Biting his lip Jason glanced at his reflection appraisingly looking for any apparent flaws. Alfred said he looked like a proper gentleman in the suit. They had worked on his posture and with a lot of effort the slang was nearly gone from his speech pattern. Sort of, he still had trouble with that one. They claimed that no one could judge another person by appearance alone at these functions but Jason had his doubts. He heard whispers of "that street punk" when he visited Bruce at work once. It was just a brief stop to pass on information when he heard the scoffs and snickers. This night was the first formal event Jason would be attending as Bruce Waynes' adopted son and he was nervous as hell. Al had picked up on this and coached the boy through the proper mannerism in preparation. A whole week devoted to learning to adapt to high society. Bruce had barely offered any words of wisdom after the first day as other matters took his attention.
Which would have annoyed Jason in the best of times if it was just work for either his masked or unmasked lives. But he suspected there was more to it than that. Dick was rumored to be making an appearance for the charity dinner, something that would show unity for his "little brother" at his first social event. He had heard one sided arguments taking place over the phone enough to gather bits and pieces. Dick already had a previous engagement planned for the night although Bruce seemed to doubt the sincerity of his claim. He said that Dick was still upset over Jason being adopted and Jason didn't know the older boy well enough to believe any differently. Wouldn't Dick visit more often if he was as accepting of him as he claimed? Stomach twisting in anticipation Jason answered Alfreds' inquiring knock. It was time to face the music and Jason Todd was never one to back down from a challenge no matter how hopeless.
In the car Bruce was already seated with his date for the night, Cindy something. They met once before but she's far more interested in getting to know Bruce so it was really futile to learn the details. He already saw the telltale signs that she's not going to be staying long in any case. Bruce was already in his playboy persona complete with a laid back smile that only those that know him well can tell is fake. It's another level of confusing that Jason was starting to get about this new life of his. On the street there were things you did to survive, one of those things was creating a tough persona. The rich are even faker than than poor in his experience. Few actually care for these charities outside putting up airs and promoting themselves. Was it a different kind of survival or just meaningless social standings?
No wonder Bruce has already perfected his act so well. It's funny that the only time they can actually be themselves was when their wearing masks. Sort of disturbing too now that he thinks about it. All too soon his musings were cut short as they arrive at their destination. It's show time.
"Just think of it as a role, Master Jason. Just another costume." Alfred suggested in a soft voice meant for his ears alone. He barely bites back his response of Robin not being a role. Robin doesn't have to pretend to be someone else even if he's using the same name as the previous one.
"Ready Jason?" Though his voice was uncharacteristically chipper Bruces' eyes have regained their sharpness.
Jason gave a shrug, "Not really, but that's never stopped me before."
He catches Alfreds' affectionate smile before the world explodes with chatter and lights. It's like being a star at a Hollywood premier walking down the red carpet. Seeing an actual red carpet helps bring a genuine smile to his face because yeah that's pretty cool. Bruce answerd most of the questions with Cindy adding her own two cents. All Jason had to do for the first half of the walk was smile while he's being led by a firm hand on his shoulder. Then comes a reporter Jason isn't familiar with (which is saying something because he's become aware of most of them through his developing interest in watching the news. Something that was strongly encouraged.)
"-understand you used to live on the streets prior to being adopted by Mr. Wayne. Was there any particuliar reason why you were chosen, Mr. Todd?"
Jason frowned tilting his head at the mans' eager expression. "I'm not sure what you mean."
"Perhaps with Mr. Grayson leaving you filled a void as it were." There's something about the mans' tone that makes Jason want to beat the crap out of him. A smugness that's carefully hidden beneath a cool facade. It doesn't fool him for a second. "Perhaps Mr. Wayne saw something with you he couldn't find with Mr. Grayson?"
The hand on his shoulder tightened and a glance at Bruce showed something dangerous flashing in his eyes before it's controlled. Whatever was being asked Jason doesn't get to figure out as he's ushered away. He seeks out Bruces' eyes for some reassurance but the man was staring straight ahead. Did he do something wrong? Was he supposed to make some witty remark or tell them that the heirs of Bruce Wayne were perfectly happy just to shut them up? Usually Jasons' faster at picking up things but he's out of his element and overwhelmed with being the center of attention for once.
