It was impossible to mistake the past version of Dick Grayson with the version from their time. Sure, apparently the Dick Grayson of any time period had the weight of the world on his shoulders (the lines on his face and the bags under his eyes attested to that), but as talented as Golden Boy was, not even he could have been injured so drastically in the ten minutes he’d been gone.
This Grayson’s cast came all the way up from his toes and ended under his knee. As he shifted on his crutches, he brought his face out of the shadows of the trees into the moonlight and--yikes. The right side of his face was black and blue, and Jason was sure that whoever had punched him had gotten awfully close to breaking his jaw.
Not that he didn’t sympathize with the urge to punch Grayson in the face.
Jason had been in a bad enough mood when he had woken up in the forest with no memory of how he had gotten there hours earlier. That mood had only worsened when he realized who was keeping him company on the hard dirt ground. Nightwing, Red Robin, and Robin had been brought along for the ride. Lovely.
After the usual bickering, they had made out the sounds of a crowd in the distance. A temporary truce was established in exchange for investigating the source. Leaning out of the woods, they had caught sight of a circus. Haly’s Circus.
Nightwing immediately took control of their rag-tag group at the sight of it. Apparently that particular tent of Halys was no longer in use, or rather, it couldn’t be used thanks to some fire. Jason didn’t really understand how this red and white tent was different from the other red and white tent, but whatever. He had gotten the gist.
Based on the tent, Nightwing believed that they had somehow traveled to the past. It was a hell of a jump in logic, and Damian had not hesitated to tell Nightwing so, but Goldie was usually right about things when his precious circus was involved.
Jason’s real concern was how they’d gotten here at all. Even if they hadn’t time traveled, someone had managed to catch all four of them off guard and plop them in the middle of nowhere, which was quite the feat.
Jason wished he could remember.
Nightwing had insisted that he scout out the circus solo, leaving Damian and Jason in a literal ditch in the woods while he went gallivanting off on his former circus stomping grounds. Tim had gotten to scout out the place too for a way to figure out what the date was, since their tech wasn’t cooperating.
It was supposedly because Dick and Tim knew the area better, Dick from growing up there and Tim thanks to his stalker-ish tendencies, but Jason knew the real reason he wasn’t able to scout the place out was because he was“too unpredictable.” Lovely. Even when he abided by the no-kill rule he wasn’t trusted.
The headache that he had gotten from whatever had brought them here had only worsened thanks to the presence of these assholes. He was stuck with Damian as a babysitter for pete’s sake. He could admire the kids moxy from a distance, but actually having to spend time with the kid’s prissiness? A pain in the ass.
It was annoying to be playing by the rules to begin with, but Nightwing’s word was law if Jason didn’t want to slow things down. He had a drug bust to get to in a couple hours (or was it a couple years now?) so he figured it was best to just go along with the nonsense (his headache contributed to that decision).
Yet, look where Golden Boy’s guidance had gotten them.
The future-Grayson’s solo search for his younger self had obviously failed, and past-Grayson had somehow spotted them. Now Jason was stuck with the job of explaining their situation, which he did not appreciate. Not to mention the demon brat kept shooting him distrusting, ugly looks. At least he had gotten confirmation that they were actually in the past, he supposed.
Past-Grayson coughed, and Jason shook off his thoughts to focus back on him. Right, now wasn’t the time to be daydreaming. He took the opportunity to look the circus boy over more closely. Grayson was a couple inches shorter than last Jason had seen him, and he was in civilian garb—jeans and a white t-shirt with a suspicious stain on the sleeve. He leaned over the edge of the ditch all smiles.
“Who do we have here?” Grayson scanned over their motley crew as thoroughly as they were scanning him, his posture deceptively relaxed. They had all seen how quickly Nightwing could burst into motion too many times to be fooled, and he had the higher ground.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jason saw Red Robin approach the tense group from the shadows of the woods, a newspaper in hand. Had he lead Grayson to them? Sloppy, Red Robin was more skilled than that.
