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almost exactly like a babysitter

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Shooter versus pre-Christmas shoppers in an East Side mall. Civilian only, no masks. It’s a bloodbath, and Dick’s only here in time for the cleanup.

“O,” he says on the way down to ground level, “Send whoever’s free and whatever supplies they’ve got. I’m going to start triaging.”

The part of being a bat that goes without saying is that they’re also, when required, first responders. It’s not the first time he’s ever worked alongside GCPD during a mass casualty, and it won’t be the last.

It’s also the part of the job that gets the closest to turning his stomach. The screaming and the crying and the systematic first identifications of who needs help and who they’re too late for - it’s awful.

He gets to work anyway. 

The paramedics from the first ambulance on the scene take charge, arranging the transport of the worst-off victims and coordinating the further arrivals. Dick does as he’s ordered and works on stabilising some of the seriously wounded, working to keep them from going critical. He goes through his supply of wound dressings quick, nodding his thanks when an EMT shoves another pile onto him on her way past.

He’s not the only mask out: it’s a busy night in Gotham, but he catches sight of Batgirl across the roiling crowd as well as the shadow of Cass’s silhouette against the rolling blue-red-blue lights. The flash of a more vivid red in the corner of his eye makes him think, Red Robin, but it’s not the right colour, and definitely not the right shape for Tim. Jason, the sleeves of his jacket rolled up over his forearms and wearing latex gloves, is putting a pressure bandage on a teenager’s upper arm.

“Hi, Nightwing,” an unfamiliar voice says in a familiar I’m-here-to-take-over tone. “Hi ma’am. You’re up for a ride in the next taxi.”

His patient is most of the way unconscious, but she blinks at this in vague acknowledgment. She’s avoided a bullet, but broken her leg badly enough in the crush of the fleeing crowd to show bone. 

“There’s the leg, and I suspect some kind of crush injury to the abdomen,” Dick supplies, moving to make room for the stretcher. “I think she got trampled. Not very responsive either.”

“Any drugs on board?” The EMT asks, hands moving deftly.

“I don’t carry any.” And if he did, he would have used it all up about five victims ago.

“That explains a lot about you,” the EMT says, with an attempted grin. "We’ve got another two buses here to take the last of the seriously injured over to General, and backup from the GCPD. If you want to move onto patching the walking wounded, go ahead. Anyone who’s good with some disinfectant and a bandaid can head over to talk with the cops.”

Dick nods and gives the woman a last squeeze to her forearm before he clears out of the way. The walking wounded are congregated on the other side of the street, but he doesn’t go in that direction - his priority is still helping, but it’s amazing how even injured people get curious when faced by a Gotham vigilante in the flesh. That’s really not the way he wants to have his identity outed.

Instead, he heads over to Jason’s side where he’s handing off his own patient for transport, their thigh strapped tight with pressure dressings. Jason, standing and snapping his gloves off, says, “Old man.”

“Hood,” Dick says, but he’s thinking Little Wing because he always is when it’s the two of them. They’re drawing looks now even in the dim streetlights - probably Jason, all six-two of him topped with that stupid shiny helmet. “You sticking around?”

“If I -” Jason says, and then breaks off. At the same time as Jason’s head tilts, Dick hears it: a quiet crying, just barely audible in the din.

Dick’s ears are good, but Jason has to have the advantage of auditory enhancement in his hood because he zones in on the noise like a hunting dog. “I think that’s-”

There’s an alley with an access door at the end of it illuminated with a shitty single fluorescent light branching off the street. It’s otherwise dark as any other Gotham alley, crowded with dumpsters. It takes Dick a moment to pick the odd thing out - a crumpled figure hidden amidst the trash cans.

He makes it to their side first, finding a glaze-eyed young woman clasping something to her chest. The cognitive dissonance of her silence and the now-louder crying catches him out, but Jason catches on quick.

“-a baby,” he finishes, taking a knee on the woman’s other side. He moves as though to slip the bundle from her arms, but her arms tighten even as she hisses in reaction.

“It’s okay,” Dick says to her, “We’re here to help you both. What’s your name?”

She seems to come around a little, eyes flicking between the two of them. She stays quiet for a long moment, and then rasps, “Uh, Mira. You’re Nightwing.”

“Sure am. Hi, Mira,” Dick says. “Are you hurt?”

“Oh, uh, my shoulder,” she says, and then her eyelids flutter like she’s about to pass out. Dick takes her pulse from her throat and finds it comfortingly strong.

“And your baby?” Dick asks. The bundle certainly sounds lively enough at this distance, but that doesn’t mean they’re not hurt.

