. Down here it looked just like regular Gotham. Same trash on the street, same cracks in the sidewalks and potholes in the roads. Same grime on the buildings, broken up by bright but artistically lacking graffiti. It was almost like being at home.
There, underfoot, amongst the trash, was a newspaper. An honest-to-god newspaper. They still had them in Gotham, technically; Jason just didn’t see many around any more except on the screens of phones and tablets. Was it worth picking the sodden scrap of newsprint up?
He didn’t have any other sources of information immediately to hand. Might as well.
The paper started disintegrating in his hands as he picked it up and relocated under the brightest of the three streetlights functioning on this stretch of road. The most legible part was an article on the planned redevelopment of Gotham Memorial Hospital, due for completion in -
- that couldn’t be right.
Jason read the date again. It wasn’t the same date that had come up on the home screen of his phone when he’d checked, not three hours ago. In spite of its sodden state, the paper had the feeling of freshness to it; it was a few days old at most. Fifteen-year-old newsprint felt different. Crumbly and fragile. It would have dissolved in the rain.
It could be a fake, he supposed. He could think of a few rogues who’d go for a mindfuck like this, but the thing with that was you needed resources for that mindfuck. It could be plain old hallucinogenics, God knew that Gotham wasn’t short on people who liked to liberally coat public places in those.
Or the portal could have actually zapped him into the past. That wasn’t so far off an alternate Gotham. It could still be an alternate Gotham. Did the past count as an alternate Gotham? It probably should. Was it even his own past?
Habits older than his training as Robin drove him upwards. The rooftops were safer. They were probably safer even now. He knew the streets were shit when he was a kid, and he could have told anyone the exact nature of the shittiness going down within a three-block radius of his mom’s apartment, but he couldn’t have said much beyond that, or much about why it was so. He’d been a kid.
The point was, he didn’t know if he should go and change things. He didn’t know what he’d be changing. Or how. Could he, should he…all those fun questions.
It started to rain. Not a downpour, but a soft, silvery rain that caught the light, took the edges off Gotham, and made everything look almost clean. Jason tucked himself in the lee of a rooftop air-conditioning plant and settled down to think.
If he was in the past, he had a few options.
One, he could try to get back to the present. That idea had its merits. Jason’s past sucked badly enough he wasn’t interested in spending any more time there. Here. And he had things to do in the present as well. The problem was, Jason didn’t know anyone who could help him get back. In fact, the only person he could think of who might be able to help was Bruce himself. Fuck that. Jason would rather be stuck.
The other option was that he could stay. And if he stayed, he could try to change things.
Jason let himself imagine it. He was fifteen years in the past. He could kill the Joker before the monster could do…lots of things. He could save himself. Or his younger self. He’d always have to remember. He could save a lot of people. Bruce wouldn’t be expecting it. Bam. Bullet in the Joker’s head. Done.
But he could do more than that, he realised, staring out at the old Gotham skyline, hazy and nearly beautiful in the spring rain. He could shut down Black Mask and the Penguin. Hell, if he could manage it, he might be able to prevent Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and Mr Freeze ever coming to be.
Fifteen years in the past? Hell, he might even be in time to stop there ever being a Robin in Gotham. Bruce should’ve known better. He could stop it.
And when he was done, he’d invest in a few companies about to do very well indeed and make his own way back to the present. No Bruce necessary.
It sounded like a plan.
Step one in the plan was going to scout for information. If he was going to change the Bat’s career, he needed to know about the Bat’s career.
Two hours later he was convinced that Gotham was even more of a shithole in the past. God, he hoped it was someone else’s past and not his. It looked like the trash hadn’t been picked up in this neighbourhood for weeks. There was more crime around, too. Groups of men lurked menacingly on corners in ways they didn’t when Jason was from. That sort of behaviour was just asking to get spied on by a nosy vigilante.
As it happened, Jason was a nosy vigilante, so he spent a bit of time on a rusty fire escape above one group of five, eavesdropping. Gossip - it was better than the papers.
There was a bit of back and forth about someone’s wife, someone else’s sister, the boredom of playing lookout for the big men in town. Jason stuck to it. If this Gotham had a Batman -
“Has anyone seen the Bat recently?”
- they’d be worried about Batman. Exactly. Thank you, Mister Mook.
“Nah, he’s shaking down the families,” another man said. “He’s got a bug up his ass about something.”
Little did they know that described Bruce on even a good day, but Jason took their meaning. Batman was investigating something. Something important, by the sounds of it. Peachy. There was nothing Jason liked better than dealing with an aggravated Bat.
“Yeah, well, he’s bad enough on a normal day. Night. Whatever.”
That neatly confirmed that Batman existed in this past, and that he was feared. To some degree. It might not even be Bruce under the cowl here. There was no reason it had to be, if this wasn’t his past. Which admittedly it might be. Fucking dimensional travel. He’d prefer if it wasn’t Bruce.
Though…it could be interesting to meet a younger Bruce. Fifteen years in the past. Fifty-fifty whether he was more of an asshole now than he was in Jason's time. The Golden Boy would be a baby, pretty much. Eight or so. He might even be at the circus. That would probably be best for him. The Replacement would be what, three? Predecessor and successor both in no shape for Robin-ing. It would be strange to encounter any of them like this.
He dropped down to the group of men. “Evening, gentlemen,” he said.
His newfound audience jumped half a mile in the air. “The fuck do you want?” one growled.
“Any more information on the Bat,” he said. “The more the better, in fact.”
The thugs looked at each other in perplexity. “Are you new in town?” one asked, after an uncomfortable beat.
“Yes,” Jason said. It still counted even though there might be a baby Jason wandering around this alternate Gotham. He was new in town. “And I want to know everything I can about this grown man dressing like a rodent and beating up good people like you.”
Unsurprisingly, he was met only by blank looks. At last one, the eldest, asked suspiciously, “Are you taking the mickey, son?”
Jason grinned. “I still want to know all you know about Batman,” he said. “Anyone going to tell me?”
“He’s working for him,” one of the men said. “The bat. Look at his chest.”
“My eyes are up here,” Jason snapped. Too late though. Dammit. They’d seen. Should have thought of that sooner. And now they were charging him, fists at the ready. He knew putting the bat on his armour was a bad idea, but no, he thought as he ducked to one side and pushed one man over, using the tight space to his advantage. They went down like bowling pins. One nostalgia-slash-spite fit a few months ago, and all he got for it was trouble. The oldest man was, surprisingly, fastest to his feet. His loss. Jason felled him again with a punch to the solar plexus. He turned around, knee first, right between the legs of the man having a second go at him. He grinned again as he realised his opponent wasn’t wearing a groin guard. Most thugs in Gotham did, when Jason was from. Two down.
Jason dropped, sweeping the third man’s legs right back from under him, and got the fourth with a straight punch to the jaw.
Then there was a click. The fifth man, the smart one, had backed off a step and pulled a gun. “You don’t want to do that,” Jason said, and pulled his own. “Your aim’s drifting left. Mine isn’t. And I have armour.”
Smart guy lowered his gun.
“Good decision,” Jason said, closing the distance. For a moment, he thought about killing this guy anyway, but dismissed the thought almost as soon as it arose. He killed any of these guys, Batman would try to come down on him like a ton of bricks. Few things would suck more than spending his time stuck in the shitty past running and hiding because of Bruce’s stiff neck. So he just punched the smart guy out as well.
Felt good, but he didn’t have much more information than when he started.
Jason helped himself to a percentage of what his new buddies had in their wallets - not everything, since a few of them probably had families to support, but enough for him to get a meal and a room. He didn’t fancy sleeping on the streets. Not least because it was raining again.
He found a crappy motel and rented a room for three days. The paint on the ceiling was mould-stained and peeling, the carpet smelled like cigarette smoke, and the walls were paper thin. It was the sort of room he’d spent most of his childhood living in. The sort of place where he was at home still.
Jason went to sleep, and dreamed of the past.
“Another long night, Master Bruce?”
Alfred hardly needed to ask, Bruce thought, as he stripped off cape and cowl and headed to the computer. It had been a long night, and he still had reports to compile. He didn’t want to miss a single step on this case. It was too important. “I’ll have a coffee, please,” he said.
“Why, certainly,” Alfred replied. “I would have thought you would not want to develop an addiction to any stimulant, but by all means, prove me wrong. So this shall be your third coffee since breakfast? I do enjoy you serving more cups of coffee per day than you have had hours of sleep.”
Bruce turned around. That was vicious, unsubtle sarcasm by Alfred’s standards. “All right, what’s the matter?”
“Aside from you running yourself into the ground? Why, nothing at all.”
“It’s a mob case, Alfred, I can’t stint on it. They’re already closing ranks.” The Maronis more than the Falcones, which told him plenty in and of itself. If he didn’t act fast, he’d lose his chance to find the culprit. And this culprit, he very much wanted to find. The past three nights he’d been out dusk till dawn looking for information. “I’ve made my excuses at Wayne Enterprises.”
Alfred sniffed. “The excuse of an extended bout of drinking will not suffice forever.”
“It’s only going to be for a few more days.”
“Yes,” Bruce insisted. “Just until I close this case.”
“And how do you plan to do that when you are about to collapse from exhaustion even now?”
“That does rather bring us full circle,” Alfred sighed. “Very well. I shall bring you your coffee, sir, if you will consent to shower before starting on your reports.”
He didn’t bother answering, just headed towards the relevant facilities. He had recordings of the night’s interviews, now it was a matter of putting them together. He knew now that the killer was associated with the Maroni family, but nobody was giving him a name. Nor could he get access to the - the witness. He was stuck with the one account, not even a sketch.
Even if he wasn’t working so hard, Bruce didn’t think he’d be able to sleep anyway. The three hours he’d got the previous night had been plagued by nightmares, some of the worst he’d had since he was a little boy. Where they’d come from, and why, wasn’t a mystery. They didn’t make sleeping any easier. It seemed like every time he closed his eyes he was back in the circus tent while the audience screamed.
Watching John and Mary Grayson fall had been bad enough, but it was the memory of Richard Grayson standing over their broken bodies that haunted Bruce more. Better to wear himself out with work than to face that again.
Chapter 2: Resourceful
Jason gets into a fight.
Hello again! No particular warnings for this chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jason spent the afternoon planning.
Except for his phone, his gear was all in good shape. Bruce had never once needed to tell him to look after his stuff. His grappling hook and lines were pristine; his hood only had a minor scratch on the right side of his jaw, nothing that compromised structural integrity or the visual filters; his body armour had only one slightly worn spot to it; the seams in every bit of clothing were sound. His guns were in good order, but he didn’t have his cleaning kit, or much in the way of ammunition. He had the usual bits and pieces he stuffed in his pockets - handcuffs, superglue and lubricant, some of his portable bugs and trackers, a knife and a glasscutter. Not to mention his wallet, full of fake ID and cash from the future. Only a few of his coins were legal tender here.
He needed more stuff.
All the hanging out with rich people had made him soft. He didn’t have Bruce’s funds to fall back on, here, or Talia’s either. He’d have to earn his own money. Or steal it. If he mugged some muggers a few more times, maybe ripped off a few drug deals, he’d have enough to rent a proper crappy apartment and invest in some more gear.
Food, shelter, clothes, and ammunition had to be his top priorities, Jason decided. In that order. Once he got those sorted, he could start his investment plans and gathering information in earnest. Or, ideally, he’d stalk a few drug deals and get information and money at the same time. He used the last of the money he’d stolen the previous night to buy some long-lasting food and headed out on the town.
Roaming around bare-faced without a concern for his identity was…liberating. Jason Todd was a child, here, but Jason wasn’t anything to anyone. Nobody was chasing him. The Bat wasn’t after him, nor the thugs he’d pissed off as a kid, nor the cops, nor paparazzi interested in the street rat Bruce Wayne adopted. The anonymity was beyond incredible. And useful.
Life had changed a lot in fifteen years. Brick-sized cell phones. Newspapers. Ugh, the fashion. Jason’s plain clothing didn’t stand out too badly, but he dreaded having to buy spare clothes.
In the busiest retail strips, when people were talking about news, they were talking about some sex scandal. State politician got caught banging a staffer in a car - classy. Also apparently he’d been using public money to arrange dates. Classier. Most of the comments he heard about it were along the lines of we know they all do it. If not this, then worse. Commissioner Loeb was mid-scandal as well, Jason discovered, when he eavesdropped on some cops on break. No Gordon. That was a thing.
Jason also saw a bit of money change hands between cops and a store owner. If that was what he was seeing in broad daylight, he had some idea what he’d see once the sun went down. The same shit he’d grown up with. The same shit that stopped him trusting cops long ago.
Time and time again he’d heard Bruce say that Gordon was a good man, and yeah, maybe. But a lot of bad men worked for Gordon, and Gordon couldn’t do much about it himself.
He roamed through the back streets, trying to get a grip on the city’s older geography. All of a sudden, the rooftops were different. Jason couldn’t afford to let something like renovations long complete in his own time get in his way when navigating. Especially if that navigating involved running from people. Criminals, cops, the Batman himself. He couldn’t miss a step. Re-learning the streets in the level of detail he needed wasn’t the sort of job that could be done in a few hours, but he had to start somewhere.
When night fell, he went back to his shitty motel for his hood, his guns, and his body armour, and got down to the fun part of vigilantism.
Since he’d re-familiarised himself more with the Narrows than anywhere else, he decided to patrol there for the night. There’d be time to check out Dixon Docks later, see how the larger-scale importing was going. Small-scale was much safer to tackle right now. He found a crime in progress and scored some cash, then headed to a small, grungy tavern named simply Jimmy’s, and ordered a beer. The bartender did not ask him for ID. It wasn’t that sort of place. Just as well, since Jason didn’t have any yet.
It was the sort of place where, on his second carefully-nursed beer (making sure to quietly but visibly count out the money for the second), he was looked up and down, emphasis on strong arms and broad shoulders, and asked, “You looking for work, son?”
He looked as suspicious as he could. After years of practice, he could make himself look pretty shifty when he chose to. Very much the sort of desperate, furtive kid who might be some use as hired muscle. “Maybe,” he said, in his natural, street Gotham accent. “You know where I could get some?”
“Maybe,” the barkeep replied. “You know the moving company on Williams Road? Near the corner with Lowry?”
“Always work for strong backs there, if you don’t ask any questions.”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” Jason said.
“Tell ‘em Topher sent you.”
And that was how Jason got his in. Easy as pie. Bruce might not be right about many things, but he was right about this much: most criminals really weren’t that intelligent. No time to do that tonight, but plenty of time to keep patrolling.
Movers, huh? Jason searched his memory. Bruce tended to give out the criminal history of Gotham as needed, and of course his files were so extensive Jason could never have hoped to read all of them, so he wasn’t sure what the state of affairs was. Back in the present, Black Mask controlled most of Gotham’s builders; Penguin had its truckers, not to mention the boxing circuit. Neither was a major player in the Gotham underground yet. He had no idea who ran the movers.
Jason carried on, lost in thought, until he ran across a little group of suspicious-looking fellows loading a suspicious-looking van. It was only too easy to find crime in Gotham. He ducked behind a wall, and listened.
“You’re sure the Bat’s not going to swoop down on us?” one man asked.
“He’s over the other side of town,” another reported. “It was on the radio and everything.”
Fear of the Bat was all the proof Jason needed that these guys were up to no good. He climbed up and around, because better to attack from above. In a group of three, at least two of them had guns. Once he was above them, he jumped down on the top of their suspicious van. He landed with a clunk and a crunch of metal bending under his weight. “Evening, boys,” he said.
“Who the fuck are you?”
That reaction was going to change, if Jason had anything to say about it. “The Red -“ Hood, he almost said, but then he remembered where he’d got that alias, and changed tack. “You don’t need to worry about my name. You just need to worry about how hard I’m going to hit you.”
He didn’t leave time for any retorts. He just lit into the fight. The gunmen had to go down first, of course. He broke the arm of one and tried to kick the other over, but he was a big guy and didn’t topple so easily. The second hit, slightly lower and better placed vis-a-vis his centre of gravity, did knock him over. The third slashed at him with a knife. Jason ignored it; at that angle it wouldn’t get past his jacket. He fended off the next knife strike, and the one after, before finding the opening to lunge in and headbutt his opponent.
That left only the big guy, still struggling to get back up. Jason kneed him in the face, stomped on the hand blindly searching for the gun, and was just working him over when the fourth guy came around the corner, gun drawn.
He had Jason dead to rights when a small blur hit him feet-first in the head, swinging down from a windowsill at alarming speed. Thug #4 folded, while his miniature attacker rolled away, onto his feet, and leapt up on top of a dumpster in what looked like one fluid move.
Jason had not been expecting that.
That hit to the head wasn’t quite enough to keep the guy down. Whoever had hit him - and it looked like a kid - just couldn’t put enough behind the blow to take them out entirely. Which would be a problem for the mystery attacker, if it weren’t for the fact Jason was still there. He launched himself towards the fourth man before he could strike back at the person who’d saved Jason’s ass with their interference.
What was it with kids in Gotham fighting crime?
No time to ponder, though, he had to beat Thug #4 senseless. Then he could ask. It was the work of a few seconds, but by that time the kid was well up a fire escape.
“Hey!” Jason called, “Get back here! I’m not going to hurt you!”
The kid stopped, staring down at Jason from his perch. Jason couldn’t see him very well in the gloom, but he was a tiny little thing, more like a scrappy kitten than anything else. Even now he was poised to dash off again. Smart. Less smart was the bit where he’d dived feet-first into a gun-wielding criminal, but Jason was familiar with the impulse.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Jason repeated. “Easy there.”
“Are you Batman?” the kid asked. Heavy accent. Not a Gotham accent, either. Something European, by which Jason meant the accent was from the whole of Europe from the sounds of it.
Jason scoffed. As if. “I’m not Batman, kid.”
The kid didn’t say anything to that, instead trying to size him up a bit better. Jason drew closer, trying to get a better look. It was another cold spring night, but the kid only had a thin jacket. That wasn’t going to be enough if he was a street kid, or even if he was living in a crappy apartment like Jason used to live in. He doubted the kid had thermal underwear underneath what looked like - a jumpsuit? What the hell?
The kid shrunk back. And upwards. “If you’re not Batman, why do you have a bat on your chest?”
“I’m better than Batman,” Jason said immediately. How old was the kid, six? Not old enough to understand what happened to Jason, with Bruce, everything. He had no way of understanding why Jason had chosen to keep that on his armour. “Way better.”
The kid didn’t look convinced. “What do you want?” he asked.
“Just to thank you,” Jason said. “That last guy had the drop on me.”
Right. Definitely not a native English speaker. Idiom. Or lack thereof. “He surprised me,” Jason clarified. “Thanks for helping me out.”
“It’s all right,” the kid said. He still didn’t sound much less suspicious, but at least he hadn’t run. Good start. Jason didn’t want to see him dashing off into the alleys, not when he was the sort of kid who’d kick thugs in the head for a complete stranger. He’d get killed in short order. Jason edged closer still. The kid was definitely in a jumpsuit.
“What’re you doing out here so late? Got anywhere to go?” It sounded shifty - Jason wouldn’t have trusted it, couldn’t remember a time when he would have - but he wasn’t sure where to start. It had been a long time since he’d interacted with children regularly. He wasn’t sure what to make of the jumpsuit. Why on earth would a kid that small be wearing an institutional jumpsuit, and wandering around the streets of Gotham late at night playing at being Robin?
“None of your business,” the kid said.
But by then, Jason was close enough to see. “Hey, you’re a St Jude’s kid!”
He remembered St Jude’s, kind of. Worst orphanage in the city. Legendarily bad. It had been closed down when Jason was ten or so, maybe eleven. A lot of the older kids had spoken of it with undisguised terror. Jason had never been there himself. He did know that it was one step away from juvenile detention, and run like juvenile detention too. Right down to the jumpsuits.
This kid seriously couldn’t be more than six. He was so small. Way too small for a place like St Jude’s, where the staff beat up on the kids and the big kids beat up on the little kids.
But the bit of personal information was too much for the kid. He freaked. And he ran.
Specifically, he climbed.
Jesus, he was fast. Faster than a kid that size had any right to be. Even if he was all arm and leg (hard to tell, under the jacket and the jumpsuit), he was still tiny. Jason leapt up after him, scaling the dumpster and getting up the fire escape himself, but the kid had a decent lead on him and handled the vertical space like a pro. On top of that he was wily, taking routes through the smallest spaces he could, and forcing Jason to change his path on the fly. But at the end of the day, and the end of the brief chase, Jason was better at climbing, more experienced at chasing, and had longer limbs besides. He backed the kid to the corner of a rooftop, which was not how he’d wanted this to go at all, but still better than a six-year-old orphan Jason owed big time running off through random streets and then possibly going back to St Jude’s.
The kid looked around wildly, trapped by the edge of the roof, and in full streetlight for the first time. His eyes were ludicrously big in his thin, pinched face - which seemed to Jason to be less malnutrition than just the kid being small and not sleeping, either, going by the shadows underneath those eyes.
Those eyes were a striking and familiar shade of blue.
That, plus the skill and speed with which he’d launched himself at a gangster’s head, then the way he’d tackled the fire escapes…and Jason was fifteen years in the past…a horrible suspicion bloomed.
“Dick?” he asked, not knowing if he wanted it to be true.
The kid’s, Dick’s, eyes went wide as saucers. The effect was to make him look almost like a particularly tragic cartoon chatacter. “How do you know my name?” he asked.
Oh, shit. Dick was in Gotham. In St Jude’s. They didn’t tend to send kids with a stable home there. Granted, he knew jack shit about Dick’s life pre-Robin except that he’d been a trapeze artist (big deal), but he’d always got the impression that the Graysons had provided for their son before they went splat. So, if Dick was in St Jude’s…
“The papers,” Jason lied. Hadn’t the Graysons’ murder been big news for a little while? Attractive young couple dead in spectacular gory trapeze murder, leaving photogenic orphan behind? Gotham loved that sort of story.
Only Dick didn’t look quite so photogenic right now. And again, St Jude’s. St Jude’s. Why?
Where was Bruce?
“Not in the papers,” Dick said. “They don’t call me that.”
Then Jason got a bit distracted, because Dick jumped off the roof. Jason dashed over to see that Dick had caught a fire escape a storey below and a good ten feet or so horizontally. He cursed all Flying Graysons and their drama- and height-loving tendencies. Even as he watched, tiny Dick did a complicated swing-jump around a corner.
It fucking figured that Jason couldn’t keep up with Dick when Dick was a freaking six-year-old. Or eight-year-old. Whichever. Well, at least he knew where Dick would be going, he thought. Dick was new to Gotham and even as a grown-up he was naive. He’d probably stick with St Jude’s.
Still confused as to why this was the case at all, Jason started heading across the city. He had to try and follow Dick, anyway, ‘cause all that stuff about the Gotham streets was still true.
It was hard to connect the scared little kid with the smug jackass Jason had never been able to compete with. He tried to imagine the kid older, taller, heavier, smiley. It still didn’t add up to Nightwing. There was no way the Nightwing in his timeline had ever been that small, and there was no way the Nightwing in his timeline had ever been sent to an orphanage. Bruce had snapped him right up, hadn’t he?
Jason kept trying to follow. He wasn’t sure if Dick knew his way back to St Jude’s. How long had he been there? It couldn’t be that long, since he’d stayed and listened to Jason instead of bolting straight away. Long-term residents there didn’t trust adults enough to listen.
He got a glimpse of Dick on a balcony three buildings along and up the road. He was heading in the right direction, at least. Unlike a lot of kids, he looked up to see if anyone was following him. Jason supposed it made sense for him, of all people. He hadn’t expected Dick to be so wary.
He tailed Dick, at a distance, all the way back to St Jude’s. Jason had always avoided it when he was a kid, for fear CPS would somehow know about his mom and take him away. It was a set of big old stone buildings, a modest and slightly dilapidated church attached to what was essentially a barn for children. The fence was the really off-putting part, eight feet high and topped with coils of razor wire.
Dick, being Dick, climbed up to a third storey fire escape and simply jumped to the St Jude’s roof, landing in a neat roll. Of course. Jason watched as he stripped off his jacket and stashed it, then climbed back into the building.
Jason thought about breaking in. For about thirty seconds, anyway. Breaking into St Jude’s wouldn’t help. It wasn’t the sort of place where you could go in all guns blazing. It wouldn’t help.
He wanted to. He wouldn’t mind burning St Jude’s to the ground. First, though, he had to make sure tiny Dick was okay. Get him out of there. Something. He needed a plan. If tiny Dick had bolted, guns blazing really wouldn't do much to help.
He still didn’t know why Dick had run off anyway, not that Nightwing had ever needed a reason to do whatever he felt like. But this wasn’t Nightwing. This was a kid. Just some scared kid, essentially. Small and vulnerable and not suited to be out on the streets. Easy prey anywhere but on those rooftops.
Not to mention Jason kept coming back to the same question. Again and again.
Where was Bruce? Why hadn’t he done something?
Thanks everyone for reading, all your comments (and kudos and bookmarks), and your patience! Next chapter will be up in a fortnight.
The suit Alfred advised Bruce wear to the Grayson funeral wasn’t even close to the best one he owned. “It is a funeral, sir, not a fashion show,” Alfred said, when Bruce asked. “Most of the mourners will be wearing their best. It would be in poor taste to shame them. Sober and inconspicuous will be best.”
“Understood,” Bruce said.
Chapter 3: Patronage
Bruce goes to a funeral. Jason gets a job - kind of.
No warnings that aren't covered by the tags.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The suit Alfred advised Bruce wear to the Grayson funeral wasn’t even close to the best one he owned. “It is a funeral, sir, not a fashion show,” Alfred said, when Bruce asked. “Most of the mourners will be wearing their best. It would be in poor taste to shame them. Sober and inconspicuous will be best.”
“Understood,” Bruce said.
“Might I hope that you have had more than two hours of sleep tonight, Master Bruce?”
“Yes, Alfred,” Bruce said.
“Ah. Three hours.”
Bruce scowled as he adjusted his tie; Alfred was absolutely correct. There was no fooling the butler. It had been a week since the Graysons were murdered, and Bruce was little closer to finding who had done it. Every morning when he collapsed at last he saw them fall, and the shocked face of their son. He needed to find the boy. He’d meant to. He just - he hadn’t.
Anyway, the boy would be at the funeral.
Alfred dropped him at the church. Catholic, as requested in John Grayson’s will. Mary Grayson’s expressed wishes for the disposal of her remains had been deemed too impractical (and dependent on the presence of Haly's Circus), and her funeral arrangements were to be the same as her husband's. No cemetery; neither could afford a plot. They’d been cremated. Lost in thought, Bruce was halfway down the aisle to a seat when he realised that he was the only person yet present, save the priest. “Excuse me, Father,” he asked. “Am I late? Or early?”
“Right on time,” the priest said. “As I understand it, the circus moved on.”
“But - their son -“
“I haven’t heard anything, I’m afraid. Social Services was supposed to bring him. In any case, it’s kind of you to pay your respects, Mr Wayne.”
Disconsolate, Bruce took a seat and waited. At quarter past the hour, the priest said, “I have to begin now, I’m afraid. I have more services to attend to today.”
A few more people had filed in, waiting up the back, but Richard Grayson was not amongst them. “Please, let me try to call Social Services,” Bruce said. “This shouldn’t happen without him here.”
“I agree, but I just can’t keep waiting,” the priest said. “I’ll wait another five, but that’s all I can manage.”
“Do you have a number for them? A phone book?” Back in the Cave he could look up the right number no problems, but here, he couldn’t. He already had his cell phone out. Richard shouldn’t miss this. Of all things, not this. The priest gave him a slip of paper and Bruce dialed.
It was two of the precious five minutes before anyone answered, and even then, all Bruce got was a rushed “City of Gotham Social Services, please hold.” He gave up then, because there was no way they’d answer in time.
“May God forgive me,” the priest said, “But I do have other funerals today. Their mourners need me too.”
“Maybe he’s just running late,” said airheaded Brucie Wayne. Far more likely the boy had been forgotten. He could kick himself for his negligence. Bruce hadn’t forgotten him, he’d just failed to do anything. That ended today. He could set aside his nightmares. If it meant sparing a little boy from a system that so obviously didn’t care about him, he could do it. He would do it.
The ceremony started without Richard. Bruce’s mind whirled. Was there anything that could be done to make this mistake any less? Any way he could arrange for the boy to see the site where his parents’ ashes would be scattered? He’d press for a formal apology from Social Services for this, because it was unacceptable. Richard deserved the opportunity to farewell his parents.
Was it the fact that Richard was a witness? Did the police fear for his safety? Batman could pursue that angle. Jim Gordon would know if that was the case. If the City of Gotham had hidden him, Batman would find him.
It seemed like no time at all before the priest was saying the final words, and Richard had been denied his parents’ funeral. Quiet rage filled him as he walked right back down the aisle of the church. This wasn’t right. Someone should have stopped this. He should have stopped this.
A light flashed in his face as he left the church. A camera. Bruce stopped himself from lashing out at the last second. “Senator Purnell not keeping you busy enough?” Bruce asked amiably. Brucie never got cross with photographers. “I’m just here to pay my respects. No human interest in that.”
The paparazzo grinned. “You know how orphans get space on the human interest pages, Mr Wayne - if they’re rich or if they’re poor. And we gotta break up the Purnell coverage somehow.”
Bruce smiled back. “I’m not about to tell you how to do your job,” he said. “Just, you know, it doesn’t seem right. It’d be good if you could see your way to leaving Richard alone.” He didn’t want to tell them Richard hadn’t been here at all. He wanted to see if he could find Richard himself, first, and keep him away from prying reporters.
The car trip home was agonising. He refused to break character in front of even the chauffeur, so he couldn’t take notes. He just had to sit, wait, and plan. Did he find Richard as Bruce Wayne, Batman, or both? Bruce Wayne’s interest in the case was known and understood. But Batman might be able to do more. It was much more likely that Batman would be able to find the person who’d murdered the Graysons, and chase answers about Richard where Bruce Wayne could be stalled.
Both, he decided. The priority had to be Richard. He’d let that lie too long.
“Ah, Master Bruce, you’re back,” Alfred said. “Is it time for you to get another hour’s sleep?”
“Later, Alfred,” Bruce said, making his way downstairs to the computer. Bruce Wayne could stay on hold with Social Services while Batman did some research into where Richard might have been taken. “I have work to do.”
“That shall make a nice change for you, sir. I’ll bring down some lunch. Was it a respectful service?”
“Richard wasn’t there.”
“Richard wasn’t there,” Bruce said. “It was his parents’ funeral, and Social Services didn’t bring him.”
He saw Alfred’s jaw tighten minutely, and his lips press together just slightly. “In that case, Master Bruce, I shall put on a pot of coffee while you attempt to locate the young man.”
That was more or less the reaction he’d expected from Alfred. He headed down to the cave and got to work.
It took a few days, a bit of research (how did anyone do this before the internet was A Thing?), and a fair amount of stealing from Gotham’s criminal scum, but Jason at last thought he had a workable plan. And a suit, which was part of that plan. He also had three sets of passable fake ID. He was ready.
At nine-thirty in the morning he showed up at the gates of St Jude’s, wearing his cheap suit and carrying a battered briefcase and a coffee. At nine thirty-seven he was let into reception. “I don’t recognise you,” the lady on the desk said without preamble. Her nameplate read Deborah. “What’s your business here?”
“Jason Reynolds, Social Services,” he said, giving his best smile, and using a lower-middle-class accent. Not as thick as a street accent, but definitely not fancy talk. He opened up his briefcase and shuffled through some papers. “I’m here to see - hang on - I know I have it - sorry, I’m new.”
“I figured,” Deborah the Receptionist said.
Jason kept shuffling papers for a few seconds, ostentatiously checking the names on each one. The one upside to minimal internet was that people kept information in easily-stolen folders rather than on computer. The real social worker he’d taken three files from had another thirty on her desk. They wouldn’t be missed, especially not when Jason planned to return them in a day or two.
It worried him that he hadn’t been able to find Dick’s actual files. They weren’t anywhere to be found in the Social Services office, not that it was easy to search with all the manila folders. Such a double-edged sword. “Here it is!” he said at last, triumphantly producing a folder labelled Joseph Nguyen. “I haven’t met him yet. Just transferred. I have another case here as well…uh…Chris Forrester?”
“I know them,” Deborah the Receptionist said. “I thought Ellie was handling those cases.”
“She was,” Jason said, “I picked them up when I started last week, ‘cause she was overloaded.”
Deborah snorted. “Who isn’t? Just show me some ID and I’ll sign you in.”
He flashed her another smile, fumbled his fake Gotham public services ID out of his wallet for inspection, and waited patiently while she copied the details into her logbook. “Joseph’s at breakfast at the moment,” she said when she was done. “You need someone to show you there?”
“I think I’ll be fine if you tell me where the meeting rooms are,” Jason said. “This place isn’t that big.”
“Meeting rooms are down the hall, on your left,” Deborah told him. “Good luck. Joseph’s a little shit.”
And with that charming assessment, Jason was in. No shooting required. Damn he was good. And damn, the St Jude’s staff were negligent. Whatever, it was working for him at the moment. He’d be able to check on Dick.
He tried to keep his eyes on the ceiling where he could. Dick, that asshole, really did love his high places. Tiny as he was, Jason would bet the other kids would be trying to pick on him, and the best way to avoid that would be hiding. The best place to hide would be up. If Jason had trouble keeping up with Dick on the rooftops (so unfair), no way could the kids.
On his way through the corridors, he saw mouse droppings and roaches. Charming. Good signs already. And it was cold. The old church buildings, erected sometime in the 1800s from the architecture and last renovated maybe sometime in the 1950s from the style of the extensions, didn’t have much in the way in insulation. It was a little warmer than it was outside…mostly because there wasn’t wind chill.
He smiled at a sour-faced man who passed him in the hall, two boys in tow. Both were bruised. Both looked apprehensive. Maybe they’d been fighting. Or maybe it had been the staff. Jason didn’t trust any place like this as far as he could throw the buildings themselves. The kids flinched away from his smile. Even if the staff hadn’t caused those bruises, they were doing other shit to those kids.
Dick was in here. Obedient, trusting, naive Dick. Jason couldn’t just leave him.
He stepped up his search. Dick wasn’t in the cafeteria, where they weren’t serving a whole lot of food. Someone was cutting corners with that. He wasn’t in the tiny parish school attached to the child-barn. He wasn’t in any of the beds, or under any. At last, Jason hauled himself into the attic.
A cursory search of the space revealed the jacket Jason had seen tiny Dick wearing, plus a scratchy woollen blanket, and, some distance away, a bit of food detritus. Jason examined it - they weren’t chocolate and jerky, easily stolen from convenience stores, but bits of rotten fruit and vegetable and chunks of mouldy bread, all looking hacked out of otherwise edible wholes. Either Dick had been stealing from the kitchen, or he’d been dumpster diving. Fifteen years…had the grocery store in this three-block radius started locking its dumpsters yet? They had by the time Jason was thirteen.
Of Dick himself, still no sign. Where the hell could he be?!
Jason dropped back down to the main level, aware that he was running out of time. He had to find Dick soon, or even staff as careless as the St Jude’s staff would start getting suspicious.
He started opening doors along the hallways in desperation. Somewhere. Dick had to be here somewhere, he couldn’t sneak out during the day, could he?
Scratch that, he probably could. But would he, without the jacket? Surely even Dick knew that you didn’t write off warm clothing so easily.
More cupboards, janitorial supplies - cutting corners buying them too, Jason could see that without even checking an inventory, which explained the mice and roaches - office supplies, and -
- a locked door.
Jason picked it open. It wasn’t hard. As far as he could tell it was meant to stop children, not someone who knew what they were doing. Inside…inside was more janitorial stuff. Mops mostly. A broom or two. A couple bottles of chemicals. He was about to back out when he heard a noise. At first he thought it was a rat, but then a lump of rags…sniffled? Jason took another step further in and saw a child, curled into a little ball on the floor. Not just any child. Dick.
He jumped up when he heard Jason, eyes flying open and then narrowing in suspicion. Red-rimmed eyes. He’d been crying. Crying himself to sleep locked in a closet. Shit, what did anyone here even think they were doing?
Most kids would back away, as far from the strange adult as they could get. Dick dived forward, trying to squeeze under Jason’s grasp and escape. Nearly worked, too. But Jason closed his fingers around his jumpsuit collar and held on tight. Dick jerked up short. “Let go,” he snarled. Even his voice was scratchy. Too much crying.
How long had it been since his parents? And why, for fuck’s sake, had he been locked in a closet?
“It’s okay,” Jason tried to soothe him. “You’re out. It’s okay.”
Dick glared up at him. He’d never seen Dick look so murderous before, not even when he was in a full-blown stupid fight with Bruce. Tiny Dick started spitting out what had to be curses, only in a language Jason didn’t know. One of the eastern European ones. Maybe it was two or three languages Jason didn’t know. He caught a few words of Russian, as accented as Dick’s English was. Tears were welling up in his eyes again, though Jason could see the slight chapping of mild dehydration at the corners of his mouth. In English, he caught the word funeral.
“A funeral?” Jason asked, dread coiling in his gut. He had a nasty feeling where this was going. “Your parents’ funeral?”
Seemingly exhausted (and not able to break out of Jason’s grip anyway), Dick just nodded.
“When is it?” Jason asked.
That murderous glare hit him full force. “It already happened,” Dick said, and tried to kick him in the shin.
Jason stared in horror. He didn’t even block the kick, which just barely missed one of his hidden knives. “How long were you in there?”
Dick shrugged. “They put me in here after breakfast.”
“Breakfast yesterday, or breakfast today?” Not that he really needed to ask. Today’s breakfast had finished about two hours before. If Dick had been shut in that closet two hours ago, he shouldn’t be dehydrated.
“Breakfast yesterday,” Dick confirmed.
Wordlessly, Jason handed him both of his backup energy bars (never knew when you were going to need food, after all) and watched as Dick ate them in record time. When he was done, Jason said, “Now let’s get you something to drink.”
Dick followed him trustingly enough, apparently having decided that someone who gave him food was worth the risk and definitely an improvement over the closet. As they walked through the hall to what Jason was reasonably sure was the nearest bathroom, keeping an eye out for any of the staff, Dick suddenly said, “You don’t work here.”
“My name’s Jason. I’m a social worker,” Jason lied. If he kept it up, he might be able to say he found Dick by accident. He didn’t mind going back to the closet and smashing the lock for authenticity.
“No you’re not,” Dick said. “You have a knife. I saw when I kicked you. Social workers” - he pronounced the words carefully, clearly still not comfortable with them - “don’t bring knives here.”
“You saw that?”
“Your pants. They moved wrong.”
Curse this cheap suit. He didn’t have this sort of problem with draping in his usual pants. “You got me,” he admitted. “I’m a journalist.”
“I write for the newspaper,” Jason explained. It was the other ID he’d brought with him. Press credentials were excellent backup for if he got caught poking around.
That, however, made selectively suspicious tiny Dick stop in his tracks. “What do you want?” he asked.
“To get you a drink,” Jason said. This was messed up. The Dick he knew was mad keen on trust. God knew he’d heard him and Bruce fight about it enough. Something about the Teen Titans and how Dick shouldn’t have given away his identity. The shouting had lasted for way too long. “Seriously. Just a drink right now. That’s all.”
That seemed to work at least a little. Dick took a few steps closer. “Fine,” he said.
What the heck was going on with this kid? It didn’t feel like Dick trusted nobody, it felt like he didn’t trust some people. And Jason was that person. Twice over, not that Dick knew that. Hadn’t he trusted Bruce, back in Jason’s own timeline? Random billionaire takes him from this shithole, hadn’t Dick said yes? He knew from experience how hard deciding to trust Bruce had been, and Dick had just done it, back when he was a kid. Jason didn’t get it. Not at all.
He didn’t know enough about Dick. That was the inescapable conclusion. Jason just didn’t have a clue. Or not enough of one.
He kept an eye out for staff while Dick balanced precariously on a counter to drink straight from a bathroom faucet. Better that than dehydration. Gotham tap water was okay, mostly, and this stuff didn’t even have the green tinge you got sometimes in old buildings.
When Dick finished, he didn’t leap back to the ground. He stayed up on the counter, almost eye-level with Jason. It wasn’t a bad idea. If he felt like he needed to attack, Dick could get plenty of power, and the height could only help. “What now?” he asked.
“Depends,” Jason said. “How’d you get locked in the closet?”
“She said I was out of bounds again and if I couldn’t stay in, she’d make me stay in.” Dick was surprisingly matter-of-fact about it. Anger only tinged his voice again when he said, “I said I didn’t know what that meant and she called me a liar, because I speak English too well.”
Jason believed him. “Who’s this?” he asked.
“One of the nuns,” Dick said. “I don’t know her name. She dragged me there and locked me in.” The hints of anger turned to pure fury. “I told her about the funeral and she didn’t believe me.”
