I would like to thank everyone who reviewed the previous chapters! I was so happy.
I hope you like the chapter.
When Dick woke up to the sound of Bruce's voice and the wonderful smell of pancakes, he jumped from his bed and raced down the stairs to the kitchen. He was surprised that his mentor had come home from patrol this early, but if Alfred was making Bruce Freaking Wayne pancakes something was up.
Besides, there was no way he was going to miss Alfred's pancakes.
"Hey! I can smell pancakes!" he cried out happily as he entered the kitchen. "Are we having a night snack and no one… huh?"
Dick's blue eyes widened in disbelief as soon as he saw the unknown kid sitting on their kitchen, but before he could pull himself together, the red hooded boy turned around to face him and recognition hit him like frozen water to the face. His expression should be pretty similar too.
It was the boy from the grocery store, the little thief who punched him in the nose.
"You! What are you… why is he…?" Dick muttered, remembering that there was no way this kid knew who he was.
And then, the kid spoke. "Let me guess… Robin?"
Dick gaped as his gaze shifted from the kid's shit-eating grin to Bruce's calm expression. The whole scenario was so bizarre that his mind went numb. "What? I'm not…"
"It's alright, Dick. He knows," Bruce said, quietly sipping on his tea.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean he knows."
Hell must have frozen over, because Bruce Wayne was calmly telling him that a street kid knew their secret identities and wasn't freaking out.
"Bruce, what's going on?" Dick asked, staring at the older man in both confusion and annoyance.
Bruce stood up and walked towards the little kid. Dick noticed the chocolate stains on the boy's shirt and face. They told him their secret and gave him pancakes?
"Dick, this is Jason Todd. Jason, this is Dick, my ward and, as you guessed it, Robin."
The kid, Jason, stared at him and frowned. "What kind of name is 'Dick'?"
The Boy Wonder was used to those comments, but nevertheless glared back at the boy. "It's short for 'Richard'."
Jason's grin widened. "It's also slang for co…"
"We all know that as well, Jason," Bruce interrupted, glaring at the younger boy and managing to make his obnoxious grin turn into an angry pout.
Even though he was confused and annoyed at kid, Dick still decided to stretch his right hand and smiled. "Nice to meet you, Jason."
The boy stared back at Dick suspiciously, before slowly returning the hand gesture. "Nice to meet you too, Dick." The way he had said his name left Dick wondering if he was calling him by name or insulting him at the first opportunity. "How's the nose?"
Dick's grin was as mischievous as the younger boy's. "Healing. Thanks for asking."
Bruce raised an eyebrow and stared at both boys, not showing any confusion as usual. "Did you two know each other?"
Jason bit his lower lip, a bit of fear showing in his blue-green eyes. It was Dick who explained their encounter.
"He was the kid I told you about, the one who we caught stealing from the grocery store with a couple of thugs," the Boy Wonder explained.
Jason's eyes became hard and cold as a sea storm. "I wasn't with them. Not really. I just busted the alarm," the boy looked at Bruce's serious face with an unwavering stare, hoping to make him understand. "They went for the safe, I wanted to eat. All I took was a chunk of bread when Robin caught me. I didn't take anything else."
Bruce stared back at Jason's face before nodding slowly.
"Fortunately, you won't need to do that ever again," Jason's lips twitched into an imperceptible smile. "Alfred, take Jason upstairs and show him his room."
He's staying? Dick thought, barely keeping his mouth shut from all the unanswered questions.
"Of course, Master Bruce," the butler answered, opening the kitchen door and motioning for Jason to come with him. "This way, Master Jason."
The boy stood up, his eyes still staring at Bruce's blue ones.
"We'll talk tomorrow. Get some rest, Jason," Bruce said.
Jason nodded, glanced briefly towards a confused Dick and walked out of the kitchen with Alfred. As soon as the sound of their footsteps faded, Dick faced his adopted father with confusion in his deep-blue eyes.
"What is going on, Bruce? Who is this kid? Why does he know our secret identities?"
Bruce leaned against the table. "I caught Jason trying to steal the tires from the Batmobile yesterday."
"What?" Dick shrieked. "Are you serious? Oh… alright, you're always serious. What I mean is that I can't believe someone would dare to do something like that. What was he thinking?"
"To sell them. He was living in a rundown apartment on Crime Alley for a while."
