James and Dick were both silent for most of the night. Even still, as soon as James set foot in Wayne Manor he was pretty sure Dick was having the same thought as him: how does one guy live in a house this big?
He figured their perceptions were a little skewed by being circus brats. James had spent the first seven years of his life in a vardo the size of a small bus. The Graysons did have a two bedroom condo in New York for when they weren't on the road, but they barely stayed there. And besides that, you could have fit ten of those modest little condos in Wayne's entryway alone.
"Come with me, young masters. I'll show you to your rooms."
James bit back the temptation to ask the posh butler if he realized he was a walking caricature and trudged after him up the stairs. Dick clung to James' hand, wide blue eyes nervously darting around the cavernous rooms they passed through.
"M-Mr. Pennyworth?" Dick chirped.
"Yes Master Grayson?"
"Uh…you don't have to call me that. I was just, uh, you said our rooms. Can me and Jamey stay in the same room?"
The butler stopped his brisk walk down the hall, turned, and regarded Dick with an affectionate expression. James warmed up to the guy a little for that. "I assure you sir; we have more than enough space to accommodate any needs you may have, including privacy."
"Y-yeah, but I want to stay with James."
James wrapped an arm around Dick's shoulders. "It's okay Jeeves. We always share a room."
The butler bristled at James' comment, then stiffened back into his formal manner. "Very well then. That is, of course, not a problem. I will show you to your room."
Pennyworth led them to a massive bedroom at least four condos big. James dropped his bag on the floor and started strolling around, letting out a low whistle as he took in the elegant, hand carved wooden furniture, and the pricey knick-knacks tastefully arranged on all the surfaces.
"My apologies, but you will have to share a bed for the night. We don't have any rooms set up with two, but that can be speedily rectified in the morning."
Dick set his bag down by the dresser, kicked his shoes off, then jumped up on the bed and gave it a few bounces. He turned an appreciative smile towards the butler. "It's okay Mr. Pennyworth. I think you could sleep all of Haly's in here, even with the bearded lady. And she's like two hundred pounds."
"I'm sure Master Bruce will appreciate hearing that his furnishings have received top circus ranking," the butler said dryly. That same look of affection crossed his face, but fell away when he caught James digging through the dresser drawers. "Just ring if you need anything further."
"We will. Thanks Mr. Pennyworth."
"Master Dick, you may call me Alfred."
"Then you should just call me Dick," he returned.
With a wry smile, Alfred turned and left.
"He likes you more than me," James complained.
Dick shrugged. "It's because I'm charming."
"You're a charmer. It's not the same thing. So what do you think?" Dick rolled over onto his stomach and propped his head up with his hands. "Do you trust these guys?"
"I dunno. But I don't think it really matters. We can't work at Haly's without parents until we're sixteen, and I don't think there's a way I can swing it where I can get custody of you since I'm only fourteen. I think we should stay with the guy that's promised to keep us together."
"Me too," Dick agreed without any hesitation. His gaze turned downcast, eyes swimming with tears again. "I can't believe they're really gone."
James hopped up onto the giant bed next to him, and Dick curled up with his head on James' lap. James stroked back his dark hair, trying not to cry himself. It was all well and good for the ten year old to be a sobbing mess, but James had to be strong. He had to look out for them.
He could grieve and be fully traumatized once he knew they were both safe. Until then, losing himself in the role of Dick's caretaker was a welcome responsibility. "We've still got each other Dick."
"Yeah, that's true. Love you bro."
James winced, thinking of that time in the diner, when Mary had opened up to him so much and made him feel so loved, and all he'd done was give her a hug. He'd never told her how he felt, or even called her Mom, and a much less perceptive kid than him could have seen how much she wanted to hear it.
Well, he wasn't making that mistake again. "I love you too Dickie. I promise, I'll always look out for you little bro."
Bruce was out until four in the morning gathering intel on the Grayson double murder. He was a little sorry to be out so late the boys' first night at the manor, but it was worth it. When he pulled the batmobile into the Cave, he was able to emerge from it with a name on his lips.