His parents. Dick got to see them die but not to see them buried, or whatever. It wasn’t right.
“What now?” tiny Dick asked.
“Now I try and get you out,” Jason said.
Thanks everyone for your continued feedback on this story! It's nice to hear from you all. Next chapter will be up in two weeks.
That was where Jason’s mind blanked. What was he going to do? He knew Dick could sneak out just fine, but if he did, he’d find out Jason wasn’t a journalist really fast. Besides, as soon as Jason had accomplished what he wanted in this timeline, he wanted to leave. He had stuff to do back in his Gotham, and he wanted to see if he’d changed anything. Nor could he leave tiny Dick alone.
Chapter 4: A Great Escape
Exactly what it says on the tin.
Warning for allusions to child sex abuse (the rumours of Bruce's motivations for taking in Dick and Jason).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Why?” Dick asked.
“I found you locked in a closet,” Jason said. “Do I need another reason to want you out of this place?”
It didn’t seem to help. Dick just kept staring. At least he was waiting for more explanation rather than running for it again. Or jumping off a roof. Jason was fine without a repeat of that ridiculousness. “It happens to lots of kids here,” Dick said, and Jason struggled to keep a straight face. “Why me?”
Jason said, “You’re the one in front of me.”
After a short pause, Dick nodded. “Okay,” he said. “What do I need to do?”
That was where Jason’s mind blanked. What was he going to do? He knew Dick could sneak out just fine, but if he did, he’d find out Jason wasn’t a journalist really fast. Besides, as soon as Jason had accomplished what he wanted in this timeline, he wanted to leave. He had stuff to do back in his Gotham, and he wanted to see if he’d changed anything. Nor could he leave tiny Dick alone.
So either he had to take tiny Dick with him back to his timeline, or find someone to look after him permanently here.
“Has anyone hit you yet?” he asked.
Dick shook his head. “Some of the others. Not me.”
“Do you know how to avoid getting hit?”
A shrug. “Mostly. Nobody is safe here. If the nuns or the guards don’t hurt you the other kids do.”
Jason could just imagine. “Do you think you can hang on here for another few days while I work something out?” Not the best solution. Anything could happen. He didn’t like it. He also didn’t see that he had much choice. He couldn’t smuggle Dick out under his coat, and he didn’t have anywhere to keep him or, currently, any way to support him.
“I think so,” Dick said.
“Can you get up to the attic?” Jason asked. He’d already been caught out with Dick’s damn nickname, he wasn’t getting caught out again with mysterious knowledge of Dick’s food stash.
Dick looked almost insulted. “Yes.”
“I’ll leave you food and water there to see you through - to last you a few days,” Jason corrected himself, when he saw Dick’s brow furrow at the idiom. He hadn’t even known Dick wasn’t a native English speaker. You’d never guess it listening to him in Jason’s time. “Try not to get caught.”
“I’m fast,” Dick said.
“I’ll bet.” He knew first-hand now how fast even eight-year-old Dick was. It was pretty fast. “Just make sure you eat, all right? I’ll figure something out.”
“Will you put something in the newspaper?” Dick asked curiously. It was the first time Jason had seen something that wasn’t suspicion or anger on his face. Even that small change made him look like a whole different person. Way less Dickensian. More like Jason had imagined that Dick had looked as a kid. Not quite, since he still looked utterly exhausted, but closer to that image.
“I’ll do my best,” Jason promised. If he had to drop a packet of documentation off at the Gotham Daily, he’d do that. “First, I think we’d better go back and cover our tracks.”
The curiosity didn’t fade. Jason found he kind of liked it, Dick looking at him like that. They snuck back to the closet where Jason had found Dick in the first place. “If anyone asks, I heard you in there and kicked the door open,” Jason said, while Dick nodded. He even smiled when Jason kicked the handle off the closet door, rendering it unlockable until repaired. “Now we have to go to reception. Play along.”
Dick nodded again, and the eager shine in his eyes vanished, along with every trace of anger, becoming a sad, beaten-down little waif. Not a bad idea, and Dick was a pretty good actor, but if these fuckers could be swayed by his admittedly impressive puppy-dog eyes, they wouldn’t be in this business. Or such heartless bastards as they were.
When Deborah at reception saw them she did a double take. “Mr Reynolds? What’s going on?”
“I heard him crying,” Jason said. “I think he must have got locked in a closet accidentally. I’m kind of embarrassed, but I panicked and kicked the door open.”
“You what?” Deborah snapped.
“I can pay for repairs,” Jason said sheepishly. “I thought it would be best to get him out of there.”
Deborah ran a hand through her brown hair, frustrated. “Fine. Whatever. I’ll write it up. Wait here.” She hit her intercom and said, “Sister Abigail to the front desk, please.”
It was only a few minutes before a soberly-dressed middle-aged nun whose face would have been kind if not for a certain hardness around the mouth showed up behind the reception desk. “What is it?” she asked. Deborah jerked her head at Jason, and Dick beside him. “What’s Gregory doing here?”
Not the time. He’d work it out later. Damn, but he’d gone into this ignorant. Like a chump, he’d thought it would be a simple matter of removing Dick from this terrible excuse for foster care.
“Mr Reynolds found him in a closet,” Deborah explained. “He kicked the door down.”
“Not down,” Jason protested, when both of them glared at him. “I just kicked the handle off. I heard him crying.” Neither statement was untrue.
“I see,” Sister Abigail said. “Next time, perhaps consider asking. There are people who have keys.”
Like the person who had locked Dick in that closet to start with. “Sorry,” Jason said.
“I’ll take Gregory from here,” Sister Abigail told him. “Thank you for retrieving him. What do you have to say for yourself, Gregory?”
“Sorry, Sister Abigail,” Dick said. His accent was back with a vengeance, thick and unidentifiable.
“And to Mr Reynolds?”
Dick turned to Jason. “Sorry, Mr Reynolds.”
“Now come here,” Sister Abigail ordered. “We’ll be going, then. Clearly we need to have another talk about out-of-bounds.”
So that was the cow who’d locked Dick in the closet to start with. Jason would be checking on Dick again when he made his food drop. No use letting him out only for him to get shut right back in again. Dick shot him one last glance before following the nun from the reception area and right back to where Jason had wanted to get him out of in the first place. Sister Abigail. Jason would remember that. And write it down. Oh yes.
Once they were gone, Deborah said, “Best check your pockets, Mr Reynolds. Gregory’s on the devious side. Not what anyone here would call a good Christian boy.”
Jason didn’t raise his eyebrows, but it was a close thing. “Oh yeah?” he asked, making a show of checking for his wallet.
“We don’t select the boys, of course, we take what Social Services gives us,” Deborah continued, “But we just don’t get many of Gregory’s sort in here.”
He hadn’t known that Dick was anything but a Christmas-and-Easter Methodist, in terms of religion. That was what Bruce was. Alfred, unsurprisingly enough, was Anglican. But then, Jason also hadn’t known that Dick wasn’t a native English speaker.
Deborah leaned forward and said, “He doesn’t understand, you know. Not English, not the rules here, not anything. The sisters are having real trouble with him. They might have to send him on in a few months.”
“I see,” Jason said. He’d heard a few things about the ‘circus boy’ whispered at the sorts of parties where they whispered ‘gutter trash.’ Jason had mostly ignored it, too intent on trying to ignore what they were saying about him. Or, on those few occasions where people implied Bruce’s motivations for taking him and Dick in were less than pure, he’d been too intent on not clocking them. Bruce was many things, but not that. Never that. “Well, I still have my wallet. Sorry to cause so much bother.”
“Oh, it’s not your fault, Mr Reynolds. We’ll deal with him ourselves.”
Fuck leaving Dick in here until he’d worked something else out. He was taking Dick tonight, and working something else out later.
It took a veritable stealing spree, but by midnight Jason had just enough to pay for a room that could house both him and Dick. He also had some warm clothing for him and a few books for entertainment. He missed e-readers already. Hopefully Dick’s reading in English would be good enough. If he could read the papers he should be fine, assuming he was reading the English language papers.
This time it was Jason who scaled the building next to St Jude’s in order to make the leap onto the roof. He made it, landing not quite so lightly as Dick had, but not so loudly as to alert anyone. Small mercies. Now to find out where Dick’s entrance to the attic was, and hope it wasn’t too small for him to use.
After a minute or two he worked out what Dick had done to get in and out - broken open an access door from the inside. Upon inspection, it seemed that he’d levered the latch off the door entirely rather than break the lock. The wood had been rotten enough for it.
“You came,” said a little voice from the shadows.
“I said I would,” Jason said. “Change of plans, though. You want to get out of here?”
“Yes,” Dick said, rolling bright blue eyes at him. “But I don’t have anywhere else to go. The circus - “ He broke off, as if he’d said something he shouldn’t have.
“You can come with me,” Jason said. “I’ll look after you.”
Dick took a few steps closer. He wasn’t moving as well as he had been earlier. Sore legs, it looked like. Jason had a bad feeling about that. The only question was, staff or the other kids? “All right,” Dick said. “How are we getting out of here?”
“Climbing,” Jason said. “You right for it?”
“I can climb,” Dick said.
He had to make sure. The Dick he knew didn’t admit to injury until the point of collapse. “You don’t look it.”
Jason sighed. “Look, I don’t care if you snitch. I’m hardly going to tell anyone once we’re out. I just want to know if I need to carry you or something.”
The look on Dick’s face was comical in how offended it was. Even in the gloom. You’d think Jason had just said he had ugly hair, he was so offended. “I’m fine,” he insisted. “I don’t need to be carried. I can climb down myself, I know the way.”
“You’ve been out before?” Jason asked. He saw Dick nod, and said, “If you’re sure.”
“I want to get out of here,” Dick repeated.
“Well, in that case…” Jason opened his bag and threw him a bundle of clothes. T-shirt, sweater, a better jacket, jeans, socks, gloves. All except the socks were secondhand, but better than an institutional jumpsuit any day. “Get changed. I’m not going to have you freeze.”
Dick hesitated, bundle in his hands. “Can I get my stuff first? I don’t have much.”
Part of Jason wanted to say no. This was stupid dangerous to start with. He didn’t want to risk more. But…when he’d been - what, five? Had to be five - Catherine had been evicted without notice, ‘cause she’d torn up the heating to sell for more drugs. Jason had lost his only stuffed animal ever in the confusion. He remembered crying for hours, and shoved the memory away hard as he could. “Fine,” Jason said. “I’ll get it. I don’t want you caught again.”
“It’s safer for me,” Dick argued.
“I know what I’m doing,” Jason said. “You know where I can find your stuff? Is there a storage room for it?”
Dick hesitated. “Yes,” he said at last. “It…it should be under the name Gregory Richardson. But it might be under Richard Grayson.”
What with all the stealing, Jason hadn’t had time to do the research in this limited-internet time. This seemed like a good chance, while the kid was being honest. “Why’s that?” he asked. “I thought your name was Gregory.”
“My name’s Dick,” Dick said. “Richard Grayson. The police said I had to use a different name while I was in here, and they picked Gregory. They said that the man who killed my parents might try to find me because I saw his face. But you were trying to help when you didn’t know my name, so I think it’s okay to tell you.”
Witness protection. Dick was in witness protection, sort of. In Jason’s time, that meant someone had crossed Two-Face or the Penguin or the Joker. Here and now, Jason would bet that witness protection meant the mob. So many things he didn’t know about what happened to Dick’s parents. “Is the guy still out there?” Jason asked. He had no fucking idea what had happened with that in his time.
Dick had the murder look back in his eyes. “Yes,” he said. “I’ve been sneaking out to find him. If the police won’t, I will.”
“I get it,” Jason said, because he did. He hadn’t killed the clown yet. In either timeline. He wanted some revenge, and if he had to settle for some technically pre-emptive revenge, then that was what he’d have to do. “I need to tell you something too.”
“What?” Dick asked, tensing to run.
If Jason said the wrong thing, Dick would bolt again. Jason had to work on getting some trust. But he couldn’t do that if he kept up the journalist lie. “I’m not a journalist.”
Dick backed up, but he didn’t look that surprised. “Then…”
“I met you the other night,” Jason said. “I was the guy in the red helmet. I want to help you, Dick. I’ve been trying to find you.”
“You’re a liar,” Dick said angrily. But he didn’t run away. That was something. Probably because, as he’d said, Jason had been trying to help him first.
“You’ve been lying too,” Jason pointed out. “We both have our reasons. You be honest with me, and I’ll be honest with you, okay? I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Why do you care?” Dick asked. “Nobody cares. I have no family.”
His little voice broke over the last words, and Jason finally saw. His parents were dead and the circus was gone, leaving him in a strange city, in the power of adults who didn’t give a damn, not enough to let him keep his family name, not enough to let him get to his parents’ funeral. He was alone. Completely and utterly alone.
“I think you need help,” Jason said. “Hang tight, I’ll get your stuff.”
It was weird, he thought as he headed downstairs, since back home Dick was all sunshine and rainbows except where Jason was concerned. He’d even made up with Bruce, and it was downright embarrassing how he fawned over the replacement kid. He was generally considered to be all sweetness and light, or as sweetness and light as a vigilante could get anyway. Jason had never done much socialising with the caped crowd (because it was Dick’s thing), but he knew that if you wore the spandex and wanted a shoulder to cry on, you went to Dick. He was the one always saying be nicer to people and maybe don’t hit them so hard and give him a second chance. Vowing to find someone and, presumably, hurt them…wasn’t like Dick. Or not as Jason knew him anyway.
Neither were the murder eyes. Turned out tiny Dick had some pretty good murder eyes on him.
Jason crept through the halls of St Jude’s. The place was such a dump, but right now that was helping him. The bare tile didn’t creak underfoot, and the flickering lights weren’t exactly illuminating the entirety of the hall. He passed a security guard watching TV and a night shift worker sneaking a smoke. He heard one kid quietly sniffling. Not the first time that sound had been heard in these halls of a night. It wouldn’t be the last, either.
Jason forced himself to keep going. He had to keep on mission. Later, if he couldn’t get home, he could change his mission to include helping the kids here. By getting this place shut down. Still, he was glad when he got to the end of the common areas.
The admin areas were locked off, and even darker than the areas where the kids might get to. Jason got through the door without a problem. He’d been brushing up on old-school swipecard access of necessity, but this just called for a key. Or lockpicking tools, whichever.
The rooms beyond were only vaguely familiar. He hadn’t been shown through the offices when he’d come in through the front door, only to the barn.
He passed the director’s tiny office. That was also a place he wouldn’t mind breaking into. Did he have time before Dick got bored or paranoid? He thought he might.
To his surprise, there was a functioning computer in there. He booted it up and found it totally unsecured by a password. Ugh, he wished for thumb drives. He’d forgotten to bring along a hard disk, and without his phone he didn’t have a camera.
He’d have to come back if he wanted to close this place down. There had to be a contracting scam, at least, because nobody was cleaning here. With regret, Jason moved along.
Dick’s stuff was in the storage bays under his fake name, and lucky for him, it wasn’t affected by damp. There were quite a lot of things in there that were, going by the strong smell of mildew. Jason grabbed it, stuffed it in the bag now emptied of the clothing he brought for Dick, and headed right back up to the attic. He’d left Dick to change and eat a sandwich and a fresh apple, telling him that he needed energy to make their escape.
If it kept Dick out of this shithole for even another second it was worth it. God, the mould on the walls, and he’d noticed how Dick kept standing. Injuries to the the buttocks? That was the staff. The other kids would go ribs or face. Dick had been spanked.
Probably pretty hard. Probably for being let out of the closet they’d locked him in while he missed his parents’ funeral.
Dick was still standing up when Jason climbed back into the attic. Didn’t that just say it all about how much pain he was in?
“I got your stuff,” Jason assured him, opening the bag so Dick could see it was true. No time to do an inventory, though. “Got a phrase to teach you here. Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”
“What does that mean?” Dick asked, following Jason.
Out of a petty sort of spite, Jason kicked down his second St Jude’s door in the space of 24 hours. “It means we’re getting out of here.”
Sorry for the slightly late update! This fic will be back two weeks from yesterday. Thanks everyone for your feedback, no matter what sort!
“What’s the problem?”
“You have a copycat,” Gordon said bluntly, handing over a thin file. “I’m assuming it’s a copycat, anyway, since you’ve never been much for teamwork, not to mention the other thing. My people are getting reports of someone else wearing the Bat on his chest. A few of the people we’ve picked up have started calling him Red Bat.”
Chapter 5: The Red Bat
How to take care of Dick Grayson.
No special warnings for the chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It had not been a successful day of research. Try as he might, Bruce Wayne had been all but stonewalled as he tried to find Richard Grayson’s whereabouts. He’d probably have to go in person tomorrow and start using his money a bit less subtly. Or even - he shuddered at the thought - talk to the alien in Metropolis. Meanwhile, Batman’s efforts to research from the cave had been stymied by Gotham Social Services’ slow progress in digitising.
It was only the start of patrol, but already Batman was exhausted. Still, since Jim Gordon had put up the Batsignal, he couldn’t back out. He had to go find out what the problem was.
While he was there, Batman could make a few inquiries of Gordon that Bruce Wayne couldn’t.
Travelling by rooftop, it wasn’t so difficult to get to the GCPD, and it let Batman survey the city more personally. He was making a difference, he knew it. With Gordon’s help and, until recently, Harvey’s, the mob families were in decline. Five years ago they had ruled Gotham and now they were in a panic.
He wondered where Harvey was now. He wondered if he’d have to destroy himself as well to make a change in Gotham.
The Maroni family in particular was lashing out, if the Grayson murders were any indication. The Graysons weren’t the first people to be killed in Gotham over a protection racket, and Batman doubted they’d be the last, but surely it had to be the most ostentatious murder of its kind. Not the sort of thing a confident mobster did.
Batman stopped his train of thought to stop a mugging below him, swooping down and twisting the would-be mugger’s right arm up behind his back before he could bring his gun up. The man collapsed with a shout as the victim ran with a hurried “Thank you!”
Once the woman was gone, Batman turned his attention to the mugger. It was a young man, shaking in his hold. Cowardice. Batman had no sympathy for the sort of man who’d attack people in alleyways, and attempted robbery was still a crime, but on the balance of things this was not how his time was best spent. He wrenched the arm a bit further and then shoved the perpetrator to the ground. “Go. Consider yourself lucky that I found you before you did anything.”
He took the gun, though, breaking it down and throwing its pieces into gutters as he continued on his way to the GCPD.
Gordon was waiting on the roof when Batman arrived, smoking as usual. Cigarettes, though, and Batman didn’t see multiple fresh butts littering the area. Whatever he’d been summoned here to deal with, it wasn’t so bad that Gordon was chain-smoking. “Gordon,” he said.
The other man jumped at Batman’s sudden appearance. “Every time,” he said. “Glad you could make it.”
“What’s the problem?”
“You have a copycat,” Gordon said bluntly, handing over a thin file. “I’m assuming it’s a copycat, anyway, since you’ve never been much for teamwork, not to mention the other thing. My people are getting reports of someone else wearing the Bat on his chest. A few of the people we’ve picked up have started calling him Red Bat.”
Batman leafed through the papers. There weren’t many. They described a man of about Batman’s own size and weight, wearing a close-fitted red helmet and a red bat emblazoned on his chest, and - “Guns?” Bruce asked. “He uses guns?”
“As I said, the other thing. No reports of shots fired,” Gordon said. “But yes, it would appear he’s armed. Trained, too. As far as anyone can tell, he’s been stopping crimes, but he’s also been taking money off the criminals. Last night he went on a massive stealing spree. Half a dozen guys in holding woke up with nothing in their wallets.”
“You’re sure it wasn’t your people?” Gordon was doing his best, but he couldn’t change the GCPD overnight. Or even over two years.
“Not with that many perps in such a short amount of time,” Gordon said, grim. “One or two, yes, but not six.”
“Is he giving the stolen money away?”
“If he is we haven’t found any indications of it.”
“And there are no reports of him stealing from innocents?”
“Not a one.”
Batman frowned. If this ’Red Bat’ was stealing exclusively from criminals, he would usually expect the money to be funnelled back into an altruistic cause, rather than used to line personal pockets. It was, however, very possible that the altruistic cause was a personal one. A dependent of some kind, perhaps. An elderly parent, a sibling, a lover, a child. Desperation could lead people to do strange and extreme things. “I’ll look into it straight away,” he promised Gordon. “I don’t use guns. I don’t want the association.”
“Didn’t think you would,” Gordon said, taking a drag of his cigarette.
“There was a matter I wanted to discuss with you,” Batman continued. His real objective. “The survivor of the Grayson murders. The boy. Where is he?”
“Social Services has him,” Gordon said. “I don’t know which facility, it’s not my case. It’s lousy with departmental politics. The mob task force is fighting with the department show ponies over it. I do know that wherever he is, he’s not there as Richard Grayson.”
That explained it. It hadn’t been run through the formal witness protection program, clearly. It was as simple as putting down a different name on the Social Services forms.
“I’ll make some inquiries if you like,” Gordon said. “The case is going nowhere fast and it’s the GCPD’s fault. It’s not right.”
“He’s already lost his parents and his home,” Batman agreed. “I mean to see if he can be given something in return.”
Justice, at least. He deserved to see the man who killed his parents in court and then in jail. Ideally he’d be able to find the Grayson boy a new home, with people who would love him and who he could learn to love. Perhaps Leslie would know someone. If Bruce didn’t spend his nights like - he might even consider -
- it was impossible, anyway. The point was, there was someone out there who could take care of Richard Grayson, and Batman had to find them.
“But why would you say that?” Dick asked, as they made their way across the roof. “What do popsicle stands have to do with leaving? Why say ‘blow’?”
Jason sighed. “How old were you when you learned English?”
“Um…six? I think? Mama started teaching me when Pop Haly said we were going back to America. It was the first thing she spoke.”
Well, that explained why he was fluent. “So you know that English is the world’s stupidest language, right?” Jason was a native English speaker, but he had enough other languages under his belt to run the comparison.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Dick informed him.
“Exactly. And its idiom is even worse. I don’t have a clue why ‘let’s blow this popsicle stand’ means ‘let’s get out of here.’ Sorry. It just does.”
Dick huffed his frustration. He already looked much better than he had inside St Jude’s. Fresh air (as fresh as Gotham air ever was) and exercise clearly did him a world of good. God knew Jason would have felt better just from leaving and not intending to go back. There was a reason he’d tried to avoid foster care when he was a kid.
The climb out was much more challenging than the climb in, thanks to the razor wire. Dick made the leap to the wall with ease, not even nicking his gloves. Jason wasn’t quite so smooth, but the important thing was he didn’t slice his hands open. No alarms sounded, nobody shouted the dread words “hey you, stop!” They were out.
And Jason now had a kid to provide for. Somehow. What did you do with a kid? He was under the impression you were supposed to look after them. Supervise them, educate them, the lot.
“Where are we going now?” Dick asked.
“I have a room. It’s nothing fancy, but it’ll hold both of us until I can work something else out. Come on, let’s get to street level.”
“Is it safe?”
Because he was worried about mobsters coming for his head. Of course. Couldn’t forget that.
“Safer than the rooftops,” Jason reassured him. “If people are looking for you, they’re looking for one kid. We won’t exactly blend in down there, but better than we will on the rooftops without masks. If we get caught, let me do the talking. We can pass for brothers unless both of us speak.” Neither of them could hope to imitate the accent of the other.
Dick nodded, and started climbing down. He had no idea how strange this was for Jason. None at all. A few days ago he would have tried to punch Dick in the face if he called them brothers in Jason’s hearing, and now he was outright encouraging it. When they reached street level, Jason picked up their walking pace and pulled him slightly closer, to give them the look of hurrying home together. Which was what they were doing. It was madness.
This close it was hard not to be aware of just how small Dick was. Jason had known, he’d seen, but huddled up next to Jason it felt like Dick barely came up to his waist. There was no fat on him either, which was more or less as expected, but sure didn’t make him seem substantial.
He had to be cold, right?
They got back to Jason’s shitty room without incident. “I know it’s not flash,” Jason said. There was enough room in this room for an actual sofa (barely), a definite improvement over the first place he’d hired. It was the sort of place where the legal occupancy was one, but every landlord expected two or more tenants in the space. “There’s probably less mould.” Could be more rats, though. Either way, it wasn’t Wayne Manor, that was for sure.
“That’s fine,” Dick said. “It’s bigger than my home…was.”
The trailer in the circus. The circus that had moved on. “Maybe we can find the trailer,” Jason said. “It depends on whether the circus would have taken it, or if it was abandoned. The City might still have some of the stuff from inside.”
“We couldn’t just waste everything,” Dick said. “The others would have taken what they could use. I don’t mind. They know where it came from, and they need it more than my parents do now.”
He was putting a brave face on it. Damn, did this kid have anything left?
Home, family, friends, culture, material possessions, all gone. Everything. He’d even been told not to use his name unless he lost his life as well. And in their place he got mould and beatings and no chance to say goodbye, while people said he wasn’t a good Christian boy.
More to the immediate point, what did Jason say to that? He settled for “That’s the spirit, kid,” followed by, “You still hungry?”
It must have been okay, because Dick nodded. Jason tossed him another apple. He’d spent precious money on fresh fruit, since he suspected all Dick had been eating, aside from what he’d been stealing on his trips out, was processed crap. If he wanted to keep both of them in decent food, he had to find a bigger drug or arms deal to commandeer the proceeds of, and fast. When he was done, Jason handed over a toothbrush and a towel. “You can brush your teeth in here, but the bathroom’s communal, down the hall.”
That could be a problem, if Dick was hiding from the mob. Neither of them knew who might be coming into this building. He had to get more money. That had to be priority one now.
While Dick was attending to biology, Jason made him up a bed on the sofa. He’d rather Dick had a bed of his own, but Jason simply wouldn’t fit on that sofa. There was no help for it. He sat down at the shaky table and started on end-of-night maintenance.
“Is there anything you need me to do?” Dick asked, letting himself back in. God he was quiet.
“Not right now, no,” Jason said. “Just get some sleep, and tomorrow we’ll start looking for the guy who killed your parents.”
Dick nodded, then curled up on the sofa, watching Jason carefully. After an hour or so he dropped off, while Jason kept working. He was going through a stack of newspapers, police scanner in the background, when he heard the first sniffle.
It was an unpleasantly familiar sound. Jason could hear the hitch, and how he was trying so hard not to cry. And failing. It - it wasn’t Dick. Not the Dick that Jason knew and resented. This was a kid. More like Jason himself had been.
He put a hand on Dick’s shoulder and said, “Change of plans. Tomorrow we’ll go visit your parents.”
The sofa wasn’t too bad, Dick decided. It had a lump in it, and it smelled a bit strange, but it was softer than the bunk he’d had for the last week. It was also softer than the closet floor.
He still didn’t entirely trust this Jason person yet. Nobody in Gotham had been kind so far…except for the man who’d put his jacket around Dick’s shoulders after it happened. Maybe Jason would be more like that man. Or maybe he wouldn’t, and Dick would have to run. It had to be easier to get out of this apartment than the orphanage.
And he wasn’t going back to the orphanage. They called him bad words when they thought he didn’t understand. Once or twice they’d called him bad words to make sure that he did understand. That was worse than the bruises from the other kids and the lady who had caned him. That was just pain. Dick had been hurt more training. Even if they shouldn’t hit him. The words were worse. He wasn’t going back.
The man in the red helmet had a bat on his chest. Even Dick knew about Batman. He figured that if Jason had the bat on his chest, he was probably telling the truth about wanting to help him. At least about wanting to help find the man who did it.
When he went to the window, it was light outside. Gotham was an ugly city, Dick decided. Dirty. Even the window he was looking through needed cleaning. His mother would never have let the trailer’s windows get so dirty, and his dad washed the outside every time they stopped.
Thinking about them hurt. He’d been trying not to because of that. But at night it was hard to not think of what wasn’t there. Sleeping just wasn’t right without his parents’ breathing nearby. Sometimes when he closed his eyes he could see their bodies lying broken on the ground. Sometimes when there was nothing else to listen to he could hear the screams. Sometimes he thought he could still smell the blood.
It still didn’t feel real.
Dick put it out of his mind. Hopefully Jason wouldn’t mind if he did his stretches. The people at the orphanage had. He found the clearest bit of floor he could, deciding not to touch the table with all the newspapers on it, and started with the basic stuff.
He’d barely moved away from the window when Jason jerked awake, knife in hand. “Jesus, kid,” he said, and flopped back down. “It’s too early.”
“I just wanted to stretch,” Dick said.
“Go for your life,” Jason said. “Just be quiet about it until I’ve had my coffee.”
That was something. He got to it. It had been a week since he’d been able to stretch properly. Everything felt tight. His dad would be so mad if he knew Dick had been on rooftops without warming up.
At least Jason wasn’t going to stop him. That was a good thing.
He’d moved on to a set of more demanding stretches when Jason got up. To Dick’s surprise, the first thing Jason did was stretch as well. “What?” Jason asked, when he saw Dick was watching. “I have to travel by rooftop too. Gotta stay flexible.”
“You stretch like I do,” Dick said. He did. Same stretches, same sequence.
“Someone I know taught me,” Jason said. “I just do what he did.”
Afterwards - Jason finished stretching at the same time Dick did, since he didn’t do the most demanding set - they had some breakfast. Nothing fancy, just oatmeal made with water. Dick was getting used to that. It didn’t taste too bad. “I haven’t been able to find out where your parents were buried,” Jason said. “I can take you to the church their funeral was held at.”
Dick stared down at the table. It wasn’t the same. The funeral was over, because the stupid lady at the orphanage hadn’t cared. But it was closer than anything he’d got so far. “I’d like that,” Dick said.
“Finish up and we’ll go right over.”
Dick swallowed hard. He could do this. It was real, it wasn’t going away, and he had to deal with it. “Okay,” he said. He was going to do this. Then he was going to find out who killed his parents and he was going to make them pay. He didn’t care how long it took. What else did he have now?
They walked again. Dick felt very small, walking under all the tall buildings. He itched to climb up and travel by rooftop. But he did his best to ignore it, in favour of trying to watch the other people on the street. Maybe he’d see the man who killed his parents. It wasn’t likely, since Gotham was so big. It was worth the try. Sooner or later he’d find the man. And then…
“Stay close,” Jason said. With a bit of something strange in his voice he added, “wouldn’t want you to wander off, after all.”
Dick ignored it. There was so much. Too much. He tried to work up some courage, even as Jason led him to a church. He walked in ahead of Jason. He had to - if he could get there - there’d be something. There had to be. The circus was gone and he didn’t know where his parents were buried, but there had to be something in here.
And it was just a church.
There were a few people in the pews, an usher clearing up after morning service. No flowers. No sign that his parents had ever been here at all. Why would there be? Dick had missed the funeral because he was locked in a closet. His parents were gone. Everything was gone.
It felt like he was about to swing out over a huge dark emptiness towards a platform he couldn’t see and didn’t know for sure was there. What choice did he have but to go forward, though?
It was just him now. Nothing and nobody to trust.
Thanks everyone for your comments, kudos, and bookmarks! Next chapter will be up in two weeks.
“Okay, let’s get one thing straight. I am not taking you out on the streets to fight crime.” Robin was a bad idea. “I will help you find the fucker who murdered your parents. I promise. But you are not going out with me.”
For half a second, Dick looked mutinous. Then he nodded. “All right.”
Chapter 6: Plan of Action
Bruce, Jason, and Alfred contemplate their next steps.
It hadn’t helped. Jason had seen the raw grief on Dick’s face as he hurried into the church, but then he’d stopped dead and every last drop of emotion had vanished off his face.
Dead-eyed miniature Dick Grayson. It was creepier than Jason would have thought possible, even after seeing the murder eyes.
He stayed back. He didn’t know what to say here. What did anyone say here? There was nothing that could make this better. Instead he just tried to keep a lookout. In case mobsters burst through the walls, or something. That was a thing that might happen.
After a few minutes, Dick returned to his side. “I’m done here,” he said. “We can go.”
Jason didn’t bother saying if you’re sure. It was clear that he was. “Right then. I’ve got stuff to do today as well.”
“Can I help?”
The kid’s eyes were still a little on the disturbingly blank side, but he’d got the face right. All determined and brave and crap. It probably couldn’t hurt to give him something to do, and he didn’t doubt that Dick could be useful. Maybe he wouldn’t even be annoying, like grown-up Dick in Jason’s time. He definitely didn’t seem cheery like that Dick. “Sure, you can help,” Jason said. “It’s not going to be that exciting. We’ll talk about it when we get back to the room, yeah?”
Dick nodded tersely. He looked like he wanted nothing more than to be out of the church right now, more than he’d even wanted to get the hell out of St Jude’s. Jason was happy to oblige. “We just need to get some food on the way back,” he explained. Quietly, he asked, “You know how to pick pockets?”
Immediately, Dick puffed up like an furious kitten. Who might still dash off if he thought Jason would hurt him. “We don’t steal,” he hissed, thankfully sotto voce. “Just because we’re Rom -“
“Whoa, no, that’s not what I meant,” Jason interrupted. He’d forgotten about the orphanage already. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that.” There was no good way to tell Dick he’d assumed that because his future self could lift keycards and get real keys off rings as if he’d been doing it all his life.
Jason had learned to pick pockets early, out of necessity. He knew Dick must have too. Turned out he’d learned from Bruce. Oops. Well, he deserved the glare for that bit of carelessness. “What does imply mean?” Dick asked suspiciously.
“That I meant to say something without actually using those words,” Jason said. “I’m sorry, Dick.”
Dick jerked a nod. It didn’t look like he’d been entirely forgiven, but that was fair enough given the bullshit he’d been getting at the orphanage. And here Jason had been trying to be different.
“I’ll do the stealing then,” Jason said. “I was going to anyway.”
“Who are you going to steal from?” Dick asked.
“Bad people,” Jason assured him. “I’m only going to steal from people who steal. Or worse. We need to get money somehow.”
Dick still didn’t look very happy about it, but he didn’t say anything. “Okay,” he said. “But I’m not a thief. I won’t steal.”
“Not going to ask you to,” Jason said. He didn’t mention that taking things out of supermarket dumpsters was technically theft. “Let’s go.”
He lifted enough money for lunch off a street vendor selling some obviously stolen goods, but no more. Food was food. If he didn’t have to steal it directly, out of a dumpster, that was great. The route back even passed a proper grocery store. Bread it was. An hour later he and Dick were back in the room, eating peanut butter sandwiches. “So,” Jason said. “You want to help me.”
“You fight people who do bad things?”
“Then I want to help.”
He probably shouldn’t have expected any other answer. Shit, Jason had liked the idea of fighting the bad guys when he was that age. Why should Dick be any different? “It’s dangerous,” he said. Not that that would matter to this little danger-junkie.
“I don’t care. I’ve done dangerous things before. This is important.” Dick kept the glare up, even through a mouthful of peanut butter, which was a neat trick. Of course, grown-up Dick could manage puppy-dog eyes in a mask, which Jason would have sworn was impossible until he saw it for real. “I’m going to find who murdered my parents whether or not you let me help you.”
“Okay, let’s get one thing straight. I am not taking you out on the streets to fight crime.” Robin was a bad idea. “I will help you find the fucker who murdered your parents. I promise. But you are not going out with me.”
For half a second, Dick looked mutinous. Then he nodded. “All right.”
Jason didn’t trust that look, so he tried a bit of appeasement. “I’ll teach you how to defend yourself as well.” That made sense too, seeing as people really were after him.
But the teaching. That was different. For the first time he’d be better than the golden boy. The golden boy would be depending on him. On his expertise. He couldn’t deny he liked the idea. “We don’t have much space in here, but there are things we can start on. And when we find the bastard, he’s all yours.”
Dick’s eyes narrowed. “Good.”
“I’ll have to teach you about guns,” Jason realised. “I use them.” It was flat out unsafe to use guns around Dick if Dick didn’t know how to secure them, load and unload them, take them apart, or fire them as safely as possible.
Bruce would be so disappointed. Jason couldn’t bring himself to care.
“Fine,” Dick said, and that was strange too. Dick didn’t use guns. He just didn’t. ‘Cause he was like Bruce. But when Jason thought about it, of course Dick hadn’t popped into his Robin existence hating guns as much as Batman did. Did someone shoot his parents? No. Maybe he hated trapeze wires or something, except Jason knew for sure that wasn’t the case.
“Let’s get started then,” Jason said.
Master Bruce was late home again. It was nothing Alfred wasn’t used to, sadly enough. Most days it seemed as though the only thing Master Bruce cared about was his own self-destruction. It was at the point where Alfred would almost rather see him pretending to be a wastrel than watch him throw himself at all the crime in Gotham. It was a war he could not hope to win, but only to die nobly in the attempt. It was only a matter of time before he tried to do too much, on too little sleep.
Alfred didn’t think Bruce was doing much to prevent that day from coming.
To his shame, there was little he could do. The core failure was his, and it was nearly two decades old. He had failed as a guardian. Now he was relegated to sitting and waiting in this cave for Master Bruce to return. Or not, as the case may be. Sitting, waiting, and doing the little he could do. Maintaining the spare equipment. Repairing the protective garments Master Bruce was so abominably careless with. Running whatsoever computer searches as Batman required. If any of it could help, Alfred would do it. Especially in times such as these. He had a feeling of foreboding that he just couldn’t shake.
The Grayson case was weighing on him as much as it was weighing on Bruce, he supposed, albeit somewhat differently. It was an ugly situation, and it brought up great deal of bad memories.
It was almost sunrise before he heard the familiar sound of the car roaring into the cave. Master Bruce would last another day, then. As usual, relief almost overwhelmed him when Bruce climbed out of the car unassisted. He did not even look as though he had been in a serious fight, an even greater relief. Any night when Alfred did not have to sew up bullet holes or knife tears in that cape was a good night. “Any progress, sir?” he asked. The sooner Master Bruce was assured of young Mr Grayson’s safety, the better.
“Not much,” Master Bruce said, divesting himself of his outermost garments. “He’s been buried in the system. Under a different name. Gordon’s promised to look into it.”
“But the matter will not rest there, I trust.”
“Of course not.” Master Bruce frowned. “It’s not right, Alfred. He didn’t even get to keep his name. I need to do something about this.”
Dread made another advance into Alfred’s heart. “And what exactly did you have in mind, pray tell?”
“He needs a home and people who understand. At a minimum.”
“And the good people who work for the City of Gotham -“
“Lost him, Alfred. They didn’t take him to his parents’ funeral. Good people or not, they’re failing him. Are they going to make sure he keeps a connection to his heritage? That he gets the counselling he needs? That he’s safe? Not just from his parents’ murderer, but…”
Master Bruce trailed off. Alfred had rarely seen him show such overt passion, much less for the wellbeing of another person on an individual level. It was almost as heartening as it was strange.
“I have to do something,” Bruce concluded. He headed towards the computer, full of purpose. No sleep for him, then. Alfred despaired. The less he slept, the more likely it was he would make a fatal error. “Now that I know I’m not looking for a Richard Grayson, this should be much easier. Hopefully he was taken to a Wayne-affiliated foster organisation, that would be ideal. The search parameters -”
“In any case,” Alfred interrupted, “Even should you find him within the next five minutes, you will not be able to do anything until business hours, most like. I would implore you to rest until then.”
“A few more hours,” Bruce said absently. “I just want to get this search up and running.”
“Very well, sir.” Defeated, again. “Is there anything that needs repairing tonight, or have you spared me that unhappy task?”
“Nothing. It was all investigation.” He frowned again, then added, “Apparently I have a copycat. In some measure. Gordon’s not sure whether he’s a copycat or a Robin Hood. He’s been targeting criminals like me, wearing the bat on his chest, but he’s also been robbing them after he’s done. I need to look into him as well.”
“Strapped for cash, is he?”
“Possible. I don’t know what equipment he’s using, aside from guns.”
“Guns?” Alfred asked, alarmed on Bruce’s behalf. An imposter Batman with guns could not be good news. Copycats were all but inevitable, but one with guns threatened the work Master Bruce did with the GCPD. “Does Captain Gordon believe you are affiliated?”
Bruce snorted. “No, not Gordon, but he’s not the only cop in the department, and not all of them share his opinion on Batman.”
“How dangerous do you believe this…imitation Batman…to be?” Alfred asked.
“Too early to say. He may flame out. In a few weeks we’ll know how serious he is about this. Either way, I have more important things to worry about. I need to see Leslie about this. She knows about witnesses to crime and the foster system; she must know someone who can look after the Grayson boy.”
He was lost in his tunnel vision. He recognised the signs. Alfred hoped that Richard Grayson could be found and helped, of course he did, but he did not want it to come at the cost of Master Bruce’s life and wellbeing. An old man’s selfish wish. “I will see Dr Thompkins tomorrow,” Alfred said. And perhaps she would have some advice for him in handling Bruce’s latest obsession. “I must insist. You’ve hardly been home since that day. Even if you work from the cave, it is time you stopped racing all over Gotham, for a few hours at least.”