Inside there's an endless sea of introductions of people he knows he'll never remember afterwards. Most of the ladies coo at how sweet he is and how Bruce finds the cutest wards. They start blending together after the first dozen greetings when it's clear everyone wants to see the new Wayne kid. All he knew for sure was that every guest is either loaded or related to someone who is. And surprise, he's the youngest person at this shindig.
"Let me guess, you already want to go home." Recognizing the voice Jason turned to see that Dick has decided to dine with them. The warm smile he offered Jason quickly turns sour as Bruce steps forward.
"I thought you couldn't find the time to make it for Jasons' big day." The tone is indifferent but the words are a clear accusation.
Dicks' eyes narrowed as he glanced up at his former mentor. "I did have previous engagement lined up when you suddenly decided to inform me about this event. Or rather Alfred did. Funny how these things slip your mind, Bruce. Regardless I'm only here to support Jason."
"Glad to hear that you remember your first commitment."
Jason fidgeted uncomfortably wondering idly if anyone cared what he wanted. For all their talk about his welfare he didn't really matter because he was only used as an issue between the two of them. He thought back to the reporters' question and not for the first time wondered if Bruce only adopted him as a stand in for the golden boy.
"Mr. Wayne?" As if on cue the maître d gestured for them to follow with a grand wave of his hand. "Your table is ready. If you gentlemen are ready you may be seated with the rest of your party."
"I believe we're ready." Bruce answered ignoring the huff of annoyance Dick expelled.
Casting a perplexed glance at them Jason followed curious who else is dining with them. He knew Dick had been a possibility beforehand but Bruce never said anything about extra party members. "Did you bring a date?"
It seemed like the most logical question but the older boy frowned shifting briefly to look at the older man. "I would have."
"She would have attracted too much attention," Bruce countered as if they've gone through this conversation before.
"Oh, sounds intriguing." Cindy chimed in completely unaware of the reason Dicks' girlfriend was considered too exotic to come with him. He guessed it would have been hard to explain how an alien girl had ended up with Dick Grayson. "Bet she's not afraid of a few stares."
"No, she's not. She's one of a kind." The older boys' features softened.
"If she's not here then who's at our table?" Irritation bleeds into his words as no one's bothered to answer his question. Some how everything he's said or hasn't has gotten twisted into some issue between the other two. And Jason was already tired of being ignored.
Noting the tone Bruces' eyes narrow briefly before he slipped back into his persona for Cindy. "See for yourself, Jason."
There were two figures reclining in their seats apparently caught in the middle of an important conversation. One was a blond man and the other was a younger red headed man. Jason knew who they were both in and out of costume. Although he didn't really know either per se their presence helped his nerves. At least with them around he had a distraction. Spotting their approach Queen snorted, "I know you like to be fashionably late but this is ridiculous."
"Ollie. Roy." Yeah, Bruce didn't really do warm greetings.
"Glad to see I'm not the only poor guy being dragged to this thing." Side stepping Queens' attempt to flirt with Cindy Roy clasped Dicks' shoulder.
"Same here Roy. You know Jason?"
A smirk crossed the red heads face, "The kid who single handedly scored a home run last week?"
Jason couldn't help grinning in return, his "home run" of taking out the members of a bank robbery had made news. Batman hadn't approved of him going ahead without him but lives were at stake. In the end it all worked out and that should be all that mattered. Still it was nice to have someone recognize his efforts.
"Going stag, Ollie?"
Queen bristled at Bruces' easy going tone, obviously knowing he was being baited but unable to stop himself from replying. "Not that it's any of your damn business but she was called away on a business call!"
Taking a slip of water Bruce murmured, "Of course" in a causal manner that only served to make the blonds' mood sour further. With a roll of his eyes Dick gestured for Jason to take the seat next to Roy obviously deciding to take the one next to Bruce. The youngest didn't question why Dick was willing to sit next to someone he was angry with. He could see that Dick was trying to be protective but of what he didn't know. Cindy ignored him, Queen hadn't acknowledged him yet and it wasn't like Bruce was going to put a bigger spotlight on him than the one he got entering this joint.
"Jason, come over here." Just like that the tug a war between Dick and Bruce started up again. Not sure what to do he stared at the others at the table. The blond archer cursed the "manipulative bastard" with an exasperated shake of his head. Cindy was blissfully unaware of anything as she was flipping through her blackberry. Harper winced and laid a comforting hand on Dicks' arm.
