Written for akar3n's prompt: "Jason plays the piano and his family likes to listen." Also covers the anonymous prompt: "Alfred bonding with one or more of the Batboys."
"Hey, Alfred," their newest young ward called, hesitantly leaning in the kitchen doorway as the butler worked. "Can I ask you a question?"
Alfred dried off his hands, and turned to face the boy. "Of course, Master Jason. You just did as a matter of fact."
The boy turned scarlet, but didn't flee at the gentle teasing. It was some small progress. Jason Todd was a virtual unknown and as predictable as Master Richard had once been.
"What can I do for you, Master Jason?" Alfred prompted patiently, when it appeared that the boy was rethinking his quest.
"Nothing," Jason rushed. "I just … wanna know about that ol' piano. Does Bruce play it?"
Alfred sighed heavily, remembering an obstinate eight year old and the weekly trial of piano lessons. "Not if he can help it," the butler muttered crossly under his breath.
"No, Master Jason," he repeated aloud. "I'm afraid no one plays the lovely instrument anymore."
"Oh." Jason let go of the door frame at last, and seemed about to go when he abruptly turned back to the butler. "Is it in tune?"
Alfred clucked his teeth. "Of course it is tuned, Master Jason. I would be remiss in my duties if I allowed the piano to fall into disrepair. It simply wants for a pianist."
Jason worried his bottom lip between his teeth for a few moments before making the offer. "I could play it for you, Alfred. If it wouldn't bother anyone … if it's okay, I could play it."
The butler had no idea if the boy was a Mozart in the rough or simply looking to pound out a few well-practiced chords for stress relief. It didn't matter; if Jason wanted to play the piano, than Jason would play the piano. Alfred possessed quite powerful ear plugs if the measure proved necessary.
"That is an excellent idea, young sir. I would deeply appreciate such a favor," he agreed. "Why don't you go and see if the sound is to your liking? I will prepare a nice lemonade for when you are finished. There's some cake from last night too."
"Sounds good," Jason grinned broadly. "Thanks, Alfred."
"You're welcome, Master Jason," Alfred responded dryly to the empty air as the boy dashed away. He turned back to his task as a few notes of Hey Jude began to filter down the hallway.
The ear plugs were not needed; the boy's playing was certainly recognizable if not perfect.
Bruce was surprised by the emphatic pounding chorus and a young voice attempting to deliver Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody in the Batman voice. The switch back and forth from the laughable attempt and a falsetto made the corners of said-hero's mouth twitch in what might have been a smile.
Bruce turned down the hallway in search of the errant musician, and found his ward in the music room. Jason wasn't paying any attention to him, and Bruce waited for the song to mellow again before remarking quietly: "I didn't know you played."
The teen jumped, nearly toppling the piano bench as he tried to swivel and get up simultaneously. "Alfred said I could!" Jason defended hotly, untangling himself from the bench legs and gripping the keyboard cover defensively.
"I'm sure he did," Bruce said mildly. "You're quite good; we should see about getting you some lessons."
"I don't need lessons," Jason snapped, and promptly recoiled.
Bruce waited, surprised at the outburst. His ward would never be comfortable with the ostentatious wealth of the Wayne family, but he had not taken offense at Bruce spending said fortune on him for a few months now.
Colouring slightly, Jason ran his fingers over the keys without sounding a single note. "My mom used to play … back when things were good. She never held with the fancy lessons and fingerings, and played everything by ear. She taught me."
Bruce nodded slowly. "I understand. She was a very good teacher." The awkward silence hung in the air for a moment before Bruce cleared his throat. "What else can you play?"
Jason relaxed. "Billy Joel and the Beatles … Johnny Cash … I know some jazz and a couple hymns too. Happy Birthday of course, and well … just about anything if I listen to it long enough. I like working things out."
"Was that what you were doing when I came in?" Bruce asked, laying a hand on the teen's shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze.
Jason nodded. "For Alfred."
Bruce nodded seriously, and refrained from smiling. "Of course. For Alfred."
"Wow, Jay," Dick enthused, sitting on the edge of his seat. "I didn't know you could do that. It sounds great!"
"It's no big deal," Jason deflected the praise, cupping his hand carefully around the brownie to protect his instrument from the crumbs. The teenager almost swallowed it whole in his rush, and Bruce proffered the bowl of Neopolitan ice cream that he was guarding from Dick.
"It's huge," Dick argued, around a mouthful of brownie. "You can play the piano, Little Wing! I can't even do that." Jason flushed with pleasure, and Dick pointed at the younger boy with a spoon. "You. Are. Awesome. Now, play something faster."
Jason handed over his dish again, and turned back to the piano obediently.
Bruce waited until the notes of something lively and vaguely familiar filled the room. Dick pretended not to notice as his former-mentor leaned in under the cover of timeless carousal music. "I have heard you play the piano, Dick."
Dick shrugged. "A term of music lessons do not a musician make," he argued back quietly. "I can read music and stumble my way through Chopsticks." He waved grandly in the direction of his little brother and the big grand piano. "I can't do that. It's not even remotely comparable, Bruce. It's all Jason."
The enigmatic hero hummed something that might be an agreement, and sampled some of Jason's ice cream while the teenager's back was turned.
Defender of Justice, Dick's mighty fine ass.