A frown met that proposal. “All right. A few hours. I’ll call the office and tell them I won’t be in. It will save me time on the road.”
“Now, get your search running as you would and then retire,” Alfred instructed, pushing his luck. “In the long run it will help your efforts, not hinder them.”
Bruce didn’t respond. His head was back in Gotham, even if Alfred was keeping him here. But there was nothing else he could do, certainly not tonight. Instead, he returned upstairs to reheat Master Bruce’s post-patrol snack, the last thing on his list of chores before he himself could retire to prepare for another day of attempting to keep his stubborn, reckless, dear boy alive. The boy who used to try and hide stray animals in the Manor, to look after them better, had grown up very different to how Alfred had once thought he might. He’d never moved on. Never healed.
Alfred wished he could do more.
In the end Jason had to leave Dick by himself back in the room. “Sorry,” he told the boy. “What I’ve got planned is too dangerous for a novice.”
Once Jason had explained what a novice was, Dick nodded and said, “Okay.” He didn’t look happy about it, but at least he’d agreed. That was the important thing. Dick wasn’t what anyone could call a rebel. If he’d agreed, he’d stick to it.
He wouldn’t stay out longer than he needed to, though. That crying last night…Jason didn’t like it. He shouldn’t be left alone. But they needed the money, there was no way around that. If he didn’t get money, they’d both be on the street. Jason knew from experience how bad that was. Being left alone wouldn’t hurt him much worse than he’d already been hurt, not compared to not having food and shelter and things like that.
It was an unseasonably cold spring night, thanks to the clear weather. His breath condensed on the inside of his helmet, a disadvantage of the full-face mask. A bit uncomfortable. He’d deal with it.
After a few nights in old-timey Gotham, not to mention dredging through the pits of his childhood memory, he was getting a better feel for the crime hotspots again. The Red Hood was going to set up by the docks tonight, which was a little further from the room than he was comfortable going when he had an unsupervised child there, and not far enough from his home base for comfort. What it did absolutely have going on was crime. He really needed to rip off a few of the large-scale dealers.
Then, of course, he had to worry about the Bat. Who knew how Bruce operated, here and now?
He had to go ahead anyway, In that sense, there was no point worrying.
Jason found a likely-looking spot between shipping containers. There were tire tracks here that didn’t match the yard’s forklifts, and more cigarette butts than there should be. Someone clearly used this place to meet. A quick scout revealed two other possible locations. Jason dropped a precious transmitter in each location, and settled at a fourth lookout over an access road to wait.
Thirty boring minutes later, a boring black sedan pulled in. Nothing fancy. Except for the windows, tinted darker than he thought Gotham regulations allowed. In the poor light of the yard, seeing in was impossible, leaving Jason to judge how full the car was by its clearance over the ground. About average. If there were more than two people in there, they weren’t big. Nor was the car weighed down with guns and ammo.
Jason followed the car as it wound its way through the yard, tires crunching on the rough asphalt. Sure enough, it pulled into one of Jason’s monitored areas (only a single transmitter! He felt so underprepared, but it wasn’t as if he’d been consulted on being zapped into the past) and two men in cheap suits got out. There was definitely some Mediterranean heritage there - so the question was, Falcone or Maroni? He liked to know which mob boss he was robbing before he robbed them. Let him know where the retribution might be coming from.
It was ten minutes before the white van arrived. Good for him. Bad for whoever was selling whatever. They opened the back of the van. Jason, watching through his magnified lenses, grinned savagely when he saw what was inside.
Contraband electronics. Even if it was out-of-date by his standards, it was better than nothing. This was the first stroke of luck he’d had in days. Possibly the best stroke of luck he’d had in years.
It did raise the question of why the Falcones and/or Maronis were investing in surveillance and counter-surveillance gear, but that was a problem for after Jason took the cash and all the electronics he could carry, tied the chumps selling them up, and left them for the GCPD.
“Any trouble?” Thug #1 asked the van driver.
“Nah,” the van driver said. “No sign of the cops or the Bat.”
“Never is a sign of the Bat until he drops on our heads,” Thug #2 said sourly. “What about Falcone’s people?”
That made these guys Maroni’s. Good to know.
“Keeping out of it,” the van driver said. “You got the cash or not?”
The thugs brought out a briefcase, because a lot of Gotham’s old school mobs were really old school, it seemed. No wonder the psychos had mostly driven them out. But with the appearance of the briefcase was Jason’s cue. “Seriously, you know about the Bat but you never look up,” he called down to them. His voice echoed off all the metal, hiding his location, but he moved anyway. He wanted to get behind them. “He hit you in the head too often?”
A bullet pinged off a container. Jason grinned behind his helmet. Way off. He continued moving around and finally dropped to the ground. All four thugs were too busy trying to shoot shipping containers to notice. Jason grabbed the briefcase and clubbed the biggest guy over the head with it. He crumpled like a sack of potatoes. Glass jaw. Or skull.
The others whipped around, but Jason had already dived behind the car. Showing the first bit of good sense they’d probably had all day, they tried to get on either side.
Well, that was Jason’s mistake.
He went over instead, ducking behind the van this time. Their aim had finally caught up with his movement, which was bad. Bullets pinged off the metal. One went through a panel. Good luck driving a shot-up van, Jason thought. He had other problems, though, because someone had brought something with a bit more punch than your average handgun. The pinging was getting closer. More rapid. And between him and the best route upwards.
This was actually trouble. Jason unholstered his own weapon. He was going to have to shoot his way out.
At the pause to reload, Jason dived out, firing at kneecaps. Risky, but less likely to be fatal. He didn’t want to bring the Bat down on his own head. Yet. He hit two of the thugs before he got behind the corner of a shipping container.
“I surrender!” the remaining thug shouted. “Please, don’t kill me!”
That was always a good set of words to hear. Jason scaled the shipping container for a better view, just to make sure he wasn’t planning any funny business. Sure enough, the guy’s gun was on the ground, his buddy was bleeding and moaning, the big guy was still out like a light…
“Sure thing!” Jason shouted down, already moving into position to grab him from behind. Just in case.
Before the hapless thug knew it, he was handcuffed to the car door, whimpering something along the lines of “oh god, oh god, oh god.”
“I’m taking your stuff,” Jason informed him as he rifled through the back of the van. “Don’t expect to see it back.”
The electronics were so old. Shiny and new, but old. Antique. Out of date. It wasn’t top of the line here and now either, but again, beggars couldn’t be choosers. Jason loaded up his pockets with electronics, took the briefcase full of cash, and headed out, leaving the henchmen behind. It was getting early. Dick could probably use some company right about now.
Sorry about the delay, everyone. Mental health issues flared up with a vengeance. It happens. I'll try to have the next chapter up in three weeks or so, but I write like molasses when I get like this. Thanks for your patience, and all the feedback!
“Red Bat,” Bullock scoffed. “What a stupid name. You’d think a copycat would put a bit more effort into being like the original, too. But ever since he showed his pointy ears in this town, it’s gone crazy. First him, then that maniac in the sewers, now Dent’s gone off the deep end…”
“I’ll run the copycat angle down myself,” Jim decided. Aside from his…connections…it was the aspect of the case most likely to blow up politically. “You focus on the missing money.”
Chapter 7: Modus Operandi
A working night for several Gothamites.
The call came in just before Jim was due to go off shift. Shots fired at the dockyards. Lots of them. In a place that was a particularly dense maze of shipping containers. Not a cop on the force didn’t know what that part of the yards was used for.
Which meant he had to deal with it himself. At least Barbara and her overnight nanny weren’t expecting him back until breakfast.
“Detective Bullock, with me,” he ordered on his way out of the station.
“What’s up, Captain?” Bullock asked, falling in behind him and hastily stuffing a sandwich into his mouth.
“Shootout at the docks,” Jim said. “Two wounded, one dead.”
Bullock knew what a shootout at the dockyard meant as well as Jim himself did. He’d been around the block more than long enough for that. “Aww, Cap,” Bullock complained, “Can’t we just let them shoot at each other? It’s nearly shift change.”
Bullock complained all the way to the docks, but Jim wasn’t worried. As a detective, he might not be brilliant, but for all his complaining he worked hard and thoroughly, chased leads methodically, and never took a bribe larger than a beer. He could trust Bullock. Before they got out of the car, Bullock asked, “You going to turn this over to the mob squad?”
“Depends what we find,” Jim said.
“Just as long as no creepy bat-guy jumps down on us from the shadows,” Bullock grumbled.
The scene was a bullet-ridden mess. The EMTs had hauled off the wounded - one with a concussion, another with a gunshot wound to the knee - but left the corpse where it was, in a grisly pool of blood and grit. “Shot in the thigh,” Jim said aloud. “He bled out. I doubt he felt it with all the adrenaline, otherwise he’d’ve tried to bandage it up.”
A snort from Bullock, over by the van. “Another idiot who thinks that just because you aim for the legs you won’t hurt them too bad. Next thing he’ll be aiming for the shoulder. You sure we can’t take their guns away?”
Jim ignored that. “You recognise him?”
With a glance over to the dead man, Bullock said “Nope.”
Secure in the work of the forensics boys, Jim reached down to fish the man’s wallet out of his pocket and flipped through it for ID. “Says here his name is Silvani.”
“Hang on. Yeah, I know the family. Silvani, yeah, they’re Maroni men. I booked his brother once.” He looked back out at the scene, and the bullet-spattered cars. “Don’t see any other blood here. That many bullet holes and no more blood, though, that’s the sort of thing we get when your pointy-eared friend’s been on the scene.”
Bullock was right. The leading pattern to them - Jim looked up, and saw bullet holes in shipping containers well above eye level. Exactly the sort of place Batman might pick. “He’s not so careless,” Jim said. “Never uses guns, either.” Over the past two years they’d brought in lots of crooks with various dislocations, and more than a few with batarangs stuck in them, but if there was one thing they were sure of, Batman was not under the impression that shoulder and leg shots were safe. Hell, there was no way he’d leave the scene without checking on everyone present, just to make sure there wouldn’t be anything like a man bleeding out from a wound nobody had noticed. “It might be the copycat,” Jim said. “Red Bat.”
“Red Bat,” Bullock scoffed. “What a stupid name. You’d think a copycat would put a bit more effort into being like the original, too. But ever since he showed his pointy ears in this town, it’s gone crazy. First him, then that maniac in the sewers, now Dent’s gone off the deep end…”
“I’ll run the copycat angle down myself,” Jim decided. Aside from his…connections…it was the aspect of the case most likely to blow up politically. “You focus on the missing money.”
“What missing money?”
“Have you ever seen a meet like this without money?”
“What was being sold here anyway?” Jim asked. He’d been focused on the dead body.
“Electronics,” Bullock reported. “Lotta surveillance stuff here. Bugs, sweepers. Some of it’s missing. Doesn’t look like stuff was taken at random. Whoever raided it knew what they were looking for.”
Jim frowned. “Planned?”
“Have to ask who knew about this. Could be a crime of opportunity - it doesn’t look like a lot of stuff was taken, ‘bout what you could fit in one carry bag or a few pockets. If you made me pick I’d say smart thief, not prepared thief.”
They finished up at the scene and headed back to the station, exhaustion dragging at them. Still someone had to interview their one witness who was in a state to be interviewed before clocking off. The others would wait until tomorrow, after they’d received medical treatment. Jim grabbed one last coffee and parked himself behind the glass of the interrogation room, the better to observe.
Unfortunately, the delay had made this particular man brave. Or at least stubborn. No sooner had Bullock and his regular partner, Jones, walked into the interview room but their interviewee snapped, “I want my lawyer.”
“Easy there, Vince,” Bullock said. “We’re not here to put you away for anything. You’re the victim here, aren’t you? Just a good old ice cream social by the shipping containers that got out of hand.”
“Yeah,” Vince Cotogno said cautiously.
“We just want to know who did it,” Jones said. “Don’t care about why you were there tonight.”
Jim could see the gears whirring away in Vince’s none-too-speedy brain. Hopefully they wouldn’t whir too fast, since they still wanted to bring him up on gun charges. The GCPD couldn’t let the Maronis shoot up just anywhere. Inside, Bullock said, “Just one measly little witness statement. A description of the guy. That’s all. He killed your buddy.”
Vince hesitated just that bit more. “It was one of them vigilantes,” he spat at last, enunciating every syllable of the final word. “The red one.”
“The red one?” Jones asked.
“Yeah,” Vince said again. “Didn’t get a real good look at him. Who does, you know? Moved the same. Red helmet. Brown jacket. But I definitely saw the bat on his chest. Just like the other one.”
Jim sighed. Copycat it was. He needed more coffee to deal with this.
He didn’t really like lying, but Dick had no intention of staying inside doing nothing while the man who murdered his parents was still out there. His parents had always said he should stand up for other people if he could. He’d come back here, and he wouldn’t get into too much trouble, but he was going to go outside and at least try to learn more.
Jason was good, Dick had decided. He didn’t understand, but he was a good person.
Though the apartment block was big and unfamiliar, Dick knew that the best way to go was always up. You could see people from up there, but they wouldn’t look up and see you. He stripped off his gloves before he went for the fire escapes. They slipped under his hands and didn’t feel safe. He put them in his pocket instead, for when he didn’t need to be climbing.
He wanted to get to know this part of the city. St Jude’s wasn’t too far away, but this was still further than Dick had explored in the past week. As far as he could tell, mostly the buildings were a different type of brick, brown instead of grey. A bunch of the signs on the shops were in Spanish, which Dick couldn’t read very well.
It was still just as closed-in and dirty. Dick still didn’t like Gotham.
He wondered where they’d buried his parents.
That was something he could do. He could go find the cemetery. That shouldn’t be too hard. Cemeteries were big. Weren’t they? So Dick headed towards what he thought was the centre of Gotham. He couldn’t go wrong looking for the tallest buildings. If he could get up high enough, he’d be able to see what was on the ground better.
Half an hour later, he realised that he’d been wrong. The buildings all got in the way of each other, cutting off his line of sight no matter where he turned. He sat down on the edge of a concrete-and-glass-fronted office building, almost ready to give up and feeling like he might cry. Again. He’d spent so much time crying this last week. He hated it. His parents would hate it too, if they were here.
What would happen if he gave up? If he just turned around and went back to Jason’s apartment where he was supposed to stay?
Dick didn’t know. All the same, the thought of giving up tore at him. If he gave up on learning the triple somersault, he would never have learned a quadruple somersault. If he stopped looking for the cemetery, he’d never find it.
He got up, wiped his eyes, and kept going. He imagined his mother saying keep trying, Dick, and his father saying that’s the way. It helped. A little.
Four buildings later he decided to turn back. Not because he was giving up. He wasn’t. He wouldn’t. But he didn’t want to worry Jason, not when Jason was one of only two people to be nice to him in Gotham so far. Tomorrow night he’d look again.
As he turned, he saw movement on another building. Someone else travelling by rooftop. He saw a black cape standing out against the brighter lights, and two pointy ears.
Jason might have the bat on his armour, but Dick knew immediately who this must be. Batman. The real one. Dick watched in fascination. Even from this distance he could tell Batman was tall. The cape must add a lot of drag to his movements as well. He must be very strong, because it didn’t look like it was slowing him down at all. He made the cape look graceful, in a way, almost like real wings. He wondered if Jason had seen the real Batman too. He must have.
Soon enough he lost sight of the man, but seeing Batman made Dick feel a bit better about turning back for the night somehow. Like it was the right thing to do.
He found his way back to the apartment block just fine. Jason wasn’t back yet, he saw when he snuck back in the same window he’d climbed out of in the first place. He brushed his teeth in the little sink in the room and sat down on the couch where he was supposed to sleep. Jason wasn’t back. It was getting really late. Where was he? Dick couldn’t help but worry.
It was dangerous, what Jason did. He said so himself. What if he got hurt? Should Dick have followed him instead? Maybe that was a better idea for tomorrow night. He could follow Jason. That might show him that Dick could be useful.
The more he thought of it, the more it appealed. He really didn’t want one of the nice people in Gotham to get hurt. His parents would understand if he took a bit longer to find them and say goodbye properly because he was trying to help someone else.
He was very tired right now, but he didn’t think he’d be able to sleep while Jason was still out. How could he have been so selfish? He should have thought of following Jason himself earlier. He couldn’t stand it if something like - something like happened to his parents happened again.
He had to keep working.
Jason was nearly back to the apartment when he heard the words, shooting at the dockyards. One fatality. He stopped dead in his tracks. That was not good. That was not good at all. That was exactly what he hadn’t wanted to happen, because now the Bat was going to come after him.
Clearly he hadn’t been careful enough. Damn it. He’d been sure he’d only hit lower legs, but it didn’t take much.
Well, it wasn’t going to keep him up at night. Except perhaps in the literal sense that he might be chased down and forced to change hideout, tiny Dick in tow. He probably had another day or two. Well, at least he had the money to upgrade now. Tomorrow he had to get some fake documents and start getting a proper identity set up. An identity he could start investing money under.
Wasn’t much he could do about Bruce tonight.
Thoroughly irritated, Jason decided to press on. He was carrying a briefcase full of cash and couldn’t leave Dick alone all night. With luck he’d be asleep. He hoped Dick would be asleep. Without nightmares, though that might well be pushing it. Seeing your parents fall to their deaths didn’t sound restful to him.
He let himself in through the window only to find that Dick was not, in fact, asleep. The kid looked like he just stopped himself from hugging Jason. “You’re back,” he said, with what could only be described as relief in his voice.
“Yeah, kid,” Jason said. Dick. Dick Grayson. Glad that Jason Todd was around. “Safe and sound.”
Dick smiled. It looked genuine, but the Dick Grayson that Jason knew was good at fake smiles. Disturbingly so. He didn’t know where Dick had learned that skill either. “Did you fight any bad guys?” he asked eagerly.
“A few. Found some mobsters at the docks buying illegal elctronics.” He unloaded his pockets to show them off. Dick peered at them curiously, in the process letting Jason have a long look at his bloodshot eyes. “Go to sleep,” he ordered roughly. “I’ll tell you all about it in the morning.”
“All right,” Dick said reluctantly. He got on the sofa, and asked, “You’re not hurt?”
“No,” Jason reassured him. “Not a scratch.”
That seemed to be good enough, because tiny Dick nodded and lay down. Jason turned away to start end-of-night clean-up, and when he looked back the kid was out like a light. At first Jason thought that meant he’d have the time and space to clean his gear again and take some notes on the night’s events, but within half an hour Dick was crying in his sleep again.
It left Jason staring helplessly. He still didn’t know what to do here. When he was a kid, Catherine had usually been too high to comfort him when he had nightmares. When Bruce picked him up, no way in hell was Jason letting anyone near him while he slept.
He was damn sure that grown-up Nightwing didn’t cry himself to sleep every night, so clearly something had been done to help at some point.
After a minute or so, and feeling extremely awkward about it, Jason moved his to the floor near Dick, sitting down so that his back pressed against Dick’s knees. It jabbed a bit - the kid was bony - but he hoped the physical contact would help. After a while, the sobbing stopped. So maybe it had worked. Or maybe Dick had just tired himself out even in his dreams. But when Jason shifted away to give his back a break, Dick made a soft, dissatisfied noise. Jason leaned back, feeling somewhat like a teddy bear.
Sometime later he woke up and every inch of him ached. Especially his back. The instant he moved, Dick bolted awake as well.
“Morning,” Jason said.
“Morning,” Dick said, and he smiled again.
Jason was officially concerned about this kid’s ability to fake happy.
They did their stretches and strength exercises, the few they could do in this small space anyway. Then Jason took Dick for a quick run, late morning being one of the safer times for that sort of thing. The kid was ridiculously fit for his age. It was absurd. A bit on the scary side, too, since Dick didn’t say anything, just knuckled down to training without a word. Again, Jason found himself a bit taken aback by his intensity. It just didn’t seem like Dick.
Was this a change he was making? Jason couldn’t help but wonder, before shoving it out of his mind. He was helping. Anything that didn’t involve Dick taking to the streets in tights and a cape had to be helping.
And then he used some of the money to buy cereal and milk, and watching tiny Dick wolf it down was an eerily familiar sight.
To his dismay, Jason realised that he had to take Dick along while he got his investment ID sorted. “But you have to stay quiet, got it?” With older Dick, he wouldn’t have even risked it. Jackass ran his mouth off at every opportunity. Younger Dick just nodded. He even sat through the discussion of falsifying a CV without making a peep, eyes on Jason and his contact rather than on the book Jason gave him to keep him occupied.
Jason had decided to use his real name for this. Neither was that uncommon, and so what if there was another Jason Todd running around Gotham? Nobody was going to suspect time travel. Jason was nothing to nobody. Not then, not now. Which, for all it sounded melodramatic, had the benefit of being true.
After two hours, Jason Todd, undocumented time-traveller, had become Jason Todd, one-man tech start-up, looking for some backers.
“You’re using the stuff you took from the bad guys last night?” Dick asked.
“Some of it,” Jason said. “My phone’s better than theirs.” No need to explain why.
“But why were you fighting over electronics?” He frowned and picked up a bug sweeper, obviously trying to work out what it was. “What’s so bad about it?”
“All this stuff is meant to tell you when someone’s listening in on your phone conversations or put a recording device nearby,” Jason explained. “The police don’t like the mob having it, and they don’t have anyone who can make it from the stuff they’re allowed to buy legally, so they have to buy it from someone else.”
Dick thought about it and nodded. “That makes sense.”
“This is even better tech than the police usually have access to,” Jason continued. “This is meant to tell them if Batman’s listening in. I took it off the Maroni family. Batman’s been coming down hard on them the last week or so and they’re worried. If I had to bet, I’d say Batman thinks a Maroni man killed your parents.”
That made Dick blink and drop the bug sweeper. “Batman is trying to find out who killed my parents?” he asked in a small voice.
“He was there when they died,” Jason told him. “Before you ask, no, he wasn’t there as Batman. It took him by surprise as well.” Though why Bruce had gone to a fucking circus was still a mystery to Jason. He’d’ve thought Bruce would be allergic to the bright colours.
“But he’s trying to find out who did it,” Dick said. “Are you - are you going to work with him?”
“Like hell,” Jason snapped. Dick flinched, and Jason softened his tone. “Batman and I do things differently. He’s going to find the guy who killed your parents so he can put him in jail. Me, I think that guy should die.”
He hadn’t realised how strongly he felt about it until he said the words. The guy who killed Dick’s parents should die for what he did. What sort of sick fuck made a show of it like that? Not only could he have killed Dick too with that bullshit, what about everyone in the audience? Talk about trauma. When he found the guy, and he was going to find the guy, he was going to put a bullet in his head.
He was snapped out of his thoughts by a trembling little voice.
“He should die,” Dick said, standing straight, fists clenched. “He should.”
Thanks everyone SO MUCH for your patience on this one. Still working on it.
All Jason could think of was that he needed to get out. Just for a little while, at least.
This was getting unbearable. This was crazy. He didn’t have a clue what he was doing, not a fucking clue. Not where it mattered. He barely heard himself ask Dick if he’d stay in the room for a bit while he got some fresh air, and then he just walked.
Chapter 8: Caretaker
Alfred and Jason think on failure.
Surprise! A chapter!
No warnings for this chapter not covered in story tags.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The only way to reliably speak to the good Doctor Thompkins was to visit her outside of her usual hours. Her clinic was never truly closed. Especially not to friends.
Alfred carefully transferred the coffee and the bag of cherry danishes he’d brought to one hand, and rapped smartly on the clinic’s door with the other. Leslie answered within a minute. “Alfred! What a wonderful surprise!”
“I come bearing gifts,” Alfred said. “I do hate to disturb you before hours.”
“You’re never a disturbance - especially not when you come bearing pastries. Come in, come in.”
The mornings had been cold, and Alfred was all too aware that he was not as young as he had been. He accepted the invitation inside gratefully. Leslie did try to keep her clinic warm, for all those patients whose ailments were aggravated by the chill. “Very kind of you.”
They settled in Leslie’s office, where she had clearly been doing paperwork for some time already. “What brings you here, Alfred? I know you rarely have time for social calls.”
“As you might have guessed, I’m here on Master Bruce’s business,” Alfred began. “He’s looking into the foster system.”
Leslie’s brows furrowed. “What’s the issue?”
Alfred sighed. “The Grayson murders. He’s…there’s no other word for it. Obsessed.” It was so imprecise when it came to Master Bruce. Obsessed described the way he did so many things in his life. “Batman discovered that the boy was sent to foster care following the murder of his parents. He wants him to have a safe, proper home. The effort is keeping him up at nights. And well into the mornings.”
“We both know why he might feel that way,” Leslie said.
“Indeed. He wants to know if you know any way to find the boy a good home.”
“There are a few private agencies I know who do good work, if Bruce can convince the city that it’s best. That’s a long, long shot,” she cautioned him. “CPS doesn’t like that sort of thing.”
“Children being given a stable home and a loving family?” Alfred asked, acidly. He had no fondness for the city’s foster system. Even with all the resources Thomas and Martha Wayne had left their son, including a strongly-worded will, Alfred had had to fight hard to stay above CPS suspicion. A single man, still with a British citizenship, raising a child on his own, without a single blood tie between them? Unthinkable, apparently.
“You know what I mean,” Leslie said. She knew how he felt. “There aren’t any more bad people in CPS than there are anywhere else. They’re overworked, underfunded, and see too many terrible things, mostly, not evil.”
Alfred sighed again. He knew that too. And they both knew it didn’t change anything.
Leslie added, “Though there are a few places out there that would be better off shut down. I hear stories about some of them. Does Bruce know which facility the Grayson boy was sent to?”
“Not yet. It’s a matter of days, I expect.” Even if he had to go through every intake list for every orphanage and foster home in the greater Gotham area one by one, even if he had to search every one of those areas in person by himself, he would do it.
They sat in silence for a few seconds, contemplating the extent of the task. It was not a small one. “I’m worried about him,” Alfred confessed at last. “He’s obsessed, yes, but he’s also distracted. This case has taken over his life in an unusually unhealthy manner, in my opinion. I’m not quite sure what to do.”
“He was there that night, wasn’t he? He saw the murders?”
“Yes,” Alfred said, voice catching. “I encouraged him to take the night off. To go to the circus. I thought it might be a nice change for him. Instead - instead -“
Instead he’d sent his dear boy to watch a repeat of what had happened to his own parents. Alfred knew perfectly well he couldn’t have predicted it. It did not lessen the horror he felt one bit. On top of that, the entire affair brought into unbearable focus his well-earned sense of failure. That was his own fault, but no easier to accept for it. He’d failed Bruce long ago. Batman was his fault.
“It may help him,” Leslie ventured. “Helping Richard might help him work through some of his…difficulties.”
“I don’t share your optimism, I’m afraid. I think it far more likely that he will not be able to resolve the issue to his satisfaction and end up hurting himself further.” The one thing Bruce would not be able to do for Richard, after all, was give him a true family. He shook himself out of his maudlin hopelessness. “I’m distracting you. These are my problems, after all. If you’ll just let me know the names of the agencies that may be able to help once Master Bruce has located young Mr Grayson -“
Leslie reached across the desk to grip his forearm. “It’s never a problem, Alfred. I care about Bruce too. I’ll just write the names down for you. I’ve got their phone numbers somewhere.”
“Thank you,” Alfred said, with as much dignity as he could muster. He did hate breaking down like that in front of anyone else. “That would be much appreciated.”
He waited patiently while Dr Thompkins dipped into her address book to find the relevant agencies. It was a matter of mere minutes, though already he could hear the business of the clinic picking up outside. Soon he would have to leave so that she could see her early patients. “Here,” she said at last. “Let me know if there’s anything else I can do.”
“You do so much already,” Alfred replied.
“I’ll do just about anything for a cherry danish.”
“In any case, I shall endeavour to keep Master Bruce from visiting in a…professional capacity…and send him over for a more social visit shortly.”
Leslie opened the door for his exit with a smile. “You’ll work your magic, Alfred. You always do.”
All Jason could think of was that he needed to get out. Just for a little while, at least.
This was getting unbearable. This was crazy. He didn’t have a clue what he was doing, not a fucking clue. Not where it mattered. He barely heard himself ask Dick if he’d stay in the room for a bit while he got some fresh air, and then he just walked. No rooftops this time, just streets.
He knew he’d been through here when he was a kid, at least once. He was still avoiding his own younger self, or alternate self, or whatever. In days of working in past Gotham, he hadn’t seen a single Riddler clean-up site, or heard stories about Killer Croc in the sewers, or had any positive results on any random tests he did for Crane’s drugs. (He should rethink those when he could. Surely Crane wasn’t using the same formula here and now.) There was no Joker. Jason was certain of that. If there was a Joker, he would have heard about it.
Gotham should be better without them. It wasn’t. The city was crawling with mobsters. Batman had only traded mobsters for maniacs.
They should die. They should. After fifteen years, hadn’t Batman learned?
At the same time, tiny Dick. Hearing it like that, from Dick, was more than weird. Dick was older than him. Dick was happier than him. Dick was sunshine and rainbows and all that crap. That was the point of what Jason was doing, right? He wanted Dick to go and be sunshine and rainbows in a happy family and not become the first of the kid sidekicks, the one who meta and non-meta sidekicks alike kept trying to live up to. How many of them had got hurt trying to do that? It wasn’t just Jason.
Angry with everything, and especially being stuck in the past, Jason whirled and drove his fist into the nearest wall.
“Why’d you do that?” A small, familiar voice asked from behind and above him. “You’ll hurt yourself!”
“I thought I told you to stay in the room,” Jason snapped without thinking.
Tiny Dick dropped down near him. He was light on his feet, but light on your feet wasn’t trained stealth. “I don’t want you to get hurt,” he said anxiously, staring up at Jason with big blue eyes. “I couldn’t just stay behind.”
How he hated stupid Dick right now, old and young. Stupid perfect Dick who Jason had never been as good as.
“The fucking mob is after you,” Jason hissed. “The only reason they haven’t killed you is ‘cause they haven’t been able to find you. I’m not keeping you locked up, not going to either, but you can’t just wander around like this. It’s too risky, and it’s a stupid risk.”
That resulted only in a mulish look crossing Dick’s features, rather than anything sensible like fear. “I don’t care. It’s not a stupid risk, not to me.”
“And I don’t care that you don’t care. You’re a kid. You’re supposed to do what you’re told and stay safe.”
“No,” Dick said, glaring up at him. “I’m supposed to do the right thing. So I’m not going to let you get hurt, not if I can stop it.”
The fucking self-sacrificing idiot with his fucking moral high ground. “You always do that,” Jason said. “Every goddamn time.” Every time Jason was working himself into a good bit of justified anger Dick would come in and cut the legs out from under him, which only made Jason angrier since it was like Dick didn’t even care about his own stupid life.
Then tiny Dick asked, “Always do what?”
Oh, shit. Wrong Dick. Different reality, same martyr complex. The shock brought him up short. This wasn’t the Dick who gave him the disappointed face every time Jason killed someone or called the Replacement Replacement. This Dick agreed with him about killing. “Nothing,” Jason said. “Never mind. I shouldn’t have yelled.”
Dick looked down at the alley floor. “If you get hurt…”
What happens to me? Jason could hear the question. Fair enough. He probably should take better care of himself, at least until he found Dick a proper family. Who else did tiny Dick have right now? “It’s not bad,” he said, showing his bleeding knuckles to Dick for the kid’s reassurance. “Just scratched. Nothing broken.”
“Good.” He still looked anxious, though, and in response Jason tucked him a little closer to his side. That was the same between universes - Dick liked touch.
As they turned towards the main street again, Jason saw a man lurking by the alley’s mouth, eyes bright with curiosity and greed.
“Get lost,” Jason snapped at him.
“I’ve seen that kid in the papers,” the man said. “You said the families were after him?”
“No,” Jason denied, stepping fully in front of Dick. “He’s my brother.”
“With that accent? Nah.” Then he pulled out a gun. “The kid comes with me.”
Seconds. He had seconds to react. This chucklefuck, whoever he was, had pulled a gun, and he looked like he knew how to use it. Jason wasn’t wearing his armour. If this guy got a shot off, with a gun that calibre, at this range - all of a sudden Jason was far too aware how soft and squishy and non-bullet-resistant flesh was. A bullet could go right through him and still hit Dick hard enough to kill him.
He lunged forwards. He couldn’t let this guy just take Dick, either.
The guy fired at the movement, just as Jason knocked his arm up. There was a ping of a ricochet above him, a gasp behind him, and then Jason’s fist landed firmly in the thug’s face with a crack of broken nose. The thug reeled back, and Jason let his momentum carry him forward, shoving him over entirely and pinning him to the ground. Then he punched the man again to be sure he was out, and pushing himself back up, he took the time to stomp on the thug’s gun hand. That cracked as well.
Dick said, “It hurts.”
Jason turned to see the kid on the ground, hands clamped around his right arm, not far above his elbow. He could see blood welling out between his fingers, and tears welling up in Dick’s eyes. “It hurts,” Dick repeated. He sounded surprised.
All it took was one fucking bullet. Jason dropped to Dick’s level, fast as he could. “Let me see,” he said, gently prising Dick’s hands from his wound. More blood spilled out. Dick wasn’t a big kid, he didn’t have much blood to spare. Jason pressed down again, and Dick gasped with pain.
He couldn’t find an exit wound. That meant the bullet was still inside Dick’s arm, stuck in the meat of the muscle. That had to come out, then, and Jason didn’t have much to do it with safely.
He wasn’t going to risk Dick’s life and his arm on his own meatball surgery. Nor could he take Dick to an actual hospital. They had to report bullet wounds.
“I’m going to wrap this up,” Jason said. “It’s going to hurt. Then I’m going to carry you, because the police are going to be on their way and we need to get out of here.”
“Are you going to take me to a doctor?” Dick asked. He was starting to look clammy. Shock. “Is that safe?”
“I’m going to take you to a safe doctor.” He only knew one place he could go to for this sort of treatment performed with care, here and now, in this Gotham, and he’d have to hope he could act well enough to avoid suspicion. Hospital wasn't an option, not with his lack of insurance and lack of explanation for Dick. “There’s a clinic.”
Dick looked up at him. In spite of how pale he was, his eyes were still sharp behind the tears. He searched Jason’s expression for something, what exactly Jason didn’t know, then nodded. “Okay,” he said. “I trust you.”
Leslie Thompkins’ clinic hadn’t moved in fifteen years and more. Jason knew that, like he knew that they had to take the rooftops slowly ‘cause he had to carry Dick and they didn’t want to get spotted in broad daylight like this. The trip seemed to take forever.
“You okay?” Jason asked, after one particularly rough landing that had Dick gasping in pain. Dick shook his head and took several deep breaths, in and out, from the stomach. A few tears actually got away from him. Not a sob, though.
Wasn’t anything Jason could do but keep moving. Which he did. Slowly and carefully, every little wince from Dick hurting him as well. If he’d just been able to hold it together - if he hadn’t freaked out when Dick said that the guy who killed his parents should die -
They dropped back to the ground out back of Leslie’s clinic. She got plenty of patients coming in through there, Jason knew, as desperate as he was right now. A harried-looking nurse let him in when he knocked. “What’s the problem?” she asked, as she hurried him and a still-bleeding Dick past other patients to a clean room. Without being asked, Dick turned his face to Jason’s chest to hide from prying gazes.
“My brother,” Jason said in his best imitation of Dick’s linguistic nightmare of an accent. He was going to make it too Germanic, he already knew. “We were mugged.” Close enough to what happened, anyway. Best to keep the deception simple.
The nurse checked his first aid - that was the thing. “Good job,” she said. “Doctor Thompkins will be in to see you soon. That bullet has to come out, and in the meantime he has to stay warm.”
She brought Dick a cup of sugary fruit juice, then left them alone, and Dick asked, “Brother?”
“Just like I said when I broke you out. They’ll believe it,” Jason said roughly. Until today he’d never said it to another person of his own free will. It was different when it was tiny Dick. “I’m not going to let the doctors take you away either.”
That was the right thing to say, apparently, since Dick nodded decisively.
There was no more time for discussion, as Dr Thompkins let herself in. “Oh dear,” she said, catching sight of Dick’s bloodied arm. “May I?”
Dick nodded his permission for that as well, and Leslie immediately set to work. “I’m Dr Thompkins,” she said, stripping the rudimentary bandage and starting to prod carefully at the wound. “What’s your name?”
Dick looked at Jason, who shook his head. Leslie saw it. “All right, John Smith and John Smith it is,” she said. Jason wondered just how many John Smiths her clinic saw in a week.
“Not John,” Dick said in a small, pained voice.
“Jake, then?” Dick nodded, and she went back to cleaning. “The bullet’s still inside this young man’s arm,” she said. “Looks like it’s just lodged in the meat of the muscle. Strange angle. Was it a ricochet?”
“Yes,” Jason said in his horribly faked accent. “How much will taking it out cost?”
“Nothing.” She addressed both of them. “I’ll need to give Jake some local anaesthetic while I take the bullet out. Then I’ll have to stitch it up. You’re going to have to be careful for a little while.”
“But I’ll be able to use my arm fine afterwards, right?” Dick asked. He was thinking about the trapeze and the Gotham rooftops. Had to be.
“Yes, if you take care of yourself. I can tell you’re quite active. Are you ready to get the bullet taken out now?” When Dick said yes, she turned to Jason and said, “I’m going to need you to stay with him.”
“Blood doesn’t bother me,” Jason said, and moved closer. A small hand snaked out and grabbed his. Jason didn’t much like being touched, but he let Dick. The poor kid was trying to look tough - he’d been tough. He was tough. Tiny Dick was apparently made of steel or some shit. Or rubber. That was a theory that had gone around the capes, a while back. “I’ll stay.”
It was obviously the first gunshot wound tiny Dick had ever suffered. He was still pale, and he watched the simple operation intently once the pain was gone. Leslie walked him through what she was doing, step by step. When she was done, Dick gave her a brilliant smile, one of the ones that Jason was starting to suspect were faked. Leslie seemed to buy it, though, because she smiled back and gave Dick not one, but two lollipops.
Jason would have laughed at the little scam artist, but then, on their way out (back over the rooftops again, since Jason had had enough mobsters for the last day), Dick looked up at him and said “Thank you.”
Instead of laughing, Jason found himself oddly tongue-tied. “It was my fault anyway,” Jason said. “I shouldn’t have let things get that far.” Should have been paying more attention.
“I chose to follow you,” Dick said determinedly. “It was my fault.”
Even as he said it, Jason knew he’d do it again in a heartbeat, bullet wound and all.
Thanks everyone *so much* for your patience with this. And for all your feedback!
Batman examined the inside of the door. Small handprints were visible on the shiny painted surface of the door. A child had beat their fists against it. There were scuff marks from shoes lower down, where a child had kicked it.
Someone had locked a boy in here. That was clear. Combined with the disciplinary report, either Richard was the child locked in, or he had broken some sort of code by alerting an adult to the fact a child was locked in. Either way, Batman needed to have a talk with some members of St Jude’s staff.
Chapter 9: What Matters
Batman has a long night of investigating. Dick realises something about Jason.
Warning for some violent ideation.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
He’d done it. After days of searching, Bruce was reasonably sure he’d found where the City of Gotham had lost Richard Grayson. St Jude’s Home for Youth, under the name of Gregory Richardson. Not the best alias, but then again, it had thrown him off the trail for crucial days.
It was still dark and would be for hours yet. More than enough time to check his theory as Batman. He suited up and headed out.
Forty minutes later he stood outside St Jude’s. It was a grim place. It had to be cold inside too, barely warmer than outdoors. Not a good place for any child, let alone a grieving recent orphan. Bruce knew already that the Wayne Foundation had never directed donations there; the Foundation’s policy was only to fund religious institutions upon application, and St Jude’s had never applied. As Batman surveyed the facility more thoroughly, scanners picking up signs of rodent and roach infestations and a plethora of building and health code violations, he thought he might prefer to have the place shut down.
The roof was by far the best point of access. There was a door there for maintenance access, even. Batman frowned when he saw it; the latch had been prised off. He let himself in. No alarms tripped.
Someone had been hiding up here. That much was plain. There was food up here, and a few sturdy boxes arranged to make a seat. A child or an intruder? He revised his opinion when he saw the signs of use on the hatch down to the main building and a small footprint in a dusty area. Definitely a child. Probably hiding from something downstairs.
Batman let himself into the hallway of the building proper. He needed to find the main office. They’d have their files on “Gregory Richardson,” which would at least tell him where Richard Grayson could be found in this building.
The interior of St Jude’s was no more welcoming than its exterior. The painted cinderblock (leaded paint, too) of this particular building looked more like a prison than a home. Bruce Wayne would be more useful changing this than Batman. This place didn’t just need to be shut down, it needed to be demolished entirely.
Bypassing the measures used to stop the children from accessing the administrative areas was no real challenge for Batman. He found the filing cabinet and started flicking through it. Then he frowned. There was no file for Gregory Richardson or Richard Grayson. He checked the desk, a disaster zone of paperwork -
- And right on top was the file. There wasn’t much there. A few bare statistics, stripped of background and context. Those details - height, weight, birthday - seemed to be accurate. There was nothing there to indicate that Gregory Richardson was in truth Richard Grayson.
