Summary: Batman is very happy with the way that Robin has picked up his training, his methods and his habits. Generally. But his protege showing up at the Batcave with two small children, Tim and Jason, clinging to him proves he’s adopted one trait Batman would have rather he hadn’t. It seems the batfamily has an incurable penchant for picking up strays, and Tim and Jason are only the beginning.
Characters/Pairing: The Batfamily
When asked, usually by a mystified Superman or a bemused Wonder Woman, Batman would say that it all began with Dick. He would deny any precedent for his ward’s actions and ignore Clark’s dopey smile and Diana’s knowing smirk with all the grace his experience with Gotham’s paparazzi had afforded him.
If Bruce was going to be honest with himself, and he was occasionally honest with himself, if not other people, it really began many years before he met Dick on the fateful night the boy watched his parents fall to their deaths.
It began when an eight year old Bruce Wayne, feeling numb and alone after witnessing the violent death of his parents began sneaking stray and wounded animals into the mansion. Three legged dogs, injured foxes, one eyed cats, sickly squirrels, and birds with broken wings; he bandaged them and fed them and relished in their company as he tried to ignore the gunshots and screams that still reverberated in the back of his head, day and night. But despite his best efforts, his companions were wild animals and while they flourished under his care; his small friends would always eventually disappear.
No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t make them stay.
It didn’t take a long time for the lonely boy to realize that perhaps he truly was meant to be alone.
Eventually he gave up on companionship altogether and turned his obsessive gaze completely toward studying the art of revenge. The loneliness would be worth it, he thought at the ripe age of ten, if he could finally lay his parents to rest. From there he had walked a solitary path, honing himself into a weapon for justice. And although he ultimately could not get the revenge he sought, he vowed in his parents’ names that no other child would ever suffer as he had. He would make the night safe for the innocent.
Fulfilling his vow required that he sever himself from the world. He did so without regret and after so many years, he had grown used to the emptiness in his heart. He didn’t need anyone, except perhaps Alfred, and that was as it should be. Every night he donned his cape and cowl and did his duty. He had no time for strays.
That was what he told himself.
He even believed it, up until he watched two graceful birds have their wings clipped in midair. He watched the Graysons plummet to their deaths. He could have sworn he heard a gunshot echoing through the circus tent, but when he looked back on the moment, he knew the sound was only in his mind.
The shattered look on Dick Grayson’s face did not exist only in Bruce’s mind. It was a familiar look. Bruce still saw it when he looked in the mirror, most days.
He couldn’t leave the boy to the clutches of CPS. Birds were fragile creatures, Bruce knew from experience. They needed to be handled with care.
And if he saw himself in the boy, well, that was just a coincidence.
“This won’t be like those strays you used to keep in the southern dining room, Master Bruce,” Alfred had told him quietly once the boy was tucked away in a guest room for the night.
Bruce ducked his head slightly, feeling incredibly young under the butler’s gaze. “You knew about that?”
“You thought I didn’t?” Alfred asked dryly, raising a very British eyebrow at his employer.
“How foolish of me,” Bruce said. “You know everything, don’t you Alfred?”
Alfred neatly sidestepped the question. “He isn’t some stray that you will shelter for a few weeks before it grows restless and runs off. He’s a child, Master Bruce. A bit of a long term investment, if you will.”
“I know what – I know who he is,” Bruce said determinedly. “I know what I’m signing up for. I need to do this Alfred.”
“Very well, Sir.”
Bruce realized very quickly that he hadn’t actually known what he was getting himself into. He didn’t regret it, though. No, he’d never regret it. Because he hadn’t been wrong about one thing. He had needed it. He’d needed Dick Grayson in his life.
So, he didn’t regret the endless visits from CPS, the paperwork, the legal loopholes and hoops he had to jump through in order to make Richard his ward. Nor did he regret enduring the open questioning of his parenting abilities or the vicious rumors about his intentions toward the boy. He certainly didn’t regret the ups and the downs and all the problems caused by his actual lack of child-rearing skills that Alfred luckily made up for in spades. He didn’t regret Dick discovering his secret or eventually helping the boy find his own wings again as Robin, Batman’s partner. He would never regret watching the boy learn and grow and begin to emulate Bruce as best he could.
He didn’t regret any of it not even when his ten year old ward came back from patrol with a tiny dark haired child cradled in his arms and another, larger one at his side, clinging uneasily to the edges of Robin’s cape.
“No,” Batman growled before Robin could say a word.
“But, Br– ” Robin began.
“No using our secret identities in the cave,” Batman interrupted sharply. “Or in front of civilians.”
The boy standing behind Robin flinched and ducked behind the brightly clad hero. The other child barely reacted, but the Dark Knight could see just how tightly the boy was clinging to Robin.
Batman shoved aside a rush of guilt. Taking in Robin had been a onetime thing. He was a busy man and he barely had the time and ability to raise Dick. He didn’t know what Robin was thinking, but those boys needed to go home, back to their families.
“Take them home,” Batman said curtly. “The cave isn’t a place for children.”
“But they– ” Robin began.
“We can’t take in every stray– ”
“No one’s asked you to!” came a high pitched shout from behind Robin.
Batman turned narrowed eyes on the child who had the nerve to interrupt him.
“If you don’t want us, we can just go!” the boy said, stepping out from behind Robin and glaring at the caped crusader. It would have been an impressive display if the grubby child wasn’t still clinging to Robin’s cape with one hand. “We were doing just fine by ourselves before Boy Blunder stuck his nose where it wasn’t wanted.”
“By themselves?” Batman repeated slowly, turning his attention back to Robin.
“They’ve got nowhere to go, Batman,” Robin said. “They were living in a box. In Crime Alley.”
