Family You Made (Go Back, Do it Again) - JUBE514 - Batman (2024)

you go back, son, do it again (wheel turnin' 'round and 'round)

-🦇-

Dick wakes up from a nightmare, gasping, sweating, panicked– feeling like ants are crawling up and down his arms as he desperately tries to catch his breath. The bed underneath him is too warm, prickly and itchy and damp from where he’s perspired on the linen blanket feeling more than overwhelmed. It’s too much.

He throws off the sheets, prying limbs out into the cooler air of the room.

There’s a storm outside and Dick can hear it from where he lies. It’s a full frontal assault of lightning flashing between curtains with thunder rattling his bones and rain beating down against the windows of the manor, most likely the reason for his harried awakening–

Wait.

The manor?

Dick hasn’t been in the manor in years– not since it got destroyed in a fit of madness from Luthor and his anti-aircraft satellites. Not since Duke had died trying to protect all the rest of them between those ashen walls. No, Dick hasn’t been– couldn’t be– in the manor.

If this was a joke, Dick isn’t very ready to take this prank lying down. He’s not at all happy to be reminded of this place so he throws himself off the side of the bed–

And knowing something’s off when his feet hit the ground.

The bed comes up only to his shoulder, having been raised up on lifters to have a decent storage space underneath like how Alfred preferred. The rug on the floor is something that Dick used to keep in his old bedroom, not at all soft or plush– an upkeep from his old circus tent– from his parents personal caravan–

He’s too small, feet much smaller than what could fit in his regular size tens. Tiny.

Wrong.

What the hell is happening

Lighting flashes, illuminating the space for the briefest of moments but enough for anyone bat trained.

He’s in his old bedroom, the oldest version of his bedroom in the manor that ever existed, covered in blues and blacks and harsh lighting from the storm. There’s nothing on the walls, no pictures or posters, not a hint of the well lived and well worn room he’s remembered.

Dick is confused, just for a second, but he uses his confusion, he hasn’t lasted as long as he had in this life by stalling even for a moment. Dick is out the door, bolting on legs that don’t ache from a lifetime of strain, don’t call out in pain over earned injuries– he even has all of his toes and all of his fingers from where he had them flinging open the polished door knob.

Wrong. This is all wrong.

Is this a dream? A waking nightmare? Something magical that’s being worked on? Something dangerous? A parody of life, a twisted joke?

There’s an itch of a memory at the edge of his mind. The Justice League should be working on something, something big– he knows because he was there–, but he can’t remember any details beyond burning pain at the moment.

Lighting flashes once again through the forest that once surrounded the manor, lighting up the tips of the trees and the old path he thought he'd forgotten. This dream is too real, the carpet under his feet is grainy with age and the smells are just like Dick remembered. It’s the way that the manor felt as a child is perfectly the same, all long stretching hallways and echoey emptiness.

He knows he couldn’t dream something this vivid.

Dick makes it to the grand staircase in the foyer, all open space and harsh tile and empty jagged lines. There’s the smell of something nostalgic in the air, a recipe of cleaning chemicals that Alfred took with him to the grave, the faint hint of Bruce’s favorite cologne, all deep wood leather and campfire; but the scene feels off. There’s no sound of dogs ruining the polished wood, or somebody in the parlor shaking off a nightmare, or giggles around vents– it’s just Dick’s breathing and the rain pitter patting on the window pane.

Lighting flashes again, and Dick looks up without thinking, wanting to see the portrait of his whole family–

Wrong. All of it. Wrong.

There’s just a sad, dreary, dark painting of Bruce Wayne, aged maybe fifteen, holding his head high against the sadness that threatened to consume him during those early years.

Family You Made (Go Back, Do it Again) - JUBE514 - Batman (1)

Dick looks down, at his own little hands, unscarred, but calloused, always calloused, and begins to think about what the hell is happening.

-🦇-

He makes do.

That’s what Dick does. He makes do, even when things are tough and especially when times are confusing. Life always throws curveballs at you whether you like it or not, cape or no cape, and in this case, whether he’s eight or sixty eight. He understands nothing about what’s happening, who’s put him there, why he’s even in here in the first place– but by God he’s not just going to sit around and let time slip out of his hands now that he’s nine again.

He could send out feelers, contact people– but no, that doesn’t feel right– especially since he doesn’t want to go back to when he’s sixty, where grief settled in his bones as much as the aches of wear and tear did.

He’s nine again– nine and new and knows so many things now so rather than try to go back–

He thinks he has the chance to make things right.

The bright blue trainers he puts on are a pair he hasn’t worn in forever, something he never thought about after he grew out of them (will grow out of?) a year from now, and sets off into the night and into the rain.

The plan he has in his brain is not really a plan, moreso just a couple of half thrown ideas and maybe five steps into building back the life he had in the most painless way he could.

Maybe, he thinks, maybe this plan can start off with the family he misses– because he’s sixty and most of them too injured or too old or too dead–

Call him selfish but he misses them. He would rather find them than get himself back into that lonely existence he called a life before he woke up at nine.

Dick makes do because that’s all he can do really.

-🦇-

Bruce blinks down at the kid who stands tall in the parlor, dark blue eyes determined and hard as steel, with a mouth that’s in a stern line not unlike Bruce’s own on most days.

Richard Grayson hasn’t been his ward for long, but Bruce has grown to really like the boy. How could he not? The kid is all smart wit and smarmy smirks– he’s even got a dangerous way about him that the boy takes with him in a fight. Bruce wakes up in the morning most days with a little nine year old tucked into his side, breathing soft and with his wild hair all in a wilder mess.

Bruce felt his heart warm over it, soft, as Dick usually wakes up with a grumpy little whine under all the comforters he’s burrowed into and slides out of bed, eyes closed with a hand clamped down on Bruce’s shirt like a vice.Bruce now looks to see his son– his ward– because Dick’s just a ward, Bruce just has to remember that– covered head to toe in mud, sloping wet from the spring rain. Beneath it, Bruce can imagine the bruises on his knees from the crime fighting Dick had bullied his way into, but he also takes note of the angry red scrapes peeking out from the boy’s elbows and knees. They were fresh.

It’s something he puts a pin on, something Alfred has to take care of when everything settles, because being drenched and muddied is currently not the most absurd thing about his ward.

“What’s all this then?” Bruce is hesitant to ask, because at this point in his life everything has gone just a little bit sideways and he’s learning how to roll with the punches, especially when it comes to Dick Grayson.

It’s late, the sky’s just beginning to darken and the last holds of winter are gripping tightly as the sun dips low to get away from the vestiges of the season. Thunder rumbles outside like a hurricane complete with howling winds and lightning flashing across the sky in poisoned veins.

The flash from the window lights up two figures, brillant stark black and white and dirty for just a moment.

Dick’s holding onto a child– maybe three, maybe four by the missing baby teeth– and smiling so wide Bruce isn’t sure how his face is actually pulling the expression off.

Family You Made (Go Back, Do it Again) - JUBE514 - Batman (2)

The much, much, smaller boy has big blue watery eyes, a drenched appearance from all that rain today, complete with a muddied ensemble that comes all the way up to the small boy’s stomach. The kid is freakishly still despite how cold he would be in those thin damp pajamas. Bruce isn’t even sure if he’s breathing.

Dick just holds onto the little kid a bit tighter, muddy hand in muddy hand. “He’s our neighbor.” Like this explains everything that could possibly be asked.

The kid– the neighbor, maybe the Drake’s kid? – still hasn’t moved.

Bruce sighs, he feels the headache beginning to build behind his eyes that sounds too much like his PR manager. “We’ve talked about kidnapping.”