It was probably safer that way. Perhaps too safe, if Social Services hadn’t been able to find Richard to attend his parents’ funeral.
Next to it was a small stack of incident reports, thicker than the report on Richard himself. Batman read through them with horror. Several of them were discipline reports. Richard had been sneaking out of bounds at night, off the property entirely. The scribbled lines bemoaned that the boy didn’t seem to understand what rules were. Another incident had to do with a broken door in a storage cupboard. There was no detail of punishment beyond “discipline,” which concerned Batman. Euphemisms were not a good sign.
And finally, there was a single page detailing Richard’s disappearance from the facility entirely. Apparently he had broken into the administrative area, reclaimed what few material possessions remained to him, and left. His absence had only been discovered the next morning.
Batman was almost as impressed as he was worried. Richard was alone in Gotham, who knew where. Finding him would be very difficult, and in the meantime the boy was in danger. Not just from the Maroni family attempting to eliminate an inconvenient witness, but from all the myriad other perils of the Gotham streets. Cold. Hunger. Exploitation. Other crimes.
He suspected he knew what Richard must be looking for out there. Whoever had murdered his parents, the GCPD hadn’t found them.
He made photographs of the files. They merited further examination. Before he left he wanted to do one quick search of the premises. There could still be some evidence. A starting point. Security cameras might help. He stopped by the security booth on the way out of the administrative area - the cameras they had were outdated and their angles limited, but it was better than nothing. He’d have to copy and return the tapes. By way of the GCPD; Gordon would have to be told about this.
The next stop was the storage cupboard with a broken door. The incident report had been light on details. As soon as he found it, Bruce could see why. The door had been broken into. Someone had landed a solid, professional kick in exactly the right place to splinter the lock.
No child had done that. From the angle of the splintering, it had been done by someone only a little shorter than Bruce himself.
Batman examined the inside of the door. Small handprints were visible on the shiny painted surface of the door. A child had beat their fists against it. There were scuff marks from shoes lower down, where a child had kicked it.
Someone had locked a boy in here. That was clear. Combined with the disciplinary report, either Richard was the child locked in, or he had broken some sort of code by alerting an adult to the fact a child was locked in. Either way, Batman needed to have a talk with some members of St Jude’s staff. And Bruce Wayne needed to speak out more about conditions in Gotham’s foster care facilities.
Batman left the way he came, wondering if Richard was the boy who’d hid in the attic. For a boy so skilled on the trapeze, a short jump to the attic hatch would surely pose few problems. Batman stopped on the roof to survey the options - there was one place where the razor wire on the wall had been poorly installed, with a small gap where small hands and a precise leap might find purchase, and another place where a particularly brave child might be able to jump over the wire entirely and grab a window ledge.
He was at least as impressed as he was worried.
The Batsignal was shining above the rooftops again, and Batman frowned at the sight. Gordon didn’t put the signal up for every little thing. It wasn’t like him to ask for a meeting twice in such close succession outside of an emergency. He wanted to start on the search for Richard Grayson straight away. That was the important case right now.
But if he went, he could notify Gordon that the GCPD’s only potential witness to the Grayson murders had run away from the institution that was supposed to be protecting him. More eyes on the streets, even if it was only Gordon and those he trusted, could help.
Impatient, Batman turned towards the GCPD.
His arm hurt. Not on the top where the bullet had broken his skin, but deeper inside, in a way that made it hard to move. The stitches scratched.
“Stop poking at it,” Jason said roughly. “I know it sucks, but you have to let it heal or you’ll end up getting it infected like that time you -“
He cut himself off. “That time I what?” Dick asked. That was the second time Jason had said he’d done something that he hadn’t.
“Nothing. Not you. Some jackass I know who looks a bit like you. He got a gunshot graze along the hip once and wouldn’t sit still long enough to let it heal right. Surprise surprise, it got infected, he got sick, and he was stuck in bed for twice as long.”
“That sounds awful,” Dick said.
Jason snorted. “What was awful was being stuck in the same house. Non-stop whining.”
“Was he your brother?”
Dick was certain. Jason had a brother. He’d sounded halfway between angry and sad when he’d called Dick his brother at the doctor’s, even if he’d tried to hide it. And he got a look on his face like he couldn’t quite believe he was saying it. Dick couldn’t think of many other people Jason might be stuck in the same house with, and he thought it was safe to ask by now.
There was an instant where Jason just looked shocked, then he snapped, “No!”
“All right,” Dick said. He added, “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” His parents had told him that asking questions like that could hurt other people if he wasn’t careful. Something was making Jason angry, and it had to do with him.
He might have to leave. Jason was a good person, and Dick didn’t want to hurt him.
“It’s not you,” Jason said. He ran his hands through his hair. “It’s my fault. I shouldn’t snap like this. It’s more difficult than I thought…”
“Is there anything I can do?”
Jason scowled. “Not pick at your gunshot wound.”
It itched so much though. Dick moved his good hand away from the stitches with a sigh and started on some core flexibility exercises. “Better?”
“I’ll take what I can get.”
Dick watched, upside-down, as Jason worked at the tiny little table. He wasn’t using any electronics or his guns, he was just writing. “What are you doing?” Dick asked.
“Preparing paperwork,” Jason said. “We’ve got enough cash to get somewhere nicer again, plus I’ve got decent ID now, but I need to make up CVs and learn stories to back all of that up, get a few bank accounts. I can’t just tell people I ripped off a bunch of drug dealers for the deposit on the apartment.”
Once Jason had explained to him what “ripping off” someone and a deposit were, Dick tried to imagine it. It was kind of funny. The stories, though…“It sounds hard,” he said. Particularly the writing bit. It was easier to imagine telling someone the deposit came from stolen money than it was writing all that English.
“It’s not so bad,” Jason said. “It’s just detail.”
“What are you going to say about me?” Dick asked.
Jason glanced up at him. “Nothing,” he said. “Once we find and - and kill the guy who murdered your parents, I’m finding you a place to stay that isn’t a fucking orphanage. People who’ll look after you. A family.”
The words were a sudden shock of pain. Dick sat back upright, unable to hold his stretch when he felt like his chest was tearing in two. “I have a family,” he said. “I don’t want a new one. I want mine.” He wanted his father to tuck him in at night. He wanted to hear his mother humming as she did their laundry. He wanted to see them perform again without ever worrying he’d see them fall. He wanted them back. He wanted to go home.
For a minute he hated Jason with all his heart for suggesting anything but that.
It felt good. To his surprise, it felt good to feel something other than that core of numb sadness. Even if the anger cut at him. Even if he knew Jason didn’t deserve it, not really. He was just trying to help.
Dick turned away, overwhelmed. He shut his eyes and imagined killing the man who’d killed his parents. Pushing him off a roof and watching him fall like Dick had watched his parents fall. He knew the exact thud he’d make when he hit. It’d be good to hear that somewhere other than his nightmares. He wanted the man to make a face more scared than his dad’s was on the way down. Dick could see it in his head, and he wanted it so much.
“You okay?” Jason asked.
“Tired,” Dick lied. “My arm hurts.”
“I know you want your parents back,” Jason said. “I can’t give them back. But you should have something, if you can’t have them.”
For a while Dick just sat there hating everything and everyone, while Jason kept working on his papers. As good as it felt, Dick knew that people didn’t like angry children. He couldn’t afford to look angry all the time. So after a while, Dick made himself turn back around and ask, “Where are you going tonight?”
“You going to try and follow me again?” Jason shot back.
Dick looked down at his injured, aching arm and said, “No.”
Jason seemed to believe it. “Aside from keeping an ear out about your case, there’s a scientist I’m trying to track down.”
“What do you want with a scientist?”
“He works for someone who’s about to get hit by a corporate scandal,” Jason replied. “He’s also probably got a few connections I could use.”
“How do you know?” Dick asked.
“Let’s just say I know what to look for. Call it an investment opportunity. Hopefully I’ll have some time before everything hits the fan. I can take better advantage that way.”
Dick went back to his exercises, keeping his weight off his injured arm as best he could. Jason didn’t understand him. He knew that now. But then, he didn't really understand Jason either. Maybe Dick could explain better later - if he thought Jason wouldn't kick him out for being angry.
Gordon was waiting on the roof again, smoking as usual. Even from a distance, Batman could see that he had deep shadows under his eyes. Deeper than usual.
“Richard Grayson is missing,” Batman said, making his presence known.
Gordon jumped. “He’s what?” he asked. He practically bit through his cigarette as he did.
Batman frowned. “You didn’t know.”
So the GCPD wouldn’t be looking for him already. It also said disturbing things about their witness protection program. They weren’t supposed to hide their witnesses so deep they lost them entirely. “The reports from the care facility he was in indicate that he was leaving at will,” he informed Gordon. “He left several days ago and they haven’t seen him since.”
Gordon swore. They both knew how bad a sign that was. Batman refused to give up hope, however. He had not reviewed all the facts. There might be more to it. Nobody had so much as contacted Haly’s Circus to see if Richard had somehow caught up. If Richard was willing and able to leap from the roof to escape from St Jude’s, he might have been able to leave Gotham entirely. “I’ll make sure the mob squad finds out,” Gordon said. “We’ll have eyes on the streets, as quietly as possible. No good telling the Maronis he’s out there.”
“Good,” Batman said. Then he realised. “That’s not why you called me here.”
Another cigarette was lit to replace the one Gordon had ruined. It must be a bad night. “Your copycat,” Gordon said at last. “He killed a Maroni man at the shipyard last night.”
“Killed?” Batman asked, alarmed.
“It was probably accidental. Leg shot. He bled out.”
“Carelessness,” Bruce growled. “You’ve confirmed he’s a copycat?”
“Survivor said he was wearing the bat on his chest. Like yours, only red.”
Rarely had Bruce been so angry. Right now there was someone out there wearing his symbol, and using a gun? Killing people? No. Never. It was like a lump of ice in his chest. Someone was out there, representing that he was like Batman, while using a gun and killing people out of negligence. He couldn’t have it. “Are they trained?”
“Seems like it. The scene looks a lot like one of yours, what with all the bullet holes above eye level. They thought it was you, until this Red Bat person fired back.” He offered a handful of papers. “Looks like he stumbled on a deal, shut it down, and made off with some of the goods. The theft looks like a crime of opportunity, but I doubt he was hanging out in the shipyards for the view and a nice nighttime stroll.”
He was seeking out the fight. Batman had done that exact same thing a few times himself. In the exact same place.
“You understand, I have to ask - do you know who this might be?”
The question rankled, though Batman knew it was a fair one. Any detective worth their salt would ask it. “No,” he said. He wished he did. The League of Shadows wouldn’t need to steal from the Maronis. Nor would they care much about street crime. He’d never taken a student of his own, either, ruling out that possibility. “I would tell you if I knew.”
Gordon took another long drag on his cigarette, casual reassurance that he believed the answer. “No capable men with a grudge leaping to mind?”
“Plenty with a grudge. Plenty who can use a gun. None who know my methods.”
“Pity,” Gordon said. “I know you’re worried about the Grayson boy, but I’d appreciate it if you could look into this as well, and the sooner the better.”
“Of course.” The rumours that he was connected with the Red Bat would only spread, and undo all that he had worked for. His peace with the GCPD was difficult enough as it was. The Red Bat had to be stopped. In the meantime, the case he could admit was closer to his heart, the Grayson one, would be better served by GCPD assistance. Richard Grayson could not have vanished without a trace. Bruce refused to let it be so.
There wasn’t much to discuss after that, and Batman departed. Once he was out of earshot, he radioed the Cave for Alfred. “I need another pair of ears listening to the police radio,” he said.
“And good evening to you too. What is it I am to be listening for?”
“Any reports of the Red Bat. He killed a Maroni enforcer last night. It has to stop.”
Annoyed as Alfred might have been by his rudeness, he did understand. Bruce could hear it in his silence. “Very well,” Alfred said. “Police channels it is, awaiting any mention of a red bat.”
Batman resumed his patrols, keeping an ear out for any communication from Alfred, and any hint that Richard Grayson was alive. Bruce had failed him. He’d only offered the boy a coat, for god’s sake. There was so much more he could have, and should have, done. Not a word. Not a sign.
They were only in the early stages of the search. If Batman hadn’t promised to look out for the Red Bat and stop him, he would be back in the cave reviewing the evidence from St Jude’s.
Two hours of mundane patrol later, Alfred said, “Sir. Disturbance in the business district. Reports of a man with a red helmet, heading east the last time he was spotted.”
“I’m three minutes away,” Batman said. “Give me the path he’s taking and I’ll intercept him.”
A copycat would be tough, especially one who thought he could wear the Bat on his chest. His heart started beating faster as he headed towards what would no doubt be a difficult confrontation. And afterwards, he could go back to what mattered more.
I am so sorry how slow updates to this fic are. Thanks for your patience, and the comments/bookmarks/kudos!
Chapter 10: If Not For Bad Luck
Things go wrong for Jason.
Jason waited until tiny Dick was asleep before leaving. At least, he was pretty sure tiny Dick was asleep, from his breathing. He didn’t trust the kid not to follow him, even with the arm. Bullet wounds had notably failed to slow Nightwing down before. Until he collapsed with a fever from an infection from a stupid graze. Idiot.
The point was, the kid might still be faking sleep and Jason would have to keep an eye out for him as he went.
So it was Freeze tonight, he’d decided. He’d seen Gothcorp in the papers. If it was around, Freeze should be there. Of course he wouldn’t be Mr Freeze yet, but plain old Victor Fries. Jason hoped so, anyway; it’d be nice to stop a rogue before they even started. He’d poked the Maronis hard enough the last two days. If he poked any harder they’d come after him, when all he had to protect himself and Dick was anonymity. He needed to get set up.
Bad enough they’d got eyes on him. Dick had been shot because Jason wasn’t fast enough. They’d get set up, and then Jason would start poking at the Maronis again. If he shook hard enough, the guy who murdered Dick’s parents might fall out. In the meantime, he could work towards his other objectives.
Not the Joker, yet. He didn't feel prepared to take on the Joker. Especially not with tiny Dick trying to follow him all the time.
He did the usual stopping of would-be muggers and scaring of drug dealers as he made his way over to the hub of skyscrapers where Gothcorp was headquartered. The labs themselves were further out, spread over Gotham’s outskirts. Jason didn’t know which lab did which, so HQ was the better place to start.
Jason wasn’t familiar with Gothcorp’s security practices. They’d gone bust before he was Robin, in no small part due to the thing with Freeze. Well, nothing here had posed too much difficulty. To someone fifteen years ahead, a lot of the electronic surveillance here was laughably crude.
Best to leave no trace, if he wanted to capitalise on Gothcorp’s imminent failure. The police didn’t tend to think much of corporate saboteurs taking advantage of their sabotage to enrich themselves. Even if it was Gothcorp’s own shitty business practices that was going to get them in trouble in the first place.
For an entrance, the roof would be best. A pain to get to, but usually the least guarded part. Even in his Gotham, where corporate crooks had long since wised up to vigilantes who preferred rooftops. Not a vent, that was stupid, they were usually too small for anyone but a half-grown Robin. Jason was after a plain old rooftop access door.
Jason scaled a nearby building by the fire escape. He still had his lovely modern grappling gun, but no extra line. There was only so high he could grapple up, and Gothcorp was a tall building. Reasonably new, too, without much in the way of balconies or protrusions. He had to minimise the distance. He aimed at an inset balcony, probably a place to entertain clients in the open air, and grappled up. Cold wind whipped around him as he hurtled upwards, and in seconds Jason had grasped the edge of his balcony.
He did not haul himself all the way up. He could see motion detectors. Instead, he disengaged the grapple, retracted the line, leaned backwards as far as he could, and aimed at the Gothcorp lettering.
Bit by bit. It was annoying, but it was the only way to scale a building like this until he got better line and more of it.
At least the kid couldn’t follow him up here. There was that. Even Dickface needed a grappling line for this sort of work.
When he got up to the roof on his third shot, Jason was pleased to see that there was an access door, and it was poorly guarded. Only swipe card access. It was a bit more difficult to rewire than the swipe cards at Social Services, but still not too bad. Jason let himself in with a beep. Take that, motion sensors.
It took a bit longer to find human resources, given the bizarre lack of building directories near rooftop access points. This time Jason let himself down the elevator shafts and through the service hatches to navigate the building’s interior. It wasn’t all that long before he made it to the right set of offices.
Victor Fries, then. Employment records.
While Gothcorp had mostly gone digital, they still had a file room full of papers. Jason went for them. Slower, yes, but less risky. Definitely slower since some dumbshit intern had misfiled the folder. He found it hiding as if it had been spelled “Freis.” Right at the moment, Fries worked in one of the labs on the outskirts of Gotham. Had a bunch of minor stuff in his file, too. Nothing malicious or especially sinister, just the usual complaints about an awkward scientist annoying people.
He’d worked for Gothcorp a long time. Since he was straight out of college, it looked like. Employee health plan. Fat lot of good that had done Fries in Jason’s time.
There was a note in the file about how Fries had requested assistance, in the form of Gothcorp benefits, for his sick wife.
Disheartened but adequately informed, Jason started the process of extraction. This time he’d rather go out on the ground floor, some unobtrusive service exit, security guard gear. He could use a good security guard outfit and it beat having to pay. He started rappelling down the elevator shaft, thinking hard.
Maybe it wasn’t too late. Maybe Jason could do something. They wouldn’t have Fries’ file still here with those of all the other employees if he’d gone full Mr Freeze on them, right? And their stock reports were far too good. Even if Mrs Fries was sick, the situation wasn’t totally hopeless. Maybe grief counselling or something still might work. Like it ever did in Gotham. Worth a shot. Maybe. Or he could go back to the journalist angle and do what he could to reveal Gothcorp’s decision not to help…
Still lost in thought, he absently edged around the line-of-sight of the few internal cameras they had down here in the employee break room -
- And ran straight into a night guard.
Jason didn’t leave him time for anything more than the realisation that no, Jason wasn’t lost, and yes, he was an intruder. Gut punch to knock the air out of him, grab his radio to make sure he couldn’t call for backup, shove him over face-first into the floor. Done. Inconvenient witness behind him, but nothing more. God, being back here with all the easy-to-bypass technology was making him sloppy. Bruce always had said that people could be more effective than computers, and infinitely more likely to surprise you.
Secrecy was blown now. Speed was his friend. He dashed for the exit, shoulder-charging a fire door so it slammed open. He burst out into the cold night air and grappled up as soon as he’d broken line of sight. The swing was awkward, and he cracked his right ankle hard against a protruding windowsill on his way past the Old Mint. He rolled onto the rooftop, cursing his luck. A security light flipped on, because he was having that sort of night.
His ankle didn’t feel too good. He poked it. Maybe a fracture. Didn’t feel totally broken. He could still walk on it. Run, if he had to.
That was bad, because he could hear sirens. Break-in at Gothcorp, of course the police would be all over that. With him in his hood, too, and after he’d shot a mobster last night. This was very much not his night. The security light would tip them off to his location, so he couldn’t afford to just sit around the rooftop until his ankle felt a bit less numb.
He kept rolling. Better to stay low on the rooftops. No silhouette. Another security light went off as he went over the edge, and he heard the fatal words, “Suspect spotted.” When he looked down, sure enough, cop car.
Jason took off at somewhat less than top speed. He wasn’t as familiar with the rooftops here, in this time anyway, but it was better than the streets. Too many people. Too many witnesses. Not like he could strip out of his body armour and blend in just like that. No choice, again. He started running. No fucking cop was going to keep up with him in a footrace, especially not over the roofs, not even when Jason had a fractured ankle.
He had to lose them, and fast. He still wanted to bring some sort of info back to Dick this morning. If he spent the rest of the night running from the police, that was a night almost totally wasted.
Three rooftops later, the Bat landed in front of him.
Of all the reactions Batman had considered likely, the Red Bat’s flinch was not amongst them.
The other man was almost as tall and broad as Batman himself, and moved across the rooftops easily. The red mask-slash-helmet he wore concealed his entire head. Batman kept his face clear of the curiosity he was feeling. How was that engineered, then? The man was showing no signs of shortness of breath; clearly he was getting oxygen from somewhere. Nor had anyone reported anything that would indicate he had trouble seeing out of that mask.
Across his chest was the Bat symbol Bruce himself wore, in scarlet vivid against the man’s grey body armour. No mistaking it.
“I should have known I’d run into you sooner or later,” the Red Bat said, composing himself. In spite of the flinch, he didn’t seem to be truly afraid, but rather merely startled. “Figures you’d come by at the worst possible time.”
“I could reschedule,” Batman said.
The Red Bat snorted. “Sense of humour. Wasn't expecting that. So, what’re you chasing me for? The thing at the shipyard last night? Or this?” On the last word he tapped the symbol on his chest. “Got a problem?”
“You killed a man.” Two guns, both a reasonably heavy caliber of handgun. A belt not all that dissimilar to Batman’s own. At least three knives, one worn openly, two beneath his clothes, probably more there as well. Red Bat went well armed. The way he moved indicated serious training in martial arts. Batman didn’t know what disciplines yet.
“He shot at me first,” Red Bat said.
“You were waiting in ambush,” Batman countered. “With all your weapons.”
The helmet didn’t hide the way Red Bat scanned the surroundings, nor how his legs tensed for flight, rather than fight. Strange, because Batman was now less certain than before that he could take Red Bat in a fair fight. He would make it happen, if he had to. He had beaten stronger and more skilled opponents than himself before, should that be the case here.
“Fair call,” Red Bat admitted. “I didn’t mean to kill him.”
“It was carelessness,” Batman growled. Carelessness. For this man’s carelessness, someone had died. Care was everything. Care was how he avoided innocents dying in crossfire. If he was going to be a vigilante, if he was going to hold himself above the law, he had to hold himself to the highest standard he could. Care was the difference between Batman and the next thug. It seemed that this man did not share those ideas.
Red Bat shrugged. “I’m not crying over the loss. How many people had he shot, do you think? He was definitely shooting at me. Look, I don’t have all night. You going to try and haul me into the GCPD?”
“Are you going to fight?” Batman asked.
“‘Course I am. We both have better things to do.” With that, and with next to no telegraphing, he smashed a smoke pellet on the ground. Batman hadn’t been expecting it and reeled backwards, losing two precious seconds switching visual filters on his cowl. His ears told him what his eyes were slow to register - Red Bat was diving off to the left. More than that, he was having trouble. He’d injured a leg. His right, probably his ankle or foot from the way he was compensating.
Batman dived after him, but Red Bat was fast. Faster than he had any right to be. Batman could see, now, the unevenness in his gait from the injury. Ankle, recent. Probably that night. He sped off after him, but on top of excellent foot speed and phenomenal pain tolerance, Red Bat seemed to know the rooftops.
Gotham native. Had to be. The accent suggested as much. Between accent and local knowledge, Batman was inclined to believe he was a genuine Gothamite. One rooftop, then two. Batman was gaining on his injured quarry.
The Red Bat wasn’t looking back. He had a destination in mind. Evasive patterns. But Batman knew the rooftops as well. A few more rooftops, and the shortcut across the corner from the apartment building with the particularly wide sills, and -
He leapt, and crashed into the Red Bat. The other man fell, injured ankle not able to hold his weight. He still got in a solid punch as he went down, right to his shoulder. While not the best-aimed blow, the sheer force hurt. But the Red Bat was not the only one who could ignore pain from an injury. He absorbed the blow and kept trying to wrestle the other man to the ground. It was difficult. The Red Bat was indeed trained. Well trained. If Batman didn’t know better, he’d think the League of Assassins had taught him.
A savage kick to the Red Bat’s injured ankle, and Batman thought he’d turned the fight in his favour. Then, as he fell, Red Bat whipped out one of his guns and levelled it Batman’s chest. “Back off,” he said. “I can’t let you take me in.”
Batman stopped. He had no doubt that Red Bat would fire, and at this distance with that caliber of weapon, his armour might not hold. He kept his eyes on the barrel of the gun, which hadn’t wavered an inch. This man was used to weapons.
“That’s the way,” Red Bat said, climbing to his feet. The ankle injury was more noticeable now. “Keep your hands where I can see them. I don’t want to shoot you.”
He believed that, strangely. It didn’t change the gun. He kept his hands up, as instructed. Movement out of the corner of his eye attracted him. He must have twitched wrong, because the Red Bat said, “Uh-uh. No looking for escapes. You just stay right where you are -“
“There are police behind you,” Batman interrupted. “On the rooftop to the west as well.”
With the full-face helmet it was impossible to tell where his eyes were moving, but the muscles in his opponent’s neck tensed. Batman could see three officers now, all with guns of their own out and trained on Red Bat. The other man cursed and turned.
Too fast. Batman leapt, seeing the movements that presaged firing, but too late. Officers in Gotham preferred to shoot first. Occasionally they asked questions. More often these days than when Batman had started out.
Two gunshots rang out, a classic double-tap, and the Red Bat dropped abruptly, blood dripping to the rooftop. Batman noticed that in spite of his pain and instability, he immediately pointed his own gun safely at the concrete roof they were standing on. “Where?” Batman asked. The Red Bat was wearing layers upon layers, and one of them was body armour. He didn’t want to touch the mask, either. He rigged his own cowl to electrocute anyone who tried to take it off unprepared; he didn’t want to risk that the Red Bat did the same.
“Right leg,” the Red Bat grit out. “Close to the knee. Fuck, this is so bad.” On top of the other injury, no wonder he’d fallen. There were points past which the human body could not keep going. Batman put pressure on the wound, which was bleeding profusely. “Suppose you think this serves me right,” the man said. “For the mob guy.”
Batman didn’t reply. He had to admit there was a certain symmetry to it.
“Don’t bother with the silent thing,” Red Bat said. “You can’t fool me. I know you think I got what I deserved here.”
“Do I know you?” Batman asked.
Red Bat snorted. “No. You don’t.”
“Then do you know me?”
The smooth, shiny red helmet turned towards him. Batman had no idea what sort of expression was behind that facade, even though at this distance he could see a small scratch in the strange material. “Maybe,” he said. “This is going to need surgery, isn’t it?”
Batman risked a glance, knowing that even a wounded opponent could be dangerous. The man’s casual attitude was confusing. He didn’t think he’d ever met anyone other than Alfred and Leslie as genuinely at ease with him as Batman as the Red Bat was acting. “Yes,” he said bluntly. “Don’t move. You could do permanent damage to your knee.”
An arm shot out, grasping his shoulder. Hard enough to leave bruises if not for his armour. “Then you listen to me,” Red Bat said quietly, as the police drew closer. “Apartment six, 14 Orion Drive. You’ve already fucked this up once, god knows how bad. Fix it. Tonight. I’ll be checking up on you once I can move about again.”
Mysterious, but urgent, and apparently sincere. Batman’s initial take on him had been that he had motives beyond simply killing and injuring. Motives that might lead him to rob his victims and take the money home. “I’ll check on the location,” Batman said. The grip didn’t ease, until he added, “As soon as I leave you.”
The tension drained out of the Red Bat then, and Batman would have asked more, but by then the police had reached them. One officer stepped forward, handcuffs at the ready. Her partner stood back, gun drawn. He was the one who’d shot. “You’re under arrest,” she said.
Red Bat put his hands up. Further than he had to, if truth be told. “I’ve been very bad,” he said. “Do I get Miranda rights and medical treatment for admitting it?”
“Shut up, punk,” the other officer snarled. Batman recognised him. Carl Hughes. There had been some excessive force complaints, and a lethal shooting that he had been cleared of impropriety in. Batman did not particularly trust the committee’s decision. “You’ll get the medical treatment in good time.”
“He’ll get medical treatment promptly,” Batman said. “I’ll know.”
“You tell him, dad.”
Batman fixed his best glare on the impassive helmet. “You’re not helping your case.”
“What do you care?” Red Bat asked. “Hell, what are you still doing here? The cops have me, get moving already. Let justice be done, right? I’m sure they won’t put the boot in once your back is turned.” His voice dropped in pitch, all the way down to mockery levels. “You’ll know.”
It wouldn’t do to keep bandying words with someone intent on antagonising people. Batman turned his back. Behind him, he heard the first officer start to read out the Miranda speech.
As Batman pushed off, heading towards the address he’d been given, he heard the Red Bat shout, “Tell him you’re a journalist!”
Thanks for your patience! And for the lovely comments, plus the kudos and bookmarks!
Chapter 11: Kindness
Dick finds someone who understands. Bruce finds another mystery.
Jason wasn’t back.
Dick had had another nightmare. The same nightmare. He had it almost every night now, it felt like. The same one every time, but no matter how much he expected it, it still made him wake up gasping and crying. He felt like a little baby for it. It was only a nightmare. It wasn’t real. So it couldn’t hurt him. It shouldn’t hurt him. There was nothing to cry about.
It was as clear as he could see his parents’ faces. When he tried to remember his mother’s calm expression as she practiced and his father’s laughter when Dick learned a new move, all he saw was how scared they looked when they fell. Dick had never seen them scared until then, and now he saw it all the time.
Dick got up and tried to do some exercise. There wasn’t much except stretching unless he snuck out again. He hadn’t been on a proper set of bars or the trapeze for ages. He missed it. Badly. Was he ever going to fly again?
He decided he didn’t want to think about that.
He stretched the wrong way and his arm throbbed. It hurt like Dick had never been physically hurt before. The bruises from where they’d hit him back in St Jude’s throbbed too, and they’d stung for a while, but this felt like it was in the bone. The doctor had said it wasn’t, but it felt like it.
Dick finished his stretching and went to the window. All he could see was the dirty brick wall of the next building across an alley. He opened it, leaned out, and still couldn’t see the sky. Just more building. Still, he thought it might be light out soon. It was hard to tell. All of Gotham was dark, always. It hadn’t been like that when they travelled through Metropolis. Metropolis had been sunny.
Jason should be back, but he wasn’t. And it was nearly morning. Something was wrong. Dick didn’t think Jason was the sort of person to just go out and not come back unless something was wrong.
Jason had forbidden him to sneak out. Dick didn’t really care about that. He knew Jason was just trying to keep him safe, but safe didn’t matter anymore. Jason was the only person he had, and he’d rather get yelled at then just wait here not knowing. Carefully, trying not to make his arm hurt any worse, Dick shut the window and started to pull on his sweater. It hurt no matter what he did. Fine, he thought. It wasn’t going to stop him.
A shadow darted past the window. A big black one. Dick frowned and leaned out again. Maybe it was a bat? Bats weren’t that big though. He stayed very still, hoping that whatever it had been, it would think that he’d gone.
There was another flicker of shadow across the window. It was definitely a person. Dick was sure he’d seen the shape of a boot. Slowly, carefully, he leaned back in, hoping the movement wouldn’t attract attention.
Once he was in he looked around the apartment desperately. Jason hadn’t left his things behind. No weapons, nothing, which made Dick scowl. He wasn’t going to use the gun just because he could. He didn’t want to use the gun at all. But there was nothing.
If he couldn’t fight back, he should either run or hide. He’d learned that in the past few days. There weren’t any vents in here that he could fit inside, so he squeezed himself behind the sofa. It was only a bit less obvious than under the bed, but if whoever this was checked under the bed first, Dick had a better chance of getting to the window and out onto the fire escape. He didn’t want to run right down the hall; there was nowhere to go that way.
There was a knock at the window. Tap, tap, tap. Heart pounding, Dick stayed right where he was. Hiding seemed stupid, but he couldn’t run now. That would be even stupider.
The shadow at the widow stopped tapping, and instead he heard the slightly creaky sounds of the window opening. It wasn’t as if Dick had locked it; he didn’t think it would stop whoever it was. If they couldn’t open it they’d just break it. A second later, the shadow came inside.
It was Batman. Batman was inside, looking around.
He looked strange in the yellow lamplight, and too big for the small space. That was silly, since when he followed the lines of the armour, Dick could tell he wasn’t all that much bigger than Jason, just like his mother was (had been) the same height as Stefan the clown. But the cape and the mask-hat-thing with the ears, they made Batman look bigger and scarier, just like the red wig and baggy clothes had made Stefan look bigger and softer.
“Hello?” Batman asked. “You can come out. I’m not going to hurt you.”
Dick had heard that a lot since he arrived in Gotham. Not many had been telling the truth about it. He didn’t move an inch or make a sound. Even if Jason had said that Batman was trying to find whoever killed Dick’s parents too, he could tell Jason didn’t like him much.
“I was told to tell you that I was a journalist,” Batman said.
Jason. That was Jason’s lie. Batman hadn’t moved, not even towards the bed or the chair, and Dick could see both his hands. He didn’t look like he was about to lunge, either. And he knew something. Dick decided to risk it. “What happened to him?” he asked. “Is he okay?”
As soon as Dick poked his head out, Batman somehow got even more still. “Richard Grayson?” he asked, voice somehow less growly than it had been. Dick wasn’t that surprised that people in Gotham knew him anymore. He’d seen the papers. It wasn’t important.
“What happened to him?” Dick repeated. Jason was all he had right now.
“The Red Bat? He’s been hurt,” Batman said. “He’ll be fine once the doctors see to him, but he needs an operation, and he’s been arrested.”
Arrested? “Jason’s been helping me!” Dick protested. It couldn’t have been wrong to help him get out of St Jude’s. It shouldn’t have. “He hasn’t done anything wrong!”
“Is that his name? Jason?”
Inside his head, Dick said a few words he wasn’t supposed to know. “I want to go see him,” he said aloud.
“I can’t do that. I saw where the police sent you, and I won’t send you back or allow them to do so. Jason sent me to look after you while he was incapable.”
In-something. Dick didn’t know that word, but it was definitely a not-word. Not able? “I don’t care. I want to know if he’s all right.”
“He will be. He was shot in the leg. The bleeding wasn’t dangerous.”
Dick edged out a little further. He couldn’t see Batman’s face properly, not even the bit of his mouth and chin that was uncovered. And with the big stupid cape, it was hard to tell what his shoulders were doing. He couldn’t tell - but at least Batman hadn’t moved, and he was still answering. “What happened?”
“He was caught breaking into a building and the police shot him,” Batman said. “You don’t seem surprised to hear he’s been doing this sort of thing.” His head tilted, and he took a step to the left to get a better view of their tiny room. “He would have to let you know, though. How long were you here alone?”
“Not long,” Dick said. It didn’t seem like telling him the truth was a good idea. “Please. I want to see him. He’s almost the only person who’s been nice to me here since - since the man who gave me his coat.”
Batman stared. “You remember that?”
He could feel tears in his eyes again. He sniffled and wiped them away, because he wasn’t some little baby. “Yes.” Then he remembered the other thing Jason had told him. “You were there too, Jason said.”
That shocked him. Dick could tell even with all the big clothes Batman was wearing. “I was,” he said. “I’m - I’m sorry. I couldn’t save them.”
“I couldn’t either,” Dick said. He’d seen the man, threatening Pop Haly and then again before the performance. He knew something was wrong. He should have done something. Said something sooner. If he had, his parents might still be alive.
The silence lasted for a long second, before Batman said, “I mean to take you someplace safe.”
Dick didn’t bother asking for Jason again. If he wanted to see Jason, he thought he might have to do it himself, just like he still had to find the cemetery himself. And he thought he might be able to trust Batman too, even if Jason didn’t like him. He’d been honest. That counted for something. “Where?” he asked. Trust or not, he wanted to know this time.
Batman crouched down and slowly lifted up his hat-mask-thing, for Dick and Dick alone to see. And Dick recognised him in a second. “You,” he said. “Oh. Thank you. For the coat.”
“It was the least I could do,” Batman said, as he pulled the mask back around his face. “I’ll take you to my own home. We’ll work something out.”
If it had been anyone else, anyone but the only other person to be really kind in this horrible mean city that killed his parents, Dick would have said no and run for it. Instead, he said, “All right.”
Inside, Bruce was reeling. Everything needed to get packed up to be examined later. He couldn’t afford to panic right now. He had to get Richard back to the Batmobile and then get him settled in the manor.
The Red Bat had been right. Bruce had fucked this up. But he wasn’t going to now. He’d found Richard, and this time he wasn’t going to blindly trust that he would be looked after by others.
“Is there anything you need to get?” Batman asked. Richard edged all the way out from behind the sofa. As he did, Batman saw bandages around his arm. “What happened?”
Richard looked down, and put his good hand over the injury. “I got shot,” he said. “A ricochet.” He stumbled over the word a little, French pronunciation slowing him down. His accent suggested more familiarity with Slavic and Germanic languages.
“Does it hurt?”
The boy was clearly downplaying the injury, but Batman would take him at his word for now. Alfred would get to the bottom of the matter when they returned, and it wasn’t as though he was short on painkillers. “All right. I’ll ask more details later. We should go. Your things?”
Without another word, Richard collected a small bag. He hadn’t unpacked, not that there was much space in this tiny room for him to unpack. The Red Bat didn’t have much in the way of resources, it seemed. In some ways that was all the more concerning. Richard headed to the window, too. “Do you need me to carry you?” Batman asked, and Richard shook his head. “Then follow me.”
He took the route up the fire escape and over the rooftops more slowly than he would have had he been alone, but Richard handled it adroitly, even with only one good arm. He refused to let Batman carry his bag, and shied away when he got too close. It wasn’t a long trip, thankfully, only about a block.
When they got to the car, Richard’s eyes widened a little. Whether he was scared or impressed, Batman couldn’t tell. The important thing was that he got inside readily enough. “I need to call ahead,” Batman explained, then hit the button to connect with the cave. “Alfred. We’re going to have a visitor.”
“Miss Kyle again, sir?”
“Richard Grayson,” Bruce said.
“You found him?” Alfred asked, relief in his voice. The boy looked at the radio with curiosity. “Very good. I’ll have a room and a meal ready.”
“Medical supplies too,” Batman added.
“The young man is injured?”
Richard said, “Not bad. He took me to the doctor and everything.”
The boy was very loyal, Batman observed. It had only been a few days since the Red Bat had retrieved Richard from St Jude’s…but that said, Batman couldn’t fault him for his gratitude, under those circumstances. “That is good to hear, young sir,” Alfred replied, unruffled by the interruption. “Nevertheless, I would like to check on your health.”
“I’m done for the night,” Batman said. “If there are any other emergencies -“
“There are not. I shall see you shortly.”
The call clicked off. Richard said, “You can call me Dick. Everyone does.”
That was…old-fashioned and unlikely to be looked on kindly. Especially not by children his own age. Still, Batman nodded and said, “Dick, then.”
A scant few seconds of quiet dominated by the sound of the Batmobile’s engine, and Dick asked, “Where are we going?”
“North,” Batman said. “Just outside of the city limits.”
“That sounds good. How far away is it?”
“Not too far. Fifteen minutes, at this speed.”
All the way back, Dick peppered him with innocent questions. Who Alfred was, how the car worked, what Gotham was like. More than a little startled at this, Batman answered as best he could. The boy was chatty - and, it seemed, fearless. Resilient. If it was a front, and all things considered he thought it was likely, Batman was impressed. Dick had kept them both talking about nothing of consequence for a long time.
When they pulled into the cave, and Batman parked, Dick asked a question Bruce had expected a quarter hour ago. “Why?”
“Why did you give me your coat?” Dick asked.
It figured that he’d ask the really important one. He didn’t want to say it, but if Dick was going to stay here, he deserved to know the truth. “My parents were murdered in front of me too,” he said. Even after all these years it hurt to say. “I was about your age.”
“Oh,” Dick said, and turned striking blue eyes up at him. “You understand.”
“Not everything,” Bruce said, thinking of the circus, and how Dick had been ripped away from everything he knew. “But that, yes. I understand that much.” He looked away, over to where Alfred should be. “Let’s get you set up for the evening. Have you eaten?”
“Then let’s check over that injury and find you somewhere to sleep.”
The wound was indeed a bullet wound, neatly stitched. Dick said it was a ricochet, from a mugging gone wrong. ‘Jason’, of course, had saved him from any further harm and taken him to a doctor. For the first time that night the boy seemed outright untruthful, about the circumstances of the injury alone, but Bruce didn’t press it. Not tonight, when he’d had so much stress already. Resilient or not, he was only little. He needed to sleep sometime.
“It doesn’t hurt that much, really,” Dick insisted.
Since Alfred was a god amongst butlers, he had a room already set up, not far from Bruce’s own. He was staying clear of them, though, clearly trying not to overwhelm their poor guest. There’d be time to introduce them tomorrow, when Dick wasn’t surreptitiously shooting apprehensive glances at every corner. Dick hesitated at the door of the bedroom and said, “Will you let me know if - if you hear anything about Jason?”
He had planned to lie. But looking at Dick’s anxious face, shadows under his eyes and lines of grief around his mouth, Bruce couldn’t bring himself to. He couldn’t even bring himself to tell a hard truth, and changed his mind. “If I hear anything, I’ll tell you,” he promised.
