Author's Note: Thanks for all your reviews on this story so far! I'll be alternating between this and 'Deluge in the Wasteland' so you'll probably be getting something like a chapter a week of one or the other. Except towards the end of November where I'll be in an area with very limited internet connection, but that just means I'll get to write ahead. Once again, special thanks to 8swords for beta reading! Enjoy!
After retrieving jeans, a long-sleeve shirt, and a red hoodie from his locker, Dick went to look for the kid in the kitchen. Bruce – Batman – came with him for which he was grateful. Left without that grounding force that his mentor always provided in stressful situations, he knew there was a good chance he'd run at the mouth and say something stupid. As it was, Wally was doing a perfectly good job of that.
"He won't eat," the red-head complained. "Like... anything. We've got perfectly good chili dogs, and he just stares at them."
Ignoring him Dick turned to the boy who was standing in the far corner, eying the Flashes suspiciously. He held out the neatly folded pile of clothes.
"Here," he said as cheerfully as possible. "Just roll up the sleeves."
The boy stared at the pile uncomprehendingly. "What's this for?"
Dick blinked. "For you. While we throw your stiff in the wash. You don't want to drip everywhere, right?"
Jason shrugged. "It's just water."
Helpless, Dick looked to Batman. The man looked down at the child for a moment, then walked over to a cabinet, pulled out a nutrition bar, and made sure the boy was watching as he unwrapped it, broke of a small piece, methodically chewed then swallowed. He handed the rest to the child.
"There's nothing harmful or poisoned here," he assured him. "No one will take your clothes after they're washed and dried. You can have them back immediately. You have my word."
Still a bit wary, Jason took the bar. "If you say so. When can I go back?"
"Pft, why would you want to go back to that hell hole?" Wally crossed his arms.
Dick marveled at his friend's complete lack of a brain-to-mouth filter. It didn't even cross his mind that he'd not just insulted the boy's only home – such as it was – but Gotham as a whole and Batman and himself with it. He was about to tell him to 'shut up' before Bruce's silent glare did it for him.
"We can't send you back out there if you don't have a place to stay or someone to look after you," Batman said reasonably. "Tonight you will stay here. There are empty quarters for you to sleep in. I have a contact in the Gotham police department who can get in touch with social services. We can proceed from there."
Jason, clearly unimpressed, rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right. You know what the chances of a kid my age finding a decent home are? People want babies. Fat, pink ones that smell nice. Best I'm gonna get is some house with ten other kids and someone who just wants another monthly check from social services. Thanks, but no thanks. I told you I do just fine on my own."
Make him stop saying that! Dick shouted silently. If he wasn't so distressed, he might have been impressed that this kid just gave Batman a long lecture on how he knew better than he did. And Batman wasn't arguing! He just tilted his head slightly, completely devoid of emotion.
"Regardless, you will remain here for the night. We can discuss other options tomorrow. Robin will remain here tonight as well. He will show you to your quarters, and if you need anything, ask him."
The boy looked at him as if he was absolutely sure there was no way in which Dick might be at all useful to him. Robin looked to his mentor with a silent but clear look. They'd long ago learned to use expressions and body language just as well as open conversation.
I thought I was grounded. Barred from the mountain?
And in return he received, After tonight. Tonight you're going to be responsible for bringing him here.
Walking down the to the spare quarters with Jason a step behind him, Dick could feel the boy's eyes locked onto the back of his head. He slowed slightly once they got closer and finally stopped at an open door. Turning to Jason, he saw that the kid was glancing into the empty room with clear suspicion, like he didn't know what might be waiting inside. Robin took the first step in and flipped the light switch.
"So you get to crash here tonight. There's a bathroom right through there." He pointed just outside and left of where they came from. "And my room's down the hall. Knock if you need anything or just... I dunno... wanna hang or something."
Jason didn't say anything, eyes still traveling around the room as if it was the inside of some alien space pod. He didn't look overwhelmed... or underwhelmed... Robin was wondering if this is what just 'whelmed' looked like. It was kind of... blank.
"Look, I promise none of us bite." He tried again. "I'm from Gotham too, and I know it's kinda scary..."
"No, you don't." The kid interrupted, frowning at him as if he'd said something completely stupid. "Just because you swing 'round rooftops, don't mean you know Gotham."
He should have probably been doing this in the cave, but the time it took to travel by Zeta Beam to Gotham and drive to the manor was a full twenty minutes longer than simply teleporting to the Watchtower. Batman could hack into most systems in the world from the machines there almost as well as from his own computer in the cave, and it was not like he needed access anything terribly top secret. For the boy's records, he just needed the name.