“She’s okay,” Mira says, like she’s reassuring herself. “She’s okay. Can you?” 

Which is how Dick finds himself accepting an armful of bawling baby from a wincing, bleeding woman in an alley. “Oh. Okay. Sure.”

Meanwhile, Jason focusses on peeling Mira’s jacket away to reveal a nasty gunshot to the shoulder, high enough that it’s probably mostly missed her right lung but low enough to avoid rebounding off her scapula and bouncing around in her chest cavity. Non-vital, but bleeding badly. 

Mira watches Jason take out a patch dressing and seal it over the wound. She puffs, “I thought…you were…a bad guy.”

“I’m flexible,” Jason replies distractedly, taking out a roll of gauze and wrapping it tight around the shoulder for good measure. “You’re lucky. Little surgery, little hospital stay, you’ll be right as rain.”

That’s no guarantee - she could have more serious injuries than it seems, could get a secondary infection, could drop dead of a thousand different complications or unfair turns of fate in the next hour. However, Dick knows Jason isn’t the type to lie to anyone for comfort. If he’s saying it, he believes it.

Mira’s eyes bulge. “I can’t go…to hospital!”

“Sugar, the one benefit of living in Gotham is the rich folks like to pay hospital bills to assuage their guilt or whatever. Take advantage of that,” Jason advises, and then says to Dick, “Move.”

Dick steps to the side automatically, still holding his squealing burden. “What?”

“No, move. Babies like to move.”

“Oh.” Stiff-armed and feeling like the clumsiest man on earth, Dick sort of…sways. “Like this?”

“Oh my days, Nightwing,” Jason says, in the precise tone he’d usually say ‘Jesus fuckin’ Christ, Dick’. Apparently, he doesn’t deem that language appropriate for the baby. Or maybe Mira.

“I can’t,” Mira interrupts. She looks panicked now. “I can’t go there. They - They’ll take her.”

Jason stiffens a touch in his crouch. Dick says, “Who?”

“The cops,” Mira gasps. “The - CPS. They’ll take her. I won’t get her back.” Her teeth are chattering - shock. 

“You got hurt,” Dick says, attempting a bounce on his toes. He feels a bit like he’s holding a very small angry tiger. Then again, babies don't have teeth...he thinks. “This is Gotham. That happens.”

“No, you,” she says, and then closes her eyes and shakes.

Jason reaches across her body and takes her good arm. For a moment Dick is dumbstruck, thinking he’s about to watch his little brother comfort someone who isn’t either under the age of 15 or sharing a last name with him, but Jason is just turning her arm over to the light. The crook of her elbow is scarred up with pink-white marks.

Mira opens her eyes and stares up at Jason. For a long moment they’re caught in a tableau, her dead-eyed and patient, him silent and judgmental as an old saint.

Voice low, Jason asks, “You using?”

She shakes her head slowly, not breaking her gaze. “Not - not since before her.”

Dick says, more to Jason than her, “That won’t matter. At worst, the baby will spend a few days in respite-”

“Shut up,” Jason replies, and then says to Mira, “If you don’t go to hospital, you’re going to lose her anyway. Except it’ll be because you’re dead.”

“You think I…don’t know that?” she hisses back. “I don’t got family. Her dad’s a deadbeat. It’s just me and her.” The phrase I can’t lose her hovers, unspoken but clear as day in the set of her jaw.

Jason stands. Dick isn’t sure what he’s expecting, but it’s certainly not for Jay to walk to him and lift the baby out of his arms. He holds her the other way around from Dick, head to his shoulder and legs towards his belt, hand cupped careful over the back of her skull. He looks not only more capable than Dick with her, but more capable than anyone Dick knows with a baby. That's perhaps not saying much, but still.

“You got kids?” Mira rasps at him.

Jason laughs. “Christ no.” In his arms, the baby is quieting down, snuffling instead of screaming. She’s a red-faced scrap of humanity, no more than a few months old as far as Dick can tell. Sweet, in any other circumstance.

“Are you nursing or bottle-feeding?” Jason asks without looking up from her.

Dick makes a noise like a squeaky toy that’s been stepped on. Thankfully neither of the others seem to notice. Mira says, “Bottle. I don’t - I don’t got the meat on my bones to feed her, I reckon.”

“I’ll do you a deal, then,” Jason says, and he reaches to the back of his neck and flicks the release on his helmet. It hisses slightly as he pops it off, leaving the domino on but exposing the clean human lines of his face. The move turns him from one of Crime Alley’s most fearsome denizens into a young man with truly terrible helmet hair. “You go to the hospital and let them fix you up. I’ve got a friend who fosters who’ll look after her until you get out, no questions asked.”