He’d wanted to keep information about the Red Bat to himself until he was more sure of Dick’s temperament. But he couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t.
“Thank you,” Dick said. “For everything.”
Bruce could only nod, throat tight, as Dick retreated into his new room. Only when the door clicked shut between them could he shake himself out of his strange mood and head back downstairs to talk to Alfred.
His butler was waiting by the main computer, barely-noticeable tension all through him. “And how, pray tell, did that come to pass?” Alfred asked.
“The Red Bat found him,” Bruce reported. “When the police shot him, he gave me the address of his hideout. He told me - that I’d fucked up, and he’d be checking up on me later. He knew. He knows who I am.” He didn’t know how. He didn’t know who the Red Bat was, beyond ‘Jason.’ Bruce didn’t even know anyone named Jason. But somehow, this Jason knew who Batman was, and he’d found Richard Grayson more quickly than Batman had.
“But…how?” Alfred asked, echoing Bruce’s foremost question.
“I don’t know.” He went to the main console. “Dick said that the Red Bat’s name was Jason. I haven’t asked anything else yet. He looked tired. I thought it best for him to sleep.”
“A good idea, no doubt, but this is most concerning.”
“You’re telling me.”
“I suppose we have some little time until we’re ‘checked up’ on, given tonight’s events. Was the injury severe?”
“Not too bad. If Dick lets it heal he should be back on the trapeze in no time at all.”
“Pleased as I am to see you caring for someone else so attentively as you are caring for Master Richard,” Alfred said, “I was referring to the man shot by the police earlier this evening.”
Bruce sighed. “Worse than Dick’s injury, from what I saw. If he gets treatment, that should be fine, but he’ll be off his feet for at least two weeks. Rehab will take some time as well.” Rehab for which the Red Bat might not have resources.
“Assuming, of course, that he is not one of these so-called vigilantes who insists upon carrying out inadvisable stunts and aggravating injuries, all on little to no sleep.”
That sounded like a hint. “Yes, Alfred. I’ll get some sleep.” He just wanted to get this search set up first. He wanted to know about every Jason in Gotham City. It was slim, but it was all he had for the moment. He would find the Red Bat, who he was, and what he wanted. A separate alert for the Red Bat so he could track his progress through Gotham’s medical facilities - and he did seem to be receiving treatment, if the report from Gotham General Hospital about the admission of a young man who refused to give a name was indicative of anything - and that should do it.
It should have felt like there was a weight off his shoulders. It almost did. He’d found Dick, he was out of the orphanage that Bruce was going to see shut down, and that was that. He didn’t know what to do next, though. Surely Dick would need something else.
Yikes. Another long wait between chapters. Thanks everyone for sticking around, and thanks for your comments/kudos/bookmarks too!
Naturally, Jason didn’t let them take off his helmet. Not because he was concerned about his identity - he wasn’t - but because he didn’t like the idea of the GCPD getting their grubby hands on his future tech. “It zaps anyone who tries to take it off wrong,” he informed his arresting officers. “So grabby cops like you can’t just yank it away.”
“Whatever, tough guy,” the policewoman who’d read him his rights said. “Enjoy getting your leg fixed up with a local anaesthetic.”
That was going to suck. No denying it. But still better than the cops getting his helmet. They’d confiscate everything in his pockets and his body armour, so he was going to have to steal that back before they could analyse it much. Damn it, he couldn’t afford to be laid up with a bum leg so long. Or arrested, but no chance the cops could keep him for long. Prison breaks weren’t that easy, but they weren’t that hard either, not for someone with his training.
The cops didn’t put the boot in. That was kind of them - or more likely they were afraid. Of him or the Bat, Jason didn’t know. They weren’t gentle as they dragged him to the hospital though, and every jolt felt like a new stab in the leg. This better not end up with permanent damage.
Out of respect for the doctors, he didn’t struggle when they took his coat off. Wasn’t their fault. They did give him some painkillers and hook him up to some extra fluids. That helped. He was starting to feel a bit woozy.
“Don’t give me anything too strong,” he said.
“History of drug dependence?” the nurse asked.
“No,” Jason said, thinking of Catherine. “I just don’t like the way it feels.”
The way he said it must have given something away, because the nurse just nodded. She probably saw hundreds of recovering drug addicts. She was wrong, in his case, but it was a sore spot for him, he could admit it. “Not going to take that off?” she asked, gesturing to his helmet.
She rolled her eyes at him. Gotham nurses, especially the ones who worked overnight shifts in emergency, didn’t have much patience for people like him. She was probably just glad he hadn’t come in with an inadvisable object shoved in an inadvisable place. “I’ll get the doctor.”
The doctor told him that he needed x-rays. That put an end to that. Jason relinquished his helmet with a sigh. One more thing to steal back. The sooner the better.
“You wore a mask under that?” the doctor asked, once the scans were done.
“Yeah,” Jason said. “Better safe than sorry. What’s the damage?”
The bullet had got close to the joint, the lower edge of his leg armour taking most of the impact out of the shot. The bones were fine. The same could not be said for some important bits of tendon, but even then he’d been lucky. With surgery and a few weeks of rehab he’d have a fully functioning knee again. His ankle, the one he’d knocked against that building, was bruised. Badly bruised, but not broken like he’d thought. That sort of lucky.
It was going to be a long time before he was back on the streets and at full health. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Stuck in the past, shot, arrested, and now with a bum leg. He had plans, dammit, didn’t that fucking cop know? Or did he just think with his damn gun?
Dick would be with Bruce. At least there was that. He didn’t know how he felt about that, still. It had to be better than Dick with the cops, though, right? They’d send him back to that hellhole someone had called an orphanage. No way they could keep him, Jason was convinced of that. Bruce would at least make sure Dick got fed and wouldn’t lock him in a closet. He couldn’t be that incompetent as a parent. Not even Bruce.
He’d meant it about going to check up on Bruce later. He didn’t want to wait, much less in a jail cell.
The whole examination through he was handcuffed to the bed. Not a huge issue, usually. He knew there’d be a cop outside. Also not a huge problem, unless it was Officer Trigger-Happy. Nobody liked Officer Trigger-Happy. At least they better not. The guy had shot him.
The mintues crawled by. Every one was agony. Not the literal kind, not since the painkillers kicked in, the metaphorical kind. Nurses came and went. They were prepping for surgery, it took time, Jason wasn’t actually dying, so on so forth. Jason just wanted this to be over with. He didn’t even have a book to entertain himself with. Eventually they came and said they were ready to take him in.
Jason still felt fuzzy. Vulnerable. Alone. Which was stupid, since he’d been alone for a very long time. He’d looked after himself for as long as he could remember. Those few years with Bruce, when he was Robin - they were the exception.
It was a general anaesthetic deal. Jason didn’t like the idea. Anything could happen while he was out cold like that. Say what you like about the Lazarus Pit, you didn’t usually wake up feeling quite so much like death and then vomit straight away. No PT afterwards either.
On top of that, the cop outside wasn’t there for his protection, and he didn’t trust them even half as far as as he could throw them. This was Bruce’s fault, he thought. Fucking Bruce. Thought he owned all of Gotham. Couldn’t let anyone else try to do what he did. Just had to come chasing after him ‘cause Jason had killed a mobster. Accidentally. He hadn’t even meant to do it. Which was careless and stupid of him, yeah, but not worth hunting him down over.
No choice, though. He needed his leg to work properly.
So when the nice doctor told him to take a deep breath, he did. At least he didn’t have to worry about his identity, he thought, as everything faded out.
The news that the Red Bat had been captured hit the station halfway through Jim’s shift, this time. Joy. Time to deal with things before fighting with the department over overtime.
“What happened?” he demanded, after he’d hauled Bullock away from the intense discussion (read: gossiping). Seemed that Red Bat and Batman had got into a fight somehow.
“Hughes,” Bullock said, and Jim could already feel the need for a cigarette building.
“Not this time. Hughes shot Red Bat in the leg. He fell right over.”
That was irony for you. That said, Jim had suspected for a while that the best way to take down the Batman was a precise - or lucky - shot to the leg. If Carl Hughes had made the shot, Jim was betting on lucky. “How bad?”
Bullock looked at the scrap of paper bearing details. “Bad enough that they took him to Gotham General for surgery. Batman threatened them a bit over medical care, but the perp’s expected to live.”
“Any reason?” Jim asked. He didn’t think there’d be a lawsuit over this - all attempts to sue the Bat had failed miserably thus far, and the Bat had made no attempt to countersue - but it was still the sort of thing he had to worry about these days. Promotion was a double-edged sword. “There going to be trouble?”
Bullock snorted. “Well, yeah. Hughes shot the Red Bat. From behind. Doubt he bothered to say ‘stop or I’ll shoot’ either.”
Wasn’t that true. At least the only liability issue here was the Red Bat claiming police brutality. “Lock it down,” Jim ordered. “Nobody gets near him but GCPD. Our people. Say that the Maronis are after him if you have to.” Bullock would know that meant to keep the known bad seeds away from the Red Bat, too. After all, the Maronis probably would like to get their hands on the Red Bat. Jim just had to hope that they had bigger fish to fry, with Batman hunting them down over the Grayson murders. “I’ll be down there as soon as he wakes up.”
Nothing was ever easy. Every time he turned around it seemed there was a new costumed extremist in town. And yet they only got the one Bat to help out.
He set to the usual work of the department, waiting for the call that would tell him that the Red Bat was awake and able to be interviewed. With organised crime in disarray, disorganised crime was spiking. More break-ins. More random shootouts. The Penguin was using the distraction to chisel away a few more streets, while Dent…god, Harvey. Haly’s Circus weren’t the first to discover how vicious the Gotham mobs could be when they were on the back foot.
And in the meantime he sat here at his desk looking over personnel files and all the little complaints about excessive force and misplaced evidence, trying to make the system work the way it was supposed to. Gotham was bigger than all of them; he couldn’t do everything by himself, and neither could Batman. That meant a lot of this sort of work, night in night out. And that was how he’d get himself through when he was feeling…overwhelmed.
It was hours before the call came, and minutes after he hung up the phone he was in the car and on his way to Gotham General.
Officer Freeman handed over the stack of confiscated gear. Technically he should have handed it over long since, but Freeman knew how things could go missing from Evidence. “Is that it?” Jim asked.
“Everything that was on him but the weapons,” Freeman confirmed. “Helmet, boots, gloves, gizmos. Fancy stuff. He’s getting money from somewhere.”
The merest glance through the bag was enough to tell him the truth of that. Aside from the small bottle of WD-40, nothing in there would or could have come cheap. The body armour in particular looked advanced. Jim briefly examined the glasscutter, which was designed for thicker windows than you found on most apartments. “What did he have in weapons?”
“Guns. Bunch of ammo for them, mostly regular bullets but a few rubber rounds as well. Three knives, all meant for hiding, and a pocketful of those little throwing stars Batman uses. Taser.”
A decent stash. More non-lethal gear than he’d expected. But then, the Red Bat did seem to be fundamentally a copycat. More lethal, more inclined to petty theft, but a copycat nonetheless. “Good job. I’ll sign for it now. Put it in my locker back at the GCPD.”
With that, there was nothing to do but go inside and get to the interview.
Jim opened the door - not too aggressively, since he doubted scare tactics would work here - and almost immediately stopped in his tracks. The Red Bat was just a kid. Eighteen? Couldn’t be more than twenty. White, dark-haired, blue-eyed. Too hard-edged to be called classically handsome, but even so, Jim had no doubt he got plenty of attention with those looks. The question was only if he knew how to use the fact. Beneath the mask, not so terrifying. Not to be underestimated, no, but not so terrifying to look at.
“Gordon,” the kid said.
Any vigilante with the sort of resources and know-how to play at being Batman would know how he was, Jim reminded himself. No underestimating the boy for being a boy. “I see you know who I am already,” he said.
“You could say that.” Unsurprisingly, the young man looked ill and tired. There were deep shadows under his eyes, and his skin wasn’t so much fair as clammily pale. Jim had long since accustomed himself to interviewing suspects and perpetrators when they weren’t feeling their best, and many witnesses in their hospital beds. He couldn’t let the Red Bat’s ill health affect how he conducted this interview. “Come to ask me how I got my wonderful toys?”
And if there was something that would make it easier, Jim thought, it was the savage mockery that glowed in the Red Bat’s eyes. “I thought I’d start with your name,” he said.
“John Smith,” the boy said.
“Son, you and I both know that’s not your real name.”
An eyebrow arched at him challengingly. Jim had been a cop more than long enough to read what are you going to do about it, huh? in that expression. “I’ve got ID,” he said.
“I’m sure you do,” Jim parried. “Saw one young man with ID that said he was the Queen of Egypt, too.”
“Good story,” not-John Smith said. “Got any others to put me off my guard and start making me think of you as plain folks?”
“Plenty. But that’s not why I’m here.”
Those blue eyes narrowed. “You’re here because you think I have something to do with the Bat.”
That got him a poker face. Hard to deny the bat painted on his chest armour, Jim reckoned. “I’m nothing like him,” the Red Bat said.
“Because you kill people?”
“Oh, yes, I’ll just confess it all to the cop. Nice try, Jim.”
Of course he’d know. As long as he didn’t mention Barbara, he could cope. “I’d prefer Gordon, if it’s all the same to you,” Jim said. “Especially considering I don’t know your name.” They were back to that. Jim really didn’t want to put this man down as a John Doe.
“Fine, fine, whatever. It’s Jason. Smith.”
Jim sighed. “Next you’ll tell me it’s James.”
Amusement quirked at the Red Bat’s mouth. “That was my next pick. Stick with Jason. It’ll do. If I can call you Jim.”
He made a quick mental note that whoever this Red Bat was, they had some obvious issues with authority. Sometimes that sort of person was easy to interview, and other times not. Jim was betting on not. “Seems fair,” he said. “So. Breaking in to Gothcorp?”
“Yep. Embarrassing failure.”
“What were you after?” Not money, surely. He’d been getting money by ripping off street deals rather than breaking into corporations. Information. It had to be information. What information? That was the mystery. Vigilantes. No matter how much time Jim spent with the Bat, he never got less close-mouthed and cryptic. Or any less frustrating.
Red Bat said blandly, “Just checking up on a friend.”
“You have a friend who works for Gothcorp?”
“We chill together every so often.” The amusement only etched itself deeper around the young man’s mouth.
Jim had seen that sort of thing before. The Red Bat thought he was being clever. “So you broke into Gothcorp. I guess a phone call’s too hard for you vigilante types.”
“Didn’t even occur.”
Time to change the subject. “You were at the shipyards.”
“No I wasn’t.”
Jim sighed. “Son, there is a difference between being a cop and being a fool. We’ve done our homework. Unless there’s another Red Bat lurking around, you were there. This will go easier for you if you cooperate.”
“Don’t call me son,” the Red Bat said. “I told you. Jason.”
So not just problems with authority, but problems with his father. Not uncommon. If the daddy issues didn’t needle him into spilling more information, Jim would start sending female officers in to interview him. “Jason,” Jim said, glad at least that he’d got first-name rapport (even if he strongly suspected the name was fake), “We have your equipment. Forensics will put you at the scene.”
No joy. The Red Bat still looked as though he was enjoying a private joke. “I’ll wait.” The cocky little shit.
No matter how Jim pressed, he wasn’t able to get much more out of the Red Bat, not even so much as a name that sounded genuine. Looked like it would have to be female officers after all. After a truly exhausting hour he couldn’t help but notice that the young man was flagging. Jim wasn’t a cruel man. He called a stop to the interview. By then the Red Bat was too tired even to make a smart comment. He just nodded as Jim stood up to leave.
Bullock was waiting for him outside. All the way back out to the squad car he said nothing, until he asked, “So?”
“Just about useless, not a surprise. There was one thing.” He hadn’t written it down, because the Red Bat was too busy being a smartass to realise what he’d given away. “I need you to look through Gothcorp employment for anyone with a name that sounds like chill. Any cold-related name.”
If he’d learned something about the new crop of criminals Gotham seemed to be sprouting on every street corner, it was that they liked their little jokes. He had told the Red Bat that there was a difference between being a cop and being a fool.
The room they’d given him was nicer than any room he’d ever even been in before, but Dick couldn’t sleep in it. It was too big. Too empty. He’d never slept alone before. Someone had always, always been there. Even if they were asleep, they were still there. He could hear them breathing.
This place creaked and echoed. Dick told himself it was the house breathing and tried to sleep, but it was no good. A house breathing wasn’t at all like a person breathing.
He wondered if Jason was okay. He had to be lonely too, right? And scared. Dick had been scared when he got shot, and that had been an accident. Someone had shot Jason. The police, Bruce said. Dick’s parents had always said that some police were good and others were bad, but here they all seemed to be bad. Like just about everyone in Gotham. Jason was good and Bruce was good, and the people at the doctor’s office had been nice, and that was it.
Dick couldn’t stand it anymore. The window here opened. He was only on the second floor, and there were a whole bunch of things he could use to climb down the wall. The outside of this house looked spiky. Maybe it was just because he was looking from it up here, but he thought everything looked unfriendly. Even though the sun was rising and everything looked at least a little more cheerful when the sun was out.
The handholds were good though. He didn’t even need his injured arm because there was always something to put both feet on.
He didn’t make a sound on the pavement, he knew, but suddenly one of the deep shadows loomed up even bigger and scarier. “Dick,” Bruce said. He wasn’t dressed like Batman, but he was acting like Batman. “What are you doing out here?”
Dick shrugged. He couldn’t say that he didn’t like the house, not when Bruce had been so nice. It was just that it was so big and so lonely, and he didn’t know if Jason was all right, not for himself.
“Is it about the - Jason?” Bruce asked. And though he was moving like Batman, he sounded more like a real person when he said it.
Dick nodded. He could feel a lump in his throat. He wasn’t going to cry. He’d spent too much time crying and he’d promised himself he wouldn’t cry in front of other people if he could help it. “I just want to see him,” he said. “I need to know.”
All the Batman-ness drained from Bruce in a second. “I can’t take you to him at the moment,” he said. “I’ll see if I can get some footage from the hospital security cameras. Would that help?”
When Dick nodded, Bruce said, “Follow me, then,” and led him back down into the big cave with all the Batman stuff in it. It was colder than the house and it made Dick’s arm hurt even more, but he waited while Bruce typed things on the computer and English flashed across the screen faster than he could read it. At last Bruce said, “Here.”
It was all black and white and grainy, but Dick spotted Jason straight away. He was handcuffed and there were a lot of bandages around his right leg, but his shoulders and waist were both moving okay. Dick watched him talk to a nurse and then just sit there waiting until some more people took him away.
“That was when he went in for surgery,” Bruce said. “There’s no more footage; he’s been in a room under police guard since he got out.” He tapped the keyboard a bit more and brought up a picture of a paper with writing on it. “This says the surgery went well. No complications.”
Dick found the line and sounded it out. No complications.
Bruce said, “Do you think you could try to sleep again?”
Even though the sun was up, it was a bit easier this time.
Again, thanks everyone so much for being patient with this fic.
Chapter 13: One Room
Bruce and Alfred follow up. Jason plans.
The night after Bruce found Dick sneaking out, he made the time to go back to the apartment where he’d found the boy in the first place. The one that this ‘Jason’ had been using as a base.
Dick knew more, Bruce could see it in his eyes. But he could also see that Dick wasn’t ready to trust him with someone else’s secrets yet. Bruce didn’t want to make him feel as though he had to choose between them, especially not if he could find anything else out himself.
The apartment was an improvement on St Jude’s. That was not saying much. Now that he had time to look through it, he realised that he hadn’t actually missed much when he’d been there two nights ago.
It was one room. There was one bed. Dick had been sleeping on the sofa, going by the blankets. There wasn’t much else. There was no fridge, no microwave, no hotplate. The cupboards contained room-temperature, calorie-dense food sealed tight against the insects that were undoubtedly infesting the building. (Bruce made a mental note to get Alfred to feed Dick as much fresh food as possible while he was with them.) Dick had collected his things in the space of seconds, leaving his host’s belongings where they were tucked away, in a single backpack. The Red Bat either travelled lightly or had very little to his name. Bruce was starting to suspect the latter.
The Red Bat wasn’t very old. Late teens, by Bruce’s best estimate. It had been a shock to see it on the hospital’s footage. Barely an adult, not much younger than Bruce, and the look on his face…
Leaving Nanda Parbat, not so very long ago, had been one of the hardest things Bruce had ever done. He’d relied on Ra’s. Respected him. He’d loved Talia. Leaving felt like ripping something out of his chest. For months afterward he’d swung wildly between missing them, hating them for making him miss them, and feeling so desperately alone. Without Alfred (as so many of the better things in his life were due to Alfred) he didn’t know how he would have handled the transition to being Batman.
The Red Bat looked like Bruce had felt, back then.
He took the bag. It felt like it was mostly clothes inside, and he heard the crumpling of paper. He’d examine the rest of it back at the cave, at his leisure, with Alfred’s input to help him along. Later, he might have to speak to Gordon about the rest of the Red Bat’s personal effects. Or look at them more directly.
Once he was back at the car, he did his usual scan of the police radio. Nothing too out of the usual. A burglary that sounded like Selina’s work. One of the Penguin’s crews had come off better in a scuffle with Falcone’s people - Bruce frowned. That was getting more common. The Penguin was vicious even for mobsters, too. That was not a good sign.
There was nothing on the radio in known Maroni hotspots. They were still laying low. Bruce was running out of time. He had to find the man who murdered the Graysons, and fast.
Dick would not wait forever, either. Bruce knew the rage and grief, he knew that driving need to do something to make things just a bit more right. He knew what it was like to want revenge. If he didn’t find the murderer quickly, Dick would take steps himself. In that sense, he might even be lucky that the Red Bat had shown up.
Another competing priority.
When he got back, he found Dick asleep in the big chair in front of the computer. “How long has he been there?” Bruce asked Alfred.
“Asleep? Only an hour or so,” Alfred said. “He has been in the cave for most of the evening, however. He was most insistent about staying down here until you returned.”
Abandonment issues, perhaps. It wouldn’t be a surprise. Dick had little reason to believe that the adults around him cared for him, and even less reason to think that they could be relied on. First his parents were murdered in front of him, then the circus left Gotham, St Jude’s was not fit to run a roach motel let alone any sort of foster care, and finally, the Red Bat had been arrested.
Bruce didn’t move the boy. Instead, he pulled up a second chair beside the first, and started work that way instead.
He’d been right about the bag. It mostly contained clothing, and most of it was nondescript. The papers were more interesting. Alarming, in fact. Detailed notes on cover stories, very similar to the ones he himself prepared for his undercover roles. There were differences in writing style, but in structure and methodology Bruce could have written these himself.
The Red Bat was calling himself Jason Todd. A common given name and a common surname, and a quick search of Gotham’s registry of births, deaths and marriages turned up four Jason Todds. Two were too old to be the Red Bat. A third was too young. The fourth was about the right age, but when Bruce investigated further, he discovered the young man was undergoing chemotherapy for a tumour in his leg. That ruled him out.
An alias, then. He didn’t look forward to breaking this news to Dick. Dick should be able to trust someone.
What he would really like was DNA. The databases were better every month. If that could help him identify the Red Bat and work out where he’d trained - and how he knew who Bruce was - that would be a great use. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any. Nor did he have the time at present to go back to the apartment and sweep it thoroughly for trace evidence. He settled for running the picture if the barefaced Red Bat through his photo databases, looking for a match.
Beside him, he heard a little yawn, and turned to see Dick stir. “You’re back,” he said.
“Alfred said you wouldn’t go back upstairs until I came home.”
He must have said it wrong, because Dick squared his jaw, narrowed his eyes, and replied, “I won’t sit upstairs while people do things for me. I can help.”
Those were definite statements. Underneath the grief was a bedrock layer of stubbornness. Bruce believed him. More to the point, he believed that Dick would get himself into untold trouble without someone watching out for him. “I understand,” he said. “I don’t know who killed your parents yet, but I need to talk to the Red Bat. Give me a few days and I’ll work out some way you can come with me.”
The stubborn look didn’t shift - this, it seemed, was something Dick didn’t entirely trust him on - but he nodded. “Thank you,” he said.
Bruce knew better than to think Dick was going to be happy with just that. After all, Bruce himself wouldn’t have been.
Alfred had noticed their young guest was picking at his injury. Master Bruce had not, distracted as he was. At least Master Bruce had noticed how restless the boy was, confined to the Manor. It had to be miserable for a child used to travelling from city to city.
“I will take him to Dr Thompkins’ clinic,” Alfred announced. “The good doctor has always been a model of discretion. This way, he gets out of the house for a few hours, he gets his injury checked by a professional, and all done in safety.”
“Good idea, Alfred,” Bruce said.
In all honesty, Alfred thought Bruce had barely heard him. He was working on something, something to do with the boy, that he had not informed Alfred of. Yet. It did not seem to be simply hunting down the Graysons’ murderer. Alfred feared the completion of that project.
On top of that, there was the complicating factor of Richard himself. Young Richard was hardly ever still. He wandered the house and the cave for hours on end, examining all manner of things carefully. He wanted to know where things were and how things worked, in the house as well as the cave below. He was also diligent in maintaining his fitness, injury to his arm notwithstanding, and had eaten everything Alfred had put on his plate at mealtimes, impeccably well-mannered.
Alfred was growing rather suspicious. He doubted any child was truly so little trouble. There had to be some sort of catch.
Still, he had received Master Bruce’s blessing, and so on the fourth morning of young Richard Grayson’s stay in the Manor, Alfred tracked him down. He found Richard in Master Bruce’s office, examining the cave entrance itself. “Master Richard,” he said. The boy jumped and whipped around at Alfred’s words, painfully wary. An artefact of the boy’s short time in St Jude’s, unless Alfred missed his mark.
“Hi, Mister Pennyworth,” Richard said.
“I have both good and bad news,” Alfred continued. “The good news is that we are able to go out today, for a short while. The bad news is that it will involve a trip to the doctor.”
He let Richard process the words at his own speed. “My arm’s fine,” he said. “Jason already took me to a doctor.”
“Indeed?” Surprising, that. Most doctors would report a child with a bullet wound. He was surprised the so-called Red Bat had risked it, bullet wound or no. From what Alfred could tell, it wasn't a bad wound. “Well, if you do not object, I will take you to another and make sure your arm continues to get better.”
Another pause while Richard worked through Alfred’s words (he had little exposure to the Received Pronunciation Alfred had trained himself to speak in to cater to American preconceptions, and his original Estuary accent would be even less familiar). “You don’t care if I object,” the boy accused him, eyes darting to the hall beyond Alfred. “You didn’t ask.”
Bother. He hadn’t. In this, Richard Grayson was not like Bruce Wayne. Bruce’s wealth and his family name had protected him. They had allowed Alfred to protect him. Richard, on the other hand, had been torn from everything familiar in his life and left to the mercy of strange adults. He had no reason to trust Alfred. “I apologise,” he said. “May I know why you don’t want to go?”
It was not do you want to go to the doctor? and the boy was more than clever enough to realise it. The suspicion on his face did not diminish. “Jason said that most doctors would take me away from him if they found out anything,” he said.
Or perhaps Alfred had been wrong. Richard was giving him the opportunity to explain himself, in spite of his unspoken fear that if he left with Alfred he’d end up back in the ghastly institution he’d been left at. So Alfred approached Bruce’s desk, keeping some distance between the two of them and leaving Richard a route to the door, and picked up the phone. It was Bruce he called, back at Wayne Enterprises for a few hours to keep up appearances. His secretary put him through straight away.
“Is there a problem?” Bruce said, in such a direct way that Alfred didn’t doubt Bruce could speak freely.
“Master Richard does not believe I intend to take him to a trustworthy doctor,” Alfred reported. “If you could assure him otherwise…”
Bruce sighed heavily. “I should have warned him. He’s standing right in front of you and listening to every word, isn’t he?”
“That he is, sir.”
“Put him on.”
Fortunately, Richard allowed Alfred to give him the phone. He didn’t hear what Bruce said, but at the end of the short conversation, Richard said, “I’ll go with you to the doctor.”
Forty minutes later found them outside the back entrance of Leslie’s clinic, and Richard was frowning again. “I’ve been here before,” he said, as they walked through the back corridor to the rearmost examination room. “This is the doctor Jason took me to.”
That was, if anything, even stranger. Master Bruce had said that the Red Bat, this Jason, knew who Bruce was. “Indeed? Did he say why?”
“He said it was safe,” Richard said. The boy did seem somewhat reassured. Enough to start smiling again, but Alfred had acted long enough to spot a stage persona when he saw one.
Further discussion was forestalled by Leslie’s arrival in the room, and her immediate recognition of Richard. “I remember you,” she said to Richard, with only a questioning glance to Alfred. “John - no, Jake Smith.”
Alfred smiled. Leslie didn’t miss a beat keeping up the alias. “It would be best if he continued to attend the clinic under that name, yes,” he said. “It’s quite a long story.”
“I do get that feeling, yes,” Leslie said.
It was also another worrying sign. How much did the Red Bat know about them? For how long? And how had he learned it?
They were keeping him in the hospital, and Jason was starting to suspect someone was, as Alfred would have put it, playing silly buggers. He was feeling better every day. The GCPD’s excuses for not transferring him had started to wear a bit thin.
Honestly, Jason suspected Gordon’s handiwork here. That had been a bit of a surprise. He hadn’t expected to be honoured by a visit from the future Commissioner.
In any case, the time in hospital had given him the time to think and plan. He had to be even more careful with the planning since he had a bad leg right now. The margin for error was that much smaller when you couldn’t move freely.
The way Jason saw it, he was facing a few competing priorities. First, Dick. Now that he’d got Dick out of that hellhole pretending to be foster care, he couldn’t just leave him with Bruce. If he did, they’d be back to the original Robin scenario. Not happening. Not on Jason’s watch. Second, himself. He needed to rest, heal, and get back up to full strength. He also needed to escape police custody and get his stuff back. He wasn’t sure if he could do both at once. Third priority: everything else going on in his life, time travel bullshit included.
He was just going over the possibilities for what felt like the thousandth time when two officers came in. He recognised them as part of his regular detail, Gordon’s people. Mendez and Robertson. Gordon couldn’t micromanage every aspect of the GCPD into making it an organisation of humans who weren't total bastards, but over the years, Jason had learned the sort of officer Gordon preferred to give sensitive work - brisk, professional, and untrusting. These two fit the bill.
“You’re being transferred to Blackgate,” Mendez said, without prelude. “Up you get, Doe.”
For some strange reason, the GCPD had yet to identify him. Honestly, Jason didn’t know how it happened, and he felt just awful for them.
“What medical support do I get?” Jason asked, not moving.
Mendez handed him a paper describing just that. It was…barely adequate. It was likely to be worse in practice. He wasn’t sure he had much of a choice, though, and he also didn’t plan on sticking around. So he hauled himself into the wheelchair they’d provided and let them transfer him.
He could still defend himself, that was the thing. It would be more difficult, but he could do it. It wasn’t Arkham; Blackgate was where the thugs went. Jason didn’t fear Gotham’s thugs.
Jason had only been to Blackgate a few times. Once when he was a boy, visiting his pa. A few times with Batman, interviewing suspects. Despite his years of criminal activity (Robin included), he’d never actually been to Blackgate. It was a bit different when you went in through the prisoners’ entrance. Again, not that Jason intended to stay a prisoner. He was just going to stay a bit until his leg healed up enough for rooftop work.
It would keep Bruce off his back, too. He wasn’t going to chase Jason down as Batman if he thought Jason was somewhere he belonged. The thought made him sneer to himself, as he flopped back onto his bed, leg aching more than he would have liked to admit.
Someone banged on the bars of his new cell. “You. Hey you. Bat.” Bang, bang, bang.
“Name’s John Doe,” Jason said.
“You’d better watch out,” Thug said.
Jason sat back upright and raised an eyebrow. The guy outside was a big guy, a little hefty around the middle. Broken nose. Jason already itched to break it again, just because. The guy also wasn’t a young man. This guy was career. “Quaking in my boots,” he said. “You delivering this message on behalf of anyone in particular?”
“Maroni,” the man said. “We know what you did at the docks.”
“Yeah, the cops think I did it too,” Jason said. He lay down again, keeping half an eye on chuckles just in case he actually did pose a threat. “Weird, isn’t it?”
“You think we can’t take you on, you little shit? You don’t know who you’re messing with.”
“I know exactly who I’m messing with,” Jason said. He was sick of being locked up. He was sick of criminals. No matter the time, they were the same. “A washed up member of a washed up gang too stupid to know they’re dying.”
He could almost hear the guy’s fuse burning down. “Bat-bitch. We did Dent. Threw acid on his face in his own courtroom. My buddy Tony, he did those circus freaks. You’ll get the same.”
It was hard not to laugh. They thought they'd got rid of Dent? In a year or two, Two-Face would own them. As for the "bat-bitch" remark, Jason had heard that before, and more than - wait.
Jason sat bolt upright. “Your buddy Tony did what?”
“The circus freaks,” thug repeated. “Put acid on their lines and half of Gotham watched them go splat on the ground. We’re not dying. We rule this town.”
There was only one incident that could be. Those fuckers. They got as much out of making innocent people watch as they did out of killing the Graysons. “This Tony got a name?” Jason asked. Forget sitting. He needed to stand for this.
“Zucco,” thug said. “Remember it. What happened at the circus isn’t half as bad as what Old Man Maroni’s going to do to you.”
“Got it,” Jason said. Then, careful to keep his weight on his good leg, he lunged forward and dragged the thug’s face into the bars. There was a satisfying crunch as his nose broke. Jason watched Maroni’s goon struggle to stand, smiled, and said, “Thanks.” Then he added a kick to the kneecap through the bars for good measure.
By then, of course, the thug’s time to threaten him was up. Whatever guard he’d bribed to let him in came to fetch him. Jason gave him a blank look as they left.
Tony Zucco. He had a name. And, now, a target.
Chapter 14: Anomalies
Several people hit snags in their investigations, and Dick starts one of his own.
Content warning for this chapter: mentions of domestic violence.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jim stared at the report in front of him. It was…interesting.
Victor Fries, pronounced freeze. Scientist at Gothcorp. Fifteen years of employment, barely even took a sick day. Dotted every i and crossed every t in his contracts, including his insurance. Recently denied salary packaging to help managing his terminally ill wife Nora’s medical bills, as well as compassionate leave to look after her.
When detectives had contacted him, he’d had no idea who the Red Bat was. He barely knew who the president was. Under the circumstances, everyone could understand that he might be a bit…preoccupied. Nevertheless, he had spoken angrily about how Gothcorp had treated him. He was quite sure it was illegal.
It might well be, but Jim didn’t have the resources to spare finding out. White collar stuff like that hardly got a look-in, next to the need to keep the streets safe (and, of course, a lot of the higher-ups didn’t want the GCPD looking into white collar crime), but he figured he could do something.
He called Vicki Vale.
Vale didn’t look like the old idea of an investigative reporter. She certainly didn’t look like she belonged, on those occasions she came by the GCPD. Her clothing was always designer and her makeup was always perfect. Whatever she did to maintain her clothes practically repelled the dirt, too, which was fortunate. He had officers who couldn’t afford to pay for her dry cleaning in case of accident. But she was tenacious. Or that’s what people called her to her face. The next kindest description was “goddamn stubborn.” Jim hated dealing with her.
This time, she’d brought a cadet who looked just as out of place as she did. He looked every cruel stereotype of networks hiring for blond, blue-eyed beauty over brains, only male. Vale introduced him as Johnson, and he stayed a respectful step behind Vale as they headed for Jim’s office.
Once they were seated, a bit cramped with the extra person in there, Vale said, “The status of the Batman investigation?”
She always asked that. “Ongoing,” Jim said. “I’ve got something else for you. Off the record.”
Which, if she pursued it, might be enough to get the Red Bat out of the headlines. Or so he hoped. “This better not be another false lead,” she warned. “But yes. Off the record. As usual.”
“It wasn’t a false lead, and I did you a favour, Ms Vale,” he said. “You got a story, and Wayne Enterprises stopped making noises about defamation suits. It just wasn’t the story you thought it was.”
“You’d have to take it up with my editor if you think it was a favour,” Vale said. “Sales went down. Besides, I talked to Wayne later. He thought it was funny, he wasn’t going to slap me with a lawsuit, and he wouldn’t have let the WE board do it either.”
Jim sighed. “Anyway, it’s not why I asked you here today. I know you’ve been looking into the Red Bat as a possible link to Batman.”
“Is there a reason I shouldn’t?”
“The investigation is ongoing.” Vale said it along with him. “I need the time and space to look into it without being swarmed by journalists. We also have reason to believe that the Red Bat is a minor.”
That made Vale blink. Behind her, crammed into a corner, her cadet frowned. “A minor?” Vale asked. “But you have no ID, even though he’s been in your custody for days.”
“Not as yet. He’s given us a few aliases. Which I will not repeat to you. We’re erring on the side of caution.” Unfortunately, nobody in their right mind would have approved the Red Bat being sent to a juvenile facility.
Vale scribbled something down. He didn’t trust her much, but he trusted that it wouldn’t make it onto the front page. He caught her eye and tipped his head at the cadet. “He’ll keep his mouth shut if he knows what’s good for him,” Vale said.
“I know what’s good for me,” Johnson said. “You know how hard to get cadetships are?”
“I do not, son,” Jim said. “But I’ll trust your professional integrity.” He turned back to Vale. “I have a story to trade for Red Bat coverage. It might take a bit of extra legwork, but it’s a big one.”
Vale narrowed her eyes. “I’ll take that deal for a good enough story.”
Jim might have haggled more, but he liked the look of this one. “I have information here about a man by the name of Victor Fries,” he said. “More than fifteen years’ stellar employment at Gothcorp. His wife Nora is dying. And Gothcorp seems to have wrongfully denied him benefits and assistance to help her.”
Vale was a smart woman. He could see the calculations running. Gotham loved its Bat stories. They were reliable sellers. But she knew as well as he did that it was unlikely Victor Fries was the only one Gothcorp had denied those benefits, and here Jim was, giving her a human, sympathetic face to put on a dry-but-important story. “Fine,” she said. “Is there anything else you can give me on this?”
“Detective Bullock has the file. Let him know you’re done speaking to me and send him into my office. I need to speak to him for a few minutes about his timekeeping.”
“Done,” she said. To her cadet, she said, “Come on, then.”
“Good to meet you, Johnson,” Jim said.
“Call me Kent,” the cadet said. “Good to meet you too, Captain Gordon.”
He watched them leave. It was a relief when things went smoothly, particularly when they involved journalists. Bullock came in a minute or so afterwards. “Timekeeping?” he asked.
“They’ve got three minutes,” Jim said. “Clock’s ticking.”
“One of these days you’re actually going to call me in here to talk about overtime,” Bullock complained.
At three minutes on the dot, Jim sent Bullock back out to escort Vale and Johnson off the premises. They went without protest or transparent excuse to snoop around more. Really, the entire thing went so smoothly that Jim should have known that there’d be a complication later somewhere else to make up for it.
Two hours after they’d left, the Red Bat’s gear vanished from Evidence.
Another alert flared on the cave’s computers. Another burglary reported to the GCPD. Bruce gave it a cursory look, because this was getting ridiculous. The past few days, Selina had been on a veritable spree.
He frowned. While no trace of the burglar had been found, it differed from Selina’s MO in one important way - nothing fun had been taken. He knew Selina, and he knew the houses that were being broken into. If it was her, and there weren’t many people but her good enough to pull this off, surely she would have taken some art or more distinctive jewellery. The goods here were all cash, gold, unremarkable strings of pearls - the sort of thing that could be sold and moved easily. She could be in trouble.
He made a note to drop by her place tonight, first thing.
“Ask Selina about bur- burglary?” a little voice asked from near his elbow.
Or maybe second thing.
“Isn’t Batman supposed to catch thieves?”
“Sometimes it’s useful to know them anyway,” Bruce said. “Selina doesn’t steal from people who can’t afford it. It’s not enough of a challenge. She actually does her best to help the less fortunate.”
Dick frowned. Then he pointed to another flashing alert on the computer. “What’s that?”
Bruce raised his eyebrows. Photo ID for the Red Bat. Maybe. He clicked through. When they saw the photograph, Dick said, “He looks like Jason.”
The man in question did indeed look like the Red Bat. Older, more worn, gone to seed, but the resemblance was unmistakeable. “Willis Todd,” Bruce read out. It was his turn to frown then. This Willis, looking at his profile, was the father of one of the Jason Todds Bruce had dismissed from investigation. The young one. Perhaps the Red Bat had taken a family member’s name?
Willis Todd was in Blackgate too. Bruce might not have time to check in with Selina after all, though he’d try. He stood up. There were only so many hours in the night.
“Wait,” Dick said, launching himself off the console so that he landed in front of Bruce. He’d used his legs rather than his injured arm, Bruce was pleased to see. “Why are you investigating Jason? He helped me. You don’t need to chase him.”
