Title: Bird Watching

Summary: Alternate reality where Bruce is raising the boys together from a very young age.

Disclaimer: I own nothing. DC and others own all.

AN: Just an idea that's been kicking around in my head for awhile. It's going to be a mix bag here, guys, of angst and (hopefully) cute and fluffy family moments. However, I've not really written the Batfam before, so we'll have to see how this goes.

One: Nesting

An early autumn chill along with a steady, gloomy rain had settled over the city during the first week of October with no promise of relief until the end of next at the earliest. That was nothing new for Gotham, where fog or mist or dampness in general seemed to have a perpetual place in the city's overall ambiance. Fall rains would lead to winter snow which begot spring showers which turned to summer storms. And thus the cycle continues.

Perched atop one of the city's older business buildings downtown, Batman watched a few bright and dark umbrellas moved around one another under actual brightly lit sidewalks. The streets themselves were empty enough to allow easy traffic flow, so no one was screaming at one another from their cars or using their horns to convey their displeasure. Aside from the rain that was steadily beating against head and shoulders, everything was oddly quiet and calm.

If he hadn't just put the Joker back in Arkham a few hours before, it would put him on edge. As it were, though, this was the calm after the storm. The criminals were safely back where they belong, and the city would wake to another soggy sunrise and headlining story of the Joker's failed attempt at mayhem.

Diving off the building edge, Batman allowed himself to remain in free fall for only a few moments before firing his grappling gun at the edge of a shorter building. No one on the street looked up, but he saw a surprised face or two watching him from a few windows. Most wouldn't be able to identify what it was they saw; not in the dark and most certainly not in the rain. Those who did would loose sight of him before anything could be done.

Grappling from building to building, Batman landed softly in a tucked away alley a few blocks away. There was a black car there which blended in with the silent shadows that surrounded it. However, it jumped to life as he approached. The sudden activity started a cat and sent it scrambling across his path, but nothing else around made any sort of indication in noticing that anything had changed. Warm air hit him as he slid in behind the wheel and departed out of the alley.

"Batman to Penny One," Bruce said as he glided his car through the wet streets with practice ease. "I'm returning to the cave now."

"Very good, sir," Alfred replied. Despite the late hour and tiring long evening, not any sort of fatigue colored his tone. Nor any worry. "Shall I prepare the medical station for your arrival?"

The corner of Bruce's lips gave a minute twitch. It was a so small that no one who didn't know him would have noticed it, but he was glade that Alfred couldn't see him. It was a legitimate question. Most of his confrontations with the Joker usually ended with him needed medical attention of some sorts. Acid burns or broken bones or stab wounds were the norm for such encounters. This night, however, had only resulted in a few bruised ribs and knuckles. It was the easiest he had gotten away with in a fight with the psychopath in years by far.

"No," Bruce said. "I'll be arriving shortly. Batman out."

He cut the line and returned his focus solely to the task at hand.

After crossing the bridge, city lights gave way to darker country lanes. Dead leaves merged with the rain until it felt as if just as many of them were falling as the droplets of water. The straightforward roads began to twist. Finally, he turned into the cave's entrance and home.

He wasn't surprised to find the cave empty, but Bruce did frown when the sound the chirping bats overhead reached him. He squinted up into the darkness but couldn't make any of them out. It was large group, though; or it had just been too long since he could hear them.

After a quick shower and change into sweats, Bruce headed up. Alfred was waiting for him in the study with his hands tucked properly behind him and back ramrod straight. A frown pulled tightly on his lips, and Bruce would have thought that he was angry if it weren't for the slight softness around his eyes.

"Master Bruce," he said, "if you would please follow me."

Even with all the changes that happened over the past few months, Wayne Manor was general quiet in the predawn hours since its inhabitants should be safely tucked away in their beds. Normally, Bruce would have been home hours ago, and Alfred wouldn't start his day for another two at least. So there shouldn't be a reason for anyone to be wondering the halls at this time of night. Nor should there be a reason for the flashing, yet silent, light of a television playing in the family room.

Vicki Vale looked down at him and was silently giving a report of his earlier fight. A shaky, amateur cell phone video of the Joker standing in the middle of a street played in the corner before enlarging to cover the whole screen. It was a little hard to tell, but he was waving a detonator around madly. One press of that button and the entire block would have been flooded with Joker gas. The rain hadn't set in for the evening just yet then, so the wind was rushing through the city with an angry howl. It would have spread the gas for another five blocks at least. Bruce could almost hear the Joker's laugh as the televised version of him threw his head back with his best supervillian cackle. Which was right about the same time that a batarang knocked the detonator from his hand. A moment later, Batman was swooping down upon him like a vengeful wrath. The scene paused just he was landing a punch to the Joker's face, and then shrank back to its original side. Vicki said something else to the audience, and then turned to have a discussion with a man who was wearing a slightly wrinkled suit and obviously had had too much coffee.

