The thing about Gotham is that the grime rarely changes. It seeps into the cracks of the city, a fog that never quite clears. It’s like fear gas has settled permanently in the atmosphere, distant screams not uncommon in any section of the city. The worst of the criminal element has shifted through the years, adjusting their patterns around the territories of various vigilantes as they stake their claim on different pieces of the city. There is a near constant debate on if it was best to be on the boarder of two different patrolling Bats or if they should just embrace their dedicated hero. Some swear that they can slip between the cracks. Others fear drawing the attention of two vigilantes. The flow of crime ebbs like a gentle current, but the substance of it never really changes.
Put in that perspective, Jason Todd thinks it’s forgivable that it takes him almost a day to realize that he’s not in the right Gotham.
Even then it’s only because some lunatic in a red helmet is running through his territory.
A copy cat.
For the first couple blocks, Jason watches in open wonder. Because he really doesn’t understand the kind of person who would look at a Bat and decide well, that looks like fun. There has been more than one non-Bat trained kid who thought it was a good idea to put on a Robin costume, and there was also his own unauthorized stint as Nightwing, but even so, no one outside the family would ever think to go masquerading as Batman.
And not even his family thinks it's a good idea to dress up as Red Hood.
The guy in the costume is bulkier than Jason is now, but in terms of body type, he’s more than passable. Same broad shoulders, thick through the legs. Jason has managed to hang that kind of muscle on his frame before, but it takes a lot to maintain and when he’d started to reconcile with his family he'd revert to old habits. It’s hard to pull off some of the Robin-style acrobatics with that much bulk. And if he needs to stop someone with both a size and training advantage, well, a few rounds always did the trick.
The other Red Hood moves well for a guy of his size, head down as he saunters toward one of the more populated corners. Jason raises an eyebrow at the target. He doesn’t deal with street dealers so much these days, not unless he catches wind of someone selling to children, but it’s a good target, still a street dealer, but fairly high up the food chain. The kind of person he might have chosen when he first came to Gotham.
When he'd needed to make a point.
Jason watches from a gargoyle, half-wondering if the copycat has the awareness to check all the angles. Maybe he’s cocky, or maybe he’s new enough to Gotham that he thinks Batman’s the only real threat. Batman who rarely ventures this far into Jason’s territory unless invited or working a mass breakout. Under normal circumstances, Jason would make it a point to talk to the guy. After all, if he's an amateur, he can be scared off and if he's an enemy, well, Jason can always use some stress relief.
If he's something in between, well, extra intelligence before approach never hurts.
It takes Jason all of five minutes to realize that’s a mistake when the copycat slips a knife out from his jacket and sticks it through the dealer’s throat. The others on the corner scatter into the darkness, but Jason can’t make himself move, not even as the copycat calmly bends down and starts sawing through the rest of the muscles and ligaments in the dealer’s neck.
Because he remembers this. The way a severed head felt as he’d shoved it into the duffle bag. The way the blood stuck to the soles of his boots.
Even now, it’s hard to summon sympathy for the dead man. Not when Jason knows the scores of new addicts his type has sown through lower Gotham. He still believes that taking over the drug trade did more harm than good for the city, but watching the other Hood work makes his skin crawl. If he could make himself move, he would probably put a stop to it.
But he can’t move.
Not when the man wearing the helmet tosses the head into his duffle bag is this painfully familiar. Not when it’s very possible that stopping the man in front of him could have very real consequence for the person he is today.
All the same, he doesn’t believe it until he follows the copycat back to a dilapidated safe house, watches him unlatch the helmet and sees his own slightly wild eyes shining through the darkness.
Jason bites back a sigh.
Time travel or alternate universe.
He wishes he didn’t have a protocol for this.
Bat protocol for waking up in the wrong Gotham.
Step one: Ditch the costume. No one could be sure what the mask means in a different Gotham. Though after last night, Jason’s pretty sure Red Hood stands for almost the same thing.
He strips out of the body armor and stashes it in one of his safe houses. It takes him almost two hours to clear it completely and set up any necessary booby traps, but the ones he would have preferred to use, the ones he’s had established since he roared back into vengeance are potentially occupied. He runs a hand through his hair, wrinkling his nose at the phantom sensation of the domino on his face. He’s knocked off step two: Confirming the era, by snagging an abandoned newspaper from the gutter.
Step three is harder, especially considering he suspects time travel instead of a parallel universe.
Step three is to make contact with someone in the family. Preferably the person farthest removed from the situation. Distance wise that means Damian, but if the newspaper is accurate, the demon brat is probably still with the League of Assassins. Which has its own host of problems considering today’s Red Hood’s connections.
So that just leaves Tim, who had been suspiciously absence for the bulk of his initial rampage. He’d had the one incident, where he nearly beaten the kid to death, but that was… that was after the ordeal with the Joker, wasn’t it?