Irritation with the mistake won out over satisfaction at being able to know the date, and Jason scowled at the bird. Damian did too, never one to miss out at showing his disapproval of Tim. It was a wonder Tim didn’t spontaneously combust.
Grayson pretended not to notice the tension and smiled even wider. Jason was almost impressed. How the heck was he smiling at all when his jaw looked like Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night?
“You're awful quiet. Ah! I know,” he nodded empathetically, “You want to join the circus! Sorry, we aren’t picking up runaways, even if they’re wearing circus costumes,” Damian bristled at that, and Jason slapped a hand over his mouth with an eye roll.
Dick continued, “You can still watch the show tonight if you want.”
He took one of his hands off his crutches to toss it back lazily towards the big top in the distance. Jason could smell the cotton candy and popcorn from here—damn he was hungry. If he’d been allowed to scout, he would have done a lot better than Tim, that’s for sure. He would have gotten food.
“We’re not here to join the circus…even though we may look a little strange. It’s an interesting story really,” Tim said, grimacing through the cowl at the weak explanation. Tim must be trying to stall for Nightwing, as his presence would be irrefutable proof that they were from the future, but it was likely the idiot would be gone for quite a while.
Dick cocked his head, “Interesting stories are the best kind to tell. With you all wearing such fascinating outfits, well…” Grayson was still smiling but his eyes were turning cold, “This story I’ve got to hear.”
It was clear Dick Grayson wasn’t going to play the happy fool for much longer. Jason had seen him looking at the big bat insignias on their uniforms—there was no easy explanation for that. He wasn’t going to pacified by less than the truth.
Grayson’s eyes settled on the yellow R emblazoned on the demon brat’s chest, and the fake smile dripped off his face like melting wax, leaving something unpleasant in its place.
“Well?” Grayson snapped. Damian shifted uncertainly under the scrutiny, but he quickly recovered, crossing his arms and glaring. The kid didn’t respond (didn't quite seem to know how) and the tension thickened so much that Jason could almost feel the angst settling on his shoulders. The shadows twisted on the ground as the moonlight fell through waving leaves. There was silence.
Red Robin moved forward, trying to remove Dick’s focus on Robin after seeing the less than delighted reception he’d gotten. Grayson’s gaze darted to the movement. He slid down into the ditch (somehow graceful even with crutches, the ass) and loomed over Tim threateningly.
Tim looked cowed with Grayson suddenly so close, but he continued anyway “We aren’t here to cause trouble—” Tim started, but too bad Jason didn’t feel like playing around anymore. He was just going to bite the bullet.
“The name’s Red Hood. We’re from the future, Nightwing, ” Jason drawled, putting emphasis on the code name, “so get your head out of your ass and listen up.”
Grayson somehow managed to look even more displeased. Tim looked over at Jason, similarly irritated, (“is it too much to ask for a little finesse? ” he muttered) but Damian actually looked somewhat relieved. Kid didn’t like beating around the bush any more than he did.
Then Grayson growled, all fake congeniality forgotten, and Damian and Tim jerked back slightly at the ferocity of it, all irritation and satisfaction giving way to surprise. Jason leaned closer with a sneer, hands itching towards his guns. Maybe being so blunt wasn’t such a good idea after all. Nightwing was all sarcasm and overconfident smiles until you got him angry. Jason remembered his unrestrained temper, was much more familiar with it than the other two. Sure the three of them could still take down the injured man if it came to that, but it would be messy.
“Fine. So you know who I am. Then you should know that I’m no idiot. You expect me to believe you’re from the future? Yeah, right,” Grayson turned his gaze to Jason’s holsters accusingly, “Batman wouldn’t work with someone who uses guns, Red Hood,” He said the name sarcastically, and turned, pointing one of his crutches right in Robin’s face, “In fact, he has made it quite clear that he doesn’t work with anyone at all, especially not a Robin .”
The amount of bitterness in Nightwing’s voice surprised him. Perhaps this was more than temper after all? Not working with a Robin...what the hell was he talking about.