The first time Jason ever played for Tim was long after his resurrection, drawn to the Manor for a Thanksgiving meal by order of Alfred. With a twenty-four hour ceasefire in place, Jason and Bruce were on their best behaviour.
Still … given the choice between joining the original dynamic duo in the living room for the national dog show or helping Alfred, Jason's decision was obvious.
Even if he was shuffled off to the music room as soon as the table was set on a ridiculous pretense.
"Master Jason, do go and check if the piano is still in tune."
Ha. Jason remembered first asking Alfred about the instrument. Still in tune? As if the butler would ever forget …
His replacement was in the music room, curled into the sofa with case files and ignoring the colourful commentary from the next room over. Jason was being good today, so he ignored the teen and headed for his instrument.
That's right—his instrument.
He ran his fingers over the keys, and after a few false-starts he produced something that he heard during his time away. It sounded off, and Jason readjusted, content with the second try.
It was a simple song, suited for recital and little else, but Jason wasn't expecting the current Robin's reaction. Tim went pale within a few bars, and launched to his feet angrily, scattering files across the floor.
Jason paused, half-braced for a fight, but the kid's anger seemed to drain right out of him. He collapsed back onto the sofa, head in his hands as Jason cautiously resumed. He played it through twice, and that was good enough for Jason.
"Play it again?" the replacement asked quietly, and Jason turned to look at the kid with a skeptical brow half-raised. "Please?"
Jason shrugged, and ran through it again for the baby bird.
Playing for the girls was different than playing for Bruce and Alfred, and a lot more satisfying than fulfilling the demands of his so-called 'brothers.'
Cassandra liked to sit quietly next to him and listen for hours if Jason let her. On very rare occasions, Cass would close her eyes and bob her head along with the music with her super-skills turned off. Jason liked that his sister was willing to drop those defenses for him.
Steph also liked a ringside seat, although she had a tendency to get in on the action. She liked to play duets whether Jason was in the mood or not, and he often chased the giggling blonde away growling like a bear … only to entice Steph back with her favorites.
What could he say? The ladies loved him.
Jason was barely on the side of light and justice this week, but it was all hands aboard deck with both Batman 2.0 and his homicidal Robin down with the flu. If the Red Hood wasn't running an evening patrol with Batgirl, he was catching the early shift with Red Robin.
Black Bat had absconded with Jason's sidekick. He had deep forebodings of the direst nature on what effect this little fieldtrip would have on domestic harmony in the immediate-future.
Anyway, Jason happened to pass the rec room by on one of the countless comings and goings. Like the phenomenally amazing brother that he was, Jason stuck his head inside to check on the resident invalids who were supposed to be holding court with blankets, buckets, and the big-screen TV.
Unfortunately, there was only one pathetic bundle camped in front of the daytime soaps, and Jason had to snap his fingers twice and whistle to gain Dick's attention. The older man stared at him blearily for a moment, and then beamed. The effect of Dick Grayson's million-watt smile on such a green countenance was somewhat off-putting.
Jason waited, but that seemed to be the extent of Dick's contribution. The Red Hood could only shake his head at a Bat brought low. "Do you know when the kid flew the coop?"
Dick stared at Damian's empty seat as if he had never seen it before. "Dami?" the sick man croaked, lurching in a sort-of vertical direction. "Dami, where'd you go?"
Jason gently shoved the acrobat back into the recliner. "Go back to sleep. I'll find the runt."
"He doesn't like soaps," Dick confided. "He likes training, and Colin, and sharp, pointy things."
"I'll check the Cave," Jason agreed bemusedly even though there was no way the kid made it down there without attracting attention.
True enough, he found Damian in the music room—a miserable bundle of feverish ten year old and blankets.
"Still alive?" Jason asked sympathetically.
"Regrettably," Damian sniffed, rolling over to bury his face in the back of the sofa rather than look at Jason. "This is all Grayson's fault."
"Most things are," Jason agreed, taking his usual seat on the piano bench and leaning over to check the bucket. It looked like Damian kept lunch down. Good for him. "Try to sleep it off," Jason suggested, swinging around to sit at the instrument properly. "Maybe this will help."
He didn't even get to the chorus before a pillow collided with the back of his head.
Damian was sitting up again, more ammo clutched in his tiny fists. "You could at least play something recognizable, Todd," he sniffed.
"There isn't a soul in the house who doesn't know and appreciate a little Billy Joel," Jason defended, lobbing the pillow at the other end of the couch. "And Piano Man is a classic."
"Forty years of age does not make any song a classic," Damian argued. "What else do you know? Tchaikovsky? Mozart? Handel? Brahms?"
"Happy Birthday to You," Jason threatened cheerfully. He smiled beatifically at the demon spawn's narrowed gaze, and the stand-off didn't last long.
"Proceed with Mr. Joel," Damian instructed, collapsing back into his make-shift nest.
"Good choice, Chickadee."
Jason did eventually get around to learning some Tchaikovsky. He worked on Brahms and Handel. He even threw in a little Vivaldi for good measure. So the next time Damian was ill, Jason could play the kid's favorites. And then, because Jason is Jason, he played Piano Man for the kid too.
It's his song.
"Sing us a song,
You're the piano man.
Sing us a song tonight.
Well, we're all in the mood for a melody,
And you've got us feelin' alright."