Dick stared sadly at his brother's retreating back. He could probably catch up to him again, easily. He wouldn't, though, no mater how much his instincts were screaming at him to do so; to keep his brother in sight, to protect him, and never let anything hurt him again.
The older man could tell that he had scared and startled the boy, catching him out here like that. Jason was good, astonishingly so, even with no formal training. It was doubtful that any of the usual run of Gotham criminals would be able to catch him at all. For Dick to have must have been a shock. He hadn't been able to help it though. It had been so long… He did not want to let his Little Wing go now that he had finally found him.
Running after Jason now would just scare him even worse, though. The younger, so very *young*, boy didn't have any reason to trust him. Besides, Jason had done the absolute smartest thing when accosted by large scary men in alleyways; he had made tracks for heavily populated areas immediately. Even in Gotham it would cause a stir to chase the boy down on High Street.
Honestly, Dick was also still reeling from the shock and incredulity of finding Jason this way. The irony was so poignant he wasn't sure if the swelling feeling in his throat was laughter, or tears. He had known that Jason was around, of course. Zatanna had promised him, and he had clung to that. Even when he hadn't seen any sign, hadn't been able to track him down, Dick had clung to that promise.
It had been months. Months with no sign, and still he had clung desperately to hope. Hope that he could find his little brothers, could keep them safe, and reclaim some vestige of the life he had lived and loved.
The not-knowing had slowly been driving him off the last crumbling ledge of his sanity.
What if something had happened to Jason? Nightwing knew very well what could happen to a child on the streets of Gotham, what might have happened to Jason without Bruce around to snatch him up.
What if Dick had gotten here too late? He'd been here almost three months and while he'd looked, he hadn't had anything specific to work off of. The lack of access to Oracle or to the Batcave files was crippling.
What if Jason was in trouble? While Jason hadn't been quite as ready to smash heads as a child, had in fact had some incredibly sweet traits, the street-kid had always had a nose for trouble.
What if Dick had once again been *too damned late*, and his little brother was dead once more, beaten bloody, ripped into by shrapnel, all alone; coughing his lifeblood out onto Dick's cheek as the older man begged him not to leave him, please, please, they were all gone, Jason was all he had left, please Little Wing, not you too, Jason couldn't leave too, couldn't leave him all alone!
As the days slinked past Dick had felt the crimson edged waves breaking higher and higher against the shaky dikes of sanity his hope was shoring up. He did not want to slip back into the mental place he had been; where allies flinched away from him as readily as enemies; where his demons and the echoing screams of dying friends - dying family- sent him out each night to return soaked in crimson. To go out not expecting to return, not wanting to, but doing so anyway, alone, alone, always alone, no one flying, fighting by his side. He did not want to fall back into that space it had taken so much to drag him out of. As the days had passed he had felt it coming. Zatanna's intervention had been the only thing that had dragged him to shore in the first place, and her promise was the foundation of his return to sanity.
He had felt the bulwarks of rationality crumbling away as the days crept by with no word, no sign. He had finally come out tonight to just walk Crime Alley, unarmored, and unarmed. Unarmed, except for all the ways he had spent all his life, except those first few bright years, turning his body into a weapon. It was the most likely place he could think of to look for his little brother. Though he hadn't necessarily been harbouring very much hope of finding Jason, even if he was here. Crime Alley was a big place, and the street kids knew to hide from clean, well dressed strangers. They were normally either predators or social workers, both of whom were about equally despised in these parts.
Despite his growing desperation to locate at least one of his little brothers, Dick had almost been hoping not to find Jason here. On the one hand, it would be a great relief to know where his little brother was, to have some sign that his goal was attainable and not just one more empty hope. On the other hand, he would not wish Crime Alley on his worst enemy, let alone a child. Dick had truly been hoping his brother had gotten a break this time.