None of that interested Bruce as much, however, as the four young boys who were passed out on the over-sized couch.

Not unexpectedly, Dick was in the center of the group. His head was titled back with his neck twisted at an odd angle as it rested against the back of the couch. He had changed into his pajamas since earlier when Bruce stopped by the cave to analyze some substances. Dick was at the computer when arrived and asked too many questions for Bruce to answer at the time. He hadn't appreciated being sent to bed, even though he should have been there nearly an hour before then. Apparently, Dick had made it as far changing in his night clothes, but that was all.

Since his legs were stretched out and resting on the coffee table in front of the couch, Bruce noted that the bottom of Dick's pants didn't make it all down to his ankles anymore. Bruce knew that twelve-year-olds grew fast, but this was third time Dick needed new clothes in the past few months since he had come to live him. It was getting...excessive.

Nearly hidden against Dick's side with one of his lanky arms draped around him is Damian. He was clutching his stuffed dog with bright red cape tightly while he buried his face partially into the back of its soft head. His tiny feet were tucked under him, but Bruce could tell he had on the footy pajamas that Alfred had bought the boy when they realized that he constantly seemed cold despite the warmer summer months. He had spent his first year of life in a desert, so Gotham was understandably much colder to him.

On the other side was Tim. He had his head resting somewhat against Dick's chest, and his mouth was cracked opened showing off a gap between two of his teeth. A soft, snoring-whistle sound accompanied every breath that he took as he held onto a small section of Dick's shirt. His legs were pulled up on the couch and had weaved themselves underneath Jason's bent knees so that his feet were tucked warmly behind Jason's hip.

Jason was curled up in a ball with his back resting against the arm rest and his face and shoulder leaning heavily against the back cushion. His arms were crossed and turned that way as well while his feet were pushed down between the two cushions that separated him and Tim. Dick's other arm was draped across the top of the couch so that his hand was just barely touched the top of Jason's knees.

Bruce's lip twitched for a second time that night. Alfred didn't bother with hiding his own found grin.

"I found them this way when I came up to let Master Dick know you were on your way home," he said. "He was rather worried when you set out to face the Joker earlier this evening."

Bruce had noticed that earlier, too. This was the first time that Batman went against the Joker since the boys had come to live here. Knowing what they know – especially Dick – his worried reaction was understandable. It was one of the reasons that Bruce had insisted that Dick go to bed in hopes that maybe if he feel asleep he'd realize that Bruce would be fine. He had fallen asleep, that was true, just not in the right spot or without company.

Reaching out, Bruce touched his shoulder and said, "Dick."

With a sharp intake of breath, Dick lifted his head and blinked groggily up at him.

"Oh, hey, Bruce," he said with a yawn. Lifting his hand from around Damian, he rubbed at his face with his palm. "What time is it?"

"Late," he replied. "What are you doing in here?"

Ducking his head a little, Dick said, "Tim and Jason couldn't sleep, so we thought we'd watch some TV until you got home."

Bruce raised an eyebrow. "And Damian?"

"Well, we couldn't not include Little D," Dick said as if the very thought was crime against nature itself.

With another twitch of his lip, Bruce realized he was in very real danger of actually smiling and inadvertently encouraging this sort of thing. Time to put an end to this.

"Take Damian back to bed," he said.

With a sigh, Dick went about untangling himself from others. He sat up a little, trying to be careful and not cause Damian to wake up, and pried Tim's hand off his shirt. Damian grumbled unhappily at Dick's movements but didn't seem to wake up all the way.

As he was doing this, Bruce was dislodging Tim's legs from behind Jason's hip. He didn't so much as twitch as Bruce maneuvered him around, but he hadn't really expected him to. Making Tim go to sleep was a challenge, but once the boy was asleep, he was going to sleep for a solid eight hours and nothing short of an ice bucket of water to the face was going to wake him. They knew that for certain. Jason and Dick had experimented.

Once Tim was free, Bruce lifted his almost rag-doll form and handed him over to Alfred. Tim was small for his age, looking closer to four than his actual age of six, so Alfred had no problems balancing the boy in his arms. Unlike the others who would have wrapped their arms around his neck, Tim's hung uselessly at his side which caused Alfred to have hold Tim more like an infant than older child. Alfred, of course, didn't seem to mind.

Dick was getting up from the couch and taking Damian with him when Bruce turned to Jason. Unlike Tim, Jason was a rather light sleeper and halfway woke up when Bruce touched his arm.