Crime Alley kid, Dick thought. That place was the lowest place in Gotham, a living hell as some people liked to call it. If this kid lived there, Dick didn't want to imagine what he had to do to survive. Most adults wouldn't last a week. "And his parents?"
"His father is in jail, his mother OD'd. He's been living by himself since her death," Bruce went on, explaining how he had convinced Jason to attend Ma Gunn's School for Boys and the disaster that led to the Museum robbery where Jason had showed up.
Dick listened to his mentor's words carefully until the end. After a few seconds of awkward silence where he stared at his bare feet on the kitchen's linoleum, he finally spoke again.
Bruce raised a black eyebrow. "What?"
"I understand that you want to help him, but I still don't understand why you had to bring him here and tell him who you were."
"What are you saying, Dick?" Bruce asked calmly, though his eyes shone dangerously. "You wanted me to let the police and the social workers take him again?"
"No. No, that's not want I meant," the boy answered quickly. "It's just… I didn't know you were looking to take in another kid."
Something in Dick's voice made Bruce relax and his eyes softened. Obviously Dick would feel awkward about having a new kid in the manor, especially since Bruce never talked about that prospect.
"I didn't plan to bring him or anybody else. It never crossed my mind to adopt another kid," the man explained, his voice gentler. "However, when Jason was about to run away from the cops, I realized system wasn't going to work with him. I decided to bring him home," he crossed his arms over his muscular chest and faced the boy he saw as his son. "He's a good kid, Dick. The streets taint the soul, but his is still intact. Sure he can be rough around the edges and God knows how I'm going to deal with that temper of his, but I just couldn't leave him, just as I couldn't leave you. He's one of us."
So far, the only thing Dick learned about the boy was his name and background, he didn't know him. Jason Todd was a stranger that was going to be living with them from now on. Still, Dick remembered how he felt the kid's bones through his shirt, his look of wild fear and anger. He had no idea what they were supposed to do with him, but Bruce was right. They couldn't send him back to the streets and it made Dick feel ashamed for even considering that. He was behaving like a spoiled, selfish brat who wanted things to stay the way they were.
Conner was angry too and now he's one of my closest friends. Who knows? Dick thought. Maybe when we know each other a little better, he'll be my friend too.
"You're right, Bruce. Don't worry; we'll take care of him."
Jason followed Alfred with wide eyes. Once, the Gotham Historical Museum had been open to the public and the boy took the opportunity to spend a whole afternoon inside the warm building for free. He remembered feeling amazed at its size, the high roof, the sculptured columns, the ancient carpets, the shinning crystals and jewels and the old paintings. It felt as foreign to him as being in another planet. Right now, he felt exactly the same.
Everyone knew that Wayne was filthy rich. People in Crime Alley hated him for it, dreamed of stealing his fortune and make out with the 'bitches' he showed off. Personally, Jason never thought much about Bruce Wayne except for the fact that his parents had been murdered on the place he used to steal tires. It never crossed his mind that one day he would be sleeping on Wayne Manor.
Alfred stopped and opened a big, wooden door. "This way, Master Jason."
Jason entered the room and gasped. His old apartment could fit inside this bedroom. There were huge windows facing the city and real red velvet curtains. The bed was so big that he could have easily slept in it with three other kids and… was that a real private bathroom?
"I hope you like this bedroom," Alfred said. "If you don't, I can find you another one more to your liking."
The boy ran to bathroom and stared in awe. "No… No, this one is fine. It's great. It's… it's so big…"
Alfred smiled kindly, but Jason felt like a complete idiot. This place was big, beautiful and rich, everything he was not. He didn't know how to stand right, if he should put his hands on his pockets or how high his voice should be. All he knew was that this place wasn't for someone like him.
As if sensing his discomfort, Alfred approached the boy and pointed towards the bathtub. "I will change the sheets from the bed in a minute. Do you wish to take a bath?"
Jason stared at his filthy hands and finger nails and thought of his dirty face and greasy hair and thought of the clean sheets Alfred was going to put in the bed. "Yeah, I'll take a bath but… hmm… I don't have more clothes," he touched his old red sweater.
"That's not a problem. I can get you some," the butler walked out of the bathroom and brought Jason a fuzzy blue towel. "Take as much time as you need, Master Jason."