To find Jason with some sort of family, his mother at least, would have been perfect; to find him safe, happy and warm. Dick knew he was never supposed to have found out - Jason was so prickly about showing weaknesses - but the younger man hated to be cold. His poor little brother often had nightmares of some sort, they all did, Jason's were so much worse when it was cold. They all had night-terrors, some of them even of shared horrors, but Jason had things in his past that none of them could ease; death-things, that none of them could relate to. Only Damian might share some similar fears, but he was even worse about sharing his nightmares than Jason was.
On bad nights, when the tension was high, or something in the day had brought the memories forth, Jason woke fighting; enemies or unrelenting earth or some other dream-spectre. He did battle with his internal demons with the same brutal determination he had made his signature since he had clawed his way out of his own grave. The best reaction on those nights was to beat a hasty retreat if you could, or wrap him up in strong arms, if you couldn't; talk to him, assure him that it was safe, and hope to avoid broken bones. The morning-after reaction to those dreams was normally over quickly; a few angry/guilty looks, some swearing-accompanied treatment of any attendant injuries, and then it was forgotten. They all had hard nights, and every one of them had walked away with injuries from the others; if they were always apologising for their bad dreams, they would never speak of anything else.
On bitterly cold nights, though, Jason dreamt of his time on the streets; of loneliness and unrelenting desperation and the petty cruelty of strangers. Those nights were less outwardly violent, sometimes seeming totally unremarkable. In contrast to the brutal awakenings of the bad nights, those relatively quiet nights might have been a relief, when trapped in close quarters with the big man, if it hadn't been for the weary, desperate cast of his eyes in the aftermath. In the morning after a cold night, Jason would watch the world with hard, hunted eyes. He would retreat into himself, away from them, and sometimes it would take days before he could be coaxed back into making obnoxious puns with Dick, and driving their ostentatious little brothers insane.
Their nights had always been cold, towards the end. When they could, they had taken to wrestling the stubborn man down onto whatever they were sleeping on, ignoring his protests, and making him the centre of a pile of bodies; Dick wrapped around Jason from behind, taking his own comfort from the contact, Tim tucked into the big man's front, his tiny form cradled between the two biggest of them, with Damian on guard bracketing their other side. It had taken one of their rare emotional conversations to convince Jason that they *all* slept better this way, warmer and more secure, each knowing the others were safe, to get him to stop protesting. Dick thought those nights, curled together with all of his brothers, were, despite everything, some of the most content he had ever been since those nights he had spent cradled between the strong, warm bodies of his parents.
If he had known Jason was safe and warm, Dick would have been content. If he had been able to look in on him from time to time, to assure himself that his brother was happy, he could have walked away to let him live whatever life he could. Nothing would make Dick happier than to see Jason safe and happy, away from the Mission that had driven him to violent insanity and back, and caused his death twice. If anyone deserved peace, after all that had happened to him, it was Jason.
From the state of him, the wary, weary, desperate look, it didn't seem to have turned out that way this time. Jason didn't look like he had anyone taking care of him. His clothing was threadbare and un-patched. His shoes only deserved the title because they went on his feet and looked like they might have had laces of a sort, once upon a time. He didn't look like he'd had a good meal in months.
Poor Jay. He always seemed to get dealt the rotten cards. Except for when he was actually *playing* cards, of course. Jason was a wicked poker player. He had been, even as a scrawny, scrappy little punk who insisted that no, Mr. Nightwing sir, I've never played poker before, would you teach me? Then proceeded to clear Dick out.
Seeing him like that again…Dick had wanted so badly to sweep him up, to take him home and protect him, and give him everything he had ever wanted. He could have. He certainly had the strength and skill to subdue and transport one underweight child, no matter how fierce. The problem was, judging by the wary look in Jason's eyes, it would have taken force. The last thing he wanted was to force Jason into anything. His little brother could be stupidly obstinate, and forcing Jason into something, even if it was for his own good - especially if it was for his own good - was a sure-fire way to send him running in the opposite direction.
Unlike when Dick's Jason had his run-in with the Batman, Dick didn't have the benefit of the Batman's reputation among the street people. After years of beating up criminals, but also directing the prostitutes to clinics and those children he caught to shelters, he had acquired a reputation of being a scary, no-nonsense bastard, but one that wouldn't take advantage.