Batman read once, then again, and a third time. He wished he could say a single thing in the child's file surprised him, but knowing his city, it was pretty much exactly what he had expected to see. He must have been staring at the screen for hours because the space outside the station had begun to slowly but surely show sighs of light. Huddled away in his own corner of the observation deck, the group on watch didn't bother him. Besides most knew to steer clear of the dark knight when he wore that particular expression. Only two of his teammates had the courage to approach him when he was like this.
"Batman?" the gentle female voice spoke behind him. When he didn't respond, she repeated in a slightly more hushed tone. "Bruce?"
Finally he looked up, his weary eyes meeting Diana's clearly concerned ones. The Amazon offered him a smile, as if reassured that he was still with them. Sometimes, the rare instances he let his guard down, she or Clark would give him one of those looks that made him think that his friends were seriously concerned for his sanity. It wasn't that – not yet. He was just tired.
"I'm fine," he reassured her.
An elegant dark brow went up. "Really?"
"Really. Dick just decided to remind me he's thirteen and everything that comes with it."
She laughed. "Barry told us about the car. I hope you were not too harsh on the children."
Great, he thought, wondering for how long it would be the topic of gossip.
"Consider parenthood, Princess." He said with as much sarcasm as possible. "I highly recommend it. Kids are always a joy and not at all stressful."
Diana rolled her eyes as if he were the child telling a terrible fib. "You love Dick."
"I do. That doesn't mean he's not solely responsible for my graying hair."
She laughed again. "Is that not how it should be?"
When he didn't respond, she looked at the monitor and still open files. A small crease appeared between her brows, and the Amazon put a hand on the back of his chair leaning closer.
"Are you considering adopting again?"
"What?" He looked up and realized that the screen was open to a school picture of Jason. "No. That's the stowaway they unknowingly picked up. I'm going over his file to see if there are any relatives we can call. Doesn't look like that."
Her eyes scanned over the words, expression growing more and more sad. "Poor child."
Bruce nodded. "His mother died of a drug overdoes six months ago, and I haven't been able to locate his father. Jason said he might be in jail, but I don't see any inmates in Gotham or Bludhaven matching his description."
"You think he's dead," Diana looked at him. He nodded. "Who has he been living with since his mother's death?"
"By himself." She stared at him. "In the old apartment on the East End that they shared or even out on the streets. He got lucky that it happened towards the end of spring. If Dick and Wally hadn't picked him up, I'm not sure he would have survived a winter in Gotham."
The horrified look she gave him reminded Bruce yet again that Diana was still new to the world outside Paradise Island. As Wonder Woman, she had seen plenty of poverty and crime around the world, but as the old saying went, a single death was a tragedy, but a hundred, just a statistic. One grew numb to it. It was different seeing all the horrors on the face of one child. He had no doubt that that was also why the whole thing was hitting Dick so hard.
"What are you going to do?" the woman asked.
He pressed his lips. "I don't know. He can't stay at Mt. Justice, but..." but he's right about the foster care system, especially in Gotham.
As if reading his mind, Diana gave him a sympathetic look. "Go home, Bruce. Take Dick and go home. I'm sure this boy..."
"Jason." She agreed. "I'm sure Jason will be just fine with the others for a day. If you want, Clark or I can stop by and check on them."
"Huh, right," he scoffed.
"It's nothing. You're right: I'm going home."
Dick wasn't surprised when he emerged in the early morning after just a few hours of sleep and found the door to the guest room locked. The boy was either still sleeping or not too keen on coming out just yet, which he could understand. Dressed in civilian clothes, though with the customary sunglasses, he wandered over to the main living area. Artemis and M'Gann were laughing about something to the side, while Wally was trying to explain the movie currently paused on their big screen TV to Kaldur and Conner who looked more confused than interested, but that rarely deterred the speedster.
"Thought you were banned from here," Dick threw at him.
Wally made a face. "Yeah, well, I figure since you're stuck here, I'm on temporary parole, too. I'll go when Bats comes to collect you and the kid."
"Heh." Artemis crossed her arms as she and M'Gann walked over to join them. "Just admit you're stalling the inevitable. You're more afraid of your mom than Batman."
"Hey, hey!" the red-head objected. "Batman has that no-killing rule. My mom? Not so much. Though I don't envy this one." He jabbed his thumb at Robin. "How much did you get?"
Dick shrugged. "Three weeks."
His best friend stared at him. "That's how long he kicked us out of here for. I thought he'd have you... cleaning the Batcave with a toothbrush or something."
"He's not that bad." Dick frowned, feeling defensive. "Anyway, my wings are clipped. No Robin at all for the next three weeks, here or in Gotham. It's punishment by boredom."
"That's it? Dude, I'll trade you."
"I think," Kaldur interrupted before Dick could say he would never 'trade' parents, "we're all much more interested in a different matter than your respective punishments."
"Yeah," Artemis grinned. "Tell us how it was driving the Batmobile."