Mira stares at him for a long moment, and then carefully - and inadvisably - levers herself off of the asphalt to her feet. She teeters closer so she's almost toe to toe with Jason, pressing a hand to the baby's back without touching Jason himself. Then she says, “You do it.”

Jason’s face creases. “What? No. Definitely not.”

“You’re good with her,” Mira says. 

“I ain’t a babysitter.” It’s only partly belied by the ease with which he’s handling the baby.

“I don’t know your friend. I know you.”

“No.” Red Hood is Gotham’s third most stubborn person, behind their younger brothers. That’s infused in the single syllable. 

Mira sways, swallows. “Please.”

Jason looks at her for a long moment. Dick can’t really make out his expression under the domino, but doesn’t need to in order to know that it’s Jay’s particular brand of piercing consideration. Dick used to think he’d learned it from Bruce, but now that they’re both older he’s inclined to think it predates the Bat.

Then Jason sighs, and very obviously rolls his eyes. “Jesus. Fine. On your freakin’ head be it, though.”

Mira’s eyes close as she lets out a relieved sigh. The swaying is more obvious now. Dick wraps an arm around her waist the split-second before her knees give out, swinging her up into his arms.

“I should give you my number,” Mira says into Dick’s collarbone. Her fingers curl into the baby blanket for a moment before letting go.

“You think I can’t find you?” Jason replies, disparaging. “I’m the Red Hood.

“Let’s get her a ride out of here,” Dick suggests, before it can devolve further. Mira’s outlook is getting bleaker by the minute - they don’t really have time for her to change her mind now, and he knows if she does Jason will happily continue talking in circles until she makes a decision. It's nice that he values consent, of course. It's just also inconvenient that he doesn't believe in the concept of 'for your own good'.

The scene in the street is much the same, even though it feels like they’ve been in the alley for a thousand years. Dick takes her to one of the ambulances parked up on the corner, sending people scattering out of his way. 

“Her name’s Rachel,” Mira says faintly. “You’ll help him, right?”

“Sure,” Dick replies, and then to the waiting EMT as he deposits Mira straight onto her gurney, “Got another one for you. Gunshot to the shoulder.”

“Got it,” comes the brisk reply. Dick hovers for a second when he should be getting out of here, caught in the grip of uncertainty.

The subject of that uncertainty is currently being zipped into the front of Jason’s body armour. “Good thing she’s so little. Toddler would be a tight fit.” 

“Yeah, it’s great,” Dick mutters, noting the careful arm Jason curls around his chest to keep her steady. He’s got his helmet back on, at least. “Go.”

“Going,” Jason says, and melts away into the crowd like a guy his size definitely should not be able to do.

“Did he have a baby?” The EMT asks tentatively.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Dick replies.

 


 

Dick catches up with Jason a couple of rooflines over. He’s not exactly moving as fast as he usually does. “Where’s your helmet?”

“Stashed it,” Jason replies easily. “It’s a target. That isn’t the look I’m going for right now.”

Huh. Dick says, “Let’s take her to GCPD.”

Jason looks at him like he’s lost his mind. “What?”

“Social workers? People who know about babies? This ringing any bells?”

“Dick, I just promised not to do that.”

Dick sputters. “I didn’t think you were serious!”

“As death,” Jason replies, and smirks when Dick frowns at him. “Besides, didn’t you used to be a cop? They didn’t teach you anything about little kids?”

“Cops don’t arrest babies.” He can sense Jason’s judgment. “I only dealt with the ones old enough to talk.”

“Right,” Jason snickers, as though Dick’s somehow the weird one here. “C’mon. I’ve got somewhere.”

“I’m not coming with you.” Dick has better things to do. Also, he doesn’t want to. Jason might make him hold the baby again.

“You promised to help.”

“I didn’t pinky swear,” Dick grumbles, but he follows along anyway. After a couple of minutes of quiet, he adds, “The care workers - they’re good people.”

“Lots of ‘em, sure,” Jason agrees. “I’d still have slept on cardboard in a back alley ten times over if it meant keeping myself out of the system, though.”

Dick doesn’t have much to say to that. His unfortunate childhood aside, he had his parents, and then he had Bruce, and then he was a legal adult. He never faced the threat of state care, never mind homelessness.

They touch down on the fire escape of an apartment building that Dick recognises but hasn’t been into. Jason one-handedly disarms what looks like a taser trap and then lets them in through the window, folding himself gingerly to get inside without squashing his cargo.

She lets out a little cry as Jason sheds his jacket and takes her out, fists bunched and pulled tight to her chest. Jason says, “She’s cold. Grab the blanket off my bed.”