Dick nods. “We did.”

God help him. Bruce looks up to the ceiling, sends a prayer to anybody who’s listening, and regrets everything he’s ever done to stress out Alfred, or his parents.

“I told you, chum, we can’t go around taking whomever we want.” Bruce had thought he had made this clear a few nights ago on patrol, when Dick had narrowed his eyes at a gaggle of children playing tag on a stoop in the narrow one-way streets of crime alley. Dick had off-handedly mentioned something about ‘If Bruce could take a kid, why couldn’t he?

Bruce had a heart attack, right there on the roof, and told Dick that he could not simply take a child off the streets. That would be considered kidnapping, and that is not something anybody should be doing, Bruce or not-Bruce.

“I didn’t take Tim from the streets.” Dick co*cks a hip out, pouting, the perfect picture of a petulant child in all things– except this is Dick Grayson, and his eyes are all still dark stone steel. “I knocked on his door and he said yes.”

Bruce can’t even believe this, he goes from staring at his so– ward to frowning at where Drake stands, wet, muddy, cold, and not even bothering to shiver.

The kid somehow goes stiller than he was before, frozen like winter ice, and Bruce is absolutely sure he’s not breathing now. The little Drake doesn’t meet Bruce’s gaze, head bent and eyes unfocused on a spot on the floor.

Dick squeezes their linked hands, the mud between them squishing loudly over the chaos drumming of rain and howling wind, rattling into the foyer behind them. The wet sticky squelch sounds like blood trapped between palms, sounds like centuries old agreements between comrades, sounds like a pact, sounds like a promise.

Bruce just sighs, deep and echoey and yielding. He knows that Alfred’s going to laugh at him when Bruce goes back to the kitchen to help with the dinner prep he had to leave for this. “Get the both of you cleaned up, in warm clothes, and we’ll bring out another table setting, okay?”

Dick smiles, big and wide, and the Drake kid finally moves, a flick of his eyes up to meet Bruce for a second, just a fleeting hint, and Bruce gets the impression that the poor kid was smiling about it too.

“Sure thing, Bruce! Let’s hunt for a comfortable sweater for you, Timmy!”

-🦇-

Bruce had seen the Flying Grayson’s fall, and subsequently watched a little boy in the back of a police car curl further into the shock blanket to pointedly not look in the direction of where the coroners were pulling away two black body bags. Bruce couldn’t leave him then, not when that little boy looked up with his mess of black hair and tear tracks down his face, not when Bruce saw the same mirror image ten years ago.

So Bruce brought Dick home, talked softly to him with words he would’ve liked to hear himself all those years ago, and not two days after the initial meeting, Dick had come down from his bedroom with wide and wet eyes before he slammed himself into Bruce’s arms to heave out half formed wordless wails.

Then a few days after that meltdown, when Bruce was thinking about bringing up therapy for the boy, Bruce had found Dick in the cave, perched on the desk of the computer and an accusation on his lips that Bruce couldn’t deny.

So now Batman has a partner in the form of a little hellion in green and red and yellow, and Bruce Wayne has a headache in the shape of a child.

A headache that is currently showing how to use the soldering iron to the neighbor’s boy who was barely old enough to come up to Bruce’s knees.

“Dick.” Bruce calls, trying to sound stern. It comes out awfully warm, fond, and Alfred from where he stands behind Bruce’s back has the audacity to laugh.

Dick looks up, all slow and sure of himself, with a smile that’s beginning to look more and more like a knife everytime Bruce sees it. “Bruce.”

The small creation that the two children have been working on emits some kind of beeping noise– are they working on a computer’s motherboard?

“Dick, we’ve had the discussion about kidnapping, more than once.”

“We have.” Dick’s just gotten back from school, so his hair is neat and brushed and his school uniform is still on. The neighbor boy is wearing a matching one too and it’s not hard to see how Dick had smuggled the kid in here. “I’ve followed all your rules. I didn’t steal him from his house, or the street. We ride the same bus home to Bristol.”

Bruce can’t even believe this. “Is this why you were adamant you wanted to ride the school bus with all the other kids?”

Dick doesn’t answer, just blinking innocently up to Bruce.

The computer motherboard makes another noise when the little neighbor boy Drake twitches a node against something Bruce can’t see from his position.

Alfred is still laughing, hiding chuckles into a closed fist. Bruce thinks that this is some kind of cosmic punishment.

He knows he’s floundering, he doesn’t know how to deal with this, doesn’t know how to deal with kids and doesn’t know how to deal with one that’s as unapologetic as Dick is. “We’re going to need to bring Drake back home–”

Family You Made (Go Back, Do it Again) - JUBE514 - Batman (3)

“His name is Tim.” Dick’s still smiling, still all open posture and soft little shoulders but Bruce makes a note of the hard lilt at the edge of Dick’s voice.

“We’re going to need to bring Tim back home.” Bruce says slowly, placating and also informing Dick that something’s going on in Gotham proper and needs the attention of somebody a little more flexible than the police. “I came in here because I’ve gotten a call from the office and we need to be headed downtown.”

Dick blinks again, but he’s up and standing within a second. “The office? Who called you in?”

Bruce smiles back at him. Smart boy.

“A woman from our agricultural department.”

Dick nods, understanding, mentally already slotting away information and running through the case files they go over together in the cave. Bruce is always amazed at how much information Dick seems to retain. The boy can glance over at a file and recite most of it off of memory alone. It makes him proud– makes him want to brag about it during small talk before board meetings like all the other stakeholders do.

Though he’s not sure bragging about how his kid can recite crime scene evidence would be received as positively as Charlie Weather’s new soccer trophy.

Maybe next time Batman and the man in steel tights team up, Bruce is going to make sure to let Superman know who has the world's best kid.

Dick taps Tim’s shoulder once, and the little three year old is up, a strange picture image from one position to the next with no movement in between. It’s rather jarring and Bruce doesn’t know how to feel about it. Alfred agrees to take Tim back, instead of allowing the toddler to run the miles between the two properties all by himself.

Bruce and Dick say goodbye to Tim and Alfred, the former pointedly ignoring promises of ‘next time’s, and then head to the cave at a pretty fast pace.

Dick had been adamant about his armor design, and Bruce lets the kid have what he wants to have. Batman doesn’t let Robin anywhere near the dangerous bits if he could help it– and turns out he can because he’s goddamn freaking Batman.

Even when the little nine year old walks out of the shower area, pulling on his knee pads as he hobbles over, it makes Bruce wince to see the swathes of skin that the armor doesn’t cover. Bruce begged the Robin design to be head to toe covered with some thick kevlar, but Dick had said no, and bounces around like the world's happiest traffic light. It gives Bruce little heart attacks, but it makes all the villains around them even more concerned. At least it helps, because when the criminals pause, as if trying to process Dick’s very presence, the little boy kicks them where it hurts the most and then says some kind of witty quip before bouncing back underneath Bruce’s cape.

In short– Bruce absolutely loves him.

He’s sort of taken aback by how fast that happened, but it’s true.

The two of them hop into the car and are racing down streets as fast as the modified engine can take them, watching cars drive off to the side of the road when they catch sight of the wicked dangerous all black tank coming at them in full tilt. Dick’s got a hand on the dash and the other on the roll bar, all dangerous smiles and quirked brow as he asks what’s the situation in Gotham.

“Ivy’s getting into the city’s sprinkler systems.” Batman tells him, trying to think of a plan as he moves. “She’s taken over Robinson and Grant Park, but is trying to move onto the botanical gardens as we speak.”