"He'll be fine here." Dick countered.
"I could just go home." Jason said outloud wondering if his opinion mattered.
Apparently not because Bruce drew the chair out and stated firmly. "No, I insist."
"Good lord he's using the voice..."
"Now." Ignoring Queens' statement his guardian stared directly at his adopted son. "Sit."
Properly humiliated and livid over being reduced to a prop for the former dynamic duo to fight over he flopped into the chair."Gee, do I get a treat too?"
Across the table Queen snorted, "Oh, I like this kid already."
As the formalities continued he felt himself growing less and less interested in what the adults were talking about. The menus were all in French, which wasn't too bad since Barbara was teaching Jason a little in their tutoring sessions. It reminded him of Spanish which he already knew from the lady that used to look after him in his old neighborhood. From what he could tell nothing sounded particularly good. Dick offered to help read it assuming that his puzzlement meant the boy couldn't understand the words. Even if he knew the older boy only meant to help it rubbed him the wrong way. The waiter poorly hid his interest in the proceedings as Cindy raised an eyebrow.
"He doesn't know how to read?" She had only been half listening in between her furious typing and seemed to be taken aback. Turning to her date she whispered in a voice loud enough for the whole table to hear, "Did he really drop out of school?"
Fuming Jason tried to remember what Alfred said but all he could think was how dare she. No one else at the table, hell in the whole building, knew what it was like growing up in Crime Alley. How hard it was for him to give up school, go days without eating, stealing things to survive and...for a time help his ailing mother.
"We're talking about reading French lady," Harper cut in, "I know I didn't learn it until I was older than Jason."
But no one seemed to be letting it go, the older Wayne ward leaned over into the youngers' space.
"Leave him be, Dick."
"Why is this another test for him?" The tone was far calmer than Dick seemed all night, almost sweet. It made Jason inwardly cringe. "Look, I can help you find something or maybe we can get some burgers-"
"No. We are not special ordering anything tonight." The delivery was perfectly cool although everyone besides Cindy and the waiter got the underlined command. Dick bristled, likely because Bruce didn't have problems with such matters. In fact when Jason had ate at a fancy place for the first time he'd been allowed to get an order of fries and a chili dog because he'd been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options. The second Robin figured it was partly about appearances, partly because of this weird feud the two were having and something else he hadn't pieced together yet.
"I'm ready." Cindy read off what she wanted for the waiter in her halting French. The accent was horrible, it reminded Jason of all those stereotypical cartoons he used to see with the overemphasis on certain words.
Queen shrugged and grumbled out his order too low for him to hear it. Whatever it was it seemed to amuse Bruce to Queens' ire. While Harper got ready for his turn Dick glowered at his former mentor.
"Will ya stop it? I'm trying to decide what I want and you keep hovering!"
Jason liked Dick alright but sometimes he couldn't stand him. Not just for being the impossible standard he would never live up to ("Dick would have gotten that landing perfect"), for always making him second guess himself. Babs had taught him this stuff and he knew that he could do this. It was Dicks' constant doubting and arguing with Bruce that made him feel nervous. Like the dumb street kid could never hope to do anything right. It made Jason feel hopelessly out of his depths in ways he never felt in the middle of a brawl no matter what the odds.
"Okay, but just remember it's not a crime to ask for help." That was obviously a shot at someone else.
Jason gritted his teeth and tried for something Alfred would make. When it was his turn to order Jason wasted no time. The last thing he wanted was another argument to break out. His accent wasn't perfect, there were somethings that he still struggled with but it was miles better Cindys' unpracticed French. Dick looked surprised and a little impressed. Smiling (because he was a little too worked up to give a full smirk) Jason caught the tail end of Bruces' satisfied look.
When their meals arrived Jason catches the uncomfortable glances the archers share and wondered if other mentor/student relationships are strained. Harper-Roy-barely talked to Queen mainly taking interest in conversations with Dick and him. Jason has been picking up on details in body language since his days on the street and with his new training it makes it that much easier to read Roys' discomfort. It's like he wants to desperately say something but isn't sure if he should. As a result the tension is driving him crazy. Dick doesn't seem to notice, if this is an ongoing problem he might have but he seems so oblivious that Jason has to wonder if their as close as he thought.