God, Jason had thought he'd try to rape him?
He may not have grown up on the street, but Dick knew a lot about the things that went on there. The circus had been a wonderful place, but even that wasn't sunshine and roses all of the time. Between that and his time as Robin, and then Nightwing, Dick had an understanding of the dangers a lone child could face. He had known that Jason's life on the streets was rough. He had still somehow never connected the two ideas when thinking about his strong, abrasive little brother, and Jason was never one for saying much, even when he was talking. Had someone-?
Hot rage suffused him at the very thought. The red-edged waves raged for a moment, clouding his vision as razor-edged instincts rose to the fore. He pushed it aside. He had fought too long against the raging within himself to let it sweep him under again now that he had actually found one of his little brothers. Besides, he couldn't do anything about it right now, and if he thought about it, it would drive him crazy -crazier- with the need to snatch Jason up and never let him go.
Maybe if he'd encountered Jason as Nightwing he'd have fared better in getting the boy to trust him, but probably not. Dick hadn't been here long enough for Nightwing to have built up enough of a reputation on the street level for Jason to trust that persona either. It was harder then he'd thought it would be, building up a reputation from scratch without the backing of the Bat, especially in Gotham. He'd had to do it the first time around in New York, but that was a very different city, and this was a very different world.
He had known when he stepped through that portal, away from his own dying world and into this one, that it would not be the same. He just hadn't anticipated some of the differences, or how heart-breaking some of the similarities would be.
Another factor in his lack of 'street-cred' was that he was intentionally keeping a low profile. He went out at nights in part because he had been doing it so long he couldn't really fathom not; not when he could see the clinging corruption that drenched Gotham. Gotham needed Batman, though, not Nightwing, and though he could wear the cowl for a time in need, that was not him, so he kept his presence as unobtrusive as possible, for now, while he worked towards his goals.
He wanted the process to go faster. He didn't like waiting. He wanted all of his brothers found and safe, now. Still, Dick would just have to suck it up and exercise some of that hard-learned patience. He would need to win Jason's trust slowly, rather than just sweeping him away like he wanted. Jason would doubtless rabbit the second Dick turned his back if he tried to snatch the boy up. It made sense, but that didn't mean he had to like it. Unlike Bruce, Dick didn't have the ready bait and trap of an empty Robin suit. He didn't have a place for Jason that was the dream of every child in Gotham who had ever seen wrong done and wanted to do something about it. Both the child that his Jason had been and the adult he had grown into had wanted to help people, though their methods had been different. He couldn't believe this world could be so different for that not to hold true. Dick didn't have the draw or the influence to just grab Jason up and keep him safe. He would have to coax him in, like a feral cat.
Dick had always been a dog person.
The tracer the older man had planted on Jason would help. It would let him track the boy; he could not loose him again. He'd catch up with him and slip him some money, just as soon as he collected himself. It wasn't all he'd wanted to do, by far, but it would help prevent Dick from going out of his mind with worry in the mean time.
Dick turned away from the place he'd last seen his wary little brother and moved back towards his car. She was a sweet little thing, and he really shouldn't have left her alone in Crime Alley. He knew better, he just hadn't really been thinking clearly. It felt like he hadn't been thinking clearly in a long time. In another life a fully grown Jason had been his anchor to sanity, in a world rapidly swirling the drain - the irony of which was not lost on him. To know where this Jason was, even if Dick couldn't take care of him just now, felt like the dissipation of a storm that had been raging in him mind, clouding his judgement.
He couldn't do anything but laugh when he got back to where he had left his car to find it up on bricks - someone having finished the job Jason had started. Crime Alley never changed. He pulled out his phone and put on his best befuddled-tourist mannerisms to complain to the police about the tires on his car.