“Your friend knows more about how your parents died than I do,” Bruce said. “I want to ask him what he knows and how. He also knew who I was, and I need to find out how he knew that.”
“If you’re going to see him, I want to come,” Dick said.
“I’m not going to see him tonight,” Bruce assured him. “I’m going to investigate Willis more thoroughly.” And see if he could get the time to talk to Selina, too. The burglaries had to stop.
“You promised,” Dick said.
“I did. But not tonight, Dick. I haven’t worked out how to keep you safe on this sort of trip yet. Can you be patient another night or two?”
The glare he got in response was an epic one. “Fine,” Dick said. “Another night.”
Bruce had better get on that right away when he got home. His patience was wearing thin, and he had no illusions that Dick would consent to stay in the Manor. If he’d escaped St Jude’s, he could make a good run at escaping the Manor - and Bruce did not want the Manor to be a prison to Dick. “Thank you, Dick. I know this is hard.”
“I trust you,” Dick said.
In his mouth it was a warning, which Bruce left the cave mulling over. Dick trusted Bruce now, but not unconditionally. Not forever. Bruce would just have to prove worthy of that trust.
Since he’d already ruled out a Blackgate trip, he’d check in with Todd’s wife. Try as he might, he couldn’t find any record of Willis Todd having brothers or male cousins, but perhaps a person might know more than a registry.
Catherine Todd was known to the Gotham authorities, the product of a violently abusive marriage that had ended when her mother fell down some stairs in suspicious circumstances, killing her. Catherine had been ten at the time. She’d spent the next eight years in foster care, committing minor drug offences and petty thefts. The drugs had continued after she turned eighteen, through a stint in jail when she was twenty, right up until she’d married and had Jason. After that she’d stayed out of the system. For her son’s sake, Bruce hoped she’d managed to kick her drug habit. He knew a few people for whom their children were sufficient motivation to stay clean.
But they lived in Crime Alley, and Bruce doubted very much that Catherine Todd could afford to remove herself from the environment that had driven her to drugs in the first place.
Batman parked the car and made sure it was locked before grappling up to the last known address of the Todd family. He checked the windows. Nobody home, as far as he could see. When he broke in, careful not to damage the window, he confirmed it. Even the boy Jason was gone. So were most of their clothes.
He started asking around. There weren’t many people in the area who’d talk to Batman, but he had to try. The landlord had no idea where they’d gone. Most of their neighbours, the ones who were out and about, were in a similar situation. The Todds, the two who weren’t in Blackgate, had all but vanished.
Was this the work of the Red Bat? Family loyalty? Or was this a coincidence? Batman did not believe in those without a lot of evidence.
After several invitations to go fuck himself from a variety of locals, Batman at last found an older homeless man willing to talk. After establishing that he did indeed know Catherine and Jason, he told Batman, “They went with that young man. Only a day or two ago. You just missed them.”
Jackpot. “Late teens? Dark hair?”
“No,” the man said. “No, no. Not a teenager. A bit older than that. Blond, good-looking. Not like Cathy’s usual visitors, if you catch my drift.”
That - what? What was going on here? He was back to the drawing board, with another unknown individual to track down.
He zipped off towards the car, only realising he’d forgotten to thank his informant when the man yelled after him, “And he had nicer manners than you, too!”
Jason spent the rest of the day racking his brains for what else he knew about Dick’s past. It wasn’t much. He hadn’t read Bruce’s files on Nightwing. He knew the general outline, who didn’t know the general outline, but he hadn’t been interested in Dick’s past. Only his present, where he was -
- untouchable, really. When he’d started as Robin, Dick had everyone’s hearts in the palm of his hand. Everyone loved him. Not just his skills, but his personality. He was faster and stronger and better than Jason was. He was perfect.
And so Dick hadn’t been a person. Not a real one. To Jason, he’d been a rival. He’d been the mark everyone kept comparing Jason against. Jason hadn’t wanted to know what Dick was like as a kid. Easier to believe he’d started as a fully-formed Robin, no real training required. No frustrations or setbacks. No angst or trauma for him to overcome. Just a benchmark. Nothing more.
Boy, that attitude was coming back to bite Jason now. If he’d just read the damn file, if he’d learned a damn thing about Dick Grayson as a human being, this might have been so much easier.
Well, he knew now. Tony Zucco. The man who’d put acid on the wires at Haly’s Circus, causing John and Mary Grayson to fall to their deaths. Jason would remember that. Now that he had a name, nobody could stop him hunting Zucco down for tiny Dick.
Further investigation was currently forestalled on account of him being in solitary for both protective and medical reasons. His ankle felt a lot better, but he really needed to work on his physio. He needed a physio. He didn’t have the expertise to know what he needed to get back to 100% fitness. He’d like to recover more before he broke out, but if it was true and the Maronis were gunning for him, he needed to break out.
It was very nearly a classic catch-22, but the alternative was waiting for rescue. He’d never liked that, either. Not his style.
With the ‘wait for rescue’ option well and truly out, he’d better err on the side of not getting ventilated by two-bit mobsters. His leg could heal, and if he never got back to 100% that was a problem he’d deal with later. It beat not surviving. So breaking out it was. There was tons of stuff around to help, and the security was so outdated by Jason’s standards it was actually funny. He’d just have to make it as un-strenuous a breakout as he could. And then get a physio. Or drop by Leslie’s, at least.
He wondered if his dad was in here. Maybe. Wasn’t like Jason was going to ask him for help, though. He’d sooner as Bruce. He had sooner asked Bruce. The most Jason planned to do for Willis Todd was to see if he could set things up so he never joined up with Two-Face. He’d probably better get out of here before he did run into his father.
Jason started on dismantling the medical equipment. There were usually plenty of things he could use to get past locks, which, upon checking, weren’t too bad to pick. Blackgate needed a bigger budget. He suspected most of the funds allocated to prison were going towards Arkham instead.
Now, if he were a Maroni thug, when and where would he target Jason?
No time pressure. He’d probably wait until Jason was healthy enough to be in one of the common areas. Cafeteria, yard, showers. Lots of accidents that could happen in those places. Jason just had to be out before he was shoved into a situation like that, no matter how he’d prefer to wait and learn schedules first. Failing that, he’d wait until between two and three in the morning. He was a Bat. Night shifts were practically day shifts to him. The advantage would be his.
Components in hand, Jason waited for nightfall.
Once Bruce was gone and Mr Pennyworth wasn’t looking, Dick got on Bruce’s downstairs computer. His Bat-computer. He’d promised he’d be patient for another day, which meant no going outside, but that didn’t mean he had to do nothing.
Dick had never used a computer before, but he’d been watching Bruce and Mr Pennyworth carefully. He thought he knew how to do what he wanted to do. Everything was in English, and that made it harder. Not impossible. Dick could read English well enough. He knew his parents’ names, and so he could find their files.
He swallowed hard as he saw the pictures with the file. His parents. He could handle it. He’d seen it happening right in front of him, and no picture was as bad as remembering the expression on their faces when they realised that they were going to die. No picture could be as bad as seeing that, and smelling the blood. Dick could handle it. He wiped his eyes and pressed on.
What he needed to do was print all this out. He didn’t have time to read all of Bruce’s notes now, but if he could print it, and then take it upstairs and read it with a dictionary next to him, he’d know what Bruce knew. His mother used to say that once he knew enough grammar, all he needed was time and a dictionary and he could understand anything.
Time to test it out.
It didn’t take much experimenting to find the print button. Dick hit it, and heard the machine start up. The file printed out without any problems. Dick grabbed it, closed everything on the Bat-computer, and snuck back upstairs. Now he just needed the dictionary.
He’d told Bruce that he wasn’t going to just sit here. He was going to find out who killed his parents. And then - then he was going to do something about it.
Thanks everyone so much for sticking with this story!
The signal was up again over the GCPD. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. Bruce sighed internally and started towards the precinct. He’d wanted to get back in time to work on his plans to take Dick out. Looked like that wasn’t going to happen. Not tomorrow, not the day after.
Batman travelled over the rooftops, another shadow in the night. It might have been his imagination, but he thought he felt eyes on him. He moved around while he looked - only prudent, in a city like Gotham - but saw nothing. It was probably overcaution. Probably. Even so, he took the long way around.
When he got there, Gordon was on the roof, smoking like a chimney. Violently, too; it looked like he was about to bite right through the current cigarette. “Batman,” he said.
“We’ve had a break-in in Evidence,” Gordon said. “Someone’s taken the Red Bat’s personal effects.”
Bruce frowned. He’d wanted to examine those things. “I have been unable to determine his identity,” he told Gordon. He was still at a dead end, so it was time to collaborate. Besides that, the more time Gordon spent on the Red Bat, the less he spent investigating what Bruce knew about Dick Grayson. “An informant of mine has linked him to a family named Todd, living in Crime Alley. Willis Todd is in Blackgate now, but his wife and son have recently vacated their apartment, in the company of an unidentified man. Not the Red Bat.”
Gordon actually did bite down on the cigarette at that point. “An accomplice?”
“I have not been able to determine that,” Batman replied levelly. Yet. He had his doubts, given what Dick had said. No mention of a third person. Every indication that the Red Bat was a lone wolf. “Do you have any suspects for the theft of the evidence?”
“No. The tapes were deleted. We can narrow it down to a six-hour period, but no further. We’re investigating.”
“The man the Todds were last seen with was described to me as young, blond, clean-cut and attractive.” If there was an accomplice, or if the third party was involved somehow…and then he saw how Gordon’s eyes widened. “There was someone matching that description.”
“Yes. I met with Vicki Vale during that period. She brought a cadet. Blond, attractive, clean-cut, early twenties. She introduced him as Kent Johnson.”
Kent. The alien in Metropolis was a journalist by the name of Kent. Surname, not first name, but again, Batman did not believe in coincidences. First the Red Bat, who knew Batman’s identity, and now someone mimicking Superman's profession, with a link to his name. Then the only connection to the Red Bat evaporating into thin air, a step ahead of him. This did not look like a coincidence. “That’s him,” Batman said. “The name is a message. He’s your thief.”
Before the…incident…with Harvey, Gordon would have pushed him for more details. Then again, before the incident with Harvey, Batman would not have shared information about the man who had removed the Todds. Gordon simply nodded. “I’ll focus on him. His press credentials were real. There'll be a paper trail.”
Batman left, then, because he still had other things to do tonight. He’d put off his talk with Selina for far too long. Once again he could swear he felt eyes on him. Now he was starting to doubt his initial conclusion that he was being too cautious. When he looked around, even when he took the long way, he could not shake that sense of surveillance. Nor could he find its source. It took fifteen minutes of evasive patterns to satisfy him that he was no longer being followed. Then, and only then, he started looking for Selina.
He found her in her secondary hideout, one of the more home-like ones she possessed, wrapped up in a bathrobe in front of a heater, mug of tea steaming beside her, reading a technical manual on infrared security systems. “Why, Batman,” she purred, when she realised Bruce was on her windowsill, “If I’d known you were coming, I’d’ve got into something less comfortable.”
Her voice was huskier than usual, her eyes had a slightly glassy shine to them, and her nose was red. “You’re sick,” he said.
“Well deduced. They don’t call you the World’s Greatest Detective for nothing, do they?”
“So you haven’t been active recently.”
“And for a moment there I thought you might be concerned about me,” she said. “Just so you know, it’s a lot harder to go undetected when you’ve got a hacking cough.”
From her breathing, it didn’t seem like she was faking, but she’d fooled him before. “There have been a number of burglaries in the wealthier districts lately,” he said. “High skill. Your usual sort of target.”
Selina shook her head. “Not me. You can ask down at the pharmacy if you think I’m lying about being sick. There are other thieves in town, you know. What were they stealing?”
“Money and plain jewelry.”
She smiled at him, the brightness in her eyes not due to the lingering effects of her cold. “You were worried,” she said. “Aww, that’s so sweet. It’s all right. I’m not in any trouble, unless you count the threat of being bored to death. Just for you being so sweet, I’ll let you know anything I hear about these burglaries.”
“Thank you,” Bruce said, somewhat awkwardly. Selina’s ability to see right through him was unnerving.
“Now go on,” she said, making to read her manual again. “I’m not up for any rooftop chases tonight, more’s the pity.”
“Hrm,” Bruce said. It was a pity. But he had so much on his plate right now that he wasn’t sure he had time either. It might be time to see the Red Bat in person. Whether or not he brought Dick, and especially if someone else was watching him.
Dick thought that he might need to make a second trip to the Bat-computer and print out more files. Just reading what he’d already read had taken a long time, and he wasn’t far into the file at all, but Bruce’s notes mentioned someone called Maroni, and Dick didn’t know who that was. It sounded like a gang or something. He’d also learned a lot of new words. Like extortion, and protection scheme.
His parents had been killed so someone could get money from Mr Haly. He’d kind of understood that before. There wasn’t much other reason for someone, a stranger, to be so mad at Mr Haly. It was different seeing it in black and white, with the proper English words for it. This sort of thing happened so much that they had words for it.
He stopped reading, hid the file, and put the dictionary back. He didn’t want Mr Pennyworth to find out what he’d been doing, and he knew Mr Pennyworth had been watching him.
Besides, he wanted to wait up until Bruce got back. If he’d learned anything else, about either who killed Dick’s parents or about Jason, Dick wanted to know right away. If Dick was waiting, it’d be a lot harder for Bruce not to tell him things.
He went back downstairs and ignored Mr Pennyworth’s glance in favour of looking at all the gun-hook things Bruce had. They were for getting up the sides of buildings fast, Bruce had said. Dick could imagine it, and what he imagined, he thought would be a lot of fun.
After a little while, Mr Pennyworth said, “I don’t suppose you could be convinced to go upstairs and sleep, Master Richard?”
“My name’s Dick,” Dick said. “And I want to wait until Bruce gets back.”
“Yes, I rather thought you would, but must it be here, Master … Dick?”
He went back to examining the gun-hook things. Here were the lines that went with them, thinner than Dick had ever seen before. He could hardly believe they could hold up someone as big as Bruce was. Sneaking another glance at Mr Pennyworth, Dick decided to risk it. He picked one up, made sure the line was loaded, and fired it at the cave wall. Lucky for him, it didn’t make a very loud noise, even though the shock went right through his shoulder. The line stuck, dangling from where the hook hit. Dick yanked on it, then tested his weight on it. It held just fine.
After a little more experimentation, Dick worked out how to pull in the line. It hurt his shoulder, but not so bad he had to stop. He got most of the way up the wall before -
“Dick!” Dick shouted back down.
“Master Dick, please come down from there,” Mr Pennyworth said.
Dick obeyed. “I just wanted to try it out,” he said. He kept himself ready to run. So far Mr Pennyworth hadn’t done anything bad, but neither had the grownups at St Jude’s, until they did. The only way to find out was to get caught doing something he wasn’t supposed to.
Mr Pennyworth sighed. “I understand the impulse,” he said, in a way that made Dick think that he really, really didn’t, “but there are safety issues to be considered as well. I would prefer you leave the climbing alone until and unless Master Bruce agrees to supervise.”
Which meant that Mr Pennyworth wasn’t going to supervise. He didn’t say anything mean about Dick, though, and he didn’t try and kick him out of the cave either. Dick stayed on the ground and Mr Pennyworth went back to looking at the computers. After a while, Mr Pennyworth said, “It looks like your friend has let himself out of Blackgate, Master Dick.”
“The local jail.”
“Good,” Dick said. Jason wasn’t a bad person, so Jason shouldn’t be in jail. Maybe that meant Bruce would take him to see Jason outside of the jail, and if not, it would be easier to find Jason outside jail than inside jail.
Bruce came back not long after that. Jason getting out of jail was the first thing Mr Pennyworth told Bruce about. Dick climbed on top of one of the weird machines and did his best to listen to their conversation.
“It does make certain things easier,” Bruce said. “I needed to speak to him in any event. It’s saved me a trip out to Blackgate. The Red Bat doesn’t have much in the way of resources. Most likely, he’ll go somewhere safe to rest his leg. We’ll have to let Leslie know he might show up.”
“You know she won’t violate another patient’s privacy without a good reason,” Mr Pennyworth said.
“If the Red Bat knows who I am, it’s likely he can piece together your involvement in my work,” Bruce said. “That will probably be enough.” He walked over to the computer. “Gordon told me that someone stole the Red Bat’s equipment from the GCPD’s evidence lockup yesterday. If it was done by an accomplice or an associate, they may be in contact. If not, the Red Bat will have to make his own attempt to recover his possessions.”
Dick frowned. Jason hadn’t mentioned working with anyone else. He hadn’t even mentioned any family, except for that brother Dick was still pretty sure he had. Bruce typed something on the computer.
“For which I assume Captain Gordon will be prepared,” Mr Pennyworth said.
“He’s already on guard,” Bruce replied. “Alfred, could you do me a favour and make Dick a mug of cocoa?”
Mr Pennyworth glanced up to where Dick was - not exactly hiding, but close to it - and said, “Of course, sir.”
Bruce thanked him, and Mr Pennyworth left, leaving Dick alone with Bruce again. Dick climbed down. “You said Jason’s out of jail,” Dick started. “Can I see him, then?”
“I think that will probably happen even if I try to stop it,” Bruce said. “Sooner or later. I’m sorry I couldn’t arrange it earlier.”
“I know you were busy,” Dick said.
“Still.” He turned back to the computer and typed a few more things, while Dick tried to work out which question he wanted to ask next. Then Bruce got very still. “I see you went into my files,” he said.
A lot of words Dick wasn’t supposed to know went through his head. Getting caught climbing things fine, but breaking into Bruce’s computer - “How did you know?” he asked.
“Look here,” Bruce said. “See this? This tells me when someone opened the file. I was on patrol at that point. Alfred doesn’t access these files either. And they’re the files on your parents.”
Dick lifted his chin. “I wanted to know who killed them,” he said. “Who is Maroni?”
Bruce looked at him. “The Maronis are a family who commit crime in Gotham. They make money from it. The man who killed your parents was working for them.” He got the files on them.
So he wasn’t mad. Dick had been right. Bruce understood. “Do you know who did it yet?”
“No. The Maronis have been trying to protect the person who did it. That means they’re worth something to the family. But the way they tried to go about getting money from your Mr Haly tells me that they’re not very experienced with extortion.”
Dick listened as Bruce explained what he’d done to find his parents’ murderer, including how it affected the Maroni family and the police. “What next?” he asked, when Bruce was done. He should be tired, but he didn’t feel it, not even a bit. Mr Pennyworth had brought the cocoa, but he hadn't touched it. “What do you do next?”
“There are a few options,” Bruce said. “Your friend Jason seems to know more than I do. I need to follow up with him. I could talk to senior members of the Maroni family and attempt to convince them that protecting the killer isn’t worth it. That’s risky, since it might convince them to send whoever it is out of the city. Or I could try and get information from other people who run protection schemes for the Maronis who might not want the competition.”
He didn’t mention any names, Dick noticed. Or where these people could be found. But that was okay. Jason would tell him, and he’d get to see Jason soon.
By the time Jason got clear of Blackgate, his leg hurt. A lot. Goddamn. He wasn’t in any sort of shape to follow up on his investigations tonight. He wasn’t even in shape to find somewhere new to sleep, let alone get his stuff back from Gordon and his cop buddies. He was going to have to go back to the very apartment he’d told Bruce about, and that was just asking for Bat trouble.
He’d probably overdone it. Probably.
Still, no real options. It was Bat trouble or risk damaging his leg further. He needed pain relief, and he hated pain relief.
Jason stumbled in the window, jarring his leg again, ow. He couldn’t help but notice that Bruce had ransacked the place. His backpack was gone. He was going to have to get spare clothes again. Money too. Damn it, Bruce. Couldn’t make anything easy for him.
At least he’d left the food. Jason had eaten plenty of peanut butter dinners before. One more wouldn’t hurt.
Well. He had to go to Wayne Manor anyway, to get Dick. He might as well get some money and clothes while he was there. It was hardly going to matter to Bruce. He’d get tiny Dick, they’d go kill Tony Zucco, Jason would find tiny Dick a good foster home, and then he’d continue trying to get back to his own time.
He’d got sidetracked from that initial goal pretty fast, Jason thought, scowling to himself. What was he supposed to do, though? Just stand by and let Dick stay in that shithole?
Sleep came slowly and painfully, with a full complement of the usual nightmares. He woke in the daylight darkness of a room overshadowed by neighbouring buildings. He needed something for his leg. Sore, hungry, and tired, Jason made it out of the building without incident. He had to be careful now, since the GCPD would be looking for him. If Bruce had tipped them to his hideout, he was in real trouble. He wasn’t outrunning a damn thing in the state he was in.
Transport was his next problem. Strangely enough, money for necessities hadn’t appeared in his pockets overnight. He couldn’t walk to Wayne Manor for the same reason he couldn’t run anywhere. Stupid leg. Stupid cop, for shooting him like that.
Back to pickpocketing, he guessed. And he’d have to be real careful about it, too. No margin for error, here, not even for something so simple.
Jason walked into the centre of town, very slowly. There were always marks in Gotham’s central business district, without fail. It was still a trip and a half to walk through the crowds without hearing a single person talk about a supervillain attack. Not a one.
This might be the Gotham he grew up in, or close enough, but it wasn’t his Gotham. Not anymore. He had to get home.
It took a bit of caution, but Jason managed to snag wallets from two fat old businessmen out to lunch. Neither of them had tickets for the subway, unsurprisingly. They both looked like taxi men. The upside to this was that they were both carrying enough money for a taxi, and Jason had to admit, with his leg, that sounded like the best option right now.
Jason steeled himself for what he had to do. He flagged down a taxi and hauled himself inside. “Wayne Manor,” he said.
The driver gave him the side-eye. Fair enough; Jason knew he looked a mess, probably gaunt and haggard from lack of restful sleep, on top of his ill-fitting clothing liberated from a Blackgate guard’s locker on his way out. “Got the fare?”
He brandished his stolen cash. No way the driver would believe the butler will pay when I get there. The cash was more convincing, and the driver pulled away. Jason sat back and tried to rest. He’d need everything he had to deal with Bruce.
All too soon they were pulling up at Wayne Manor. Jason swallowed hard, paid, and hauled himself out of the taxi. He had to do this. For tiny Dick.
Even through the gate, he could see that the house looked almost exactly the bloody same. Maybe the last repainting had been a slightly different shade, or maybe it was just the sunlight. There were a few trees that Jason couldn’t remember being there in his time; the gardens were a bit different. But the house itself, that was just like it was. Just like it was when whichever more-money-than-sense Wayne declared it finished, no doubt.
He stood at the gate and waited.
It wasn’t long before the buzzer went. Alfred’s voice, so familiar, but here and now Jason could hear the hostility, and Alfred’s hostility could be accompanied by a shotgun. Unlike Bruce, he might even use it. “I have been informed your name is Jason,” Alfred said. The gate slid open in front of him. “Master Bruce has invited you in.”
“I’ll be careful with the dinnerware,” Jason replied, and stepped - well, limped - forward into the grounds of Wayne Manor.
Thanks for your patience! And commenting, and kudos, and bookmarks!
It wasn’t just the outside of Wayne Manor that was still virtually the same. Inside featured the same carpets and same breakable-looking vases as Jason knew from the present. As it turned out, Alfred wasn’t much of a redecorator. Made sense, when you thought about how much else he had to do around the house.
He preferred looking at the decor than looking at Alfred. He was so young. Well, in his fifties, but fifty-something (he couldn’t bring himself to do the math) wasn’t all that old. Even just looking out the corner of his eye he could see that Alfred’s hair wasn’t entirely grey.
Weird and wrong, as far as Jason was concerned. Alfred was immortal and unchanging.
At the moment, he was also silent except for the most basic courtesies. Jason was getting sized up. Stalled, too, while Bruce woke himself up properly and got dressed. That meant conversation was up to him. “Where’s Dick?” Jason asked.
“For the past three hours, asleep,” Alfred replied. “It would be in his interests not to be woken up as yet.”
Aaaaaand sized. That hadn’t taken long at all. He might have tipped his hand a bit early. All Jason could do was nod. It was better that Dick got some sleep. “He still having those nightmares?”
Alfred gave him an epic side-eye. “If so, he has not confided in me.” He led Jason past three sitting rooms and past the hall that led to the other three sitting rooms, into the depths of the house. He avoided Bruce’s study with the Batcave entrance, the stairs that acted as a shortcut up to the family’s bedrooms, and the route to the kitchens, instead guiding Jason to a breakfast room he’d only ever been in once or twice even when he lived at the Manor. It got the morning light, and at Alfred’s prompting, Jason sunk gratefully into a sun-warmed chair. “Master Bruce will be along shortly,” Alfred promised.
Stalling, sure, but Jason was being stalled in a warm room and a comfortable chair. Alfred returned in five minutes with tea and paracetamol. Jason took that gratefully, too. If he had to do this, he’d rather not be battling the deep ache in his leg while he did.
It was another ten minutes before the door finally opened to reveal Bruce, in all his fifteen-years-past strangeness. Just like with Alfred.
Jason had already seen Batman, wearing the old cowl that was new here. He hadn’t seen Bruce. This Bruce didn’t have lines forming around the corners of his mouth. There were no threads of grey starting to peek through his black hair. He wasn’t much older than Jason. He was barely older than Dick - present Dick, not the little one. As he took a seat across from Jason, he looked at him like Jason was a puzzle, rather than a perpetual disappointment.
This wasn’t his Bruce, just like it wasn’t his Gotham.
“I wasn’t expecting you to come here so soon,” Bruce said. “Or by the front door, for that matter.”
“Trust me, it wasn’t in my original plans, either. If I had better choices I’d never have set foot in here.”
Now that was more familiar. He could see Bruce’s focus on him go from laser-like to physical hazard. He could almost feel the temperature drop. “What should I call you?” Bruce asked abruptly. “Dick tells me your name is Jason Todd, but there are no Jason Todds in the entire country matching your description.”
Jason grinned. “You can call me Jason. It’s my name.”
“And you neither confirm nor deny the Todd surname. Though I must say, you bear a remarkable resemblance to a certain Willis Todd, currently incarcerated in Blackgate.”
It was all Jason could do to keep a straight face. If Bruce had DNA, he’d be using the DNA evidence straight away. “Never met him,” Jason said. Wasn’t a lie, either. If this wasn’t his Bruce, the Willis in Blackgate wasn’t his Willis. That Willis made some other Jason tread carefully around his rages.
Which wasn’t to say Jason wouldn’t deck the man if he found him. But he hadn’t met him.
“Hrm,” said Bruce. “Why have you come here?”
Blunt, but sometimes Bruce could be. Maybe he’d been blunter when he was younger. Who knew? Wait, silly question. Dick and Alfred. They knew. For sure. “I’m here for Dick,” he said. “He’s coming with me.”
Once again, it was pretty much all Jason could do to suppress his reaction. How fucking dare Bruce look at him like that? “You are a murderer and a fugitive,” Bruce said, and Jason only barely stopped himself from snarling. That really was something his Bruce would say. “As much as I appreciate what you’ve done for Dick, I don’t think it would be appropriate to hand him back to you, especially not for any longer-term arrangement.”
“Like you can talk,” Jason said, already enraged like only conversation with Bruce could make him. “What’ve you got to offer him, huh? I bet you’re already planning to take him out on the streets. Another little vigilante. I know you. Well, it’s not happening. Not as long as I’ve got anything to do with it.”
Silence followed that outburst. “You know me? Personally?” Bruce asked at last. “How?”
Jason scrambled for possible answers. None came to mind. Possibly because there were no good reasons. After a couple of awkward seconds, Jason decided to just stick with silence. Bruce might even fill it for him.
“No answer for me?” Bruce asked.
“Nope,” Jason replied. In hindsight, this might not have been his best plan, but neither was breaking into Wayne Manor to, essentially, kidnap a kid. If he wanted to get Dick back, it was this or not at all. The kid was so much trouble. Honestly, Jason didn’t know why anyone bothered.
“It’s not hard to reason out that you and your associate must have been watching us for some time,” Bruce said.
That was as good an explanation as any -
- Until Jason realised. Associate? What the hell?
It was bad enough the Red Bat showed up at his doorstep when both he and Dick were asleep. When Alfred had woken him with the news, he’d jerked fully awake in a panic as bad as any he could remember. Someone, someone who was quite likely an enemy, was in his house. Most probably with some sort of design on a child in Bruce’s care.
That was unacceptable. Bruce had to do something about it. He would, once the Red Bat was out of his house.
Worse was having to carry on this conversation. Bruce could not shake the distinct feeling that the young man in front of him knew far, far more than he was saying. It wrong-footed him, and Bruce did not like being wrong-footed. It took nigh-suicidal confidence to march into a potential enemy’s stronghold. Bruce hadn’t been prepared for someone to do something like that. It was madness.
Now it was near all he could do not to try and grab this young man (who looked even more remarkably like a younger Willis Todd in person) by his collar and bodily throw him from the house. Or to call the police. Calling the police would be a bad idea for him as well, given what the Red Bat knew. And given Dick’s unauthorised presence in the house.
For all the Red Bat was visibly weak, tired, and still suffering from the gunshot wound he’d suffered the night they’d met, it didn’t appear to have affected his resolve. He was not going to answer Bruce’s question as to how he knew Bruce’s identity.
And he did know Bruce. Bruce was certain of it. The Red Bat spoke with the sort of anger that couldn’t be easily faked, and a venom that was intensely personal. Unfortunately, Bruce could not for the life of him think of when or how he might have earned this sort of feeling.
So it was time to change it up. “It’s not hard to reason out that you and your associate must have been watching us for some time,” Bruce said, and waited for the response.
As expected, the Red Bat was disciplined. Only a ripple of shock showed on his face at the words. Either he didn’t have an associate, or he hadn’t expected them to be caught. Impossible to say -
“The fuck are you talking about?” the Red Bat said.
“Your associate,” Bruce said. “He’s taken your personal effects.”
He watched the Red Bat carefully, looking for the telltale signs of shock and suspicion. “You having me on?” he demanded, blue eyes narrowed.
“Not at all,” Bruce said. “The things the GCPD took from you were stolen from their evidence lockup.” He omitted the details of the perpetrator. Gordon he trusted. This man…no. No sense revealing everything.
“Figures,” the Red Bat muttered. “Fucking GCPD. Don’t know why they even call it a lockup when everyone and anyone can just walk in and take stuff.” He looked back up at Bruce. “I’m surprised you didn’t get there first.”
“I had other priorities,” Bruce said.
The Red Bat snorted. “So that’s not a ‘I wouldn’t dream of taking your stuff, Jason.’”
He referred to himself as Jason easily. A point in favour of that being his name. The intimacy he expected, though, was strange. If Bruce didn’t know better he’d say the Red Bat was a friend he’d mistreated. The problem was that he didn’t know the Red Bat. Not from a bar of soap. And he still had no idea how the Red Bat knew him.
“Back to the central issue,” the Red Bat said. “I know you’re trying to distract me. Nice try; I’m still not leaving without Dick.”
“Then you will be staying here for a while,” Bruce said. He might consider handing Dick back to the City of Gotham, with oversight to make sure he didn’t end up in another travesty of an orphanage - though he found that he didn’t like that idea much - “At least until the man who murdered Dick’s parents is arrested.”
Then the Red Bat smiled. It was a vicious slash of an expression, made all the harsher by his cold blue-green eyes. Bruce had seen edges like that in children from Crime Alley before. That unwillingness, that inability, to believe that any adult could ever mean them well. And the Red Bat was not much more than a child. “Well,” he said. “Maybe it won’t be that long after all, if you’re insisting.”
Ah. As he’d suspected. “You know who’s responsible.”
“Sure do.” Once again Bruce felt as though he was missing some important bit of context, as the Red Bat looked him right in the eyes, full of triumph. “People don’t talk to you. Everyone knows you don’t go far enough. They talk to me. I’ve got the name.”
Undoubtedly, the Red Bat planned to kill him. Bruce could see it. “Who?” Bruce asked.
“Uh-uh. I’m telling Dick first. They were his parents.”
“How sure are you?” Bruce demanded. He didn’t want to give Dick any false hope.
“Got it from a Maroni man threatening to kill me like his pal did for Dick’s parents,” the Red Bat said. “They were trying to be scary. I’m pretty sure he was telling the truth about that one. Not much good trying to intimidate me with things that never happened.”
From the sounds of it, it wasn’t much good trying to intimidate the Red Bat even with stories of things that did happen. “Very well,” Bruce said. “I’ll let you see Dick. To tell him the news, at least.”
The Red Bat’s expression softened just a little. Whatever else could be said about this young man, it was clear that he cared for Dick. More than he cared for his equipment, more than he cared about his own health, and more than he hated Bruce. He still could not in good conscience let Dick go with the Red Bat, but he could at least let them speak.
Dick woke up to Mr Pennyworth’s soft knocking on the door of the room Bruce had let him use. “Master Dick? Excuse me, Master Dick?”
“What is it?” Dick asked. He was tired. He didn’t think he’d had a nightmare this time, even though it was still hard to sleep in a room as quiet and empty as this one was. He was glad Mr Pennyworth didn’t just let himself in, though.
“Master Bruce sent me to fetch you,” Mr Pennyworth said. “There’s someone here to see you.”
Someone. His parents were dead, the circus was gone - “Jason?” he asked, sitting upright and scrambling out of bed as fast as he could. “Is it Jason?”
“Indeed,” Mr Pennyworth said. “I will show you the way, if you are dressed.”
Dick pulled on his clothes as quickly as he could. Jason. He’d been so worried. “Okay,” he said, pulling open the door. “I’m ready.”
“Very well, Master Dick.” He led Dick through the confusing halls that Dick still wasn’t used to. Every time he walked down this hall it seemed like there was a staircase in a different place. They went past the kitchen - Dick knew where that was - and into the rooms near it, all the different dining rooms.
It seemed like they passed fifty rooms before Mr Pennyworth stopped outside one. Dick could just barely hear voices inside. “No, stay there,” Bruce said. “He’ll come to you.”
“I thought -” a familiar voice said, and Dick crashed through the door without a second thought. He only stopped himself from hugging Jason at the last second, because Jason didn’t look very well. “Never mind. I shouldn’t be surprised. Hey, Dick.”
“I was worried,” Dick said. He could feel tears again, and he sniffed them back. He wasn’t a baby. “Bruce said you were hurt. He showed me the camera from the hospital.”
Jason glanced up at Bruce, who was standing near the door acting more like Batman than he usually did upstairs. They didn’t like each other much, Dick could tell. He wasn’t surprised, not after the things Jason had said, but it still make him sad. He liked both of them. He wanted them to like each other. “Are you going to keep your promise, old man?” Jason asked Bruce.
It was weird, because Bruce wasn’t that old. From the look on Bruce’s face he wasn’t expecting to be called old either. “Of course,” Bruce said. To Dick, he added, “Jason here has asked to speak with you alone for a few minutes. You’re comfortable with that?”
Dick nodded. “He looked after me before,” he reminded Bruce. “I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll be outside if you want me,” Bruce said, and left.
As soon as the door shut behind him, Jason sagged in his seat. He really didn’t look well. “I hate being here,” he muttered.
Dick didn’t know what to say to that. Jason looked like he was hurt, and Dick only knew a little about why he was hurt. His leg, yes, but something else too. Something to do with Bruce. “Are you okay?” he asked. It was the only thing he could think of to ask.
“Fine,” Jason said. “I just - look, is Bruce treating you okay?”
“Uh-huh,” Dick said. “He’s been helping me learn how to investigate.” Jason had helped him a lot, he’d been kind when almost nobody else in Gotham had been kind, but he didn’t understand. Bruce did. Dick had to do something about this.
That only made Jason frown harder. “He doesn’t waste time,” he said. “He promised to take you out on the streets too?”
“Only to visit you,” Dick said. “Do you think he would?”
He could find the man who murdered his parents first, and then he could keep helping, so that nobody else had to lose their parents either. Why not? He was fast. The rooftops weren’t a big deal. He could learn to fight and all the investigation things Bruce knew. It would be dangerous, but that didn’t matter. He could do it. He liked the idea.
But Jason just said, voice cracking, “I doubt it.”
Dick was the one to frown, then. “I’ll convince him, then.” Bruce understood. He had to, or he wouldn’t be Batman.
Jason stared at him, and Dick knew he’d said something very wrong. “I have to get you out of here,” Jason said. “He’s already doing it.”
“Doing what?” Dick asked. It sounded bad too. It was hard to believe that Bruce could do bad things like the people at St Jude’s, but -
“Nothing like what you’re thinking,” Jason said harshly. “But we have to get you out of here all the same. You remember the plan. Kill the guy who killed your parents, then find you a proper foster family. I’ve got the name.”
“You do?” Dick asked, heart pounding. As much as he wanted to hear this name, why wouldn’t Jason listen? Dick didn’t want this proper family. He wanted his family. If he couldn’t have them, he didn’t want to just replace them like that. “Tell me.”
Jason shook his head. “I don’t trust you,” he said.
“He killed my parents,” Dick snarled at him.
“You’re going to run off if I tell you,” Jason said. “Do you think I’m stupid? We go out together or I don’t tell you shit.”
He meant it. Dick stared, once again hating Jason more than he deserved. It seemed as though he’d need to convince Jason of things too. He fled the room without another word, thinking hard.
Goddamn it. Dick’s temper was somehow always a surprising thing, flaring up sudden and ugly from behind that smiley mask of his, then hidden away once the damage was done. It was one of the (many) reasons Jason had never got on with his older counterpart. Too much walking on eggshells. He let Dick go. If he was anything like Older Dick, and Jason had just seen evidence of that, then there’d be no talking to him. He was more likely to get his hand bitten off.
In the meantime, Bruce was back, looking thundercloud Bat-ominous. “I didn’t touch him,” Jason said. “I just told him no. Someone’s gotta be a parent here, right?”
“Dick is being cared for here,” Bruce said flatly.
“Sure,” Jason replied. “And the over-under on him sneaking out to chase mobsters is…?”
“Alfred will keep an eye on him.”
“Alfred can’t be in two places at once,” Jason countered. He’d managed to sneak out of the Manor more than once by waiting until Alfred had something on the stove or was busy supervising the housekeepers and groundskeepers trusted to maintain the inessential areas of Wayne Manor. “I’m going to head outside again. If he makes it over the walls, I’ll be able to pick him up.”
Bruce sized him up again. “At least let us give you some food first,” he said at last, and awkwardly.
That was an offer Jason had never been able to turn down, unless there was real danger. “Fine,” he said. Alfred delivered him a sandwich forthwith, reassuring him as he did so that Dick was in his room. That wasn’t going to last.
Jason left Wayne Manor better fed than he’d arrived, but otherwise not happy. No doubt Bruce was watching him like a hawk. He headed towards a house with one of the better views of Wayne Manor, settling into one of the attics after a brief, painful climb. The owners were out at the moment, and he trusted his ability to stay hidden in the house. Not a viable long-term solution, but better than nothing while tiny Dick cooled off.
But that wasn’t right. If Bruce was watching Jason, and Alfred was, as Jason had said, perpetually busy with other things, who was keeping an eye on Dick? Jason could only see so much of the street from here.
He was just about to head back to the Manor, again, Bruce be damned, when there was a creak behind him, and a muffled thump.
That hadn’t taken long at all, and Dick was sneakier than he thought. Jason turned, ready to deal with that stubborn little shit, and pulled up short at the sight of blond hair.
“Jason! Thank goodness,” Dick said. Fully grown, suddenly dyed blond, older-than-Jason how-was-he-even-here Dick “I’ve been looking for you for days. Come on, let’s get out of here before things get any worse.”
Thanks for reading/commenting/leaving kudos/bookmarks!
“What the fuck?” Jason said. “Dick? What the hell? What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you, like I said,” Dick replied. He looked strange blond. “I saw you go into that portal…thing…but even once we’d rounded up the meta it took B a while to work out just where you’d gone. He had to ask for League help. He’s back in our timeline working the tech. I volunteered for the rescue mission. Tried to see if I could get a call through to you once I got here, but I couldn’t work with the signals.”
“I broke my phone anyway,” Jason said, feeling like he’d missed a thing or three. “First night I was here. I fell on it.”
“That explains that,” Dick said. “I’ve got your stuff back from the GCPD already. Come on, Bruce’ll be opening the portal back in three hours, for an hour. If we miss it we’ll have to wait another three days here. It’s a bit energy-intensive. Are you all right to climb down? You look a little…”
“Shot?” Jason asked. “Yeah. Cop did it.”
“Explains why I couldn’t find you,” Dick said. “I wish we could have got there sooner, but thanks for getting out of Blackgate, makes things easier. Are you good to climb or not?”
“Fine and dandy,” Jason said. “But I’m not going yet.“
“I’m looking after your stupid ass,” Jason said. “Did you always have a death wish or have I changed things here?”
Dick sighed. Looked like Jason was in for some condescending big-brother-knows-best treatment. “It’s an alternate timeline,” Dick said wearily. “Branching off from your arrival. You’re changing things here, but you’re not changing me. Yes, I was always like that, and no, it’s not a death wish.”
