As always, thank you to Hinn-Raven for looking this over for me. Any remaining mistakes are my own. I hope you all enjoy the last piece of this story.
Bruce pulled his collar up higher against his neck and tucked his chin. The rain was soft, but the air around him was cold and biting through the threadbare jacket he wore. The gloves on his hands had holes in the fingertips, and if he planned on staying out for more than the few hours this reconnaissance mission should take there would be serious concerns about frost bite. As it stood, tonight was about a first encounter.
The shuffling pace Bruce had set himself came to an end as he allowed himself to lean against the side of a brick building. The position afforded him slight protection from the coming storm as well as a good vantage point with which to watch the tenement building Jason Todd and his mother lived in. Preliminary research had revealed the precarious nature of Catherine Todd's health, and the large part her cocktail of drugs had to do with their current situation. The rent on their small, two room apartment had not been paid in months, and the landlord had been more than willing to complain to a faceless stranger last week about his concerns over turning out a women with such a young child. He hadn't thought twice about the three months worth of rent that had been sent to him in Catherine Todd's name, and Bruce felt marginally better about Jason's predicament and the time Bruce himself had to work with knowing that Jason at least had a roof over his head at night.
Catherine Todd was a problem. Bruce's first instinct was to have Jason removed from the situation entirely, have him placed in a foster home that would keep a five year old boy away from drugs and all the complications that came along with them. While he still had not ruled out that option, Bruce was at least willing to admit within the privacy of his own head that it would be better in the long run for Jason if he could keep the boy as far away from Bruce Wayne and the complications he brought with him as possible. On the other hand, Bruce wasn't certain he would be able to allow Jason to live with another Gotham family if Jason was going to be put into the foster system. Not knowing who Jason would one day be, not knowing how much Dick and Alfred had loved him and would love him again if given half the chance.
Currently Bruce found himself considering giving Jason the same Wayne foundation scholarship that he'd given Artemis. It would get Jason into the best middle school in the city, pay for room and board so that he could be housed on campus like their international students, and give him a much needed change of scenery. The only question was if Catherine Todd would give her consent, if she was even in her right mind enough to give consent.
The rain fell harder around Bruce, who pressed back against the side of the building with a bit more purpose. The streetlamp that should have brightened hours ago stood guard outside the tenement building, skeletal and unwelcoming in a way that couldn't really be explained. No one walked the streets, which wasn't really a surprise with the chill and the rain being what they were. Most people in the Park Row district of Crime Ally knew enough not to tempt the fates by leaving their homes at a time like this.
Which was why Bruce straitened up almost instantly when the tenement building's crooked front door was thrown open and a young boy ran out onto the sidewalk. Bruce could tell even before he started making his way across the street that is was Jason. The boy was panting, a flush high on his thin cheeks as he looked up and down the street. The moment Jason spotted Bruce he ran forward, waving his arms and shouting.
"Help! Please, mister. My mom needs help," Jason sobbed. He had no shoes on, only socks with holes in the heels that were growing damp and heavy as he stood there in the gathering rain.
"Take me to her," Bruce said at once. He ignored the fact that the persona he was currently disguised as would never have said something so plainly and authoritatively. He had a cold, unpleasant pit of knowledge trying to force its way up from his gut and into his mind, but Bruce ignored it for the time being, allowing Jason to instead clench his small, cold fingers around Bruce's much larger hand and drag Bruce back into the building and up the flight of stairs.
"She won't wake up. I don't know what to do. No one else would answer their doors," Jason said in a breathless rush. He pulled Bruce along behind him and onto the second floor landing, not even pausing to push open the second door on the right open. Jason instead ran himself into the thin plane of wood, knocking the door ajar with his face and shoulder more than anything else.
Inside the apartment was a mess of old news papers and clothing thrown about the room. Bruce took a second to catalogue the room, to check for any signs of danger aside from the pills and hypodermic needles he knew would be found here. There was nothing. No dishes left dirty in the sink, no trash overflowing from the can near the dented metal refrigerator. Aside from the news papers and the clothing the apartment looked about as neat as an apartment made half out of rotting wood could hope to look. Proof that Catherine at least tried to care for her son.