Dick co*cks his head just a bit, a move to convey emotions through the expressionless mask and armor, “She’s working through all of the green spaces in Gotham, do you think she’d try for Aparo or Bowery’s Park next?”

Hmm.

Interesting.

Dick’s only been in Gotham for a short while and he already knows the parks in the city. Dick is a smart boy and it helps that a decent amount of battles end up being in those aforementioned parks because low level goons tend to run to where there’s a decent amount of space and no cameras to track them with. The only interesting thing about Dick’s words are– “There’s no park in the Bowery.”

Dick’s eye mask twitches like he’s blinking and he’s scrunching up his nose in a very expressive way even though the domino mask covers most of his face. “Is there not? There should be.”

Bruce smiles, just a little tilt of the side of his face unhidden by the cowl, and downshifts the expression when they reache the city limits. “You’re right. There should be.”

-🦇-

It’s after school, Dick has a hand in Tim’s and they’re going out for ice cream.

(Dick is happy to be able to hold Tim’s hand again. After Tim had turned forty-three there had been a horrible invasion lasting nearly two months with thousands of displaced civilians and ruined infrastructure. They had won– as they always eventually did– with earth’s mightiest heroes fighting alongside them to free the planet from insectoid alien creatures– but the casualties and injuries had been devastating. Tim had lost a good bit of himself at the end saving others and sacrificing himself in the place of Bart and Kon, telling the insects that he was the one they were looking for–

It had been the smartest move at the time. They had needed the power that Supernova and Impulse brought to the team, but Tim hadn’t come out of it with all of his limbs– or all of himself– intact.)

Dick’s promised himself the sweet chocolate peanut butter flavor that stopped being made once swamp thing had killed off the peanut plant population in the world when he was much, much younger–

Well, it would be older now, wouldn’t it?

Not like it matters.

Not anymore.

“I’m getting the mint.” Tim said, very sure that the dreaded, awful, mint flavor was superior. Which is totally wrong of him.

“You’re so smart, and yet, you’ve dashed my dreams against the rocks here.” Dick squeezes Tim’s hand. “Mint is the worst flavor, kiddo.”

Tim rolls his big blue eyes, clicking through the motions like a poorly controlled puppet. “Peanut butter is sticky and it doesn’t even have any real peanuts. It’s like iced false advertising.”

“Oh god, that’s right, you like crunchy. Like a heathen.”

“It has a better texture!” Tim defends, viciously, already ready to go down fighting even at three and a half years old. “You also have bad taste.”

Dick gasps, offended, because his brother was apparently an asshole no matter what the age.

They talk about it a little more, loudly snipping at one another about ice cream flavors and it’s like Dick really didn’t go anywhere at all. Tim’s always been exactly how he always is, and Dick has never been more thankful that the little bastard’s parents are sh*tbags who leave him alone right next door. Easy to abduct, easier to pull into the family– especially when the kid is so desperately starved for attention that he’ll follow a stranger out into the storm for the promise of a hug.

It’s kind of sad really, and the methods are morally dubious, but it worked in Dick’s favor, didn’t it?

The two of them get in line, patrons just as loud and chatty around them as they are. Dick knows it’s not in a great part of town but this particular parlor is the best that Gotham has to offer. The whole place feels like it’s tired, with its sagging ceiling tiles and yellowing glass display cases, but the ice cream smell fills the small space with sweet sugar and rich, real, chocolate.

Dick and Tim chat aimlessly from where they stand last in line, with another child in front and a group of four teenages in the middle. There’s only two people working behind the counter, both of them older folks who own the business, who wear little fun red and white striped hats and kind smiles as uniforms. They look like they’re very much in love, even this far into their lives, and everybody in line can tell that by the way they move so easily around one another with every brush of limbs soft and fond rather than harried during this peak hour.

Tim can’t see the names of the ice cream flavors, but Dick can, so Dick reads them off to Tim and Tim bounces by Dick’s side, asking questions about flavor profiles no three year old usually does and if they can use the little tasting spoons for samples. It’s almost their turn to order, and ask for tasting spoons, when the door jingles again, and Dick’s years and years of training make him take in the appearance of the new commer with a detective’s gaze–

That was Jason, with his big ears and too-big shoulders and too young face. Hair still all dark, with no streaks of white and gray in sight, barely reaching the counter and curled in a jacket that was way too big on his thin frame.

All Dick’s mind could do is chant over and over again about how his Jason could fit in his pocket.

Tim let out a harsh exhale and Dick jerks back into his body to let go of where he had almost crushed Tim’s little hand.

Sorry.” Dick tells him, breathless and trying not to stare at how strange his biggest little brother looked. “Sorry I was surprised.”

Tim’s eyes narrow, cutting to the door before snapping back to Dick’s own face. Tim’s always been a little too smart for his britches and he displays that talent once again by snaking his hand back into Dick’s, sliding close and pressing his head into Dick’s elbow to whisper, “Another potential kidnap victim?”

Another?” Dick has to ask, raising an eyebrow even as his cheeks lift up in a smile.

From the corner of his eye, he could see that Jason’s got a woman with him, older, thin, with a wane face and a small shoulders. She’s smiling, brushing a hand through Jason’s too dark red hair every now and again. His mother maybe? It’s got to be, although Dick hasn’t thought of the woman in years.

They look nothing alike, but Catherine has always been Jason’s mom– and it’s only now does Dick see what his little brother could only retell. She looks like she really loves him, her entire body is tilted towards Jason in that protective stance parents does, even if she’s only maybe five feet and some change tall. She’s wearing clothes a lot older than the ones that Jason has on, more threadbare and washed out, and her hands are wrecked with a lifetime of hard work. Even so, she still runs her fingers ever so carefully through his curls, smile splitting her face as Jason mumbles something to her.

“I’m your first, and you’ve already indicated to your father that you want more siblings.” Tim says in a nonchalant tone. He sounds like he’s discussing the weather even if what he said was sh*t that is so far outside of the realm of a normal toddler.

For a moment, Dick wonders if someone was teaching him this, it’s not like he had parents at home or anything, or if it was just a Tim thing.

So Dick just huffs, moves forward in line a little bit, takes the hand that’s holding Tim’s palm and wraps it around Tim’s little shoulders instead. “Where are you learning how to talk like this? Are you listening to stuff you shouldn’t be listening to?”

The teenagers are ordering now, they’ve got their own preferences down to a pat since they’re listing off what they want almost faster than the gentleman can make them.

“What do you mean?” Tim tilts his head up to look up at Dick’s face, his hair is still short (and isn’t that weird to see) so it doesn’t really mess up his little baby hairstyle. “I’m not sure exactly what constitutes ‘shouldn’t be listened to’. I can’t turn off my hearing, Dick.”

“You.” Dick squeezes tight, smushing Tim further into his embrace. “Are a menace.”

Tim just hums happily, smug in the comfort of human touch. Both of them are perfectly aware that Tim knows exactly what the little bastards should and shouldn’t be doing, but Dick knows that Tim’s going to keep doing whatever he wants anyway.

The teenagers are paying, and it’s Dick and Tim’s turn to order next.

Tim asks to try the three mint flavors available, the older man behind the counter gets three little testing spoons and fishes out the flavors with an easy smile. Dick asks for two scoops of the peanut butter chocolate flavor, and in a waffle cone too because he’s got taste. Tim gets one scoop of the peppermint chip flavor, in a cup, because he can’t eat the ice cream fast enough before it melts.

They both get rainbow sprinkles, because they’re champions, and Dick adds extra peanut butter chips to the top of his, while Tim asks for a whipped cream finish.