“Could have fooled me! You know what I found you doing?”
“At a guess? Sneaking out of the orphanage to try and find the man who killed my parents,” Dick said, voice flat.
Jason stopped dead. Alternate timeline, braching off from Jason’s arrival. That meant - in his past - Dick had been in St Jude’s, climbing past barbed wire in the dead of night to hunt down murderers. Alone. Same as tiny Dick, out there. “Did you - their funeral -?” he asked, dreading the answer.
“No,” Dick said. “Look, for obvious reasons, this is not a fun bit of timeline for me to hang out in, so if it’s all the same to you I’d like to get going…”
He looked through the grimy attic window to the road outside Wayne Manor. Still no sign of Dick. Tiny Dick. Older Dick said it wasn’t a death wish, but Jason didn’t trust him. Either of him. “Go, then,” he said. “Maybe nobody stopped you from doing stupid shit like this, but I’m stopping that you from doing stupid shit like this.”
Dick sighed heavily. “Jason, please?”
“No,” Jason said, and set his feet against possible sneak attacks.
It didn’t come. Instead, Dick started back out the skylight. “I’ll let B know I found you and that you’re reasonably all right, gunshot wound or no gunshot wound,” Dick said. He gave Jason an address, a motel not far from Crime Alley, and tossed him a communicator. “That’s where I’m staying, if you need supplies. Food, clothes, your stuff too. I’ve got the comm rigged to work. You will let me know when you’re done here, won’t you?”
“Sure,” Jason said. He even meant it. Dick had his things, after all. He watched Dick leave, and then went back to watching the walls of Wayne Manor.
As the hours dragged on, there was still no sign of tiny Dick. He was leaving it later than he’d thought. Past or present, Dick wasn’t exactly known for his patience.
What Dick was known for, in some circles, was the manipulative streak he’d learned off Bruce. He was just nicer about using it than Bruce was. Jason narrowed his eyes. Still no sign of tiny Dick. With the sinking feeling that he’d been played, Jason hit the comm to call bigger Dick.
“Jason,” Dick greeted him. “You ready to come back now? We’ve still got forty minutes. You can make it. I’m ready to go if you are.”
“You son of a bitch,” Jason said. “What do you know?”
The beat of silence at the other end told him almost everything he needed to know. Everything except how.
“You and Bruce,” Dick said at last, “you’re city boys. There are these things called trees. You can climb them just as well as buildings. Right now, there’s a bunch of trees up against the fenceline at the back of the property. Bruce has only got a few cameras there at the moment. It’s not so hard to get over the fence and sneak back to the main roads that way.”
Jason cursed. “Do you want to get yourself killed?” he hissed, remembering at the last minute that the owners of the house were actually back downstairs.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” said Dick. “Jason, look. I know you don’t understand - you don’t even want to understand - but Bruce was the best thing to happen to me after my parents died. I don’t want you to mess this up for other me.”
For a second, Jason considered it. He remembered tiny Dick too angry and sad to speak English after he’d been locked in that cupboard, and tiny Dick sobbing through a nightmare on the couch in the shitty apartment. Then he imagined Bruce, perpetually clueless, forever putting others in danger for his stupid mission. Who in their right mind would let Bruce look after a child? “Then you’re an idiot,” Jason said. “I’m not enabling it.”
He hung up.
Tiny Dick probably had a few hours head start on him now. A head start to where, Jason had no clue. This Dick didn’t know Gotham well, but whatever Jason said to his older counterpart, the kid wasn’t actually stupid. He was worryingly clever. More than clever enough to find his way back to Gotham, and from there into too much trouble for him to handle.
He just didn’t know where Dick would be looking for that trouble. He’d said something about learning to investigate from Bruce. Which meant…
Jason hauled himself out of the attic and marched right back to Wayne Manor. To his total lack of surprise, Alfred answered the buzzer right away.
“Now I really need your help,” Jason said.
Bruce felt like a fool. He felt even worse because he’d been tricked by an eight-year-old. Admittedly he was impressed as well, but still.
Watching the surveillance footage, brought up on the computers in Bruce’s study, it happened just as the Red Bat had said. Dick had waited until Alfred dropped his guard to cook the evening meal and Bruce was in the cave working out how the Red Bat had got here, then headed straight for the back west wall and climbed the trees to get out. A simple, well-executed plan to escape that he’d clearly had in mind for a while.
The Red Bat himself stared balefully at that same footage. Despite what he said about needing Bruce’s help, he didn’t seem eager to share any information of his own. “I knew it,” he muttered. “Fucking knew it.”
“Did you tell him the name of the man who murdered his parents?” Bruce asked.
“I am not stupid,” the Red Bat ground out. “If I told him, he’d’ve bolted.”
Dick had bolted anyway, and Bruce had no idea where he might be headed. Not with the Red Bat here and no solid leads on his parents’ murderer. Where else would he go, in all of Gotham?
“What did you tell him?” the Red Bat asked. “He could be chasing anything.”
“I told him about the Maroni family,” Bruce said. “He accessed my files on his parents’ deaths.”
The Red Bat looked at him skeptically. “He hacked your passwords?” Bruce felt even more a fool when the Red Bat realised and started to laugh. “You didn’t even have passwords! Ever heard of childproofing? Parental safety controls? Family browsing settings?”
Bruce frowned; he hadn’t heard of the latter two. Some sort of programs to to prevent children from using computers improperly? He had been seeing articles in the newspaper about the dangers internet pornography could pose to children, but those only tended to mention watching children as they used computers rather than computer programs designed to prevent access. He might not have read the articles carefully enough - the internet habits of children not being of great interest to him.
Though, as the Red Bat said, his computer security would have to change as long as Dick was in the house.
Just as interesting was the Red Bat’s reaction to his own words. His eyes widened in some realisation Bruce was not privy to and couldn’t guess at.
“I was careful not to tell Dick any locations where he might be able to find Maroni people,” Bruce said. “I don’t know if he read through enough of my files to learn anything.”
“Goddamn it. Negligent as ever. You don’t have the first fucking clue.” While Bruce added as ever to the rapidly growing list of out-of-place comments from the Red Bat, the Red Bat ran his hands through his hair in palpable frustration. He’d just turned to Bruce again, no doubt to give him another earful, when he stopped short. “Sorry. Got to take this call.”
The Red Bat had acquired an earpiece, Bruce realised, a tiny device hooked over his ear barely visible under his hair. It hadn’t been there earlier, he was certain. Instead of protesting, he listened.
“I don’t care,” the Red Bat said to whoever was on the other end. “You know how to get me to cooperate with you. It’s easy.”
The mysterious associate? Perhaps. The Red Bat had denied all knowledge of such a person not long before. If so, had the associate been watching and waiting for a chance to speak to the Red Bat privately?
“No, you ran off,” the Red Bat said. “Twice over. You going to help or not? If anyone would know - no, I don’t -”
There was a long and ominous silence. “Your perspective is stupid,” the Red Bat snapped at last. “If you’re not going to help, at least stay out of my way.”
When the Red Bat turned back to him, Bruce asked, “Who was that?”
“A dick,” the Red Bat said.
“A dick,” the Red Bat repeated, which Bruce couldn’t help but notice was neither a confirmation nor a denial. “He’s not going to be any help. The opposite, maybe, depending on just how much of a total douchebag he feels like being. Is it dark enough for us to go out looking for the kid yet?”
“We have no leads,” Bruce said. “I would prefer to see if we can find him from here first.”
The Red Bat groaned with frustration, as near to frantic as Bruce had seen him. Again he was struck by just how much the Red Bat cared for Dick. It was strange, in some respects; dropping everything to provide full-time care for a small child not related to him (biologically or legally) did not fit with his image, nor even what seeemed to be his preferred tactics. Bruce would have thought the Red Bat’s preferred method of caring for such vulnerable people would be to hand them over to those better-suited and better-resourced for caretaking.
There wasn’t time to continue figuring out the Red Bat, though, not when Dick was wandering Gotham. That had to be his first priority. “We’ll take this downstairs,” he said. The computers he had in the cave were better.
“Fine,” the Red Bat said. He didn’t look surprised by this, nor puzzled. As if he knew about the cave already, in fact. Bruce just couldn’t think of how he might know. It was going to drive him mad. How open was his security?
Downstairs, Alfred already had all the screens Bruce had devoted to showing as much of the Gotham streets as security cameras could capture. There were more every week, and getting access to their feeds was a time-consuming chore. At least there were only so many ways someone could get from Wayne Manor to the heart of the city. Between him, Alfred, and the Red Bat, the three of them could almost surely find Dick. Without another word, the Red Bat pulled up a seat and started scouring the surveillance tapes as though he did it every day.
Twenty minutes passed, and every minute the possibilities as to Dick’s location expanded. It was truly dark out now, even worse. Bruce knew why Dick had left, but he shouldn’t be out there alone-
“I believe I have found something,” Alfred said. “There is a rather small shadow climbing a fire escape here.”
“Lots of kids climb to get out of trouble,” the Red Bat said. “It’s not enough.”
Alfred tilted the screen so they could all see. “Fewer children are quite so acrobatic,” he said.
Bruce had to admit he was correct. Dick really did move in a distinctive way. “When was this?” Bruce asked.
“Ten minutes ago,” Alfred said, checking the timestamp.
Bruce pulled a map of Gotham up on his own screen and drew a circle around the camera location, about as far as he thought Dick might be able to travel on foot in ten minutes. Then he expanded it slightly, to account for the time they’d need to check. “These are the cameras along the routes he might take from that point,” he said.
The Red Bat was already working. Bruce couldn’t help but frown. The Red Bat was familiar with Bruce’s systems, it seemed, and that should be impossible. Bruce didn’t run a standard operating system on a standard PC. Nor had he detected any signs of his computers being accessed remotely, nor did the Red Bat have any real computers amongst his assets. At least, none that could be all that powerful.
Then the Red Bat started cursing again.
Bruce’s heart pounded. “Is it Dick?” he asked.
The response was a bitter laugh. “Funny you should ask,” the Red Bat said, already halfway to the vehicle bay without so much as an it’s over there, though it wasn’t in line of sight. “I have to go. I’m taking your bike. You need to find the kid fast, or he’ll know just where he need to go to find -”
“Find who?” Bruce asked, as the Red Bat grabbed the keys (Bruce hadn’t told him where those were, either) and kicked it into gear. The killer. The Red Bat knew who killed John and Mary Grayson.
“Tony Zucco,” the Red Bat said, and zoomed out.
Bruce turned back to the screen the Red Bat had been working from. It showed a rooftop with a young man on it, moving easily across the pipes and various rooftop hazards, and looking up at the camera briefly as he passed by. He was somehow familiar, but Bruce couldn’t place him immediately.
More importantly, he was blond, wearing neat, sober street clothing, and the Red Bat obviously knew him.
“I found Master Dick,” Alfred said, behind him.
“Keep me updated, and find this Zucco,” Bruce said, and climbed into the car. Dick first, and then the Red Bat and his friend.
Dick decided that this should be far enough. Neither Bruce nor Jason had caught up to him yet, and hopefully they wouldn’t, not right away. He wanted to see if he could follow them.
Jason knew who killed his parents. He might go there. If Dick could follow him, he might find where the man who killed his parents was that way. He wished Jason had just told him instead.
He also really thought someone would have come after him by now, but he’d been right that Bruce hadn’t thought about the trees near the fence. Instead, it was past dark, and Dick was back in the middle of the city again. Now that he looked at it again, from on top of a roof, he thought he might be able to get to like all the colourful lights in Gotham. They were pretty. Like the whole town was a circus. Or close enough.
Dick picked his way over a rooftop to where a group of people were hanging around a doorway. He could hear music inside, the sort that was made by computers and loud enough for him to feel it through his feet. He tried to listen to the conversations people were having below, but it was too loud for that. He moved on.
Through another window he could see a bunch of women working late mending clothing. Dick used to sit with his mother and watch her sew like that. She’d been teaching him how to mend things too. He missed her, a lot, and he was going to find out where she and his dad were buried too, after he’d found who killed them. He didn’t think he’d find the killer here, though. Bruce thought it was a man from a gang, and the women mending things didn’t look like a gang to him. He needed to find a place more like the door with the loud music. Maybe not quite so loud though.
Dick made his way over more rooftops, making sure to keep watching for Bruce-as-Batman or Jason. There was one shadow moving along with him, that didn’t look like either of them. Dick sped ahead, then hid behind one of the big pipe things with the fans. Just so he could see if they really were following him.
They were. Dick couldn’t see him well, but they stopped a good distance away. “Hello,” the man said. “Dick? I’m not going to hurt you.”
Dick knew better than to believe that. He stayed quiet.
“I’m looking for you for Bruce,” the man said. “It’s okay. I know Jason too. They’re both looking for you right now.”
“You know both of them?” Dick asked. He could get over the nearest edge of the rooftop no problems if this guy was mean. “What’s Bruce’s butler called?”
“Alfred Pennyworth,” the man said right away. “British. Always wears a nice suit, even late at night. And Bruce -” he dropped his voice to a carrying whisper “- is Batman.”
Good enough, Dick decided. He knew Bruce, at least. And he could still get over the edge of the roof. “Okay,” he said. “Do you know where Bruce and Jason are?”
“Last I heard, still at the Manor,” the other guy said, Dick peeked over the pipe thing. The man was blond and wearing very boring clothes, but he was built a lot like Dick’s dad was. No wonder he’d been able to follow Dick on the rooftops. “They’re using the cameras to follow you.”
The cameras? “No,” Dick said. They weren’t coming. His plan wasn’t going to work. Nobody was going to tell him.
The blond man took a step closer. “Sorry,” he said. “I know why you’re out here, though. I know who killed your parents, and I know where you can find him.”
It sounded to good to be true. “What do you get out of this?” Dick asked.
“All I want is to set things right for you,” the blond man said. “As much as they can be. If it makes you feel better, Bruce would tell you if he knew. He really does understand, and he really does care. He just got a bit distracted. Things happened, mostly with Jason. He was worried about keeping you safe. Alfred too. What do you say?”
He shouldn’t. But he was tired of waiting. This could be his only chance. And he needed - so badly -
“All right,” Dick said. “Tell me.”
The blond man smiled, and told him.
Oh man, I'm so sorry I didn't respond to everyone who left comments on the last chapter, but seriously, thank you thank you thank you, they all made my day. I'd been waiting to bring you that development for a while. Thanks for reading this chapter too!
The blond man stayed with him as they started heading towards where he’d said they could find Tony Zucco. The man who’d killed Dick’s parents. His heart beat faster just thinking about it. He was going to make Zucco pay.
But there was also the person next to him. Dick still didn’t know who he was. So he asked, “Who are you?”
“Jason’s brother,” the man said.
He’d thought Jason had a brother. Dick looked carefully at the man. He didn’t look much like Jason, he looked more like Dick than he looked like Jason even if he was blond, but that didn’t mean anything. Lots of people didn’t look like their brothers or sisters. Jason’s brother wasn’t quite as tall as Jason was, and he moved very differently. He smiled more too. “What’s your name?” Dick asked.
“Kent,” the man said. He smiled again. It didn’t look quite real. Dick knew performance smiles when he saw them.
“Where are we going, exactly?” Dick asked. “You just said south.”
“Zucco’s hiding at the moment,” Kent said, already moving towards the next rooftop, “but he’ll be hiding somewhere he thinks is safe. The Maronis have a few businesses not far from here. There’s a restaurant. He should be there, or a bar not far from there that his cousin runs.”
“How do we get him out?” Dick asked. He didn’t think they could fight all of the Maroni gang. Even if he wanted to, for hiding Zucco. They shouldn’t do things like that either.
“Leave that to me,” Kent said. “I’ve had some practice with this sort of thing.”
Dick didn’t know that he had a choice at this point. They kept going. After another rooftop, Kent said, “You’re more trusting than I expected. I was in St Jude’s myself when I was about your age. It was…harrowing. I barely believed anything a grown-up said for a year after I got out.”
“I wasn’t there for long,” Dick said. He didn’t know what ‘harrowing’ meant but it sounded bad. “Jason got me out.”
“So I see,” Kent said, with a smile that looked a bit less fake than the last. “I’m glad he did.”
They travelled a bit further in silence. Kent was always looking around. Dick didn’t know for what, but it seemed like a good idea. He started doing it too. Maybe Bruce and Jason would catch up to them. That would be good. He’d rather do this with more people, even if he wanted to deal with Zucco himself.
Eventually, Kent stopped at a rooftop where they could see a few buildings lit up inside like people were busy. “This is it,” he said. “Can you be patient a bit longer while I see if he’s there?”
“How are you going to check?” Dick asked.
“I’ll check the back windows first,” Kent said. “I might be able to see them through there.”
Dick stuck his jaw out. His father had always told him it made him look as stubborn as he was, which he didn’t always mean to say something nice about Dick. “I can look through back windows as well as you can. I want to come with you.”
Kent looked at him for a long time, with an expression on his face a lot like his mother used to look at him when Dick wanted to do a better trick on the trapeze and she wasn’t sure he could do it right. Dick scowled back; Kent barely knew him and wasn’t allowed to look at him like that. “Just stay very quiet.”
He nodded, and Kent moved off again. Dick followed, being very careful not to make a sound. The back of the building was a lot plainer and dirtier than the front. There were still people out there smoking. Kent pulled Dick back before they could be seen.
Dick looked up, but Kent shook his head. Neither of them were Zucco. “We need to get somewhere we can see through the windows,” Kent whispered.
There weren’t many windows back here. Two only, both of them dirty as the alley below them. Dick wasn’t sure they’d be able to see through them at all. Kent kept creeping around. He made Dick feel noisy. He stopped again at the next window. “There,” Kent whispered. “Inside. That’s him.”
Dick looked. The man in the window was no more than a shape through the dirty glass, but Dick remembered him from outside Mr Haly’s trailer. Not very tall. Stocky. That nose, like someone had squashed it flat. This was the man who killed his parents.
Before Dick could do anything, Kent grabbed his elbow. “I know,” he said, something in his voice Dick didn’t recognise. “I know. Not yet. Just a few more minutes.”
“Why?” Dick asked. “He killed my parents!”
“I know,” Kent said again. “Soon. Minutes. We have to do this right. So nobody else gets hurt, even by accident.”
Dick fumed and settled down. Minutes. Zucco was right there.
“We’re going to have to split up for a bit,” Kent said. He took something from his pocket, like a little computer, and checked it. “I’ll go in through the front and drive him out the back towards you. Be ready to climb.”
Zucco was still by the window. The door wasn’t too far. The alley they were over was a dead end, and he wouldn’t head to the street, would he? No, Dick thought Kent was right. If Zucco was smart, he’d climb, and Dick would be waiting for him. Four floors up, like most of the buildings on this street.
Satisfied with the plan, he crouched behind a bit of piping to wait. Soon.
Bruce sped out after the Red Bat in the car, but the younger man had enough of a head start (and drove recklessly enough) that Bruce had lost sight of him. “Activate the trackers on that bike,” he radioed back to Alfred.
“I can only do so many things at once, Master Batman,” Alfred replied. “Which item on your agenda do you want done first?”
“Dick,” Bruce said immediately. The Red Bat could look after himself.
After a few seconds, Alfred reported, “Still heading south in the company of the Red Bat’s associate.” There was another pause, and then, “The young man really does look remarkably familiar. I can’t think where, but I could swear I’ve seen him someplace before.”
Bruce cast his mind back to the grainy security footage. He’d thought as much himself, though it was hard to tell when the picture was that unclear. Not to mention he saw so many people, as both Batman and Bruce Wayne. The man wasn’t wearing a mask, though, and clearly did not care to conceal his identity from others. He could be like the Red Bat, though, without records. Bruce had the feeling he wouldn’t know unless he managed to track them down and make them talk. Somehow. The Red Bat did not seem like a pushover in that regard; who knew about this associate.
This associate, whose interest in Dick was unknown and unexplained. They could want anything. At least he knew the Red Bat cared - and the Red Bat did not seem to think the associate had Dick’s best interests in mind.
He drove faster.
The Red Bat knew who killed John and Mary Grayson, and this associate clearly knew as well. It wasn’t clear how the latter had discovered it, nor why the Red Bat thought he’d tell Dick. Nor what anyone would accomplish by doing so, except putting Dick in grave danger.
Bruce, though, Bruce could think of a great many things that might come from such a confrontation. He’d thought about that exact thing almost every day for years after his own parents were murdered. He’d never got the chance.
A confrontation might be good for Dick. A controlled one. Not like this. If it ended with Dick able to bring Zucco in to the police, so much the better.
He was almost into the centre of the city, no sign of the Red Bat, when Alfred relayed Dick’s position. South of where they’d found him in the cave, near the heart of Maroni operations. There were at least three businesses there run by the family. There weren’t so many security cameras there, since the Maronis provided security, but one on a rooftop access door showed Dick huddled down and waiting for something or someone, eyes fixed on a point across from him.
Bruce pulled over to confirm on his street maps - Dick was staring right at one of the businesses he knew were Maroni-run. Zucco might well be lying low there.
He himself was close enough to make the rest of the way on foot. Still no sign of the Red Bat. He’d probably gone somewhere closer to Dick’s last known position. Bruce climbed to the rooftops, clearly Dick’s preferred way of traversing Gotham’s streets, and started towards the boy.
In the distance ahead, he heard a shout. A grown man’s shout. Coming from near where he thought Dick was.
Bruce started running.
Dick wasn’t answering his comm. It was deliberate, Jason knew. That ass. When Jason caught up, he was going to break Dick’s fucking legs. Adult Dick, not kid Dick.
Thanks to older Dickhead, the kid had made it all the way into town and was hanging about one of the busier areas of nighttime Gotham. It was still too early for a lot of the wilder parties and more serious criminal business, but still late enough for some. Crooks met each other for business dinners too.
If Jason could recall the gang lines, and he’d been straining his memory ever since he found himself back in time, Dick was hanging out on the border between the Penguin’s territory (small as it was at this point) and shrinking Falcone territory. Maroni territory, which is what Dick would be heading towards, started a few blocks south. He thought. Definitely south. Once again, and god he hated to think it, but he could use Bruce’s -
- he’d forgotten to arrange a way to stay in contact with Bruce. Damn it. He’d been so - okay, fine, worried. Well, Bruce shoud be following him anyway. He’d catch up eventually.
Jason kept speeding towards the old (current) Maroni stomping grounds. He didn’t know exactly where Zucco, and therefore Dick and Dick, would be. It might even be esaier to track down Dick rather than Zucco. That was the better idea. Especially since Dick had Dick in tow. Two people sneaking over the rooftops (and Dick would be on the rooftops) were much more noticeable than one.
He parked the bike and headed up. He should be nearly there, or nearly wherever. Just a matter of finding them, now. Jason cast around, looking for movement on the rooflines. Surely Dick would be up here still. Either of them.
Nothing. Goddamnit, this was not the time for Dick to find some patience stalking a target. Normally he couldn’t stay still, either of him, so why wasn’t he moving about on the rooftops for Jason to see?
Then there was a shout. Jason knew what a grown man shouting sounded like; he knew how it sounded when that man was in pain and fear. He barreled towards the source of the noise as fast as he could, stealth ignored, leg burning. He was going to pay for all this activity later, he knew. This was going to affect his recovery.
He didn’t even know what he was running for. So what if tiny Dick killed Zucco? Jason didn’t care. It wasn’t going to implode the timeline. It’d do Dick good to get some revenge, too. Why did it even matter if Jason arrived at the scene?
It didn’t. Did it?
He pulled up short. What on earth was older Dick trying to accomplish here, by telling kid Dick where to find Zucco? Older Dick was almost as ‘no killing’ as Bruce was. He sure as shit hadn’t killed Zucco in their own timeline, Jason was sure of it, even if he didn't know what had happened to their Zucco or how any of this went down.
So what did he want here and now?
Jason wasn’t going to find out just hanging around here. He had to get closer. Where the shouting was coming from. Jason sped up again, but resolved to see what was going on, at least. Maybe intervene if he had to, depending. The shouting grew more urgent, also closer. The police would be here soon. Or other Maroni people. Maybe both.
Then, over a safety barrier, Jason saw Bruce’s cowled silhouette, focused on something else. Dick, it had to be, one way or another.
Bruce started to move towards the commotion as well, just as Jason heard the shouting resolve into words. “No, please! Please!”
Whatever Dick replied wasn’t loud enough for Jason to hear over the harshness of his own breathing. Damn it, last to the party, and with the least idea of what was going on. Which, given that he was a time-traveller, he really had no excuse for. He hurdled one last gap between rooftops, cursing his injured leg as he rolled to protect it from the worst of the abuse, and saw, across the narrow gap between him and the last roof -
Tiny Dick, standing at the edge of a four-story building. Below him, hanging onto that same edge, Tony Zucco.
“Please!” Zucco shouted.
Tiny Dick looked unmoved. It wasn’t a look Jason ever thought he’d see on Dick’s face. What didn’t Dick get emotional about? But then, Jason also knew some feelings were too big and too complicated to fit on your face. “Why should I?” tiny Dick said quietly, so quietly that Jason barely heard him.
Bruce was still too far away to catch Zucco. If Dick let him fall, that would be that. He’d be dead, or at the very least seriously injured. The concrete below was no more forgiving than tiny Dick’s burning eyes. “Dick,” he called out. “Dick, wait.”
Not Dick, stop. It took Jason, for one, aback. Still, he shook himself out of it. “Or not,” he shouted back. If Zucco was going to grab Dick’s ankles and hurl him off the building, taking them both down, he would have already done it. Dick just had to kick the man’s fingers a few times. “He killed your parents! The cops aren’t doing shit! Go for it!”
As soon as the words had left his mouth, they sounded wrong. Sure, Jason was fine killing Zucco. If he could stand more steadily, aim more reliably, he’d still be fine putting a bullet or three in the man if Dick said he wanted it. He’d want it, in Dick’s shoes.
But this was Dick. Tiny Dick. The kid version. God knew he was angry, even grown-up Dick had a nasty temper still, it was just - Dick, stepping on a man’s fingers and making him fall like his own parents had fallen? Dick? Smiling, cheerful, Boy Scout Dick? True, Jason had a bit more appreciation for just how much of that was a mask, now, but there were parts that weren’t. He’d followed Jason out, he’d kept going out, because of his stubborn insistence that he couldn’t stand by and let bad things happen. Jason wasn’t sure that determination could survive killing a man, not like this.
What did Dick want? What did he need? Jason wasn’t sure he knew anymore. If he ever had.
And while Jason thought, Bruce acted.
Not a dramatic dive to save Zucco. The man was still hanging on okay, though he couldn’t hold on forever. Just a few steps forward. “Dick, wait a second,” Bruce said. He didn’t growl, or snap out an order, again to Jason’s surprise. “Is this what you want?”
Dick kept staring down at Zucco as he snarled, “He killed my parents.”
“I know,” Bruce replied. Jason stared. He knew Bruce well enough to hear something else in his voice. Something that wasn’t just I am the night. It sounded a lot like grief. It seemed Dick heard it too, because he looked up at Bruce as well. “Now you have a choice.”
Dick looked back down, where Zucco was starting to show real strain. Jason could see his fingers slipping. “A choice,” he repeated. Weighing his options.
“I didn’t know your parents, Dick,” Bruce said, taking another step closer. “I couldn’t tell you what they would have wanted. I wouldn’t presume to think I could. Just - ask yourself how they would want you to make this decision. What would they want you to think about? What would they want you to do?”
Dick pressed his lips together. Then he leaned down and started hauling Zucco up. He was small, but he was strong. It didn’t take long.
Jason had only an instant to be surprised, because as soon as Zucco was safe, Dick started kicking him. Ribs, face, wherever he felt like. Hard. So vicious that Zucco didn’t have much of a chance to fight back, shaky as he was after his near-death experience. Tears shone in Dick’s eyes as he kicked again and again. He saw a tooth go flying, glinting in the streetlights. Then Bruce was there, towering over Dick, gently pulling him away from the man who’d murdered John and Mary Grayson, and handing him something in exchange. Zip ties, from the way they knelt down next to Zucco’s wheezing, bleeding form.
While tiny Dick was occupied with that, Jason saw Bruce glance his way, just for a second. His shoulders tensed, but then he deliberately turned back to Dick and what he was doing.
The movement, however, brought Jason back to his surroundings. Someone was standing behind him, Jason realised. He’d been so caught up in the drama he hadn’t even noticed. He turned to see Bigger Dick, watching the scene with a blank expression of his own. So blank, in fact, that Jason still couldn’t tell what he thought about all this.
Once Zucco was tied and tiny Dick was sobbing into Batman’s cape, Bigger Dick put his hand on Jason’s shoulder. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s leave them to it.”
Jason started drifting away. Tiny Dick, though - though Bruce, for once, looked like he might have this under control - “All right,” he said. “You better explain what the hell just happened.” He had the feeling that Bigger Dick had won something, though just what that was eluded him for the moment.
“As best I can,” Dick promised.
Thanks everyone so much for your patience and for the really great comments on the past two chapters! (Which is not to say I don't appreciate the kudos and the bookmarks and anyone just lurking, because I totally do.)
Chapter 19: Younger Selves
Content note: on top of the tagged warnings, this chapter contains references to drug abuse and sex work.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In the relatively short time Bruce had been Batman, he’d encountered more than his fair share of crying witnesses and victims. He’d never really known what to do in those situations, try as he might, especially where he came across a more serious crime.
That night, in that alley, there was nothing that could have helped him then, not after the gunshots.
It felt wrong to assure those people that what they were feeling would pass. It was wrong, Bruce was sure of that. It didn’t pass. Not really. Not in his experience. The edges wore down a little and everything rearranged itself to fit into a new life, after the crime. Some people, either lucky or with good help, managed to make that fit a clean one. But it didn’t ever go away.
Feeling very awkward about the whole thing, he put his arms around Dick’s back as the boy cried into Bruce’s cape with deep, gut-wrenching sobs. He thought that was probably the right thing to do, and it mattered more than Bruce just feeling awkward.
Soon enough, Dick quieted. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“You don’t need to be,” Bruce said. “You shouldn’t be sorry for crying.”
“I’m not a baby.”
“No,” Bruce agreed. “Just sad. For good reason.”
Dick sniffled. “When I got into fights, they said that it was good to stand up for myself and other people, but if I had to fight I shouldn’t hurt the other person more than I had to,” he explained. He looked back at Zucco. “Should we call the police now?”
That was going to be a problem. They didn’t have the sort of evidence that Batman preferred to have before handing a criminal over to the GCPD. In this case, he’d judged entirely on the words and actions of the Red Bat. He, at least, seemed convinced. As did his associate.
Bruce glanced up to the rooftop where they’d watched from. They were gone. He’d have to find them again later, if only so he could find out what they knew about this case and how they knew it. After all this, he didn’t want Zucco to escape justice.
“If we do, we also need to make a decision about what to tell the police about you,” he said. “They know you escaped from St Jude’s. They’ve been looking for you.”
Immediately, the boy pulled away. “I’m not going back,” he said.
“I’m not sending you back.” Bruce said. He ushered Dick away out of Zucco’s hearing. “I went there myself, looking for you. It’s not fit for any sort of habitation, let alone housing children. But nor can you live in my house illegally.”
Dick frowned. “Do you know someplace I could stay? I could go back to Jason.”
“I don’t think that would be best,” Bruce said. “Dick, you shouldn’t have to live in hiding from the authorities. But - if you are willing to trust me a bit longer - I can see if I can arrange for you to stay with me. Legally.”
It hadn’t even crossed his mind until then, but once he’d said it, it seemed right. Not that he’d ever interacted with many children, much less for any significant length of time, but he - he liked Dick. Respected him. He shouldn’t go back to the system that had mistreated him.
If nothing else, Bruce could provide Dick with more opportunities materially than Gotham’s foster system could. He could at least try to be Dick’s friend.
Dick looked up at him cautiously. Bruce could almost see the calculations in his head. “Would I have to go back to St Jude’s first?”
“Not St Jude’s,” Bruce said. “Somewhere else in the foster system, yes. I can’t make everything happen right away. It will take a little time. Maybe a few weeks at most for things to be decided. The Maronis may complicate things, but that’s where - well -”
His daytime life would be useful. Harder to enact any reprisals on Dick when Dick was living with and protected by all Bruce Wayne’s money, status, and security. Hopefully that would help persuade whatever bureaucrats he had to persuade. “It will be a better foster home, for the meantime,” Bruce said. “They do exist. The police officer I’ll call to deal with Zucco will make sure of it.”
“Okay,” Dick said. Understandably, he didn’t sound happy about it. Trust might be a bit easier, however, when Dick knew the Red Bat would rescue him from an intolerable situation in a heartbeat.
“I won’t leave you alone in there, either,” Bruce said. “If I have to visit you like this, I will.”
Dick nodded, and this time Bruce thought he looked relieved. “Let’s call the police,” he said. “I want to see them arrest him.”
“I think that would be a good idea,” Bruce agreed. He pointed to another rooftop, the same one as the Red Bat and his friend had been on. “That’s going to be the best vantage point.”
Bruce called it in as they climbed. When he was done, and when they were on the right rooftop, Dick asked, “What happens next?”
“To be honest, Dick, I can’t be sure. The Red Bat said that someone in Blackgate told him that Zucco killed your parents, but that’s called hearsay and can’t be used in court. We might need to find more evidence.” A hard truth, but better than lies.
Sure enough, Dick flared, “That’s not fair! If everyone knows he did it -”
“People might still lie,” Bruce said. “It’s to protect innocent people from being put in jail when they shouldn’t.”
Dick frowned at that. Bruce knew the feeling. “We’ll get the evidence,” he assured the boy. “Batman can listen to what people are saying. Batman doesn’t need a warrant either. We can still make sure the courts punish Zucco for what he did to your parents. You’ll have to testify yourself.”
“That means saying what I saw him do in court, right?’ Dick said. There were sirens getting close now. Uniformed officers would be there very soon. Gordon wouldn’t be far behind. “I can do that.”
It sounded as though he’d like nothing better.
When they were half a dozen blocks away, direction chosen for no reason Jason could see, he decided he’d had enough. He stopped dead in his tracks. Dick, head clearly somewhere else, didn’t notice for ten seconds and had to veer away from a roof edge before he fell.
“What is it, Jay?” he asked. “Is there something wrong?”
“Yeah,” Jason said. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Dick’s sigh was audible. He looked older with his hair blond. Or maybe it was just because he had something in mind and Jason was annoying him with his refusal to understand his crazy plans. Not happening. “I’ve told you,” Dick said. “You’re just not listening.”
“You’re not making any sense,” Jason said.
“What do you have to see before you get it?” Dick asked. “B just talked little me down from killing my parents’ murderer and you still don’t think that I might have a point that this is what I, he, needs right now.”
“Yeah, I saw,” Jason fired back. “What I don’t see is how joining in with the vigilante stuff makes it any better! Sure, you survived, but this is an alternate timeline, you moron, it doesn’t have to happen the same way here.” The only reason he didn’t grab Dick by the collar and shake him was because he was out of arm’s reach. On past experience it wouldn’t help shaking any sense into him anyway.
“Because,” Dick said, voice strained, “I don’t even know if there’s a because. I didn’t live in the suburbs. I was part of an aerialist routine. Even with a net, one fall off the ladder, one misjudged swing, one bad fall - my life was already dangerous. My parents just helped make it less dangerous than it might have been otherwise. Helping people helped me, and it never mattered if I might get hurt. Bruce made it less dangerous that it might have been otherwise. That’s all there is to it. Even if it’s a different timeline, it split so recently, I know it’s true for little me as well.”
The worst thing was, from what Jason had seen, he wasn’t lying. And the only thing he hadn’t seen was Dick’s act with his parents.
Before Jason could say something, come up with a scathing, devastating response to the load of horsecrap Dick had just spouted, Dick was saying more stuff. “I wanted to thank you, actually,” he continued. “For getting little me out of St Jude’s. I know I wasn’t in such good shape when I got out. Little me’s a lot better off than I was at this point.”
Curiosity warred with knowledge of St Jude’s, and curiosity won. “How long were you there for? In our timeline?”
“A bit over a month,” Dick said. “It took Bruce a little while to decide - well, you know, his parents were murdered in front of him too. I wasn’t the only one having nightmares when I arrived at the manor. I’d like to think that helping me helped him, too.”
Jason snorted. Well, he couldn’t blame Dick for not wanting to talk about St Jude’s. Jason had avoided it as a kid, and the little he’d seen wasn’t the sort of thing he’d think a resident would want to revisit. “Fat lot of good it did him,” he said, accepting the change of topic.
“Maybe. Maybe not,” Dick said. “All I’m asking is that you think about it, Jason. We’re not the same. I know - I know Robin wasn’t good for you like it was good for me.”
He shrugged. “Better than the streets,” he said. If he’d stayed there, he’d probably have died there too. Maybe five years or so later than he had as Robin, but he’d never expected to make it past twenty, twenty-five at most. Still wasn’t an excuse for Bruce, though. “Maybe I should track myself down and do something about it.”
“About that,” Dick said. “I have a bit of a confession to make there.”
“What have you done now?” Jason scowled.
“When I went looking for you, I started by finding little you,” he said. “I thought you might have gone to see if you could change things for yourself.”
Uh-oh. Jason could see where this was going. “Oh, you fucking hypocrite.”
“It wasn’t like that! When I saw you weren’t there, I meant to leave, let things go on as they were, but - your mother -”
“Was high as a kite? OD’d?”
“Close,” Dick said. “I couldn’t just leave her. Or little you. I don’t, didn’t, know what might happen to you.”
“Just tell me what you did already,” Jason demanded, visions of St Jude’s and places like that spinning through his head. He didn’t think Dick was that much of a dick, not really, but it was an old fear. Much older than his opinion of Dick. It went deep. Deeper than reason.
“It’s nothing bad, I swear,” Dick said. “I got your mother into a rehab centre. A decent one. It took me a while to get the money for it, or I would have found you a bit earlier. You’re in foster care. With a family. Fifteen years taking in kids, no reports of abuse. I checked them out myself and it didn’t seem like a case of nobody finding out about it.”
Jason barely heard the last few sentences. Dick had helped his mom. How many times had he wanted her to get clean? How many times had she promised? Every time, only to fail, and looking on the bright side was being thankful she preferred heroin to meth.
But everything had been stacked against her. Everyone his mom knew used. There wasn’t much else she could do for fun in Crime Alley. God knew if he’d been entertaining men to pay the rent, he’d want some drugs to take his mind off it. Affording medical assistance to help her kick the habit, doctors and medicine to manage the withdrawal and a shrink to help deal with the addiction and all the other unfair bullshit in her life, had never been on the table.
He had no idea how this would change things for her. Or for younger him. None at all.
“Where’d you get the money?” he asked, voice hoarse and throat tight.
“Worked over Bruce’s neighbours,” Dick said quietly. “Took a bunch of jewelry and fenced it. Got in touch with our Bruce to ask him the right people. It won’t get traced back to them.”
“I want to see her,” Jason said. His voice wobbled a little bit, and if Dick mentioned it, now or ever, he would punch him in the face. “I want to see them both. Alone.”
He couldn’t actually get into the rehab centre Dick had arranged for Catherine Todd, not without a fuss, because Dickhead hadn’t done things halfway. He’d arranged for a live-in rehab arrangement, paid up for several months. Jason was not on the approved guest list. Not grown-up Jason, anyway.
Besides, he knew he looked like his dad. Cathy’d used drugs to deal with Willis, too.
Gotham’s elite must be missing a lot of jewelry, and Catwoman’s high-class fences must have emptied their own coffers to deal with the glut of stolen bling. His mom was never going to have a better chance to get clean, Jason thought, perching on a rooftop with a look into the centre’s modest courtyard. What would she do, if she managed it? Work in a shop? A restaurant? He could vaguely remember his mom working at a crappy diner for a few months, when he was very young.
Whatever it was, it had to be better than what happened to his Cathy. He hoped she could make it. Maybe for her Jason. Even if she hadn’t actually given birth to him, she’d always been his mom, and she’d always loved him better than Willis did. The timeline had only split when he showed up, so it had to be true here as well.
Maybe he’d have the opportunity to help add to whatever bank accounts Dick had set up to find all this before heading back to his timeline. For the moment, there was nothing else he could do here.
Next stop, younger him.
The sun was well and truly up by the time Jason reached the house on the outskirts where Dick said little Jason was. Jason felt old, but admittedly that had a lot to do with the fact the painkillers Alfred had given him that morning had well and truly worn off, he hadn’t eaten for most of the day, and he hadn’t slept much either. He should probably take the time to deal with that sort of thing. He still didn’t have any money in his pockets, though. Should’ve picked Dick’s pockets.
It was unlikely he’d be able to get into the actual foster home without drama, but that was okay. He wasn’t sure he could stand interacting with himself. He’d been a little shit when he was younger, he knew that.