Jason led Bruce into the second room, one that very obviously served as both Catherine and Jason's bedroom judging by the two mattresses placed on opposite corners of the room. Catherine was on the far mattress, curled on her side. Her hair fell into her still face and her lips looked slightly blue. Bruce pulled a cell phone from the folds of his old coat, one that was as beaten and drab as the clothing he currently wore but housed inner circuitry modeled after the Watchtower's own communications devices, and therefore nearly guaranteed to get reception no matter where he was.
Bruce hit the buttons 9-1-1 and handed the phone to Jason, who looked like he was nearing tears.
"Tell them what your address is and that your mother needs an ambulance," Bruce said as he dropped to his knees beside Catherine.
With great care he rolled her onto her back and tipped Catherine's head backwards. Her airway was clear, nothing choking her or obstructing her breathing at first glance. But she wasn't drawing breath, and a preliminary check for a pulse revealed nothing. Bruce began CPR, pressing down on her chest in five pumps before breathing into Catherine's mouth, trying to encourage her lungs to work on their own. There was an open pill bottle on the floor beside her bed.
Bruce continued his efforts until the paramedics arrived, Jason hovering over his shoulder. Bruce allowed himself to fade into the background as Catherine was lifted onto a gurney and rushed from the room, the faintest of heart beats pumping away. Jason followed, cell phone still clutched in his hands. That was fine. It would work as an easy way to track the boy should the ambulance take Catherine anywhere other than Gotham General.
It took Bruce a good twenty minutes to get to an outpost hidden in the city, change his clothing into the designer slacks and button down shirt more accustomed to his public persona and make his way to the hospital. He called Alfred along the way.
"We need a suitable reason to be at Gotham General in no later than ten minutes," he said by way of hello after Alfred's crisp greeting.
There followed a brief moment of silence and then Alfred replied, "I do belief that Master Richard has ingested a copious amount of kiwi, which has made his tong swell up and itch. I suggest we take him to the emergency room, Sir, just to be sure it is not a more severe allergic reaction."
Bruce considered telling Alfred that Dick should stay home, that he should be kept as far away from what was sure to be a difficult evening as possible, but something stopped him. Dick was a mature, responsible boy, and someone with far more compassion then Bruce could ever hope to have. But what really stilled his concern was the hurt Dick would feel if he discovered Bruce and Alfred had interacted with Jason while Dick himself had been kept out of the equation.
"Yes. We should be certain his allergies don't act up. I'll meet you in the emergency waiting room in ten minutes."
"Very good, Sir."
Bruce was good at what he did, could pick up and put down whatever personality he needed for whatever moment he happened to find himself in. He didn't have to fake the concern he exuded as he and Alfred walked Dick into the emergency room and demanded someone assure him that his adoptive son was not going to die of allergic shock. The concern simply came from other stimuli. Dick plaid his part to perfection, had gone so far as to actually eat some of the fruit he was allergic to in order to bring a note of authenticity to the complaint.
Alfred was the first to spot the small boy sitting alone in a waiting room chair. He glanced at Bruce, waited for the slight nod of approval and then politely and subtly detached himself from the group moving into a hospital room.
"Mr. Wayne, your son should be just fine," the small, uncertain looking hospital intern said, clutching his slip board closer to his chest as he spoke. Bruce nodded to show his understanding, one hand on Dick's shoulder. "He didn't eat enough of the kiwi for the allergic reaction to cause too much of a problem. We'll give you a prescription for some medication, just to sooth the irritation, but it should go away on its own in a day or two."
Dick took the prescription slip and hopped off of the examination bed without a word. He waited until Bruce ushered him out of the room before making strait for Alfred. He sat beside Jason, who had his head leaning against Alfred's shoulder and was sniffling into a cotton handkerchief that Bruce had not seen since Dick had first come to live with them at the mansion.
Dick sat himself down on Jason's other side. Bruce watched as Jason's eyes followed the motion, lingering on Dick before dropping back to the floor.