Alfred nodded at him. "I take it you had a productive evening?"
Bruce pulled down the cowl and combed through his sweaty hair with his fingers. "Mm. His boys weren't all that interested in protecting him. I think this was supposed to be an establishing bit of criminal activity for him."
"Do you know where to find this unsavory character?"
Bruce shook his head. "He's gone to ground. I'll look again tomorrow. How are the boys?"
"Morose," Alfred answered patronizingly, a 'what would you expect?' going highly implied. "If you can spare it, I think they would benefit equally from a night of company as to having their parents' murderer behind bars."
"I've got to find Zucco before he flees. The police certainly won't."
"Very well sir."
When the butler left without even giving a flippant remark Bruce took it as censure. Alfred didn't approve of his course of action. Well really, what was he supposed to do? He could always bond with the boys after he'd avenged their parents by capturing the dangerous criminal that had ruthlessly killed them.
Bruce sat down heavily as the full weight of what he'd done hit him. He wasn't just taking on a murder case this time. He'd promised those two children that he'd keep them together. He was going to have to adopt a fourteen year old and a ten year old.
He started rubbing his temple, feeling a headache coming on. "Great decision Bruce, really spectacular. With all your own issues, you've just decided to become a replacement for two loving parents."
There was no way in hell he was going to be able to do this without scarring those boys for life.
"Hey Alfie, does Mr. Wayne ever spend any time at his house? If he doesn't, why the heck do you spend so much time dusting it?"
Alfred pressed his thin lips together, a gesture that was either a facial tic or a sign of extreme aggravation (since he did it so often while James was talking with him). "Language, Master James."
"I said heck instead of hell or fuck."
Dick laughed, and the butler only rolled his eyes instead of making another futile attempt at correcting James' crassness.
The boys were stretched out on the rug in one of the dens on the first floor, a cheerful fire blazing before them and mugs of cocoa in their hands, while Alfred dusted some antiques. They'd never gone this long in their lives without a show to practice before, and as they weren't enrolled in a school yet, they were treating their stay at Wayne Manor like a vacation.
Alfred turned back to his dusting without further comment, and James gently prodded Dick's shoulder. Sighing, Dick sat up and turned around so that he was facing Alfred. "Excuse me Mr. Pennyworth," Alfred still hadn't quit calling Dick Master Grayson, so he still called him Mr. Pennyworth, "but when will we get to see Mr. Wayne? It feels a little weird living at his house when he's never around."
"I'm terribly sorry young sirs, but Master Bruce is simply busy with prior engagements. I'm, I'm quite sure he'll make more of an effort once these engagements are finished. In the meantime, he's left me instructions to make you as comfortable as possible. You're to consider this as much your home as his."
James rolled his eyes.
"Well in that case, I'm gonna go put my own dishes in the sink," Dick decided.
"I'm still perfectly happy to take care of the dish-"
"But taking care of myself makes me feel more at home," Dick said sweetly.
He grabbed James' arm and tugged him from the room, shutting the door on Alfred's polite, "That really won't be necessary Master Dick."
"I'm not done with my cocoa," James pouted.
"Well that's too bad, because I want some answers."
James fell into step next to his brother. It didn't take him long to realize that they weren't heading anywhere near the kitchen (though the layout of the massive house was still a bit confusing for him). "I know Dick, me too. Did you notice how pissy Alfred looked when he told us that BS about 'Master Bruce's prior engagements'? He thinks the guy's being a prick for avoiding us too."
"I noticed," Dick said with a nod. "But frankly, I couldn't care less what Bruce Wayne does with his free time. I just want to make sure he's really working on making sure we don't get split up."
Dick threw open the door to what looked like either a home office or a study, and James followed him over to an impressive wooden desk. Dick started rifling through the papers, probably hoping to stumble upon some record of communication with Mr. Haly, the Gotham PD, or anything related to their future.
James had actually already looked through that particular desk four or five times that week. Whenever he couldn't sleep (which was most nights), he snooped.