“Do you speak baby?” Dick asks, perturbed by the thought. 

Jason dumps off his domino, probably to give Dick the full force of his eyeroll. “Blanket, big bird.”

The blanket in question is a pretty quilt in shades of indigo, splayed across the unmade bed. Dick picks it up and brings it back out to the lounge, offering it to Jason.

“Good,” Jason says, wrapping her in it. “Sit down.”

“Huh?” Dick asks, though he does it anyway. The next thing he knows, the bundled grizzling baby is in his lap. “No!”

“Yes,” Jason growls, like he’ll pin Dick to the couch if necessary. “I need to make her some food. You just sit there and hold her up until I’m done.”

“Can’t she just lie on the couch?” Dick asks. She’s even smaller pillowed on his thighs, not much longer than a foot and a half by the looks. 

“No.” Jason’s already in the kitchen, his voice half lost over clattering.

“Fine,” Dick says, more to the baby - Rachel - than to Jason. “Do you really keep baby food around?”

“Just formula and bottles,” Jason replies. “And some diapers.”

“Just in case you find a lost baby?”

“No. Because sometimes people need that shit, and they’re more likely to take it from the back of my pantry than if I offer to buy it for them.” More rustling. “Also, my neighbour’s a single mom. Sometimes I watch her kids.”

Jesus Christ. The weird secrets this family keeps. “Who’s your friend? The one who fosters?”

“Mind your own business, Grayson. I’ve just got to sterilise this bottle.”

Dick has a sudden mental image of Jason firing up an autoclave in the kitchen. He looks down at Rachel, who’s looking back at him. She has her fingers in her mouth. “How long do you think Mira will be in hospital?” 

“A few days, at least.”

“You’re going to look after this kid for days?”

Jason laughs. “Jesus, Dick, it’s not like it’s hard. She’s little. All they do is eat and sleep and make dirty diapers at this age.“

Now Dick’s imagining Red Hood patrolling with Rachel in one of those baby backpacks. Maybe one made of kevlar, though. “What about work?”

“A few days off never killed anyone,” Jason replies. “I’ll catch up on my shows.”

“His shows,” Dick mutters to Rachel. “Hey, you can’t eat yourself. Stop that.” He gently pulls her fingers away from her mouth, wincing a little at the slimy texture. Rachel, unperturbed, tries to put Dick’s finger in her mouth instead. Her eyes are huge and very blue, her hair fair and tufty where the blanket has ruffled it up.

“Here,” Jason says, waving a bottle in front of Dick’s nose. “She might want it warm, but try this first.”

“Oh, I can’t-” Dick manages to get out before Jason literally pushes the bottle into his baby-drool hand. “I don’t know what I’m doing!”

“She does, though,” Jason points out. “Relax, Dickie. Here.”

He twists Dick’s arm until the bottle is inverted and in the range of Rachel’s mouth. Dick notices that her concentration has shifted onto the bottle, her little mouth open like a baby bird. “Keep it tilted up so she doesn’t suck in too much air.”

She latches on and sucks. Dick, surprised, says, “Holy shit, look at that.”

Jason chuckles. “You got it. Now just let her do the work.”

Dick watches her guzzle the bottle. “She’s kinda cute. You know, when she’s not screaming.”

“Oh, yeah. You’re now enjoying one of the two tolerable parts of a baby at this age - eating and sleeping. The only times when they’re not crying.”

“You can’t find it that intolerable.” After all, no one’s making Jason babysit enough that he’s clearly more than just competent. 

“I got depths,” Jason replies with a shrug, as though Dick didn’t realise that. “Bottle up, pal. Seriously, you haven’t heard screaming until your neighbour wakes you up at 3AM to take a turn with a colicky baby.”

“Remind me to never, ever have kids,” Dick mutters. In his lap, Rachel has already almost drained the bottle. She’s slowed right down, her eyes nearly rolling in her head as she struggles to keep them open. “I think she’s tired.”

“Good. Now, put her up on your shoulder and rub her back a little.”

“Really?” Dick asks, awkwardly maneuvering her up his chest. She stretches a little when he makes circles on her teeny back. “Wait, isn’t this the part when babies-”

Rachel hiccups a little, and Dick feels a trace of wetness along the seam of his uniform around his neck. He sighs.

“Well,” Jason says, biting back a laugh. “Here, let me.” He lifts her away, easy as pie. “I’ll deal with the diaper situation. You get a clean shirt.”

“You’re too kind,” Dick says, and actually means it, “But you should know that I’m going to get you for that later.”