Bruce grimaced and took a deep breath. He did not want to have this conversation in front of a bunch of street children. He’d had this conversation with his own father once, a very long time ago. He had been too young to understand it then, but for all that it hurt, it was the truth.
“We can’t save everyone Robin, not like this. It’s the system that needs – ” Batman began patiently.
“I don’t want to save everyone, I want to save them. Bru– ” Robin interjected only for Batman to speak right over him.
“Robin– ” Batman growled warningly.
A quiet, painfully young voice stopped Batman and Robin’s steadily escalating argument dead in its tracks. The little boy in Robin’s arms was looking up at Bruce with solemn blue eyes.
“Please. Don’t be mad at Dick, Mr. Wayne. It isn’t his fault.”
Batman froze at those words. Pity was one thing, but risking their identities so carelessly? He had taught the boy better than that.
“You told them-” Batman rumbled.
“Shut up!” the first child shouted, drawing Batman’s ire away from Robin and the smaller boy. “Listen to what he fucking said, you asshole. It isn’t Robin’s fault.”
“Language,” Bruce corrected automatically, his anger momentarily defused by the boy’s foul mouth, and then completely defused by the actual content of the boy’s words.
“Oh, that’s rich,” the boy said mockingly. “I’ll fucking say whatever the fuck I want you– ”
“Jason,” the second boy said before Batman could get a word in edgewise. “You’re not helping. He’s justified in being angry. We don’t belong here.”
“Of course you be– ” Robin started.
“Oh, boo hoo, he’s all angry, but Robin didn’t tell us jack,” the first child, Jason, apparently, spoke over Batman’s partner.
“So not helping your case squirt,” Robin scolded lightly, completely unbothered at being steamrolled by the younger boy.
Batman frowned. If Robin hadn’t told them, then how…
“Robin, tell me exactly what happened tonight,” he commanded.
“Bruce, look,” the boy wonder said, shifting his hold on the smaller boy. “I’ll tell you everything, but these two, and me, really, we’ve had a long night and it’s kind of a long story…so, why don’t I go get them cleaned up and find a bed for them and then I’ll give you my full report.”
Batman thought that was a horrible idea. Bruce, on the other hand, couldn’t quite say no to the earnest expression on his ward’s face as he clutched the tiny child his arms.
Batman glowered at the three children before him. “…Have Alfred look after them,” he said finally. “They can stay the night. Only the night,” he added with a grimace at how hopeful all three children suddenly looked. “Then report to my office. Immediately, Robin. Understood?” he ordered, doing his best to salvage his dignity.
“You betcha, Boss,” his ward said brightly, almost dismissively. He practically floated to the cave exit, trailing Jason who was still clutching Robin’s cape like a lifeline and holding the other boy tightly in his arms, whispering conspiratorially as he went, “Tim-Tim, you know who Alfred is, right? Don’t be shy! He’ll adore you. He keeps us all sane and makes the most asterous cookies.”
“Asterous?” Jason asked skeptically.
“Totally,” Dick agreed as their voices faded into the distance. “Just wait till you taste them!”
Bruce sighed tiredly and attempted to steel himself for his imminent confrontation with his ward. He knew what Dick was going to ask him. He needed to say no. The issue of their secret identities aside, those boys did not belong in his dark world. Dick barely belonged there as it was. If he was more responsible he would even send Dick away. But he wasn’t strong enough for that. These days he didn’t know what he’d do without his Robin to brighten his life.
Those children, on the other hand…
He would deal with the leak of his and Robin’s identities and then he would see to it that the boys were placed somewhere nice. Dick would appreciate that. He would let them stay the night and then Bruce would have them sent somewhere safe and happy and far away from the shadow of Gotham.
Yes, that was what he would do.
Except that wasn’t quite what happened.
“They saved my life, Bruce,” Dick explained seriously a short time later in Bruce’s study. “They risked their lives to distract Clayface, who we need to go after tomorrow night, by the way, and gave me enough time to get us out of there.”
“Clayface?” Bruce questioned, but decided to set that concern aside until he had handled the matter at hand. “What were those kids doing anywhere near a crime scene?” he demanded. Street children, especially the young ones, generally knew to steer clear of Gotham’s criminal element. The ones that didn’t…well, despite everything Batman did, they tended not to survive very long.
“They were…following me,” Dick said.
“Tim, that’s the little one, he knew me. I mean, I’ve met him before.”
Bruce blinked in surprise.
Dick suddenly looked uncomfortable. “Yeah, I mean, I don’t exactly remember very well, considering everything that happened that night. But he was there, Bruce. The night my parents died. He watched them fall.”
“That doesn’t – ” Bruce began only to be interrupted by his ward.
“He was only like three years old, but I did my quadruple somersault for him and he saw me do it again a few weeks ago – only Robin, was the one doing the flip. He knew that only three people in the world could do that move and from there it wasn’t a huge leap for him to figure out that Robin and I were the same person. And from there he determined that Bruce Wayne had to be Batman. He did this all on his own, apparently, so don’t freak out. Besides, as far as I can tell he’s not exactly a blabbermouth and he didn’t even seem happy that Jason knew, so they’re probably the only ones who – ”
That in itself was very good to know and greatly appeased a few of Batman’s more pressing concerns over the state of their secret identities. However, the information also raised far more questions than it actually answered. “Wait,” Bruce said, stopping Dick in his tracks. “What was a street child doing at a circus in the first place?”
“I – I don’t know,” the boy said. “I guess we’ll just have to ask.” He smiled cheekily up at Bruce.
The man sighed for what felt like the hundredth time that night; he could already feel the migraine that this whole mess was going to cause him. “We’ll deal with that tomorrow. For now, tell me what was Clayface up to?”
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