So while Dick studied useless papers, James set his mug down and then strolled around the room, hoping to stumble across something he hadn't seen before. His eyes caught on a conspicuously prominent grandfather clock that wasn't keeping time. James couldn't imagine a nitpicky guy like Alfred letting one of the family antiques fall into disrepair, so he walked over to the clock to take a closer look.
"James, what are you doing?" Dick asked.
"Just looking around," James answered. On a whim, he started moving the hands and felt the slightest pop as the minute hand passed over 47. James pressed his ear against the glass face and listened closely while moving the hour hand.
When the clock hands landed on 10:47, a panel in the clock slid back, revealing a stairwell.
"Holy crap!" James yelled, jumping back.
"What do you think is down there?" Dick asked.
"Only one way to find out."
Dick nodded grimly. "I'd better go first. Everyone likes me better, so if we get in trouble we can say this was my idea."
"This was your idea squirt. I'm just the one who actually found something."
"And you should be very proud of yourself James," Dick said patronizingly. James whapped his shoulder, and wincing, Dick rubbed it as he set off down the stone steps.
Bruce pulled into the Batcave earlier than expected with some names to put through the computer's databases. Normally Alfred just did that for him so he could stay out on the streets, but he couldn't get ahold of him. Bruce figured his butler was still mad at him for "abandoning" his new charges (in actuality, Alfred was frantically searching the manor for the missing boys and hadn't heard the phone ring).
He half expected Alfred to be waiting for him in the Cave with a disappointed gaze and some sort of pithy remark, but instead he saw Dick spinning himself around in the desk chair that normally sat in front of the computer. James was standing nearby, fidgeting with a batarang.
Bruce scowled. "What are you doing down here?"
"Exploring. Alfie said to make ourselves feel at home," James answered carefully. "This is quite the basement."
Dick stopped twirling the chair with his feet, regarding Bruce with innocent but haunted looking eyes. "Are you…are you looking for the guy that killed them while you're out there?"
Still feeling some reluctance to have necessary but painful conversations with the kids, but backed into a corner about it, Bruce approached them and slid down his cowl. "I've been gathering information every night since it happened. I just have a few more details to look up, and then I'll be able to find him."
"For real?" James asked. "You know who did it?"
Hesitantly, Bruce nodded.
"Who?!" both boys asked, eager but not identical expressions on their faces. Dick just looked heartsick, but there was something raw and hungry in James' eyes. Bruce knew that look well, because he'd worn it often while struggling with himself over what he'd do when he encountered Joe Chill.
It seemed that Dick wanted justice, while his brother wanted vengeance.
"Never you mind. You'll get the full story once the man's behind bars, now go upstairs-"
"Behind bars?!" James snapped. "What the hell do you mean behind bars? That asshole murdered the two most loving, wonderful people that ever walked this planet! He's gotta be pure, unfiltered evil to do something like that and he needs to suffer!"
"J-jamey?" Dick tried to reach out to James, but he shrugged him off and stalked away, breathing heavily with tear filled eyes. "James…are you okay?"
"Of course not. I feel sick. I've never hated anyone more in my life, and I don't even know who I hate! I-I want to murder him right back! Tear his skin off or throw him in a vat of acid or make him eat a stick of dynamite or just break every bone in his body one at a time with a blunt object."
Suddenly, James threw the batarang, and whether it was the energy of his rage or just innate skill, Bruce couldn't help but admire the distance he got on it, and the way it stuck deeply in the rock wall.
Bruce approached the trembling teen and placed a firm hand on his shoulder. He didn't say anything; the lectures on the hollowness of revenge, and the gnawing consumption and agony of hatred would come later. For now he offered the grief-stricken teen a service he'd been denying him all week, and was simply there to listen.
Hot tears streamed down James' face. He tried to fight it at first, wiping his eyes with his arms, but when Dick came over and joined them, crying freely himself, James almost fell over from his wracking sobs. Bruce wrapped a protective arm around James, and the poor kid pressed his face into the Kevlar of the suit, howling his pain and loss, while his little brother hugging him just as tightly.