The lady manning the cash register smiles down at them both, she’s plump and round and has a face that’s well worn with smile lines.

“That will be all for you both?” She asks, fingers already ringing up the total with quick flicks of her wrist.

Dick gets an idea, fast like lightning, and points to where Jason and his mom are ordering. “I want to pay for theirs too.” Dick tells the woman behind the counter.

Her eyebrows raise and Tim’s wiggling in Dick’s hold to get at his ice cream on the counter. “Are you sure honey?” The lady asks.

Dick nods, and lets go of Tim to get at his wallet.

Bruce knows how much things cost– he’s not an idiot– but he’s also not going to let Dick walk around town with just enough money for lunch. Dick gets sixty dollars at a time whenever he asks Bruce for some cash. It doesn't happen often, but Bruce doesn’t mind, and Dick doesn’t spend it all all at once anyway.

So Dick has sixty dollars to spend however he wants, and four people’s ice-cream won’t rack him up with more than maybe thirty dollars in total. He places forty dollars down, looking up at the woman behind the counter with a sweet smile. “I want to pay with this, then the rest goes in the tip jar.

“A thoughtful young boy!” The woman coos happily as she punches her fingers more into the register. “You’ve been raised so nice! Your mother must be proud!”

She was. Dick knew this because he had once seen her when he was about thirty five and had traveled to the afterlife for a while to get some information on a magic case. His father and mother were very proud of what he had become, they told him, and it was a long and tearful three hours before he had to come back into the land of the living.

Tim’s already snatched his own cup between two hands, a mumbled thank you passing his lips just barely above a whisper. Dick just nods, and takes his own cone passed onto him.

Dick and Tim move to eat the ice cream in one of the red leather corner booths, the one with the fraying buttons, worn plastic seating and polished tabletop. Dick takes the back most seat– the one with the view from the windows that shows you the entire street, while Tim slides in the opposite one.

Family You Made (Go Back, Do it Again) - JUBE514 - Batman (4)

Tim dips his little plastic spoon and gets to work munching over the green mint. Dick just takes a whole chunk out of his own chocolate peanut butter in a single massive bite.

“Disgusting.” Tim tells him. “You are truly a menace.”

Dick rolls his eyes, kicking the kid’s shin underneath the table. Tim giggles instead of yelping, like the weirdo that he is.

Jason and his mom gets up to the register and Dick watches from the corner of his eye as Mrs. Todd pulls out her wallet– a little ragged thin thing– and the nice grandmother shakes her head and points.

Mrs. Todd seems surprised, hesitant and Jason is already taking his ice cream, reaching across the counter with a delighted and oblivious smile.

Mrs. Todd tells Jason something in soft tones that gets washed away in the chatter of the ice cream parlor and a gentle small hand pressing against Jason’s too-big shoulders. She’s smiling, her eyes watery, a little smile gracing her delicate face.

Jason frowns, looking up at his mother as she speaks and then around the shop, a spark in his eyes Dick remembers even at such a young age.

(It’s the same spark that turned green, once, when Dick was long tired and hurting but was too deep into the game to stop. It’s a spark that was the same when they first met and the same spark that’s seen when Jason’s back alive with more messy volatile emotions akin to a field of landmines. He tried his best, his little brother tried his best, and he kept coming back, always coming back.)

Dick waves, Tim’s got both his hands full with his little testing spoon and his small kiddie cup, so he gives a cute little wiggle with his whole body from where he sits.

Jason walks right on over to them, a cone of cotton candy ice cream in one hand and a wad of napkins in the other. He traverses the rather small parlor with the same look of determination his older counterpart held like a weapon.

Tim keeps the little baby testing spoon in his mouth, eyes trained on the newcomer, hand on the table.

Dick’s little brother makes his way to the edge of the table, squares his shoulders, and announces– “My name is Jason Todd, thank you very much for buying me ice cream.”

Family You Made (Go Back, Do it Again) - JUBE514 - Batman (5)

-🦇-

Jason spends the day with them.

Mrs. Todd– “Please boys, call me Catherine–” Mrs. Catherine is their chaperone for the day. She’s holding onto Jason’s hand when they cross the street to the park and keeping a shark eye on them as they all play games on the various playground equipment that’s scattered around. It’s donated by the Wayne Children’s Foundation and it shows because the playground of Robinson Park is very nice and a good place to eat during evening patrol– but it’s also apparently more fun in the daytime when Dick got to actually play on it instead of just sitting around with Bruce munching on Alfred approved snacks.

The playground is shaped like a treehouse fortress, with fake plastic branches filled with fake plastic leaves that had lights in them. It sheds the entire area in a greenish yellow glow from where the afternoon sun hits it just right, and there’s swings and ropes and climbing walls all three of them can climb over to their heart’s content.

Overall, it’s a rather cool area.

Dick’s almost sixty years old in spirit, but damn him if he’s not going to enjoy this new chance of joining his brothers in playing pirates with him.

He’s holding back the laughter of how f*cking absurd everything is. Here is Dick Grayson– Nightwing– a world renowned hero– now holding up a stick and playing some f*cking pirates.

Mrs. Catherine is their mermaid, she’s sitting on the end of the slide with her hands folded in her lap and smiling softly at all of them as they debate if Tim really does need to walk the plank or if they can just put him in the pirate jail for a little while for having bad mint opinions.

“It’s called a brig.” Jason huffs. “Don’t call it ‘pirate jail’, we're not babies.”

“There is such a thing called a prison hulk– a ship that isn’t seaworthy but still pushed out in the dock.” Tim decided to add from where he’s very calmly sitting on one of the fake tree branches, hands behind his back like a good prisoner. “They were used a lot during historical wars.”

“I’ve decided both of you are nerds.” Dick tells them, twirling his stick-sword around. “And that means both of you are going to have to go overboard to be eaten by the mermaid.”

Jason gasps, wildly offended for being all of six years old. “You can’t make my mom eat me!”

Dick holds out his stick, wielding it like only a man trained in several sword fighting styles could. Jason holds out his own stick, wielding it with just as much confidence and a much horrible stance.

“Have at me!” Dick shouts.

The fight begins.

Tim swings his legs, watching at Dick and Jason swing their sticks at one another with every single ounce of passion in them both. Mrs. Catherine tries to calm them down with a soft and panicked “Boys! Don’t hurt each other!” but neither Dick nor Jason is actually aiming to maim here.

(Dick knows when Jason aims to hurt. Jason would never do so with his physical actions, Jason always aims to hurt with his barbed words and personal jabs. He spits out carefully selected phrases that cut you to the soul with each sentence, with each reminder. Jason wants to make his points verbally, wielding it like a knife to the heart, and he’s damn good at it when he does.)

Dick’s too good of a fighter to hurt somebody on accident and their sticks too blunt– and besides, Jason’s got a sense of his body even at such a young age and a good grasp on how to move. They’re play-sparring.

They’re having fun.

Jason takes a hard swipe, leaving his left side open like he always does, and Dick presses that to his advantage, sliping a foot into the support of Jason’s ankle and yanks.

Jason goes down, all laughter and knobby flailing elbows.

Tim stands, throwing a salute. “It was well fought! We’ve been bested by Grayson’s nefarious bag of tricks!”

Dick’s howling with humor, full bellied and smiles, while already offering a hand to pull Jason back up.

Tim swivels on his foot, and hops off the landing

And Mrs. Catherine lets out a little shriek of terror, choking, bolting upright with her arms already spread to catch the miniscule three year old–

While Tim executes a perfect forward tuck, lands on his feet, and rolls with the impact.

