Dick hated this part of his job the most.
Of both his jobs, honestly.
But especially when it caught him without a mask but with companions that needed eyes to communicate (because it turned out fluence was not a subject one needed to earn a badge). On normal days, Dick managed. On normal days he didn’t need to do more than watch over some street, make sure public establishments were peaceful for their clients and fill out paperwork.
Then, there were those few occasions when they received calls from some civilian, complaining about a loud party at hell o’clock (Dick had barely taken care of any of those, as he always chose daytime for obvious reasons… At least, they were for a handful of people, and he liked it that way). Or some noisy neighbour that had nothing better to do than look through their window day and night and complain about the littlest things (those he found amusing, to break some tension if he’d had an exhausted night). Or someone scared of the screams of their neighbours that made them think their house was made of thin paper (and if he coincidentally decided to pay a visit to the Wayne manor when the marital squabbles involved children, that was nobody’s business but his).
That was what this was supposed to be: another one of those calls to check if it was just a crisis or something bigger. And by that, Dick meant that one of the spouses were a douchebag who had decided to vent their frustrations on their counterpart, as if they were a mere object that belonged to them for that sole reason. And preferably with no children involved.
That afternoon, however, drugs turned out to be the main problem. The slim and scruffy woman that answered the door was the clearest indication of what they would be facing, along with her nervous and unconscious instinct to make sure her arms remained unseen by clothe. He’d seen enough during his youth to recognise the signs, although none of his two companions needed to know that. Especially because it hadn’t been because of some first-hand personal experience, which would make it the more confusing.
Amy and he could only breathe more at ease when the tiny woman launched herself against their male companion, after seeing her tirade of unbelievable excuses and annoying objections was of no use. The house wasn’t the cleanest but with an assault to a police officer, they would have more freedom of movement, which meant an easier search. It’d been the same back at Gotham: you touch a police officer, you get screwed.
Dick left Amy on the ground floor and went directly to the staircase the woman hadn’t stopped looking at frantically. That was the first time he was glad that… however-he-was-called went with them. His short temper and hubris were finally useful, for the irascible lady could be held in place while he did his task.
Out of all the things Dick was expecting to come across, a lamp landing a few feet away from him was not in his first 20 options. Neither the little, scared girl shaking from the corner of the room. His heart dropped along with his stomach as the kid slid down the wall, adorned by deteriorating paper that he doubted had been changed in the last decade. Now, Dick might’ve not had the most normal childhood, but he knew that a small room, with nothing more than an old mattress, a holed blanket as a cover and dusty floor, was not the environment a child should be in.
Less one so little.
How old could that girl be? Something told Dick he wouldn’t tell by her height or physical. In that moment, he understood that the lamp was meant to hit him right across the face or, at least, the chest, as the thrower hadn’t known how tall the invader would’ve been. But the girl had done as much as possible with trembling and skinny arms.
It was still clear that the kid had guts, a thought that helped Dick to perform a smile in order to soothe her. He benched down, floor creaking, giving the small figure a last up-and-down look, taking into consideration how she looked like. The right part of her face was covered by greasy and messy dark blond hair, but he could still see the big, green eyes that looked back at him in fear by the bare left side. Thin arms had a tight grip on her legs, pressed against her chest, and her shoulders moved in a quick rhythm of anxiousness no kid should ever know.
“Hey” called Dick softly, hands up in worldwide known sign of calmness. “It’s alright, darling, it’s alright. We came to help”
He halted when he saw her doing the impossible to go backwards, although her back was firmly pressed against the sloppy wallpaper. Her eyes then began to look for something until they fixated on it, the shine of panic accentuating. Dick followed her glare until he spotted a stuffed chimpanzee lying near him. With extra care and gluing his blue eyes on the kid, he grabbed the toy, gently. The girl’s body stiffened considerably when she saw the animal in a stranger’s hands and Dick hurried to stretch his arm in her direction.
“Here, take it” he encouraged, keeping his voice just above a whisper, nerves at bay. “Is it a friend of yours?” he asked, after a couple of beats of uncomfortable silence. He wouldn’t register how easy it was for him to shut out the noises from downstairs and to pass on such a valuable gift to the little girl until later on, when all this was over and he could go back home. His smile grew a tiny bit when she nodded at his question, seemingly weighing his offer. “Here you go; I’m sure he needs a familiar face right now, don’t you think?” he tried again.
At the sight of the girl’s shoulders dropping slightly and her uncovered eye inspecting him as he’d done before, Dick’s heart fluttered. And when she started to move – slowly and cautiously, but moving, nonetheless – he remembered how to breathe properly. He placed the stuffed animal on the floor, between them, and took a few steps back, in an attempt to earn enough trust to take this girl out of there.
Once she saw the chimpanzee free, she grabbed and held it tightly against her chest. Dick let out a shaky breath at the sight, air caught in his throat again when the kid looked up, tears streaming down her face as she began to hyperventilate again. Picking the slack of cautiousness then, he approached the kid, murmuring reassurances in autopilot. The girl startled him when she threw herself at him, free hand holding tightly to his uniform shirt, face buried in it. Dick wasted little time in making soothing circles on her back.
He heard quick footsteps coming their way in all the process and turned his head in time to see Amy experimenting the same shock he’d felt moments before. The woman sealed her lips and took a step back, reading a plead in his eyes, opting for waiting patiently at the door and letting Dick do. He made sure to archive the respect shining on her eyes to tease her for it in the following days.