He had to admit, this place didn’t look too bad from the outside. Pretty normal suburban house. Didn’t necessarily tell you anything about the people who lived here; Jason knew something about appearances, though it was a something he’d learned at Wayne Manor.
Out here there weren’t too many places to observe houses inconspicuously. Jason settled for a bus stop bench a few houses down across the street with a bare sliver of a view into the kitchen. He could see the table, just about.
He sat and waited and tried not to think about how much his leg hurt.
Eventually, he saw a stout middle-aged woman pass the window, then pass it again, and again. A man joined her after a few minutes. It looked like they were making breakfast. Two girls joined them, both somewhere between ten and twelve, clearly not biologically related to their caretakers or each other. They didn’t look scared or tense. Just groggy. It was still early.
The woman turned away a little, and Jason read her lips as she called out, Jason! Breakfast!
Shortly afterwards he saw her smile and caught a glimpse of a scrawny dark-haired child slinking past the window. He definitely looked tense. He’d only been there what, a few days? Of course he looked tense. Jason wouldn’t trust so easily now.
From where he was sitting he could only see the edge of little Jason’s plate, and the occasional flash of his hands as he shovelled food into his mouth.
How would this change things for little him? Even if Cathy was never able to look after him again, what would his life be like here? No Bruce and no Robin, that was for sure. Would he go to school regularly? Make friends? Be as normal and stable as his background allowed?
Not knowing worried him. No wonder Dick wanted things with him and Bruce in this timeline to stay just as they were.
Screw that, Jason thought viciously. Little him, at least, didn’t have to be Robin. Maybe he wouldn’t have Bruce in his life, and maybe that was for the best. He didn’t know. Alternate timeline. Nobody could know for sure. If he could stay with his mom…
Just one more person to check on. He called Dick. “You know where younger you is at the moment? I know you’re keeping an eye on him.”
“Group home over on Marsden,” Dick said. “It’s not too bad, actually. Pretty sure Bruce leaned on Gordon to arrange it.”
When Jason arrived, Dick was still actually there, which was so not what Jason wanted. At least he was looking almost as tired as Jason felt. Without a mask, he couldn't hide the shadows under his eyes. “Aren’t you going to clear off?” he asked.
“I haven’t seen anyone else here,” Dick said. “I want someone to at least be able to tell little me that there was someone watching out for him.”
“Well, there is. Me. So you can go.”
Dick grinned at him. “You almost sound like you like me.”
“He’s not you, dumbass. He’s an alternate timeline you. It’s different. Now go away.”
That, Dick laughed at, before diving off the edge of the building not so unlike tiny Dick had that first night Jason had met him. Normally he’d do a flip or two, but he was wearing street clothes rather than his Nightwing gear. Jason scowled before slinking closer to the window of the group home. This should be easier for him to visit. Less personal oversight. Even though it was light outside.
He was almost there when he heard a swish of cape behind him. “Not you,” he groaned. “I didn’t know you even came out in daylight. First Dickhead, now…”
“So it is Dick,” Bruce said. Jason turned and saw him in a deeper shadow, still looking kind of conspicuous at this time of day. “I didn’t see it until I saw him move. The question is, how?”
Relatively quick update this time, and getting close to the end of the story. Thanks for reading/commenting/kudos/bookmarks!
The police officer Bruce handed him over to had been kind enough. Nicer than the officers who had taken him from the circus, or the people who had put him in St Jude’s. Some of it was because Batman had scared the police. Some of it was because Batman talked to the one officer, the one they were calling captain. Dick hadn’t caught his name.
Nobody had mentioned Zucco to him again. Not even about how he’d kicked him.
Like Bruce promised, the place they took Dick wasn’t like St Jude’s. It wasn’t like a home, but it was clean, and the man who met them at the door didn’t have mean eyes. Better, they didn’t put him in a room by himself. There were three other boys there as well. One woke up when Dick came in, but didn’t stay awake to talk. It would be easier for him to sleep with other kids in the room.
After everything that had happened that night, he didn’t think he’d sleep at all, but he did. He closed his eyes just once and the next thing he knew he could see sunlight through the window.
He wondered what came next. Would they take him off to a classroom or something? Or would he have to talk to the police again? He just didn’t know. He wondered if Zucco was in jail. If he wasn’t, he was going to make Bruce let him help find whatever evidence they needed to keep him there.
He missed Bruce already. Jason too. Even Mr Pennyworth, who was a very good cook. He wanted to go right out the window to find them again, but he didn’t think that would do any good.
It might not do any harm, either. Dick climbed out onto the windowsill. He wasn’t going to go far. Just to the roof. No further.
The climb itself was a bit harder than the climb to the St Jude’s roof had been, but if he wanted to leave the home it would be much easier. He wouldn’t have to jump any barbed wire at all. It was good to know he could leave if he wanted. They couldn’t keep him here.
Dick looked around, hoping against hope he’d see Bruce or Jason up here. Bruce had said he’d come, and he believed Jason would as well. There was nobody in sight, though.
That was fine. Dick could handle things here. He didn’t need them. It just might have been nice for someone to be there. He was just about to give up and go inside when he heard voices coming from a little way away.
Not very far away at all.
He’d be right back. Really he would.
“Time travel,” Jason said, flippantly as he could manage, because he knew that tone alone would piss Bruce off.
He saw Bruce’s mouth set. It was an expression far more eloquent than he was. I know this explanation is possible but I do not like it, that expression said. Some things never changed. Go back as far as you could in Batman’s timeline, he did not like metas in Gotham. “Very well,” Bruce said. “Then your name actually is Jason Todd. Son of Willis and Catherine Todd?”
It was Jason’s turn to scowl. He hadn’t thought Bruce had got that far. It was a matter of principle, though, since it wasn’t as though it meant anything that Bruce knew who he was. “What’s it to you?” he asked.
“That’s a good question,” Bruce said. “Did my future self do something to you?”
“Oh, very astute. You could say that. But don’t worry, I’m not here because I want to be. It was an accident. Some meta did it, and he came to get me back. We’ll be gone in three days or so, don’t worry.”
“An accident,” Bruce said. “Yet you seek out the younger self of someone you know.”
“It was a coincidence,” he said. “Really. You’ve met Dick. He doesn’t stay put. That’s not going to change, by the way.”
The expression that crossed Bruce’s face at those words, even with the cowl on, was frighteningly close to a smile. First daylight, now smiling. This wasn’t the past; it was bizarro world. “I can imagine.”
“You really can’t. But there you go. Mystery solved. I’m a time traveller. Now you can leave and let me say - “ Goodbye to Dick. It was so…final. Worse, he knew that little Dick really wasn’t the same as Bigger Dick. He was never going to see the kid again, only the reminder in stupid older Dick’s stupid face.
Bruce, however, totally missed Jason’s stupid moment of angst. (Jason wanted to kick himself for ever missing stupid Dick, much less expecting to miss him.) “You are returning to your own time? Are you anticipating any changes as a result of your actions?”
Jason shook his head. “Another timeline formed when I got here,” he said. “Or at least that’s what Dick tells me. You go on your way, and I’ll go on mine. Can’t change the past, and now we’ve gone and tested it.” No matter what he might change, if he had his choice. No use hoping. No use hoping, except…
But Bruce seemed to see something in his expression. “Is there something you wanted to change?” he asked. “Could it be changed in this timeline?”
This was his chance. If he told Bruce everything - if Bruce listened - Bruce planned for shit. This was this Bruce’s timeline. He wasn’t going anywhere. He could stop it. He could stop all of it.
Tiny Dick was fast. And clingy. He rammed into Jason’s midsection and hugged him like he hadn’t seen Jason for weeks. “What are you doing here?” Jason said.
“I thought you said you’d stay in the foster home for the meantime,” Bruce said. He didn’t sound that upset about it, which wasn’t like the Bruce Jason knew. Maybe years of this sort of thing from Dick had worn out his temper by the time Jason came along.
Tiny Dick shrugged. “It’s right there,” he said. “Look, you can see the window I climbed out from. I didn’t go far. I can go back fast if I need.” He looked up at them, smiling.
This was going to suck.
Bruce said, “I’ll talk to you both later. Dick, I’ll come to visit again. Mr Todd…you know where the house is. I would be interested in what you have to say.”
“And if I don’t visit you, you’ll come find me,” Jason said. “I know you.”
“It seems that you do,” Bruce agreed, and departed in a more-visible-than-usual swirl of cape.
Dick watched him go. “What was that about?” he asked Jason.
“Nothing you have to worry about,” Jason said. It was weird enough that Dick had met Dick. Trying to explain why it was weird would be even weirder. It would also, quite possibly, give him ideas. He did not want that.
Unfortunately for him, Dick wasn’t stupid. “So you do know Batman,” he said.
“A bit,” he said. “I’m still better than him, though.”
Damn kid couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. He looked…actually pretty good. Tired, yeah, he’d been up at all hours running over rooftops and kicking the shit out of criminals, of course he was tired. But that forced, fake edge to his smile wasn’t there. He looked like something had cleared behind his eyes and someone a lot closer to the Dick he knew was shining out.
Jason did not entirely know what to make of that. On the one hand, this was what he wanted, wasn’t it? On the other, nothing had changed. Not really. And the kid was happy in spite of that.
He did not want to admit that his Dick might have been right about his younger self. Unfortunately, admitting that he didn’t want to admit it only made it all the clearer. Damn it, the obstinate refusal to acknowledge things had been working fine for him.
“Are you okay?” Dick asked.
“Fine,” Jason said. “Just tired.”
“You didn’t have to come visit me,” he said. “I was okay. And Batman was here too.”
“Yeah, I did,” Jason said. “Look, Dick…I…”
Shit. This was hard. How did anyone ever manage this? The kid was smiling, and what Jason had to tell him was going to make him sad. It was one of the shittiest feelings he’d had in a long time. Not helped by Dick waiting patiently for the explanation that was probably going to be harder for him to hear than it was for Jason to give.
He sucked it up, because stalling would only make it worse, and said, “I’m leaving Gotham in a few days.”
Dick blinked. God, Jason could see it sinking in. “You’re leaving? Forever?”
Jason’s nerve failed him and he couldn’t actually say the words. He nodded instead. “I have to,” he said. “It’s nothing to do with Bruce, just so you know -”
“Is it something to do with that other man? Kent?” Dick interrupted, eyes hard. “He knew things, so I thought -”
“- it’s not like that,” Jason interrupted in his turn. Kent? Had to be Dick. “Not exactly.” How to explain this? “I come from somewhere else. I didn’t mean to come here, and I didn’t think I could get back very easily. Then…Kent…came to help me get back to where we come from.”
“You want to go?”
It was a surprise, but the answer came easily. “Yes. I don’t belong here.” Whatever they did to give little Dick, little Jason, and Catherine Todd a future, there was no changing the past. He had his own life to get back to. He didn’t want to interfere in theirs, especially if it might turn out well. “It’s not that I want to leave you. Nothing like that. I just need to be there, rather than here.”
Damn it, damn it, damn it, he could see tears in Dick’s eyes. Not for long, because as ever Dick was determined not to look sad, ever, but they were there. “I understand,” Dick said, turning away a little so Jason couldn’t see. “I’d go back to the circus if I could. I know what it’s like.” His voice cracked a little. Jason knew he knew.
It still didn’t change a damn thing.
“Look,” Jason tried, “if things were different…I know things are…well, maybe I don’t know know, but I know enough. You’re a good kid. You’ll be all right. Eventually. I know it.” Somewhere out there right now was as good a proof as any that Dick could bounce back from this well enough. And boy, did Jason hope that proof wasn’t spying on them right now and feeling smug.
Who was he kidding? Bigger Dick was definitely feeling smug. The only real question there was whether he was spying.
He knew when Dick had composed himself because he turned back to Jason and managed one of those smiles that looked real but was almost certainly just a convincing fake. “Will I get to see you again before you leave?” he asked.
“If you want,” Jason said. “I still think you can use all the friends you can get.”
“My parents used to say you could never have too many friends,” Dick said.
It hadn’t been his experience, but it had always worked for older Dick, so Jason said, “Words to live by, kid.”
He sent tiny Dick back to the foster home not long afterwards, because someone would notice he was missing eventually, and now that people were paying attention to his whereabouts, someone would freak out about it. He’d promised to come back at night, and the night after that. That would be the real goodbye.
He also called bigger Dick. “Okay, you can show your bleached blond face now,” he said.
“I’m four blocks away,” Dick said, sounding injured.
“Whatever.” Jason would believe it when he saw Dick four blocks away from there. “How are we getting home, exactly?”
“The portal opens up where you went through,” Dick said. “We’ve got…fifty-three hours until then. Did you want to meet somewhere? I’m looking to steal a few more things to add to the accounts I set up for Catherine and little Jason, if you want to join in.”
“No,” Jason said. “No, I do not want to meet somewhere. I have things to do.”
Bruce wanted to talk. Jason had things to say.
“All right,” Dick said, “but eventually we’ll have to meet somewhere. Make sure you eat and get some rest, okay?”
“You’re not my mother,” Jason snapped. “Or my father.”
Aaaand he was getting way too cranky if he was going for that retort. So he probably should eat and sleep. He still didn’t have money for food or a place to rest, thanks GCPD, and going to get his stuff from bigger Dick would now be a bit awkward…but he could trade for it with younger Bruce. Information for dinner. That was a trade Bruce would go for in a heartbeat.
He turned his feet to Wayne Manor, again, and it was almost entirely voluntary this time. By the time he got there, he was so exhausted and sore he was almost staggering, a display of weakness he hated showing in this house. He was so badly off that Alfred whisked him right inside and into a guest room before he could even mention any sort of trade.
When he woke up, it was sunset, and there were several objects in the room that hadn’t been there when Jason had collapsed onto the bed. A bottle of water and a packet of over-the-counter painkillers were on the bedside table, right in his eyeline. Both were shop-sealed, which didn’t necessarily mean anything - if Bruce wanted to tamper with that sort of thing, factory packaging wasn’t going to stop him - but it was a lot of counterproductive effort to go to if he just wanted to talk to Jason. A note underneath the water informed him that he should help himself to anything in the fridge, and Bruce would be ‘downstairs’. The note was in Bruce’s handwriting, surprisingly enough.
A pair of crutches were resting near the wall. Jason stretched his leg and winced. All the running around had not been good for it. Who knew how far he’d set back his recovery? Crutches were not the worst idea at this point in time.
Finally, on the coffee table, there was new clothing, some first aid material, a towel, a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, soap, and a razor. That had to come from Alfred, because the clothes were all in Jason’s size. He could take a hint. No going downstairs until he’d washed up at least a little.
He did as hinted. The washing up, the meal, everything, and then, feeling a lot better, he hobbled in the direction of the Batcave. The door in the study swung open as soon as Jason set foot inside.
Bruce was waiting for him downstairs. From what Jason could see, his screens were split between Dick’s case and Jason’s. “I’ve been through our interactions,” Bruce said as Jason hobbled towards a chair, “and I am prepared to believe that you are, effectively, a time-traveller.”
“What gave me away?” Jason asked.
Bruce looked askance at him. “Is that a serious question?”
“No, not really.” Aside from the Dick jokes, there could be any number of things that, in hindsight, could have confirmed to Bruce he was telling the truth.
“I’ve found our timeline’s Jason Todd,” Bruce said.
“Yeah. My timeline’s Dick put him in foster care, and his mother in rehab. Robbed your neighbours blind to do it. Old news.”
Except for the bit where Dick had turned cat burglar. That bit surprised Bruce. Something close to an expression flickered across his face, and he said, “We all have more money than we should. I won’t hold it against him.” He coughed slightly. “It’s not something that happened in your own childhood, I take it?”
Ha. No. He wished. “Did you want your fortune told or what?” he asked, wanting to talk about anything but his shitty childhood. “I can be your own personal oracle if you like.” And not the kind that worked through computers, either.
He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Bruce look so serious. He was viscerally reminded of his own Bruce all of a sudden, whose grief and anger had never gone away, just wore down at his edges. “What is it that you think I should know?” he asked.
Jason looked at Bruce’s screens. There was a picture of Dick, there, tiny baby Dick, taken for the benefit of Gotham’s social services. Had to be what, hours after his parents died? Next to that picture was one of older Dick, Jason’s Dick. Even though it was ripped off what looked like old (okay, current) GCPD surveillance cameras, you could tell he was smiling. Just having those pictures next to each other…
And just like on the rooftop, Bruce did not.
“Your Dick Grayson is a capable thief,” Bruce said. “Professional quality. Someone taught him infiltration. He sought you out across dimensions and has tried to provide for your younger self; you were driven to protect his younger self. You know my methods and my identity. I can see the influence of the League of Assassins in your fighting.”
Jason said nothing. What could he say? Whatever he’d thought, whatever he’d intended - it was in Bruce’s hands now.
“You know each other. You know me.” He looked right into Jason’s eyes, and said, “Your version of me was your teacher, at least. I assume it ended poorly.”
“Oh, you know,” Jason said, mouth dry, waving a hand. “Just…got murdered a little and revived in a Lazarus Pit, came back to find you with another kid in the house and the monster that killed me alive and well.”
Bruce blinked. “In the house? I - adopted you?”
“Mostly to spite Dick,” Jason said. He watched Bruce’s face carefully, hoping to see the moment he realised Jason hadn’t been entirely joking when he said you tell him, dad.
If Bruce remembered, he wasn’t showing it, and if he’d reminded Jason of his Bruce just a minute or two ago, now he couldn’t see any resemblance at all. Jason’s Bruce had never looked so young or so uncertain. So…scared and overwhelmed. “Why?” he asked, and then, “How? Your timeline’s Dick cares for you, that’s plain to see. If I - if my future self did that -”
Jason barked a laugh. “If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that I don’t understand him.”
Bruce nodded, face grim. “It looks like that future might have been averted already,” he said. “I can take more active steps if that was what you wanted.”
He snorted. “If I said no, would it matter? If I said yes? Dick I don’t understand, but you - you do what you want, Bruce. You always have.” Even here, he said he was murdered, and Bruce just focused on Dick.
This was a waste of fucking time. He was pathetic. Couldn’t commit to hiding everything, couldn’t commit to telling everything. Just making everything worse, that was what he was doing, while Bruce and Dick barreled inevitably towards their stupid fucking future and all its fucking collateral. He wanted to go home to a future he could change. He was done here.
He got up and started to hobble away.
“Wait,” Bruce said. “Was it…was it all bad? Your future?”
If it had been, his present wouldn’t suck so much now. That was the problem. “Just look after Dick,” he said. “My version says little him needs you.” Bruce was going to have his hands full with that, and best of luck to him.
He was going to need it if he was going to keep Robin alive.
Thanks everyone so much for sticking with this story! Right now it's looking like one more chapter and an epilogue to go, and I hope to have them to you soon.
Eventually, it got to be too much for Bruce to focus on his files, and he had to go out on patrol. Sometimes there was no other way to calm the thoughts circling in his head. It was a fine, warm spring night in Gotham, but the improving weather did nothing for Bruce’s thoughts either.
The Red Bat - Jason Todd - hadn’t told him much, but what he’d said had shaken Bruce badly. Just the memory had clearly caused Todd considerable distress. Todd did not strike him as someone easily distressed.
Murdered and revived. That would do it. Bruce felt sick. Worse, he hadn’t processed that information in time to ask who had done it.
And his own future self had done…what, exactly? The things Todd had implied were horrible. Future Bruce had three children - or was it two? Did that alternate version of Dick Grayson count? Either way, it sounded as though he’d mistreated both future Dick and Todd terribly. The exact nature of that mistreatment wasn’t clear. Without that knowledge, he wasn’t sure whether it was in him to do what Todd had accused his future self of.
When he’d come to the Manor that first time he’d accused Bruce of wanting to train Dick as a vigilante.
Batman swooped in to stop a mugging. The would-be criminal folded quickly around his fists. It didn’t make a difference to his mental state, and he returned to the rooftops to resume his patrol.
Two blocks later, he spotted someone on the rooftops with him. They weren’t moving, just sitting on the edge of a six-story apartment block right in his patrol path, idly kicking their feet back and forth, watching the traffic. As Bruce drew closer, the figure turned, and he saw the man’s dyed blond hair.
Dick Grayson, from the future. He smiled when he saw Bruce. “I don’t bite,” he called across the gap between them. His voice was warm, friendly, and American-accented. Todd said he didn’t understand him, and from what Bruce had seen, that was true. He’d guided his younger self to Tony Zucco, but the why of it wasn’t clear. Had he wanted his younger self to kill the man? He didn’t have that information.
Maybe some other Bruce Wayne trusted this man, but in this timeline, Bruce was having trouble. It was hard to connect the cheerful man who could give Selina a run for her money, quite literally, with the wary, grieving child Bruce was just getting to know.
“I can see you brooding over there,” Grayson said. “Come on, I know you want to find out more.”
He’d worked out that Grayson knew him, even before Todd confirmed it. It seemed that Grayson knew him well indeed. Cautiously, he approached. Grayson didn’t look as though he was readying himself to attack, nor could Bruce think of any motive for him to do so, but Bruce didn’t know anything about how he’d go about it. There was no way to tell and no way to know his motives.
Grayson smiled and patted the rooftop next to him in an invitation to sit.
“So what did Jay tell you?” Grayson asked, once Bruce was standing a little way back from where Grayson was sitting.
Not enough. Too much. “Some,” Bruce said.
“He told you the bad stuff, didn’t he?” Grayson asked with a sigh. “That’s Jay. Too much like you in some ways.”
“He said he was murdered.”
“He was,” Grayson said. “But he’s back, and besides, he’s more than just a murder victim. Even if he doesn’t always think that.”
“He said I adopted him to spite you.”
Grayson laughed. “Now that’s not true. I was having problems with my Bruce at that point, bad ones, and Jason got caught up in it more than he should have been. But come on, you know yourself. Do you really think you’d tell anyone about your night work if you didn’t at least trust them? Do you think you’d let someone live with you if you didn’t at least like them?”
Bruce thought about it. He’d certainly like to think that Grayson was right. “I can’t rule it out,” he said at last.
“You want to know how you met him in our timeline?” Grayson asked.
“Will that make a difference?”
“It did where I come from.” Grayson grinned, a bigger and more genuine expression of happiness than Bruce had yet seen on him. Either of him. “You caught him stealing the tires off the Batmobile.”
“Oh, right. The car. You know, the car.” He hadn’t stopped grinning. “It’s not the only thing I’m going to nickname.”
Bruce thought about that, too. He could just about imagine it, a younger (how much younger?) Todd efficiently stripping the black car. Even though he knew it would have been the product of desperate circumstances, it was quite a mental picture. “Hrm,” Bruce said, suppressing a smile.
“Told you,” Grayson said. “My Bruce loves Jason. He’s not always good about showing it, but he does love him.”
That did make him feel a little better, if he had to admit it. That and Grayson’s smile. Could the Dick he knew really smile like that? He managed to find the courage to ask, outright, “What is it that you want?”
“I want everything to turn out well,” Grayson said. “You and Jay are pessimists. I’m not. I think we can change things for the better here.”
Bruce looked at him askance. “So you took your younger self to the man who murdered his parents. Why?”
“It did me good, now and then.” Grayson shrugged. “I knew you’d follow. And that you’d know how to stop little me doing something he’d regret.”
“That was reckless of you,” Bruce said, but Grayson only laughed.
“You sure?” he asked. “You’re just like I remember, you really are. Not caring’s never been your thing. I relied on that.”
“Hrm,” Bruce said again, but this time he was thinking about what Todd had told him. That didn’t sound like caring to him, none of it.
“Bruce. None of the bad times were because you didn’t care. Overprotective, undemonstrative, controlling, and manipulative, sure, and you caring didn’t make up for all that, but that only means you should care better, not more or less.” He looked out, over the Gotham rooftops. “I understand it better now that I’m older and not an only child anymore. My Bruce wasn’t expecting to start caring like that.”
Bruce still wasn’t, and the idea was worrisome especially when put into those words, but Grayson wasn’t done speaking.
“The things you’re worried about, they happened because my Bruce got scared. He thought he’d lose me. Then he did lose Jason. Let’s face it, you’ve never been very good at dealing with loss.”
Again, Bruce knew it was a significant understatement.
“I know you’re getting scared now too, hearing all this. But you don’t have to make my Bruce’s mistakes. Maybe if you can get your head around it all, you can make different mistakes.” He flashed another bright smile at Bruce. “I know how much you like contingency planning.”
It was hard not to snap at the man. “What should I be planning for?” he asked. “When it comes to actual detail, you’ve both been more cryptic than helpful.”
“Being cryptic is fun,” Grayson said unrepentantly. “Besides, there are things I don’t want to change. They turned out fine the first time round. As for the rest, I want Jason to tell you. He deserves to make some of those decisions, and I feel like I owe him a chance to feel like he’s changed things for the better.” He sighed heavily again. “I’ve told him he did little me a real favour getting him out of St Jude’s early, but it’s not sinking in.”
Frankly, that was hard to believe. Grayson was so…upbeat. Though just because Grayson appeared happy now didn’t mean he’d always been happy - which, given his younger self, would appear to be the case - and it didn’t mean he actually was happy.
“How are you going to accomplish that?” Bruce asked.
“You’re going to,” Grayson said. “Your word of honour that you won’t do any background research until we can’t find out about it, first.” He gave Bruce a look like he knew perfectly well he’d be investigating after both of them departed for their timeline.
“Done,” Bruce said.
Grayson stared back out at Gotham, apparently thinking how he should phrase things. “You should ask Jay about accidents at Ace Chemicals,” he said at last, “you should ask him about Sheila, and you should ask about Cassandra. Don’t take no for an answer on that last one.”
Ace Chemicals, Sheila, and Cassandra. Bruce could remember that. He could act on that. “I will,” he said. Already the cryptic nature of Grayson’s hints was eating at him.
“That’s all I wanted,” Grayson said. “It’s been…interesting, B. Go on, you’ve got things to do. I just want to sit here and think for a bit.”
Bruce left him there. He had thinking of his own to do.
Dick snuck out again. He wanted to say goodbye to Jason. Properly, not just left behind while everyone else went off to do grown-up things. He knew more or less where they’d be.
He felt a little bad about worrying the people in the place he was at - they actually had noticed the last time he’d snuck out - but not so bad he was going to stay. He’d say sorry when he got back. This was more important, because he wasn’t going to be able to see Jason again. Not ever again.
He thought he’d feel sadder. Instead he mostly felt numb. That wasn’t right, because he liked Jason. It was just that it was too much. He’d said goodbye to a lot of people.
Except his parents. He still hadn’t found where they were buried.
It was actually harder to sneak around during the day, Dick realised. There were no shadows to hide in and everyone was awake and paying attention. That was how Jason’s brother caught him. “Why am I not surprised?” He asked, looking up at where Dick was trying to wait for his opportunity to talk to Jason.
Bruce was there too, not as Batman but in really plain clothes, and he looked serious. Jason - Jason looked mad. He’d grabbed Bruce’s shirt, like he wanted to grab Bruce’s neck but had stopped himself. For a second, Dick was scared, but then Jason’s brother saw him.
“Come on down,” Jason’s brother said with a smile. “Jason and Bruce will be done in a minute or two.”
When he dismounted the fire escape he’d been hiding on, Jason realised he was there. He rolled his eyes but it didn’t look like the mean sort of eye-rolling. “Like you’re going to listen anyway,” he said to Bruce, and turned his back on him so he could speak to Dick instead.
“That was rude,” Dick said.
“Please, you haven’t seen him with Jim Gordon. That’s rude.”
“Oh, that reminds me!” Jason’s brother said. “Victor! It made the papers.”
“So?” Jason asked.
“So, people have been paying attention,” Kent said. “A few good lawyers offered to help him out. He’ll get compensation. There’ll probably be a full investigation. Good thing too, or there might have been a nasty accident.”
Dick didn’t understand what was going on, but Jason said, “huh. That so?” as if it meant something.
At least Bruce didn’t look like he got it, either. Dick wasn’t the only one not understanding.
Jason was busy glaring at Bruce and Kent. “Clear off, busybodies,” he said. “I wanna say goodbye-for-real in private.”
They did, kind of. There wasn’t really much room in this alley for keeping away from people. Bruce said, “Jason, I listened.”
Kent, though, just smiled at them as they backed off. It looked real this time, but also like there was a joke here that Dick wasn’t understanding either. “Is something funny?” he asked Jason.
“Yeah,” Jason growled, “but it’s not at your expense. It’s at mine. God, he’s going to be insufferable.”
“He’s mean to you?” Dick asked. “But he’s your brother.”
“Yeah. Look, kid - Dick - you’ll find out how it is. Really. Being mean isn’t always being mean.” Jason glanced over at where his brother was waiting and faking not listening to them. Kent saw them watching, smiled, and headed around the corner. “He was probably a lot like you when he was a kid. He could be worse now.”
Jason said that as if it should mean something, too. “I’m going to miss you,” Dick said. His voice wobbled a bit. He was so tired of crying. “Thanks for helping me.”
Jason smiled a bit. “You didn’t need my help getting out of that shithole. Just staying out of it. I think Bruce has got you covered there, too.”
He hoped so. Dick stuck out his hand for Jason to shake, and Jason did. “Goodbye,” Dick said.
“Bye, Dick,” Jason replied. He hesitated a bit, and said, “I’m going to miss you too.”
The last Dick saw of him was him turning the same corner his brother had gone around, and Dick had no idea where they were going. A bus, maybe? But Bruce was there, too, and Bruce put his hand on Dick’s shoulder. “It’s not fair on you,” he said. “None of it. From now on I’m going to try and make things better for you. As much as they can be.”
“I believe you,” Dick said.
“I had some ideas,” Bruce continued, a little awkwardly. “We still need to find the evidence against Tony Zucco. I thought you might want to help me get St Jude’s shut down, too.” He looked down at Dick, the hand on his shoulder tightening. “And I know where your parents are buried, if you want to visit them.”
He might have been tired of it, but Dick cried just a little more, for a minute or so. Bruce didn’t bother him about it. When Dick was done, he wiped his eyes and said, “I want to do all three.”
On the one hand, a grimy back alley was not the best place to farewell anyone. On the other, if Jason had to say goodbye to a Bruce anywhere, it probably should be a grimy back alley. He almost wished the Batmobile was there so he could strip the tires. Nostalgia value on his part.
Bruce was already waiting when Jason and Dick showed up, all packed for their trip back to their own dimension. It’s not much of a trip, Dick had said, More like a step. Or in your case, a fall.
Worryingly, Bruce had that look on his face that meant he wanted to talk. Jason would know it anywhere. When he nodded to older Dick, Jason had the nasty feeling the two had had a chat. “What is it now?” Jason asked. “He been telling you his version of events?”
Older Dick discreetly excused himself. Sensible, because Jason still had his guns and his willingness to shoot near irritating older not-really-brothers, and besides, younger Dick was totally going to show up in a few minutes. He'd put money on it, if either of them would take his bet. Someone had to keep a lookout.
“In a way,” Bruce said. “He did tell me to ask you about some things. An accident at Ace Chemicals.”
Jason flinched. “That hasn’t happened yet?”
“I don’t know what you’re referring to,” Bruce said.
He tried to remember. Gotham had been Gotham, as long as Jason could remember. But as he’d had ample cause to realise, he didn’t remember this far back all that well. He’d been a kid. Things had only just been starting to go mad. “Maybe it hasn’t,” Jason said. “I don’t think any of us ever knew what exactly happened.”
“Happened to what,” Bruce growled.
“The Joker,” Jason said. “The…thing…that killed me. The best theory you had was that he was in an accident at Ace Chemicals. He told, god, so many versions of his origin story, and we never knew…”
It was strange. Jason’s Bruce would have known how to phrase it. Jason’s Bruce would have known what he meant. This Bruce, younger and less afraid, nodded in a rather businesslike fashion. “I’ll look into it,” he promised, “and stop it if I can.”
A world without the Joker… “I don’t hold out too much hope,” Jason said bluntly. “I know you won’t do it, but if he shows up, let him die. Kill him yourself. Better yet, let one of the Gordons take him out.”
That got Bruce to raise his eyebrows, but he just moved on. “The next person I was supposed to ask about was Sheila.”
The name was like a cut. Immediately, Jason said, “No, I’m not telling you.”
Again, it was something Jason’s Bruce wouldn’t have reacted to the way this Bruce did. This one - had Dick lectured him? Maybe - nodded. “Very well. Last inquiry. Cassandra.”
“Cass?” Jason asked. He didn’t know the new Batgirl very well. He knew the basics of her story, yeah - oh, that sneaky bastard. “You can help her,” he said urgently. He grabbed Bruce’s shirt. “Bruce, you can help her. Find David Cain. He has a daughter, and he’s an even worse dad than you are. Do something.”
Fortunately for Bruce’s throat, Dick interrupted them by alerting them all to Dick’s arrival. Jason didn’t know how he got through the goodbyes, but it was a real wrench turning his back on the kid.
He stopped in front of the open portal for a bit. The view back to his own dimension was hazy, but he could see what looked like a fogged-over version of Dick moving around ahead of him, and a dark shape seated at some sort of table. He couldn’t hear anything.
Jason took a deep breath and stepped through, back to his present.
“- and there he is now!” Dick’s voice said clear as a bell all of a sudden. “Welcome back to the future, Jay!”
When he looked up, Bruce was pushing back his cowl. His Bruce. The one Jason still hadn’t really made up with, after everything. Who he still wasn’t entirely sure he even wanted to make up with.
“Yeah, I’m back,” Jason said.
“I was just telling Bruce everything we did in the past,” Dick said. He turned to Bruce. “You wouldn’t believe it - it took him about a day to find me and rescue me from St Jude's.”
Bruce looked at him. There were shadows under his eyes, not so different from how little Dick looked after he’d lost his parents. Jason - well, he wasn’t blind, it was clear Bruce had been up, scared and anxious. “No, I’d believe it,” Bruce said. “I would have been more surprised if he didn’t. Welcome home.” And he even managed to smile.
Throat unaccountably choked, Jason said, “Didn’t miss you for a second.”
Nearly there! Only a short epilogue to go, which will be posted on the other side of the weekend.
There was a familiar clatter from the window. Jason didn’t even bother looking up from his computer and the reams of articles he still had to read and make notes on. “You know that’s not a substitute for the doorbell, right?”
“You don’t have a doorbell on your window,” Dick said.
“But if I put one there, you wouldn’t use it. How long have I known you, again?”
Jason could hear the man’s grin. “A while,” Dick said. “And you’re right, I wouldn’t.”
“Was there something?” Jason asked. So much reading, most of it technical. “I’ve got work to do, you know.” He turned to find Dick, in full Nightwing costume, carrying a backpack of all things and grinning widely. Uh-oh. Bad news.
Dick dumped the backpack on the only empty space on Jason’s desk. There was a very solid thump. “Get signing,” he said. “I’ve got copies here. You promised.”
Jason groaned when he found that Dick had indeed brought a whole bunch of copies of Jason’s second novel for him to sign. “I stick to the pseudonym so I don’t have to do stuff like this,” he said. “I only write them to pay the bills. I’m trying to get started on my dissertation.”
But he had promised.
His oldest friend just laughed at him. “From what I saw in the store, you won’t have to worry about the bills. Or college tuition. Gotham’s up-and-coming crime novelist!” He slapped down the first copy. “This one’s for Bruce.”
“The accounts already paid for college. Or Bruce did. Whichever.” He shoved aside the stack of monographs and textbooks he'd been supplementing his article-reading with. He never had found out where the money that paid for his mother’s rehab and his college came from. It had something to do with Dick, who he’d met about a year after he’d gone into foster care, but he’d always said it wasn’t him. Bruce knew more, and might have been topping up those accounts on the sly, but Bruce was also Bruce. Jason didn’t know him anywhere near as well. Just well enough.
And better than most, he supposed. He liked Bruce. Dick had a pretty good dad, all things considered, and he believed Dick when he said that Bruce had helped him through the death of his parents more than just about anyone.
Jason wouldn’t trade his mother for anyone, though. He kept in touch with his foster parents and they completely understood.
Even you couldn’t be stupid enough to miss the anti-vigilante themes in this, he wrote in the copy of the book he was signing for the man himself. You’re a madman for many reasons and liking my novels is one of them. With gratitude, Jason.
“He’ll like that!” Dick said, reading over his shoulder. He set down the next copy. “This one’s for Cass. No references to her being Robin, though, she’ll want to keep it in her room.”
“So she gets a boring signature, then.”
“My sister does not think your books are boring. She read the first one three times! And told her friends about it! So it better be a good signature.”
“You think they’re boring.”
“No, I just never got the time to read them. Now sign this one for Alfred.”
Jason rolled his eyes, writing out his compliments on her successful audition for dance school instead. Bruce Wayne, secret overachiever, had raised another secret overachiever and in the case of Cass, a regular old overachiever. Then, as he was told, he picked up the next copy. “You are bossy, aren’t you?”
“I run a team of young superheroes. Either I’m bossy or Kori only buys ten gallons of mustard for groceries, or Roy puts an arrow through the police chief’s hat, or Wally forgets to stop talking long enough to breathe…things like that.” He didn’t sound that sorry.
For Alfred, Jason scribbled his thanks for checking over the manuscript, reiterating the sentiments he’d put in the acknowledgements. He didn’t know how Alfred had found the time for the beta reading, but he suspected a time-turner might have been involved. Fittingly enough, Alfred had spotted it when Jason’s secondary characters had gone a good seventy-two in-story hours without sleeping.
“Excellent,” Dick said. “Now this one, for Superman.”
“Sure,” Jason said, then, “Wait, Superman?”
“He’s a fan!” Dick said brightly. “He almost went green with envy when he saw that Bruce had a signed copy of your first book. So I promised I’d get you to sign the next one.”
Jason, meanwhile, was trying not to faint. If Dick told him Wonder Woman liked his books too, he thought he might actually die. Then come back from the dead and write a third, just for her. But he was cooler than that - though really, having world’s greatest dork Nightwing for a friend changed your standards - and gathered himself enough to say, “Okay, so who do I make the message out to?”
That provoked some thought, because book signings were not the way anyone wanted Superman’s identity to accidentally get revealed to the world. “You know what?” Dick said at last, “Just make it out to Superman. He’s got bookshelves in the Fortress of Solitude.”
From one secret identity to another, Jason wrote.
“Last one,” Dick said, slapping down a fifth copy.
“Who’s this for?” Jason asked.
“Me!” Dick said.
Jason put down his pen. “We just established that you don’t read my books.”
“No,” Dick said, “We established that I hadn’t read your books. It’s pretty high up my list of things to do if I get benched. Or maybe if you ever get an audiobook recorded, I’ll listen to it. I still want a copy though.”
Nightwing, take a break. Like that would ever happen. Maybe if he broke a leg. Even as Jason considered what to write, Dick tilted his head. Something coming in over his comm, he could but assume. “Two-Face,” Dick said by way of explanation.
Jason grimaced. He knew how Dick and Two-Face got on. Jason had only really met Dick as he was recovering from the beating he’d got. To listen to Dick, you’d think that he would have gone mad if Bruce hadn’t pointed him at Jason and told him to make friends. If you asked Jason, Dick was already almost as insane as Bruce, even at that age. Friends had only encouraged him to patrol extra earnestly in case his friends got hurt, and now, to go and do stupid vigilante things with more people.
“I gotta go,” Dick said. “Hostages. Could be ugly. But sign the book! I’ll be back later!”
There was no stopping him. Jason had tried reason, over the years, had yelled at him plenty over it. Even punched him once, which worked out better than it had any right to, given how much time Jason spent in the library as compared to the gym. But there was no stopping him. Bruce had never managed it either.
For all Jason’s new release had a strong undercurrent of vigilantes suck to it, he’d tried to show that they meant well. Nightwing meant well, that was for sure. Jason wouldn’t imply otherwise.
In the meantime, there wasn’t much to do about his friend but shake his head and close the window after him, and then try not to think about squishy non-meta Nightwing fighting the worst and scariest Gotham had to offer - whether it was the relatively mundane Two-Face and the Penguin, or superpowered Poison Ivy and Killer Croc.
Jason sat back down, title page of his novel in front of him. He thought about it, and thought about it. To Dick, Jason wrote, and there his pen stopped for a second.
Some things were easier to write than they were to say.
I couldn’t have a better brother.
But that alone was far too sappy and he didn’t think he could show his face in front of, well, anyone, if he left it at that. Ugh, if Cass ever found out about it…it did not bear thinking about. He added,
Who wrote this book and therefore knows what a pain you are when I’m trying to work.
This one, Cass would back him up on. Insulting Dick was a brother’s prerogative.
At least with that dedication he’d find out if Dick actually managed to crack the cover this time. He put the pen down and the book aside, in the stack with the ones for the rest of his family, and got back to work.
And that's it! It's done!
Thanks to everyone so much for reading, commenting, bookmarking, and adding kudos. Thanks especially to the people who stuck around when this fic went un-updated for months at a time - your comments were what got me moving on this story again. I hope you've enjoyed it!