Mrs. Catherine sits back down on the plastic slide with a loud THWUMP!, her knees giving out from under her with a hand clasped to her heart.

Jason almost yanks Dick down with how fast Jason grabs Dick’s hand to yank himself up. “Mom!”

“Sorry!” Tim’s saying, high pitched and panicked, hands fluttering all akimbo in his half little jerky movements. “I didn’t mean to scare you!”

Mrs. Catherine reaches out with shaking hands, tugs Tim by the shoulder, and hauls him into her chest.

Tim freezes, unsure, surprised and not used to this.

Mrs. Catherine hugs Tim close, shaking like a leaf and running a hand through his hair. “Oh god, baby, don’t scare me like that. Oh god.”

Jason throws himself down the slide, feet on the plastic to slow his momentum so he doesn’t slam into his mothers back. When Jason gets within two feet of Mrs. Catherine she grabs him too, holding both boys close and her small shoulders slowly stop their shaking. “Gave me such a fright– good Lord. What am I going to do with both of you?”

“Sorry.” Tim says again, still stiff as a board against the hug, confused and hesitant. “I– I’m sorry Mrs. Catherine.”

Mrs. Catherine pulls just a bit of distance from both of them, running a hand through both of their hair once more as she moves. “Warn me next time? You did a very cool trick there, but you have to warn me next time, okay?”

Tim nods, looking up at Mrs. Catherine with wide, wide eyes. “Yes ma’am.”

Mrs. Catherine relaxes, pulling fully away, letting go of both of them.

Jason just frowns a little bit, before looking at Tim real six-year-old serious. “How’d you do that?”

Tim points at Dick, immediately, a jerk of his whole arm as he accuses because the little brat is quick like that.

Jason looks at Dick, a gauging and calculating up and down, before something in his expression shifts, settles and he asks. “Teach me how to do that too!”

-🦇-

Bruce doesn’t know where his kids are.

He’s panicking, worried out of his mind, because he’s already called the school to hear that they’ve just left and has been over to Drake Manor–

Only to be greeted by no one because there was nobody at Drake Manor, no parents, no housekeeper, with rooms and rooms covered with white sheets to keep the dust off and out. Bruce is going to have words with Tim and Dick when they are safe in his possession again, going to have strong words about how a child should and shouldn’t be living and “where are your parents, Tim?’.

But for now, he has to put a pin on the thought because Bruce is desperately wishing he had a tracking device on both of them, watches maybe, or maybe one small enough he can put it under their skin-

No. He can’t plan like that. He’s been getting better about being so paranoid lately. He’s shown great improvements in these past couple of months, focusing on things outside of the Gotham nightlife. Privacy, Mr. Wayne, he reminds himself.

But maybe he can make the boys wear a watch or two, maybe even earrings? He could absolutely make a GPS device small enough to fit into earrings–

“Sir.” Alfred’s voice is as close to panicked as he can go, that soft droll rumble has an undercurrent of pure fear laced into the tone and recognizable even if dulled through the phone line. “I’ve heard from a teacher that Dick had been talking about going to a certain ice cream shop that he’s expressed interest in before.”

Bruce jerks a hard left on the steering wheel, swerving the BMW into a one way street and earning himself some seriously annoyed honking. f*ck those people, he’s got two kids he can’t account for and he desperately needs to have with him.

Wait.

f*ck!

He can’t think like that. He can’t adopt the neighbor kid, the neighbor kid is the neighbors’ and pointedly not his. Tim Drake is a Drake and that means he’s pointedly not Bruce’s.

(Even though it feels like it sometimes, when Tim does something and all Bruce can see is himself in the little menace. Tim looks nothing like his father, Jack’s got red hair and brown eyes, and Jannet is an all natural blonde and everyone and their mother knows both of them had infamous marital problems–)

Either way, Bruce is currently looking for one kid with frantic abandon and the other kid is just him doing his very neighborly duty.

Yeah.

That’s what he’s doing. Being neighborly.

Definitely not ignoring the pang in his chest when he thinks about finding one without the other.

He throws his car into park on the street, uncaring of everything from the haphazard parking and to the people who are annoyed with it. f*ck those people. He’s got an emergency.

The ice cream owners, after fawning and blinking and asking if he really was Bruce Wayne, say that the two boys had paid for the ice cream of another family as well, and the children had decided to go to the park and play.

(“The older boy was absolutely charming and his brother was well mannered. They’re really beautiful children Mr. Wayne, you should be proud–”)

Bruce shoves a twenty into the tip jar, thanks the couple behind the counter fervently, and strides back to his car.

People dive out of the way when they catch a glimpse of his face and body language. Good, he has no time for anyone anyway.

Bruce puts the car into gear and peels out, already mapping the fastest way to get to Robinson Park.

His car is nice, high end, able to get up to sixty in less than half a second when the right buttons are pushed. It also helps that Bruce has spent a long while learning how to be a stunt driver, learning how to handle a car like another limb, and he moves through the busy Gotham streets like a madman who’s got nothing to lose.

He makes it to Robinson park within six minutes.

He gets out, and there!

Bruce hears them before he sees them, head whipping to the playground the moment the tinkering familiar laughter reaches his ears. All of the tension escapes from his shoulders, all at once, falling off and leeching all of the fight out of him.

“Dick!” Bruce calls, moving forward as fast as he can without actually breaking into a sprint, “Tim!”

Dick perks up from where he’s balancing on the taut rope railing of a short kiddie bridge. Dick must see something on Bruce’s face, because he’s moving within the instant it registers that his name has been called.

Dick hops off the rope and onto the actual plants of the bridge, grabs Tim by the armpits where the small boy had been sitting down with his legs dangingly between two planks, and sprints.

“Bruce!”

There’s two other people here, another little boy and who Bruce can only assume to be his mother.

Bruce doesn’t care about them though, only having eyes for his boys.

Dick flings himself and Tim into Bruce’s arms. Bruce catches them with ease, using both hands to separate them apart with one on each arm, holding each boy to his chest. His heart rate probably spiked out at nearly a hundred and sixty, and he can still feel the fading effects of adrenaline making his hands shake where Gotham’s criminal element could not.

“Next time you deviate from your plans, you tell me.” Bruce tells them both in a panicked whisper, pressing his face between Dick’s forehead and Tim’s baby fine hair. “You don’t give me any more grays than you already have, do you hear me?”

“Loud and clear!” Dick smiles up at him, repentant by how he curls close into the tight space that Bruce holds him in.

A clear, tinkling laugh. Bruce’s attention shifts from the children in his arms to the other two that had been with them.

An older woman, maybe late twenties, early thirties. Older than Bruce definitely, with the lines on her face deep from worry. She has that smile that only other parents give him, that smile that means that they’ve been where he is right now. Amused. Apologetic. Empathetic. “I see that they’ve caused trouble for everyone, huh.”

Bruce gives Dick a look, eyes narrowed and considering. Dick replies with the best butter-that-wouldn't-melt look he possibly can.

Not effective, Bruce thinks, especially since his heart still hasn’t calmed down.

“I’m so sorry,” Bruce tells her, “Thank you for looking after them.”

She waves Bruce’s worry off with a casual wave of her hand.

“Don’t be sorry, they were angels.” Her smile is fragile, but genuine in ways Bruce isn’t used to. “They became fast friends with my Jason here.”

The woman inclines her head, following the line where Bruce spots another child that had been on the rope bridge. The boy has dark curly hair that shines a brilliant red in the declining sunlight, a frame that shows that the kid is going to grow up broad and tall, and sharp teal eyes tracking everyone with a frown.

Dick wiggles in Bruce’s grasp and points, “That’s Jason. He’s my new best friend.”