“There you go…” he whispered against the girl’s hair, supportively. “There you go, darling. I’m going to pick you up now, alright? It’s alright” he warned, before rising from the floor.
A portion of vespertine sunlight came through the window, glass opaque by lack of maintenance, and fell upon the form in his arms, shaking from sporadic hiccups. Dick glanced at her pale skin, in search of signs of some physical damage they’d have to take care of. Nothing by the moment, which earned him a sigh of relief.
Once his eyes met Amy’s, he mouthed ‘The mother?’, to which she replied with a terse ‘Out’. He nodded, sharing her anger but with more experience to bury it. Until it was safe to let it out, that is.
“I’m taking her with me to the station” he informed, still not raising his voice but firm enough to earn a shocked nod from his partner.
By the time he reached the vacant patrol car and left the quivery girl on the backseat, Dick didn’t know how many times he’d said ‘It’s okay’ and ‘I’ve got you’, but was certain each one was more honest than the previous one and had managed to calm the crying a bit. If only he could say the same of his ire.
“So, your case of domestic abuse turned out to be child-trafficking”
Jason huffed out in discomfort as he and his older brother kept their eyes glued to the tiny form of the girl, sat on one of the chairs, with the stuffed animal still close to her chest, looking smaller with Dick’s jacket around her shoulders. She’d stopped crying by the time they arrived, being now looking at the nothingness, lost in thought, wearing a blank expression so foreign for a child. Even Damian frowned from time to time, a shadow of feeling, of consciousness. This was something new Dick didn’t want to experience with someone so young.
He decided to turn to Jason, who seemed to have his own share of turmoil inside his head. Bruce had hated it when he found out Dick had worked with his second eldest in the past, when the thing had revolved around dealers or anything nearing the field. But he couldn’t bring himself to care anymore. Although in disagreement with Jason’s methods, it was a valuable helping hand in these matters. The proof was that Dick already had a name to put the blame on, while the rest of officers were searching for the woman’s partner.
“The guy’s been around for a while” explained Jason, quietly. “And there’s not been missing reports. For either women or children”
“Testing the waters?” asked Dick, pensive.
“He tested them in the wrong place” snarled the antihero.
“If you’re going to drown him, try to keep him recognisable for when the police gets him”
Which in their language meant: ‘Teach him all the lessons you want, but do not kill’. Jason waved one hand, not arguing his reasoning. Which would have been impossible to picture a few months back, when all this started. Dick hummed to himself, satisfied to see this was useful for both parts.
“Something tells me the rascal on your part will not be by his missus’ side today” stated Jason.
“Nightwing will make sure he does” promised Dick, solemn as they’d only heard another man sound like. Thankfully, Jason just threw him a silent glare and let it slide. Yes, this surely was doing both good.
“What with the girl?” asked his brother, instead.
Dick turned back to look at her, lips pursed at the identical posture and expression he’d seen on her minutes before. “She’ll go to a foster home. The woman’s not her biological mother and hasn’t adopted her. And I think we both know the father will not be an option anymore”
“Good riddance for her” spat Jason, an ember of rancour rolling on his tongue. Dick bit his own, knowing that was not his territory to walk on. Jason turned to look at him, finally. “A foster home, really?”
“We’re looking for some relative. Until then, she needs to be under someone’s care”
“Oh, yes, the foster care truly honours that second part of its name” mocked Jason, humourlessly.
“What else do you want me to do?” retorted the older. “I’ll make sure to speed up the search, but until then, we can only hope she ends up in a good home”
“Yes, Heaven forbids her for ending up in a large house with dozens of unused rooms” commented Jason.
Dick laughed. A short but sincere laugh, because he, honest to God, thought his brother was joking. But one look at his stern expression while he turned to look back at the girl and Dick’s smile was erased easily.
“I can’t believe you…” he breathed out.
“I’m actually surprised you haven’t proposed it first” said Jason, throwing a sideways glare. “But not all of us went straight to a good house quickly, so I guess it’s normal”
“Now it’s a good house?” retorted Dick, turning completely to him. “You haven’t put a foot in there in months”
“I actually have. Alfred and I are having a weekly book club” revealed Jason, lightly.
“Ah, you want it to have three members?”
“It’d be four, because Damian’s joined lately”
“I don’t care. You can’t go there and drop a kid. And I won’t either” he hurried to say, when he saw Jason opening his mouth to retaliate.
“You said it was temporary” argued Jason, stubbornly.
“All the more reason. I’m not going to leave a child under his responsibility to…”
“I never said under his responsibility” interrupted Jason, sharply. “I was talking about the house. We know everybody thinks of it as a private orphanage”
Dick huffed out a laugh. “I can try to take my days off until all this is solved” he proposed, after a moment of thought.
“Do whatever you want, I’ll go fill whatever shitty bureaucracy I have to fill tomorrow at first light” decided Jason, walking out the section of the room they’d been speaking at.
Dick followed him with the sight, silent in shock for his hot-headed decision. He sighed and tossed the issue to the back of his mind, walking to the still girl, taking her as a priority. He knew she needed to feel that right now, maybe for the first time in a long time.
He’d have time to think of various ways to approach the matteronce he had their mentor in front of him.
Really, he hated this part of his job the most.