After his parents were dead, there was no place for him in the circus. Not according to the townie police.
He ended up in foster care. He didn't like it much, but he didn't have much choice. Except, after three foster homes in a year, including four abusive foster 'parents,' Jason Todd decided that he was going to take that choice, however bad it might turn out to be.
He ran. He wasn't stupid; living on the streets was hard, especially if you had no plans to be either a prostitute or a drug dealer. He was smart, though, and quick. His parents had always said so.
Before he'd left the foster group home he'd been in, he'd done some research. Jason knew which homeless shelters wouldn't question an eleven-year-old alone, at least not the first night. He knew of a daycare that had bad night security, and if the entire place smelled like baby powder, it just reminded him of his mother getting ready for a show.
He didn't cry over his parents as often anymore, but sometimes…sometimes he wished he'd never had to leave the circus. Everyone there may have joked about townies and rubes, but the world outside the Big Top was harsh.
After six months, he found a furnished apartment complex in the not-so-great part of town, one with a lot of vacancies. He couldn't afford $450 a month, but he could sneak in and sleep on one of the beds, steal some hot water from the show apartments.
Make himself presentable enough that he could go to school. He'd never gone to a real school before, but he knew it was what his parents would have wanted. And truthfully, he wanted it too, if only so he didn't go out of his mind with boredom during the day.
Also, he was…lonely. He missed his friends in the circus. He missed the circus. He missed having friends.
He'd learned a bit about stealing on the streets; it was the only way he'd eaten for some weeks. Falsifying computer records wasn't something he knew how to do, but computers were new enough that he could sneak in after hours and plant false paper records, with the address of an abandoned house near his new digs, one with a seemingly-permanent 'For Sale' sign out front. The secretary just sighed and complained about how they never lost anything before the school got 'wired up.'
Jason just smiled and nodded, hoping and praying he wouldn't be discovered.
He wasn't. His little ruse worked; for several years it worked. Occasionally he had to switch apartments, but the turnover rate at his complex wasn't high. They were on the edge of the East End, after all. He got a job being a stock boy at one of those huge conglomerates his dad had always complained about, putting the little guy out of business.
He would have felt bad about it, but there was already so much about his life he knew his parents wouldn't be proud of, so he settled for not thinking about it. Besides, he finally had enough money to buy himself some new clothes, instead of stealing them from people's baskets in the Laundromat, or getting old, worn-out stuff at thrift shops. He also bought himself a blanket, and a pillow.
Some toothpaste and shit, too, because he knew his mother would approve. It wasn't like home, but it would do. Maybe, eventually, he'd save up enough that he could actually rent one of the apartments he was living in.
Jay was fifteen when he first saw Robin. Not that he hadn't heard about the Batman and everything, but actually seeing it… Seeing her, bright blond hair, just like his mother's, flying out over a suit just as colorful as anything he'd ever flown in…it made his heart ache.
It also made him wonder what the fuck was going on, because he'd heard that Robin was a guy. Apparently that was the old Robin. The chickie was the new one.
When he was sixteen, he met a girl in his algebra class. Flirting was a way of life in the circus; make the customers like you enough that they came to the show. It was a way of life on the streets; make thugs think you weren't bad enough to bother over.
High school was nothing like the streets; when that guy Dean struck out with her because she found him charming, Jay didn't worry that he'd meet up with Dean in a dark alley.
Townie guys were wimps. Jay sometimes wondered if he'd become too much like one. Then he'd kick some guy's face in for trying to steal from the convenience store he now worked at, and knew he was something else.
What, he didn't know. Half the time he wasn't even sure he liked it. The other half…he was with Steph. Steph, who only talked about her life up until she was ten, and man, what it must have been like to have a supervillain for a father. Jay didn't talk much about his life before he was ten, but instead of making it sound like his parents had retired, he told her the truth. Most of it, leaving out that he finally got tired of the foster care shuffle, and left.
She didn't ask, just made a face, and said that she understood. Jay thought she might have, but there was something she was holding back… Then again, so was he.
He and Steph soon became a regular thing, and Jay started spending more of his money on soap and shampoo, instead of saving it for a rainy day. Then he had to spend it on condoms, but Steph was willing to split the cost with him. And he wasn't about to not use them; sex was great, but he wasn't an idiot.
He wasn't entirely sure either of his parents would have approved of Steph, but he knows they would have liked her. She was a gymnast, and the way her hair flew when she swung from the rings in the school gym…
Jason had missed flying. And Steph was thrilled to learn everything he could show her.
At seventeen, Jay had mostly put out of his mind the idea that he couldn't continue living his life the way he had been forever. Once he graduated, he could maybe get an even better job, one that paid more than minimum wage. College was a far away dream, if it was even a possibility, but it wasn't like he could get sent back to foster care.
He could do…whatever he wanted. Maybe even, one day, go back to the circus, where he could fly high again.
Then Batman showed up at his window one night. It was pretty obvious that Jay was squatting there, as opposed to living there; the bed didn't have sheets, most of his few clothes were spilling out of a battered dufflebag he'd gotten at an Army surplus store (along with his library books and the battered rubber ducky he'd swiped from a drug store in a fit of nostalgia when he was twelve), and the electricity wasn't on.
Jay wasn't exactly scared; he'd heard about the Batman after all. He didn't run in prostitutes, or homeless people, or anything like that, and okay, technically Jason was breaking the law, but he really wasn't hurting anyone.
But apparently this little visit had nothing to do with that; it had to do with Robin. And Batman insisted rather forcefully that Jason come with him, and hear the story on the way.
On the way to the Batcave, in the Batmobile.
Jason had known Stephanie hadn't been entirely truthful with him, but he'd never guessed she'd had a weirder story than him. Her father got hit by Scarecrow's fear gas and killed her mother, and she got taken in by Bruce Wayne, whom she'd never met.
But who, apparently, knew about her nighttime forays as some semi-superhero called Spoiler. And who also was, apparently, Batman.
Jason only had a few moments when his head wasn't spinning to enjoy the sweet ride, and then they were in the Cave.
And Steph was there. Robin. Steph. Both. She was in the Robin costume, but wasn't wearing the mask. And she was fidgeting really a lot.
Why the hell should she be nervous? Just because she'd told her…foster dad…about him, and apparently Batman was a paranoid freak who had obviously checked him out and discovered his records were fake. Why Batman – Bruce – whoever, had decided to let him in on their little secret, Jay didn't know.
Steph had always had lots of praise for his acrobatic abilities, even when he didn't show her the really good stuff. He couldn't; the ceilings weren't high enough, and anyway, he'd need a trapeze. But when Batman said that he could be an asset to their team…
A team, not a twosome, because, while it was Batman and Robin, there was also, apparently, Nightwing and Batgirl.
Jay wanted it. He wanted it bad. But who the hell was he supposed to be?
Steph shrugged, and told him about the origin of the Robin name. Jason almost fainted when he found out that he could, possibly, end up working with one of the Flying Graysons. Both of his parents had put him to sleep with bedtime stories about how good the Graysons were, and told him that he could be that good one day.
Jason didn't know if he could be, but he wanted to try. And his mother had had a name for him, just like Dick's mother had.
"Sparrow," he said, and barely noticed Batman's nod of approval as Steph threw her arms around his neck with a squeal of delight.
Apparently, it was the right choice.