"B?" He blinked before closing his eyes and settling his head back into its original position. Muttering into the pillow, he said, "We saw you kick that clown's ass."

Bruce could practically feel Alfred's disapproving frown at his language, but Jason was too far gone to notice. Nor did he notice the slight smile that was finally pulling at the edge of Bruce's lips.

"Come on, Jay," he said as he picked Jason up.

"Don't have to carry me. I'm not a baby," Jason mumbled. However, his head barely landed on Bruce's shoulder when the slow and steady, soft puffs of air against his neck told Bruce that Jason was already asleep again.

Dick had already disappeared by the time he and Alfred were ready to take the other two up. The man Vicki was interviewing was in the middle of some sort of animate discussion with the less-than-impressed reporter when Bruce turned off the television, and then followed Alfred upstairs. Dick was no where to be found, but his door was shut. With any luck he and Damian were already back in their beds, but Bruce would make sure after he was done with Jason and Tim.

Alfred disappeared next door to Tim's room just as Bruce entered Jason's. For a boy as young as he was, it was surprisingly neat. Rows of toy cars were lined up on a few of the lower shelves of the room's built in, and the baskets that were meant to hold his larger toys were full and in their proper place. Aside from the book he had left on his bed, all his other books were put away on the higher shelves. No clothes were left scattered about, and his sneakers were placed side-by-side and tucked neatly under his bed. If was almost as if Alfred had just finished cleaning in here, which was impossible since he had been assisting Bruce all evening in the cave.

A worried knot pulled at him as he picked up the book and placed it on the nightstand. Some people were just naturally cleanly, and he hoped that Jason was one of them. He was still learning him just like the others, after all. However, everything that he remembered from "before" didn't really suggest that Jason should be like this. Bruce just hoped it was something residual, and not anything worse. He needed to ask Zatanna about it later.

Jason let go easily enough when Bruce laid him in his bed but again, opened his eyes as he did so.

A little more aware than the last time, Jason said, "You're late."

"I know," Bruce said. "Patrol took longer than usual."

"Joker, huh?" Jason grinned. "Good job with that, by the way."

Bruce kept himself from frowning too much. If he had his way, his fights would never be televised. The people he fought were looking for too much recognition as is. They lived for seeing their names in the papers and being discussed on the news almost as much as they did for causing mayhem in general. Bruce usually did a fairly descent job at keeping that from happening, but ever so often someone with a phone would catch more than he would like, like tonight.

He also didn't like the idea of the boys, particularly the younger ones, being exposed to all that messiness just yet either.

Jason, of course, didn't know or care about all that. He just rolled over onto his side, bunched his pillow under his head, and said, "Just be careful, okay. You worried Dickiebird and Timmy."

He was asleep again before Bruce could reply, but he grinned all the same and ran his hand over the top of Jason's head. Worried Dick and Tim, huh? Funny, Dick had implied the same thing about him.

Stepping across the hall, Bruce opened the door to Dick's room and looked inside. Dick had made it as far as laying down on top of bed before passing back out. If it weren't for the fact that he was sleeping on his side, he probably would have been spread across the entire mattress. As it were, though, he had to make room for small child that was curled up as close as humanly possible to his chest.

Well, he had said for Dick to put Damian to bed. He would just have to remember to be more specific about which bed. Next time, though. If there was one thing Bruce was certain of it was that if he tried to retrieve Damian now, no one would be happy with the results. It was better just to leave them be and talk to Dick about "intended meanings" of his instruction in the morning.

Closing the door with a soft click, Bruce turned just as Alfred stepped out of Tim's room. Walking over, Bruce asked, "Is he still asleep?"

"I've had coma patients who slept less soundly," Alfred replied as he stepped back to allow him a view into the room.

Tim was tucked in tightly. The covers were pulled all the way up to his chin and pushed in under his arms and torso to hinder most movement. It wasn't really necessary. During Dick and Jason's little "experiment", Bruce once walked in one morning to find Tim laying face flat against the mattress while his were stretched out on either side of him and his butt was up in the air. Dick confessed that they had done it to him the night before just to see if he could stay that way. After that he had to watch them – well, Jason, really – much more closely when Tim stayed with them, and he finally fell asleep. Apparently, points were involved for creativity of position.

Pulling the door closed, Alfred asked, "Will there be anything else, sir?"

"No," Bruce said.

Alfred gave a sharp nod and then headed towards his own room. However, before he got too far away, Bruce said, "Alfred."

The silent question hung in the air, which caused Alfred to smile.

"I've already taken the liberty of sending the pictures to your computer."