Damian scoffed, earlier hesitance apparently buried in exchange for disdain and a pissy attitude. He shoved the offending object away, stalking forward. “Get that out of my face, cripple . If you think you can talk to me in such a manner you’re sorely mistaken. I am Robin and you don’t--” but before the kid could finish, Grayson lashed out with his crutch, suddenly enough that Damian had no time to counter, and forced the kid to the ground.
“Must be pretty embarrassing being beaten by a cripple,” Grayson said, bearing his teeth, face twisting. Damian made a choked, outraged noise, anger quickly overcoming surprise, and Grayson pressed the crutch harder into the brat’s neck. “You should be a bit more careful with that attitude wearing that costume brat.”
It was an odd thing to see Tim have to get Dick off the kid instead of the other way around. It should have been amusing, but something had settled oddly in his stomach. What could have gotten Grayson so riled up? Usually he'd at least hear them out before calling bullshit.
“Enough! Calm down! Everyone just calm down,” Tim said, arms splayed between Grayson and Damian. Tim’s grip on the newspaper was so tight Jason was sure his hands were white-knuckled under his gloves. Damian jerked himself off the ground, coiled tightly. Tim turned to Dick, “I think I know why you’re so upset and we aren’t here to rub salt in the wound, alright?” Red Robin threw the newspaper on the ground, headline up. A cloud of dirt rose and settled. Jason stared through the dust, feeling a bit numb.
JASON TODD, DIES IN ACCIDENT! BRUCE WAYNE IN MOURNING
Damian’s eyes darted to Todd before he turned away. Jason felt like turning away too, but he couldn’t seem to tear his eyes from the paper. He heard Tim explaining things further in the background, heard Dick’s voice raised in response, but…
He hadn’t ever gotten his hands on this newspaper.
He still couldn’t seem to get his hands on this newspaper, but his eyes roved it hungrily from its place on the ground. It looked so...ordinary. He didn’t really process the words, but his eyes fell on a picture of Bruce Wayne standing in front of a casket. His casket. Alfred stood close behind him holding an umbrella. Were those tears on their faces or was it the rain?
“You’re not in the pictures,” Jason muttered without thinking. Grayson stiffened, and Tim’s explanation sputtered out. Jason hadn’t been listening to Red Robin at all, but apparently Goldie had been. The talk had done its job. Grayson looked a lot less skeptical, more resigned than angry now.
The man let out a low sigh at the personal question instead of unleashing a can of whoop ass like he had with Damian. So. Progress, he supposed. Jason wondered how long he had been staring at the paper to miss such a drastic turnabout.
Grayson stooped down and picked up the newspaper, for once actually moving like an injured man. He stared at it.
“Yeah, I wasn’t there,” he said. Jason felt a jolt of surprise.
“What?” Tim spluttered, “How?” Damian raised an eyebrow under his mask.
“I suppose I wasn’t there because I wasn’t told,” the newspaper creased in Dick’s hands. Then he slowly released it and let it flutter back to the ground.
“You didn’t know that he had…” Jason hesitated, finally picked up the paper, smoothed it, then continued, “…that he had died?” He couldn’t seem to figure out how that would work.
“No. Bruce didn’t tell me,” Dick said. His face scrunched up. It seemed like he was trying to be angry, but he just looked like he was holding back tears. His eyes burned into Jason. Then, he looked away and cleared his throat.
Tim reached out to comfort Grayson but he stalled halfway there, holding his hands awkwardly out in the air. Damian looked uncomfortable and Tim’s hands dropped uselessly to his sides. Jason busied himself with the newspaper and willed his hands not to shake.
He felt dangerously close to tears himself, as ridiculous as that sounded. He’d gotten over his death a long time ago, but his brain apparently hadn’t gotten the message. His thoughts went a mile a minute. He could almost feel the hard wood of the inside of his coffin under his hands, could feel the dirt pressing against him. He couldn’t breathe—later, later, later. But Dick wasn’t there at his funeral, hadn’t known that he had died. Why had that bastard—? Later, later, later. He could deal with that all later. He straightened.
“We didn’t come here for a drama performance,” Jason said harshly. Somehow his voice didn’t shake as he continued, “We don’t care about your problems, just direct us to a way back to our own time and we’ll be thrilled to get out of your hair.”