Is he now? Bruce highly doubts that, actually. Dick seems to be very set on a few ideas and he gets that certain tone of voice sometimes when he does, the one that has a solid steel understone that not even Alfred can go against. The undertone doesn’t come out often with that look of pure determination on the tilt of Dick’s eyebrows, but it’s here now, an edge of something dangerous that Bruce can’t fully grasp.

Dick wiggles more, and Bruce has to put him down.

Tim stays perfectly still, and if not for the burning warmth, Bruce would think he was holding a stone statue against his chest.

Bruce watches as Dick scampers back off to his new friend, picking right back where they had left off in their game. The little boy strides right back onto the rope handrails of the bridge that connects the two quasi-treehouses.

Tim seems content to rest where he is, so Bruce relaxes a little more, reaching into his pocket with his now free hand and pulling out his phone to call Alfred to let the poor man know the children were safe and sound.

He flips his phone open, presses down on the first button and lets it speed dial.

Alfred is elated to know that the children are okay and safe. He thanks Bruce for finding them and hangs back up– a telling sign that Bruce needs to get dinner out tonight as the frantic search for the boys had delayed it for far too long. Alfred had other duties to attend to besides just watching over dinner after all.

Bruce puts the phone back into his pocket after that, and watches the boys engage in some kind of poetic speech and play fight about … parrots?

The woman laughs a bit again, clearly seeing the confusion on his furrowed brows.

“They’re playing pirates.” She informs him with a smile. “They’ve been on this storyline for two hours now.”

“They’re on a storyline?” Bruce has to ask, impressed. Dick’s clearly the tallest and oldest, but children even at nine usually didn’t engage in anything that lasted more than maybe thirty minutes of play.

The woman looks around for a moment from where she sits on the slide. She reaches over and pats the low curving wall of the bottom level of the playground. “You might want to sit down, I heard Jason say something about act three. Now that you’re here, he’s going to want to impress the audience even more.”

Bruce can’t help it, he lets out a little chuckle at the thought. He shifts the three year old in his arms to a better position and holds out a hand. “I’m Bruce.” He introduces.

The woman shakes his hand, firm despite her rather wane appearance. “Catherine.”

-🦇-

Jason Todd gets adopted into Dick’s menagerie.

Bruce didn’t know exactly when this happened, but the pirate play had ended in a tear jerking soliloquy about the life of a law breaking scallywag– Dick, ever the entertainer, had bowed at the applause– and then Dick grabbed onto Jason’s hand and demanded Jason come to dinner with them.

Catherine had hesitated, clearly trying to be polite, but Bruce had given into Dick’s puppy dog eyes.

Now Jason Todd was being delivered at the manor every weekend by his mother–

(“You’re Bruce f*cking Wayne?!” Jason had screamed when he first got dropped off, looking at the massive house with big wide eyes. Catherine had turned a brilliant red color and spluttered out a, “We don’t use those kinds of words darling!”)

Okay, so he was lying when he said he didn’t know when Jason gets adopted into Dick’s fold, he knew the moment he saw the little boy actually playing in the playground, but it’s not like he’s torn up about it.

Bruce liked Catherine, she was down to earth, loved her son, and never tried to take advantage of the fact her son was now semi-brothers to two of the richest boys in Gotham. She was frank with Jason about things when she needed to be, and then frank with Tim and Dick only when she had ran it through Bruce first.

He couldn’t get a hold of the Drakes at all, not even when he’s called them ten times once they got back home. Tim still toddled back to the Drake manor every night to sleep in his own home even when Bruce and Alfred and Dick assured him that he was fine to stay the night (or even longer, until his parents could be reached).

Bruce doesn’t know how his life had gone from a top Hollywood bachelor seen at a nightclub or a penthouse every four nights or five nights a week to carrying around a dad-bag full of items like juice boxes and granola bars. He really didn’t but he guess this is his life now.

At least the crime fighting stayed consistent.

Bruce finds out the corruption that plagued the city and digs it out nightly and into the light of day so that the people would demand justice for themselves. It doesn’t always work, but it is getting better and better. Slowly. Dick is a brillant partner as Robin, he’s good at dodging and even better at getting in and out of places that he shouldn’t be in in the first place.

Bruce likes having somebody like Robin on his team.

It makes for hilarious moments too– like when Poison Ivy had first encountered Dick’s smiling face. Ivy had to halt her whole damn operation to yell at everybody involved, yelled and berated in increasingly irate scowls about how and why a child was now dosed up to his gills in mind altering substances. Dick had a rebreather on and hadn't been affected by the pollen at all, but that hadn’t stopped Ivy from losing her sh*t, handing over the exact formula and how to contradict it, and telling Batman to bug out because she had a bunch of henchman to fire and get arrested.

That had been a good day. From that handed over equation, Bruce had been able to reverse engineer a very key point to the whole formula which unraveled Ivy’s years of work and now has a good base for all her concoctions going forward.

Today, the media had no idea about Robin yet and still thought that Batman was a figure of myth.

It was exactly how Bruce had liked it.

The change in his life is nice now that Bruce got used to it. He liked having a bunch of feet running in the manor again, even if those little feet were small, children-sized ones, and accompanied by high pitched howls of laughter. Alfred likes having boys to take care of, ones that will listen to him when he tells them to go to bed and get some rest at least.

-🦇-

Dick types out his post-mission report with a yawn.

He’s not used to being this tired all the time, being a kid was– is– so exhausting.

Dick types a ‘NW’ in the palace of his codename before he remembers that he has to delete it, again, and types out a capital R. He’s being careful about that kind of stuff, it’s not hard to remember but it’s hard to undo years and years of muscle memory.

It’s only half an hour past midnight and he’s in the cave long before Bruce bothers to even come home, writing mission reports and yawning as he types out how the fight with Malone’s dumb muscle went.

CLICK! CLICK! CLICK!

The keyboard in the cave is mechanical, it feels good to use and the sound it makes is satisfying, but it’s covered by a thin plastic covering to make cleaning easier. Between the blood and the bats, the cave tends to get rather filthy if not maintained, so the CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! of the keys are muted.

Thank God it’s a Friday. Jason had gotten dropped off after school via his mom, and Tim had been badgered to spend the night in the manor for the first time under Jason’s convincing tone.

Dick is just finishing up when he hears the sound of bare feet on stone, padding softer than air. His tired brain doesn’t quite register anything wrong with it– there’s plenty of people who walk around the cave at all hours of the day after all– and it could have been Terry or Matt milling around trying to work off a nightmare, or trying to find one another. It could have been Damian looking for one of his many animals. It could have been Clark trying to see about some new chemical that needed to have a second opinion on, it could be Flash, or Diana, or Jason, or–

“Are you coming to bed soon?” Tim asks, rubbing his eyes and holding a blanket tight around his shoulders. “Jason’s already asleep in the pillow fort we made.”

Dick’s blood goes cold as he looks over at where Tim stands so casually in the world's most secure secret base. No alarms, no warnings, nothing to indicate that he shouldn’t be down here in this timeline, not yet. Dick was so sure that he didn’t include Tim or Jason or anybody else into the systems– he hadn’t wanted to alert Bruce into his plan at all. The last time Dick had checked, the only people allowed in the cave without the entire place going into shutdown had been Bruce, Alfred, and Dick himself.

Tim, the little slippery fellow, ignorant to Dick’s inner turmoil, co*cks his little eyebrow. “Well? Are you coming or not?”