His head has been a mess for years and his memories of this part of the past are shrouded in a Lazarus haze. He doesn’t regret most of his actions, but he knows that for most of the family, what he’s done is unforgivable. Especially to Tim.
Except he hasn’t done it yet. Any of it.
He sneaks into Titan Tower the same way he did all those years ago, uses the same tactics to subdue Tim’s superpowered teammates. And slips into what has to be functioning as Tim’s apartment? He seems pretty young to be off on his own.
Despites everything, he can’t resists the waiting in the dark trick. He regrets it when Tim responds instinctively to the threat and tosses a few batarangs (or whatever the hell Robin’s calling his throwing weapons these days) in Jason’s directions. They’re not hard to dodge. Robin’s non-lethal aim had been instilled with enough force that even after years of being Red Hood, Jason still falls back on the same habit. The last one skims the edge of his sleeve, just enough to draw blood. Jason raises hand in mock surrender.
“Easy there, Timbers,” he says lightly. “I come in peace.”
“How did you get in here?” Tim demands. “This is one of the most secure facilities in the world.”
“Please,” Jason says. “Batcave, Justice League, Fortress of Solitude, Paradise Island, League of Assassins, it doesn’t even make top five.”
He can see Tim’s eyes narrow under his mask. “What are you doing here?”
“Bat-protocol,” Jason says, almost flippantly. He chances lowering his hands so that he can apply pressure to the batarang wound on his arms. “Come on, I know B did the same thing with you. Time travel contingency.”
Tim frowns harder. Jason fights the urge to squirm under his gaze.
After what feels like eternity Tim says, “You’re one of us.”
Jason reaches up and peels off his domino, but doesn’t say a word. Tim will take anything at this moment as an attempt to confuse him and Jason desperately wants an ally. So he waits, and he watches as Tim burns through possible identities in his head. Finally he asks, “Who is Batman?”
“Bruce Wayne,” Jason answers easily and can’t resist adding, “and you’re Tim Drake. I can keep going if you need it.”
Tim nods, licks his lips and says, “You’re supposed to be dead.”
“Careful what you blame on a fifteen year old, three-point-oh. You had more than your fair share of close calls. So did Dickiebird. You’re supposed to be just as dead as me. You just happen to have better luck.”
“You know what I mean.”
Jason gives him a crooked smile. He’s never been able to resist rubbing his death in the rest of the family’s faces. For years it’s been met with the same flash of guilt. Even from Tim who had nothing to do with the incident. All Tim had done was step into an empty costume and Jason made him pay for that act. Enough that he’d started sharing the guilt with Dick and Bruce.
Today Tim only gives him an eye roll that is obvious even under the mask. Guess everyone was telling the truth. Without Jason beating the idea into Tim’s skull, it didn’t ever occur to him that he might have done something wrong.
Jason’s not sure if that makes their history better or worse.
“I need your help,” he says.
Tim locks the door behind him and crosses the room to grab a tablet from his desk. “You need to get back to the future?”
“What?” Jason says, he feels vaguely lightheaded and unless he’s crazy, Tim just threw a Back to the Future reference out. “Hell no, I don’t want to go back. Do you know what kind of opportunity this is?”
“Didn’t think you’d be one for playing the lottery numbers.” Tim’s posture has shifted slightly, tensing into a fighting stance. He’s not as good at hiding it in nonchalance as Dick. “Can’t change the past.”
“Flash changes it all the time. And it’s not like you can tie me up and deliver me to Bats because that’s even more of a timeline clusterfuck than anything I could be planning.”
Tim stares him done for a long moment before he uncrosses his arms and says, “Fine, Jason. Guess you better tell me everything.”
Jason doesn’t tell Tim everything.
Jason tells Tim about one quarter of the things he needs to know.
Because Jason already regrets the damn Bat protocol that drove him here. Tim, who—as he’d found out in one embarrassingly awkward breakfast a few years after his return—has made a study of Jason’s every reaction going back to when he was wearing the short pants, can easily spot the parts he’s omitted.
Jason wonder’s why he hasn’t made a move to subdue him for the sake of the timeline. He half thinks he’s stalling until one of the other Titans to wake up and respond with backup.
“We should talk to someone,” Tim pleads. “It doesn’t have to be Batman. Nightwing would be more than happy to help. Or maybe the Flash. He’s probably the best bet for something that could mess with a timeline. It’s possible that someone has sent you here with some kind of purpose. Was there a fight, was someone after you?”
“There’s always someone after me,” Jason says flippantly.
Tim pinches his forehead. “Does it maybe have something to do with why you’re alive?”
“Doubt it,” Jason chirps. “Well, Timbers, this has been fun. I’ll leave you a note about all the flaws in the Titan’s security system.”
Tim throws up his hands. “Why even bother coming here if you don’t want my help?”
“In a couple weeks a very angry version of me is going to come in a frankly embarrassing Robin costume and attempt to beat you to death.” Jason pauses at the window. “I was going through some shit. It’s nothing personal.”