"Master Jason has had a trying night," Alfred said softly, looking up from the bowed head to pin Bruce with his perceptive stair. There was no need to tell Alfred or Dick that this small boy was the reason they were all here.
A startled cough pulled Bruce's attention away from the three seated on the uncomfortable plastic chairs and onto a grim faced doctor. This man was older then the intern that had seen to Dick, a face that had seen the unhappy endings that Gotham could produce more times than most. Gotham General was where all the trauma cases ended up.
"Are you here with the boy?" the doctor asked. There was a name sewn into his white jacket; James Wilson.
"I know the family. How is Mrs. Todd doing?" Bruce replied. He could guess, judging from the expression on Dr. Wilson's face.
Dr. Wilson guided Bruce a few steps further away, glancing back at Jason as he did so. "Is there anyone else? Any members of the family we can contact?"
There wasn't. Bruce had done extensive research before attempting to make any plans regarding Jason's future. His father had been killed by one of the gangs in Crime Ally barely a year after Jason had been born, and Catherine had been an only child. There were no concerned aunts or uncles, no grandparents waiting in the wings to swoop in and save Jason. There was no one at all except for the women Bruce had found blue-lipped and still in her bed less than a few hour before.
"No. I'm afraid Catherine was a single parent. What happened, Dr. Wilson?" Bruce pressed.
He watched as the doctor glanced back at Jason once more, lips pressed together. There was something almost resigned in his expression when he turned back to focus on Bruce. "Mr. Wayne, I can't tell you the particulars of—"
"You can tell me or you can tell my lawyers. If anything happened to Catherine I will be the one looking after her son." It hadn't been what Bruce wanted to say, not really. He'd had no intention of allowing Jason to walk the same path his alternate counterpart had. He was not going to let the same horrors haunt Jason Todd in this world and in this life if there is a way to avoid it, but the decision was made the moment the words left Bruce's mouth. They were out there, a part of the world, something he could never take back. If Catherine Todd was no longer of this world then Bruce would make damn sure Jason had someone to turn to other then the Gotham foster system.
Dr. Wilson sighed, eyes flitting to the ground before finding Bruce's face again. "Catherine Todd didn't make it. She over dosed on a narcotic. We attempted to revive her, but there was nothing we could do, Mr. Wayne. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but if it is any consolation at all I can tell you she was in no pain when she passed."
Bruce had heard something similar to this speech once before. Not with his own parents, that news had been delivered to Alfred rather than to Bruce himself. The Graysons', however, had been different. The news of their deaths had been delivered to Bruce. He still remembered how it had felt to learn that they had been killed, to learn that because of one selfish night when he's chosen to be Bruce Wayne instead of Batman a child was now orphaned. It had made the world thicker somehow, harder to breathe in.
He felt that same feeling now, and marveled slightly that Batman still had a weak enough hold on Bruce Wayne for him to be able to feel such tragedy.
"I understand. Thank you, doctor. I'm sure you did everything you could," Bruce replied on automatic, already turning away, turning back to his family sitting in a huddled group around Jason. He would have to make a few calls, have to get the paperwork written up before the end of the night if he wanted to keep Jason here, with them instead of in a children's home somewhere in the city. They would have to prepare a room. Possibly the one that the older version of Jason Todd had stayed in, the one next to Dick's room. Catherine would have a funeral with a proper service, something for Jason to find closure in rather than the pauper's burial the city would afford her otherwise.
But all of these things could wait for a few more moments. They could be pressed back, passed over for a bit longer, because a little boy was looking up at Bruce as if Bruce was the last thing anchoring him to this world the way only one other little boy ever had before.
Bruce crouched down in front of Jason's chair. He took in the arm Dick had around Jason's shoulders and the hand Dick used to rub small, soothing circles into Jason's side. He took in the way that Alfred seemed to encompass both the boys, the way he acted as a living shield against which none of the chaos and fear of the hospital could truly penetrate. He took in the way his small family of three was beginning to grow, to expand and reshape themselves into four.
"Hello, Jason. My name is Bruce Wayne," he said, and it felt like a beginning.
And that, my friends, is the end for real this time. Thank you for reading over this story and for all the kind reviews, they meant a lot to me.