"That car? Totally gets the babes," Wally wagged his brows at her suggestively, not at all put off by the disgusted look she gave him in return.
"I meant," Kaldur corrected with practiced patience. "I, for one, am curious about this boy you brought back. Batman told me nothing before he departed for the Watchtower. I know he stowed away, but why is he still here?"
"Oh!" M'Gann blinked excitedly. "Is he a meta-human? Are we getting a new teammate?"
"No," Robin shook his head. "It's very temporary. He's got nowhere else to go, so while Batman figures it out, he's going to hang around here."
Conner frowned. "What do you mean he 'has nowhere else to go'? What about where you got him from?"
"The streets of Gotham's East End?" the youngest shot back more harshly than he'd intended. It wasn't Conner's fault certain concepts were still a little foreign to him. Still frowning, the Kryptonian must have still been confused but understood enough to drop the matter for now.
"Can we meet him?" M'Gann tried. "What's his name? How old is he?"
"His name is Jason. He's..." Dick stopped when he realized he had no idea about the boy's age except for the fact that he was obviously younger than himself. "I don't know. Maybe... eight?"
"That's wishful thinking," Wally gave him a look. "I've seen bigger action figures."
"Why am I not surprised you still play with action figures," Artemis smirked.
"Is he still sleeping?" Kaldur asked Robin. "I am certain he means no harm but also concerned about leaving a civilian child unsupervised here."
"Good call." Dick wondered why he hadn't thought of that. "I think he's still sleeping, but I'll go check."
But when he got to the room, he found the door opened and the bed empty. A pillow and covers were tossed haphazardly on the floor, but Jason was nowhere in sight. There were no sounds coming from the bathroom, so Dick ran for the next possible place: the kitchen. If the kid wasn't there, there would be big trouble.
Fortunately Jason was there. Dressed haphazardly in the over-sized clothes Dick had given him, the sleeves flopped in a funny way. At least he was clean. He'd climbed onto the counter and was just trying to open the cabinet that held the nutrition bars. When Dick came in, he froze for a second, before his face hardened.
"I wasn't stealing." The boy informed him defensively.
"I know," Dick smiled. "You're just looking for breakfast, but we have stuff way than those bars. Come on. Come down from there, and I'll give you the run of the fridge." Jason eyed at him warily. "Look, you trust Batman, right? And he trusts me," most of the time, "ergo you should trust me, too."
The boy seemed to ponder over that logic, then, apparently having found it sound, hopped down from the counter and wandered over to the refrigerator where Robin was standing. Dick opened the door and peered inside.
"Let's see. We've got... a bunch of stuff that's way too healthy for our own good, bacon we can nuke in the microwave, leftover nachos. Eww! How old are those, anyway? Oh! Chocolate milk. Here, hold this." He handed him the almost full quarter gallon. "Pancake mix... mmm... let's go simpler." He opened the freezer and pulled out a box of frozen waffles. "Want anything on these? Whipped cream and chocolate syrup?"
Jason hesitated but nodded. Dick pulled the remaining items out of the fridge and set them on the counter, just as the door swished open admitting the rest of his team. They stared at Jason, whose eyes doubled in size when they landed on M'Gann. For a street-wise smart-mouthed little kid who'd dared talk back to Batman, he looked completely in awe now.
The girl blushed, a little flustered, but before Conner could get defensive on her behalf Dick quickly intervened.
"Yup, she's green. And you're short. And Aqualad has gills. And Wally had red hair and his mouth works faster than his feet, but we don't hold it against him. Let's try for some P. around here."
Jason kept staring. "Are you an alien?"
She laughed. "How did you know?"
"'Cause you're green."
"Not all aliens are green," the girl smiled, indicating her boyfriend. "Conner, here, is Kryptonian. You'd never know he was an alien, too."
Probably trying only for the boy's benefit, Conner smiled a little in his direction, though Dick could see he didn't like this thread of conversation. Jason looked at him, looked at M'Gann, then at Aqualad, probably wondering why no one had called him an alien with those gills. Finally his gaze settled back on Superboy.
"What's a Kryptonian?" he asked more with genuine curiosity than any hostility.
"That means he's related to Superman. Cool, right?" Wally put in helpfully. He was no doubt trying to connect the dots for him to a figure Jason would easily recognize, but it earned him a glare from Conner. He spread his hands apologetically. "Touchy subject. Sorry, dude."
If anyone was expecting the boy to gawk, that didn't happen. Jason crossed his arms, looking as unimpressed as his four foot under height allowed. "Big whoop. Anyone can throw a punch."
There was a second of silence that finally broken by Conner's laughter. Dick wasn't sure if he'd actually ever heard it. Smiles were still a new thing, but he actually threw back his head and laughed. Grinning at Jason, he reached out and ruffled his hair much to the boy's annoyance.
"I like this kid. Can we keep him?"