Dick adds a little bit at the end of the report, hits the save button, and pushes the computer chair back far enough that it would alert Bruce that something had gone wrong and he needed to check things out. He doesn’t close out the tab where they keep the documents for each case, leaving the post mission report open and easy to see for whoever walks in the cave.

“Sure.” Dick calls to Tim, “I’m ready to head upstairs.”

Tim does an about face and heads back up the uneven, death trap ledges they call stairs. There’s little rubber grips that have been put down on those steps by Alfred but they’ve never done much besides to make it feel weird while walking barefooted. Tim navigates the visible portion of the stone steps with a very directed kind of ease. He looks like he’s done this before– and that he’s done this a lot. That’s the kind of tired laziness that can only come with familiarity.

He knew that Tim was smart and sneaky, but what the f*ck?

Dick had changed immediately to basic comfort clothes as soon as he had gotten to the cave, so he was good to immediately scramble like a madman after Tim as they ascended the stairwell to lead up to the study.

The two of them walk together up the uneven stone, cold on their feet, steps barely echoing.

Dick is watching the way that Tim takes each step while mentally going through each bit of information he can recall from his earliest days as Robin.

Honestly, the amount of head injuries that Dick has sustained over his life makes his memories full of holes and false starts–

(The clarity now, as a nine-almost-ten year old with no long and winding history of both concussions and gunshot wounds is staggeringly and sharply different than what Dick has put up with when he was an old man, back before this second chance–)

Dick just hopes that the pushed out chair and open computer screen makes Bruce check the cameras to see exactly how Tim had wandered casually down into the cave.

The opening is hard to reach when you’re only a little bit above three feet tall, so it should be impossible for Tim who had been stunted in height until he hit his mid-twenties and shot up into a lean towering stick of a man.

So Dick watches with a rather sharp eye as Tim sleepily undoes the blanket that was wrapped around his little shoulders, holds either in his pudgy little baby hands, and loops the blanket up and around the hinge handle in the middle of the massive lock. Tim climbs the little blanket until he can actually get his hands onto the hinge and he kicks off of the door.

It’s an impressive way to open the hidden study door, for somebody who can’t actually reach the lock mechanism.

Sure enough, the door cracks just a hint.

And Dick pushes it open the rest of the way.

He shoves against it, the heavy doorway has been built for secrecy, to keep the draft down and to keep all sounds out. Dick grabs Tim by the waist as he does so, easily pulling the little sleepy baby down from the handle with a simple lift.

Tim is asleep halfway to the living room. Making little chuffed snuffling sounds of breathing against Dick’s shoulder. It’s cute. Painfully so.

There’s a whole setup in the living room. Alfred must have helped make it since there’s even a string of Christmas lights that give off a picturesque white glow against Egyptian cotton white sheets. There’s more pillows here than Dick can remember ever seeing in one spot, and the TV is muted, playing some kind of fireplace channel. Dick wiggles himself through the doorway to be greeted by the sight of Jason tucked on an air mattress and underneath a sleeping bag, drooling against a pillow with a dinosaur cover.

Tim gets his own sleeping bag off to the side. Gets tucked in and zipped up.

Dick’s own is in the middle, between both of his little brothers. There’s something to be experienced in the quiet dim light of a pillow fort surrounded by people that you love.

It isn’t long before he finds his eyelids heavy.

He falls asleep just as instantly.

-🦇-

Bruce knows something is wrong as soon as he steps into the cave.

He had been planning to go take a shower and then collapse onto bed until he got woken up by delightfully screaming children. He had done good tonight, given the GCPD what they needed to put a dozen or so traffickers behind bars–

But then he saw the computer chair pushed out– uncaring and haphazardly– something that Dick never does. Something that Bruce never does. Even Alfred pushes the chair back to its tucked under position. The computer is also on, with the document saved but not closed.

Bruce goes on high alert immediately.

He checks the cameras first.

Soon enough, the screens fill with every angle of the cave, the high definition cameras leave nothing unwatched.

Rewinding– Bruce hunts down the image of his ward typing away.

Bruce watches, intently, as Dick on the screen types in his nightly mission report. The only stumble in the process is the occasional sigh and the slamming of a backspace button. A misspelled word every now and again perhaps? Nothing that would leave the cave in this kind of state.

Then a little baby boy comes onto the screen top right of the screen.

Bruce actually pauses the feedback in shock.

Because–

Tim?!

Bruce had no idea that Tim even knew about this area of the house, let alone could get into it.

He hits play again, going onto another screen, another camera, and looking up permissions.

Bruce watches the exchange with half a mind, the other half of him is going through the cave logs and finding out who had permissions to not set off the alarms when entering or coming near the cave area. Bruce sure didn’t give anyone but Dick permission to be down here. Alfred was the administrator of the entire system. He finds the permissions in two keystrokes.

Alfred gave Tim the pass.

That solves that mystery.

Bruce makes a note of it, literally makes a note of it, sticking the pink sticky note onto his keyboard.

He’s too tired. He’ll ask in the morning.

-🦇-

Dick has nightmares.

Everynight.

He’s learned how to sleep around them– he’s had too. He knows how to make do.

When Jason throws a pillow at him in the middle of the night, Dick springs awake, gasping, grabbing at the dream attacker.

He calms down almost immediately, settling down and back into the air mattress with an escaped sigh.

“Sorry.” He whispers. “Did I wake you up?”

Jason doesn’t say anything. He’s just frowning in that way too serious thinking way of his, with the furrowed brow and downturned lips Dick knows all too well. Jason carries that look well beyond Robin– well beyond Red Hood even.

A moment of stillness, a tension between them in the soft light of the Christmas lights and cotton blankets around them.

Jason huffs, a huge exasperated sound. He throws his sleeping bag off of him, untangling himself out from his pulled together cocoon. He keeps making his irritated half breathless grumble– that sound will last long into adulthood too, and is never anything besides Jason trying to trick people into thinking he’s actually mad– and frees himself.

Then he wiggles himself right on over to Dick’s space.

“Go back to bed, Dickie.” Jason mumbles where he’s pressed his face into Dick’s shoulder.

Jason lays a heavy weight against Dick’s side, a warm comfort. It settles something– something primal– in Dick’s chest.

Dick sighs, and gets comfortable, falling back to sleep.

-🦇-

The morning comes with blueberry and strawberry pancakes. Alfred cooks them bacon as well, with sausage and hot chocolate and orange juice and fruits and eggs.

Bruce comes down to three children in his kitchen, halfway through breakfast and yelling at the top of their lungs along to the radio playing some top hit of the year.

Alfred’s in his comfortable jeans and yard shirt, but the kiddos are still in their pj’s, all wrapped up in blankets and Bruce’s own old shirts.

“A coffee for you, Master Bruce.” Alfred motions with the spatula to the other end of the counter, “I’ve had to keep the children away from it.”

That gets a laugh from the table. Bruce enjoys the cup as the children talk about their night to him.

It’s a warm morning, and as soon as the kids demolished their food, they were already running to get dressed to go and play in one of the manor’s almost endless rooms.

Leaving just Alfred and Bruce to clean up.

The perfect time to ask about the permission that Alfred granted.

So Bruce did.

He asked why Alfred did what he did, why Alfred made the alarms not go off when Tim got too close to the cave.

“The child takes a particular path home.” Alfred explains while he puts the saucepan in the sink. “It goes right by an entrance to the winding cave systems and sets off the alarm every single time he crosses the property line. I thought it would be easier to just let the poor boy bypass the alarm altogether.”

“You never told me about this?” Bruce helps with the dishes, as he always has, dries them when Alfred hands them over. He helps scrub the pots too. “I could have worked something out–”

“This was easier.” Alfred’s tone is no-nonsense. “I can’t see you keeping the boys out of your life forever. If young master Jason sticks around I’ll add him to the alarms as well.”