Dick glared at him, but said, “Fine. The Justice League should have the technology—magic or otherwise—to get you all to your proper time, your proper universe,” he waved a hand through the air, “whatever this is. I can contact them and explain things, give you some credibility.”
“What about Batman?” Damian asked crossly, “Aren’t we going to need to ask for Father’s help in this instance?”
“Father—?” Dick wheezed. He held a hand to his chest.
Tim cut off Dick’s impending heart attack, “Even if we don’t need Batman’s help, to get help from the Justice League we will need to convince them of our identities. They are going to call in Batman to help verify who we are. It is inevitable. It may be easier to go to straight to Bats before getting help from the League…” Red Robin sounded contemplative, but he was eyeing Grayson nervously.
“No way,” Jason said.
“I agree with Red here,” Dick said. Damn, had they actually been transported to the twilight zone? Damian and Tim agreeing? Him and Dick agreeing? This could be the apocalypse.
“And why, exactly, is that?” Damian snapped, still clearly angry about earlier.
“Batman is not in a helpful or understanding mood. You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t just attack you,” Dick said, unconsciously rubbing at his jaw, “…It’ll be easier to convince pigs to fly then to convince Batman that you’re his sidekicks from the future.”
Jason snorted. “Well, I was mostly talking about Bruce being an ass,” he said. There certainly weren’t any ulterior motives behind him not wanting to go see Bruce. Nope.
Tim didn’t look similarly amused though, staring at Dick’s face with a strangely focused expression. Jason could see the cogs turning in the kids head. His eyebrows scrunched together. “Attack us?” Tim muttered. The way Dick had worded it...his hurt expression...the fact that he was at the circus at all, the place he retreated for comfort and familiarity...It all clicked for Red Robin. Tim’s expression hardened.
“Did he do that to you?” Tim said, gesturing at Grayson. He meant the bruising, Jason realized, maybe even the leg.
Damian jerked back like he’d been burned, “He couldn’t possibly...” He shook his head in disbelief.
But Dick’s hand had stilled. In the dim light, with those big baby blues and that hurt that he couldn’t quite hide, he looked like a kicked puppy.
“Even if you are from the future, it really isn’t your business,” he said thickly. Grayson whipped around “ I won’t be helping you if Batman’s involved.”
Tim frowned, eyebrows drawn together, “We need Nightwing’s help—”
“Well it’s a good thing you’ve already got a Nightwing on the case,” Dick said sharply, already climbing back up to the top of the trench.
“Just, wait a second Grayson!” Damian commanded, “Are you--” Dick ignored him.
“I’ll send your Nightwing this way if I see him. I’d say see you later, but I really don’t want to,” Dick said. Jason couldn't see his face, but the curve of his back looked defeated.
Dick Grayson was gone, swallowed by the shadows of the forest.
“Well that went well,” Tim said, pulling his cape more tightly around himself. Damian made a frustrated sound.
“This is all your fault!” Damian seethed, glaring at Tim, “He was willing to help us until you opened your mouth. You always stick your nose where you don’t belong.” He drew his katana and Tim stepped back a few steps, extending his bow staff as he did.
“Don’t even think about it, brat,” Tim said flatly, eyeing the blade. Damian hefted his katana backwards, and readied himself to strike.
Jason tsked, stepping between the two. “I wonder what Nightwing would think if he could see you now. Though maybe he wouldn’t be surprised. Just follow Batman’s example and aim for the head and the legs...”
Damian made a wounded noise and stalked off, already slicing up trees. Tim stared at the ground, bo staff held loosely in his hands.
The newspaper seemed to burn in Jason’s pocket. They had no idea how they had gotten in this time, and no leads for getting home. They were stuck in a time where he was dead, a time that Batman and Nightwing had never talked about, a time where the Batman and his Golden Boy had apparently been estranged enough that Batman had beaten Dick Grayson as if he were a criminal.
“Yeah that’s what I thought.”
Jason could really go for a drink.