Alfred almost jumped out of his skin when Bruce walked out of the Cave with the Grayson boys in tow. "Goodness!"
For a long, tense moment Alfred only stared at his employer and friend, and the brothers standing either side of him, then Bruce broke the tension by placing a hand on Dick's shoulder. "It's alright. We've decided to trust each other."
Bruce didn't elaborate, but he didn't really need to.
"Very good sir." Alfred made a mental note to bring hot chocolates with him the next time he brought Bruce coffee in the Batcave, and then went about his business while Bruce walked the boys up to their bedroom.
The next day, when Bruce returned to his office in the Wayne Enterprises building after a lunch meeting, it was to find James sitting in his chair, spinning it in circles much the way Dick had in the batcave the night before.
He really needed to get on getting the boys enrolled in school. Clearly the older one needed something to occupy his time so he wouldn't make trouble.
"Hey B-Man," James greeted.
Bruce slammed the door shut and approached the desk wearing a glare that made grown men wet themselves. It didn't seem to have much effect on a cocky adolescent. "You are not to address me that way."
"Dude, your name starts with a B. You're the one making it suspicious by freaking out like that." James stood up and cheekily offered Bruce his own chair. He pointedly remained standing with his arms crossed. James shrugged it off and sat down on the corner of the desk.
"What are you doing here?" Bruce demanded.
"I wanted to talk to you. Obviously."
"We can talk at the manor. I'm working."
"Yeah, but Dick's at the manor." James started showing a bit of vulnerability at the mention of his brother, and Bruce felt his irritation dissipate. "Look….this jumping off rooftops and beating up bad guys thing that you do…I got to thinking that I-"
"Oh come on! Can you at least let me finish talking before you say no?!" James exploded.
Bruce decided to try the glare again, and got a petulant scowl in return. "I work alone."
"Well you don't have to. I can help, really! I'm smart, and I throw a pretty good punch, and-and!" James ran around the desk to stand in front of Bruce, eyes shining. "I'm a trained acrobat. That's gotta come in handy, right?"
Bruce started listing off all of the skills he'd mastered before beginning costumed vigilante work, and after five minutes of listening mutely James cut him off. "Okay, okay, so you've got more training than me! But I can learn, and I certainly know enough to work with you on bringing in one guy-"
"James, the answer is no. I appreciate the fact that you want to bring this man to justice," he said it like a warning, "but it's too dangerous. The last thing I want to do is put you in any kind of situation-"
"-that could rob Dick of the last living member of his family."
James scowled again. "Well that's not playing fair."
"I'm not playing games James. Your brother needs you."
Their argument was interrupted by the office door being flung open. Wondering how much worse his workday was going to get, Bruce spun around to tell whoever it was that he needed at least ten more minutes.
Before he managed that though, he was distracted by James ducking behind him in terror.
"Well lookit that! You're trying to make us clear out of here, saying we have no business with you guys, and there's our little Jamey right there!" Frank Jesse bellowed.
"Hello little angel!" Helen trilled, willfully ignoring James' terrified reaction to seeing his biological parents for the first time in seven years, apparently in the belief that if she perpetuated the delusion everyone else would buy it too.
Bruce's secretary was standing behind the brash circus performers, looking slightly sick. "I'm so sorry Mr. Wayne. I told them they needed an appointment-"
"And we told her that we had every right to demand you let us see our son. He was kidnapped from us! What kind of people would we be if we didn't try and get him back?" Frank asked.
Bruce reached behind him and squeezed James' wrist. He told his secretary it was alright, and she reluctantly left, closing the door behind her.
"You must be Frank and Helen. I've heard all about you," Bruce said, with careful emphasis on the last bit.
Frank's eyes narrowed shrewdly. "Then you musta heard the Graysons had no legal right taking our boy away from us."
"Those wicked people destroyed us! They saw Jamey and saw how good he was, and they took him for their own act and left us heartbroken and wretched! We haven't been able to find steady work since," Helen said tearfully. She wasn't a bad actress, but if she was going to pitch her voice like that, she ought to have worked up some actual tears to go with it. "Jamey, please, come say hello to us."