After Alfred left the bathroom, Jason took his time to undress and get inside the white tub. There were several shampoos in front of him and three different soaps, when he turned on the water it became warm in a second. The last time he showered, the hot water ended after 5 minutes and the place smelled like sewage. For the first time in a long, long time, Jason enjoyed the warm shower and did his best to wash all the dirt, motor oil and sweat from his skinny body.
When he got out of the tub, Jason knew that he had never been this clean. He smelled nice (not flowery, girly nice, but man's soap nice) and his black hair looked shiny and fresh. Swiftly, he dried himself with the towel and even brushed his teeth with a toothbrush that was conveniently placed in the sink.
"May I come in, Master Jason?" Alfred asked after knocking on the door.
Jason pulled the towel around this body. "Yeah…"
Alfred entered the bathroom holding a white t-shirt, black tracksuit pants, underwear and a first-aid kit.
Jason quickly got dressed while Alfred left the bathroom to give him some privacy, only for the butler to get inside again to take a look at his cuts and bruises. No matter how much Jason told him that they were no big deal, Alfred didn't rest until the boy told him where all the injuries were and made sure that he didn't break anything. After a few minutes of disinfecting and bandaging Jason's cuts, Alfred asked politely if he wanted to use the hairdryer to dry his damp hair. Though Jason wouldn't mind sleeping with his hair wet, the butler showed no signs of giving up. So, beyond Jason's understanding, he ended up with the butler drying, combing and even cutting some of his hair.
When Jason stared at his reflection in the big mirror, he couldn't believe that was him. He looked so… clean and different. He looked like the kind of kid that could go into a fancy store and not be kicked out because he looked like a thief or the kind of kid that wouldn't look out-of-place in the nicest streets in Gotham.
After making sure that Jason had everything he needed, Alfred left the bedroom silently. Finally alone, Jason closed all the curtains around the room and got inside the clean covers. It was honestly the most comfortable bed he had ever slept, which made him confused that after an hour laying down he still couldn't fall asleep. He'd twist and turn, pull the covers, change his position a million times but, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't fall asleep.
He'd never been a good sleeper. When he lived at home, the bruises from his dad's beating hurt too much, when he lived on the streets he had to keep an eye open if someone wanted to take advantage of a sleeping kid. Now, the bed felt too comfortable, the room too silent. He knew he was safe, but he couldn't stop his mind from thinking how quickly his whole life had turned around.
Yesterday, Jason Todd was sleeping in a hard mattress and wondering when his next meal would be. Now, he had been taken in by Batman, found his secret identity and, apparently, he was going to be living with the richest man in Gotham who also happened to be the city's mightiest hero.
It was too much.
Jason grabbed a pillow and walked towards the corner which was the farthest away from the windows and less likely to put him on the way from a bullet. He lied down on the ground and stared at the moonlight rays that went through the curtains, just like he did on all the places he had ever slept. It took him another hour to finally fall asleep.
On Saturday mornings, everyone overslept on Wayne Manor except Alfred Pennyworth. The butler woke up at 7 a.m. as usual to clean the kitchen and start making breakfast, a routine he had kept since he had been hired by Thomas Wayne and never changed after his employer's death. The only difference was that he now had to practically drag Bruce from his bedroom if he wanted him to eat.
That morning though, they had a new member and Alfred couldn't help but wonder how that boy had spent his first night. Surprisingly, he found Bruce walking down the corridor, already dressed and shaved.
"Good morning, Master Bruce," Alfred whispered as Bruce nodded in recognition.
They didn't say a word as they walked towards Jason's new room, both knowing that they needed to check up on him. When Alfred opened the door silently, his eyes widened at the sight of the empty bed.
Bruce had wondered what he would do if Jason ran away and the answer had always been to bring him back to the Manor and try again. Still, he couldn't help but feel disappointed that he had left on his first night. Then, he saw him.
Jason was curled up against a corner of the room, his head lying on a pillow. He looked so small, vulnerable and childlike that it made Bruce's heart twinge. The last time he had ever felt that way was when he first talked to Dick, right after his parents murder. Right now, Jason looked exactly who he was, a little kid whose life had been too cruel from the start.
Instead of waking him up, Alfred brought him a blanket and Bruce covered Jason with it. He hoped someday the boy would feel safe enough to sleep on the bed. He hoped someday they would be feel close, but meanwhile they would have to walk around each other until they found their rightfull places in Bruce's growing family.
As silently as they had entered, both men left the bedroom and the little boy sleeping.