Once dinner was done they had to mingle more. Bruce and Dick are supposed to be with him so he's not overwhelmed but a veiled comment leads to them arguing in some alcove. This left Jason alone to fend for himself. Queen, Roy and even Cindy are no where to be found either. It's a struggle to keep up with all the questions. Then to be polite when they start to hit nerves. One particularly prying inquiry regarding his fathers' whereabouts has him slipping into slang before he corrects himself. But the damage has already been done and the socialites seem to beam in pride at being correct at some assumption they made. When he escapes it's to hide by the railing leading to the gardens. Much to his annoyance the upper class still isn't done talking down to him even if they aren't aware of him being in the same room.
"Brucie must be desperate, did you see that punk?" There were snickers and Jason took a deep breath to steady himself. "I mean I could understand Grayson. I know there was idle gossip with them but I didn't believe it myself. Not until Grayson left not long after turning legal and now he gets a younger model?"
A fat snotty man in an unflattering pinstripe suit covered his mouth as he chuckled. "A street boy at that. I think it's rather obvious what purpose that boy services. What other value could Bruce see in him?"
"I don't know, maybe he actually gives a damn about Jason as a person. But I can see how that may be a pretty daunting concept for you." The group jumped as Roy approached. He didn't seem the least bit amused.
"Yes well, we're sure you know all about stable lifestyles, Mr. Harper." With that last parting shot the group wandered back inside looking scandalized. Roy sighed deeply then scanned the area.
"Sorry you had to hear that kiddo." It must be his training because the archers' keen sight enabled him to find Jason sulking in the shadows.
The younger boy shrugged as if it was no big deal. "I would have heard it sooner or later. Some people are stupid enough to think that being a "street punk" means I have to have one use. I guess I can't avoid those morons forever. Just wish I didn't have to dress up for this crap like it was something special. I already hate these stupid events so I'm not looking forward to playing nice in the future. But Bruce says that I have to learn to blend in."
It was more than he wanted to reveal to the other hero but he was pissed. Not just with the ignorant lies being spread. This whole thing was a sham. Jason Todd would never be accepted into high society, he didn't belong. This was supposed to his big night but it only served to make him feel worthless. Worse than the supposed superior class' comments was Bruce and Dick. He wondered if either of them noticed he was missing yet. Or if they cared.
Roy sat next to the younger boy looking more ragged than Jason remembered him being during the meal. Perhaps he overlooked the signs or maybe it was the lighting. But the dark circles seemed more noticeable. Roy looked tired, physically and emotionally. "Yeah well it sucks all around. Having to play by rules they don't bother with just because you want to fit in."
The tone was darker than one would think Roy Harper was capable of. Jason was certain he wasn't just speaking of the crowd the red head just sent scattering. It made him want to vent a little, to voice something that's been bothering him for awhile. The problem was that no one, not Alfred, Babs, Dick and certain not Bruce, ever understood what it felt like. There was a chance Roy might.
"Does that apply in other areas too?" At Roys' startled look he amended his statement not wanting to offend the other boy. "Some times...a lot of times...I feel like everyone wants me to be like Dick. That if they got along again..."
Jason trailed off not daring to voice his fears further. He couldn't help feeling he was just a place holder until Dick and Bruce patched things up. A hand hovered for a second over his shoulder before Roy retracted it obviously not sure if he should intrude on the boys' personal space. They didn't know each other, not really. "Hey, you're not Dick and that's more than okay. You got spunk and say what you feel. That's pretty amazing. Believe me, sometimes the bravest thing is to just be yourself."
"Tell that to these people." That was another problem, Jason wasn't sure who he was. Didn't your relationships with others define you in some way? What was he to Bruce? A son? A partner? A replaceable side project? More than anything he just wanted to be Jason Todd, whoever that was. Not the heir of Bruce Wayne that had to stay in his place or the boy wonder who would forever be compared to Dick Grayson.
"I know that this time sucked but I promise that we'll have fun the next time we're forced to go to one of these things. Deal?"
Jason couldn't help smiling at the goofy grin Roy was giving him. It was a little strained but he could tell the sentiment was real. "Okay but I don't know how much fun we'll have in these crummy suits."