It had been a nice ride, but finding Jason was infinitely more precious a thing than a car, especially one bought with pilfered money from several of the major gangs in town. One of the first things Dick had done in this world was hack the bank accounts of some of the biggest bosses in town. He may not be as good as Tim - would never be as good as Tim - but he was capable of that. It wasn't possible to spend so much time around Oracle and not pick some things up. There had been times when she was so angry with him the only things he could get out of her were deflective technobabble. He'd listened, even then, because he loved her, and she was speaking to him, and he had spent so long not really listening to her… So he had picked up some stuff.
He had needed things, not the least of which was an identity, and had needed money, fast, to get them. The end of the world and the destruction of all he had known and loved had been great for curing him of some of his overbearing, antiquated morals, as his Jason had put it. In this world it would be better for the money to be used to help him find his brothers and set up a place from which to fight crime, then be feeding more into that criminal system.
This Jason was not his Jason. He knew that. The Jason that had died in his arms had been older and sharp-edged; brash, wounded, occasionally casually cruel, and trying so hard to be the adult he shouldn't have had to be yet. Yet still so blindingly bright; skilled and strong, and paradoxically loyal, with flashes of his old humour shining through as he aged and recovered, even in the midst of chaos. This young boy on the other hand was the mirror of the young, enthusiastic Robin Dick had loved but never really had the chance to get to know as well as he should have. The one Bruce had loved so much, who's death had left Bruce so broken. Dick was looking forward to really getting to know him.
So, despite the overwhelming failure of not managing to secure Jason immediately, Dick felt a wealth of satisfaction in finding him at all. He was alive, he was here. His situation wasn't the one Dick would have hoped for him, but Dick would fix that. Now it was just a matter of time.
One little brother down, two baby brothers to go.
At this point in the timeline, Damian was still just a mad gleam in his mother and grandfather's eyes. Nightwing would be keeping a very careful eye on the League of Shadows, though. His Jason had taught him more than just a slightly more flexible moral code; between him and Tim, Dick knew Ra's organisation in and out. He would leave them alone for the time being, but woe betide the assassins guild if they even considered treating Damian as badly in this world as they had in the last. He would tear them to shreds, and insure that they would never scrape enough of Ra's together to reanimate in his little green pool of happy-juice. If Bruce followed about the same pattern here as he had in Dick's world, the man was still with the League of Shadows, learning some of the techniques he would later pass to his Robins, and Talia was busy falling in love with him. So if all went well he knew where to look for his littlest brother in a few years.
Now, if only Tim was where Dick had expected him to be, he'd be one happy vigilante. He had thought Tim would be the easy one, but not so far. As it was he'd had no luck locating his little bird, but finding Jason restored his hope. He would find his little brother, where ever he was.
But Jack and Janet Drake of Drake Industries, rich darlings of the social scene and their mostly ignored, genius, adorable-little-stalker of a son didn't seem to exist in this world. Dick had probably spent at least two hours standing on what should have been the site of the Drake house, fending off a breakdown. There was no house there, no sign that there ever had been. No sign of his brilliant, obsessive little brother, of the Robin who had recreated the role to suit himself, and who Dick had hurt so badly so often without ever meaning to.
For what felt like the millionth time since he stumbled through that portal to see a familiar but long absent Gotham skyline, Dick cursed himself for not paying enough attention to his little brothers. He wasn't even sure what Janet's maiden name was, or where Jack had been born, so he couldn't even look them up to see where they'd gone off script. Still, Zatanna had said Tim was in this world, so he'd just have to keep looking. He was worried, but not as much as he had been about Jason. Tim always found a way to take care of himself. Dick was confident that if he was around, he'd find him soon, and he'd be fine. Jason was perfectly capable of taking care of himself too, of course, but his solutions often involved a significant amount of collateral damage.
Dick stared up at the strange/familiar Gotham sky and smiled, what felt like the first true smile that had touched his face since first Damian, then Tim, and then Jason's bodies had grown cold under his hands. This world was a little strange, and a little lonely, but he had found one of his brothers, and would find the others soon enough. With every familiar piece locking into place, this world was getting better.
One little brother down, two to go.