"I told Mr. Wayne everything that you really did to me, just like I told the Graysons," James said, trying and failing to hide how frightened he was. "He promised he wouldn't let me get taken away, that me and Dick wouldn't get split up."
"Who said anything about you getting split up? We'll take the Grayson brat too. He's twice the performer you are, and he's still small and cute," Frank said. Helen elbowed him in the stomach.
"Of course the poor dears shouldn't be separated after what they've gone through," she said carefully.
"I've already begun the process of legally adopting James and Dick," Bruce said. He let go of James and stepped forward, and Frank took an unconscious step back.
"You're certainly…bigger'n you look in the papers," Frank muttered. "But you won't intimidate me!"
"It looks like he's intimidating you to me Pop," James said with a grin.
"You can't adopt him Wayne, he's our son!" Helen yelled, stepping forward and jabbing a bony finger at Bruce's chest. "I gave birth to him and that makes him mine!"
"And yet you let him go for seven years without once filing a missing persons report. If you do attempt a custody battle, I think my lawyers," he briefly paused, letting the thought of the legal team he could afford to put together sink in, "will be able to make use of that."
"Helen, let's just get out of here. He's right," Frank hissed.
"No! I'm not just gonna walk away again. Jamey, this is ridiculous! Come home where you belong."
"I belong with Dick," James insisted. "He's my brother and I love him."
"We're your family, not that little Grayson shit!" Helen screeched.
"Madam, I'm going to have to insist you leave," Bruce all but growled.
Frank tugged on his wife's arm. "Helen, I don't think I can take a guy that big. C'mon, let's just go."
To Bruce's surprise, and James' as well based on his facial expression, Helen burst into actual tears and buried her face in her hands. It didn't look like she was acting this time.
"Af-after all these years, I f-finally found you ag-again an' I gotta walk away…I know I was a bad mom, I know it, but how can I ever make it up to you if I can't even see you?!"
James hesitantly approached his parents. Bruce stood just behind him, ready to help if need be but respecting his choice to confront them. Helen removed her shaking hands from her face. Her cheeks were stained with eyeliner and mascara, and her red lips were quivering.
"Oh Angel, you-you got so big…you're almost a man now." Her grey eyes widened as she took him in. "So handsome. Y-you look like your grandpa, you know that? Just like m-my Papa…"
"Mom, if you really want to make my childhood up to me-"
"Of course I do Jamey, I'll do anything! I-I knew it wasn't right, letting you get…letting, that is-"
"Will you fucking say it Mom? You let Pop beat the shit out of me!" James yelled, surprising the adults with his sudden anger.
Helen started crying again. "What could I do Giovanni? It wasn't only you he was beating you know."
"Yeah, and instead of trying to stop him, you threw me at him so he'd lay off of you!" James accused.
Bruce tore his eyes away from the emotional mother and son to use one of his more subtle glares (certainly not one Frank Jesse would recognize if he found himself alone in a dark alley with the dark knight) on the father. Face pale and stricken, Frank started edging towards the door.
"Ma, if you really want to make anything up to me you'll just let me go."
Helen covered her mouth with her hand. She gasped a few times, trying to talk, then she spun around, grabbed Frank's arm, and pulled him after her out of the office.
As soon as the door closed behind them James' legs gave out on him and he fell to his knees. Bruce knelt next to him and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"You're really adopting us?" James whispered. Bruce nodded. "And…if they do start something, you've really got an army of fancy lawyers, right?" Again, Bruce nodded.
He stayed with James, waiting for the teen to regain his composure. After a few minutes that terrified look left his eyes, and he smiled again. "Oh man…oh man, that was scary. Whew."
"It's alright James. I'll protect you and your brother, I promise."
"Yeah, speaking of that…so we were just talking about how dangerous what you do at night is…don't you think you should have someone watch your back so you can be there to keep that promise?"
Bruce definitely liked the younger brother better.