“Alfred.”

“Don’t you say my name like that, master Bruce.” Alfred scrubs with a hard movement. The pan is going to be cleaner than a hospital room. “I might be an old man, but I know when things come into your life to stay.”

Alfred looks at Bruce now, and there’s something in his eyes that is warm, that is unending, that is limitless. “I have some experience with it, after all.”

-🦇-

Bruce doesn’t know what to say.

He holds the two boys, one in each arm with one more one wiggling on his shoulders.

Catherine is in her work uniform– a simple grocery store chain– and she looks blankly at the scene before her.

Each child is head to toe covered in mud. Jason’s hair is slick to his head with it, his entire face covered with the stuff. Dick had started the mud fight but Bruce had ended it after he himself had been pelted with the sodden ground. Dick’s entire front is one brown mess, with his sparkling eyes and his smile being the only clear thing on his face. Somebody (Jason, most likely) had pushed him into the dirt face first. Tim is on Bruce’s shoulders, dirtied and caking up to his knees, shirt gone with handprints on his torso that match Jason and Dick’s palms exactly.

“What … happened?” Catherine dares to ask.

She had just arrived for dinner, climbing out of her 1983 silver Corolla. Her hair is limpy tied back with keys still in her hands.

Bruce had been asked by Alfred to gather up the boys to get ready for a meal. Bruce had obeyed, expecting maybe dirty clothes accompanying them, but absolutely not the recreation of the Lord of the Flies happening by the creek that he’s stumbled upon.

Bruce himself has massive mud balls across his chest– lucky pot shots by Dick while Bruce had been wrangling Jason down off of the branch he had claimed for his throne. Tim had to be hunted down in the actual creek– Bruce had never found the kids shirt– so Bruce is also sopping wet up to his mid-thigh.

Overall, not a great impression.

“I’m bringing them inside to clean them up now.” Is what Bruce decides to answer Catherine’s question with. “They’ll be ready for dinner in a few minutes.”

This gets groans from all three of them, yelling and tugging at hair and clothing. Jason waves excitedly at his mother’s voice and tries to get himself free from Bruce’s grip. “Hi mom!”

“Hello sweetie.” Catherine answers on autopilot. Bruce knows that absent, shocked tone from the amount of times that he’s done it himself. “You look like you had fun today.”

That gets them all going about their day, about how they had been playing fun cool games and it had escalated into a war and how Bruce was such a meanie by coming to interrupt their last battle. They’re all wiggling, bursting with energy and excitement and not being big enough to contain it.

Bruce knows he’s fighting a losing battle and begins to put them down.

“Don’t get your mother dirty.” Bruce warns Jason as he releases the boy’s hand.

Dick and Jason are off like rockets.

Jason to his mother, chattering away at a million miles an hour, and Dick to the doorway, pulling off his dirty shoes so he doesn’t track mud through the house. Tim also begins to wiggle, pulling at Bruce’s hair to be let down.

Bruce acquiesced to the silent request.

Catherine laughs at the way that Jason explains how Dick threw mud at his hair and how Jason got him back by using Tim as a distraction.

She leans down and clears a spot at Jason’s forehead for her to give a gentle kiss too. “You’re a very silly boy.” She chides him, moving up the stairs to meet Bruce and Dick and Tim at the door. Bruce holds the heavy side door open, the mudroom beyond holds a basket for dirty shoes and a basket for dirty clothing that needs to be contained.

Catherine gets into the room and gives Bruce a smile, “Thanks for looking after them this weekend.”

“Anytime. Jason and you are welcome at this manor anytime.” Bruce responds, and is actually rather surprised that he means it.

Catherine isn’t here for Bruce, not like the rest of the vicious visitors who come in and out of his estate. She’s here because her son loves it here. She’s here because she genuinely cares for the wellbeing of the children.

She leans down and gives Tim a soft ruffle of his own hair. She reaches and pinches Dick’s cheek as well, a soft squish and gentle words about being nice to each other.

She couldn’t give less of a sh*t about Bruce, beyond pleasant words and appreciation and parenting tips.

Bruce has never really been seen outside of the Wayne name, the CEO, of Brucie, the fool, and Batman, the hero.

It’s nice to be acknowledged as just Bruce.

Bruce, the dad.

-🦇-

Dick decides that he needs to meddle with the timeline a little more.

He hates having to do it–

Okay that’s a lie.

He hates that he doesn’t know if this would even work. He hates that he might be causing their downfall with each step. Dick doesn’t want to fall into nothingness here, he wants to keep his family together, wants to keep his family close to him and whole and uninjuried and alive.

If he needs to meddle with lives then so f*cking be it.

He doesn’t know what might come out of this, but he’s going to get up and do it anyway. If this is what causes the sun to burn out then Dick will carry that burden all the way to his grave. Again.

Dick can’t let life go how he knows it could.

He could get his old family back, familiar, with the same scars and the same burdens and the same haunted expressions that Dick knows better than the back of his own hand.

Or he could try his damndest to make everyone’s life just a lot easier.

“I think Mrs. Catherine is sick.” Dick tells Bruce offhandedly during patrol.

They’re both listening out to the police radio, overlooking the city from a high point of the Wayne tower. Dick’s been munching on a granola bar, (peanut butter and strawberry! Handmade by Alfred and absolutely something he’s missed.) and Bruce is drinking some ridiculously nutritious protein smoothie thing. The two of them are going through a slow night– mostly a couple of muggings here and there, with a couple more basic calls about loud neighbors or annoying dogs.

Bruce stops his train of thought mid sip. Dick can see the way Bruce has to carefully derail himself, gather up a new system of tracks, then start back up on a new topic. Dick’s been Bruce’s son for too long to not know how to give Bruce time to consider a topic. Give him time to marinate, and simmer, and consider all of his options before he could formulate an opinion.

It takes a while, but Bruce finally does kick into gear with a, “She does look thinner each time I see her.”

Catherine has been coming over more and more often, with occasional visits to their apartment after school when Bruce or Alfred were tied up and needed the children to have an hour or two of leeway before either one of them could pick the boys up. Bruce had originally offered to hire a chauffeur, but Catherine had told Bruce that Tim and Dick could simply stay at her apartment to visit Jason until he had free time.

Tim loved the woman, attached himself to her with a fierce grip into her jeans and wobbled after her whenever Catherine was. Jason thought it was adorable

(Jason made jokes about adopting Tim faster than Dick could. Fat f*cking chance.

Dick’s going to adopt them both.)

Dick has noticed that Mrs. Catherine is slowly seeming to fall apart. Gets weaker and weaker as her shift hours get lower and lower. Dick’s heard whispered conversations he shouldn’t have been eavesdropping onto about not wanting to move back in with Jason’s father– about bills that she might not be able to pay soon, about the doctors appointments that are starting to ramp up, about having to go to court and argue to keep a child that was hers in all but DNA.

Jason had lost his mother last go round once to a disease that had taken one too early in his life, and another mother to a betrayal that ripped his heart out.

Dick wasn’t going to let Jason lose this Catherine anytime soon. Not if he could help in some way.

-🦇-

It’s Jason’s birthday today. He’s invited his friends from school and his brothers? best friends? cousins? Dick and Tim.

Tim was younger than everybody else and Dick was older.

Jason only invited people he liked though. For sure! And he’s been talking about Dick and Tim for, like, ever so all of his friends know who they are even if they don’t go to the same school.

Jason invited two friends from school and his two brothers Dick and Tim.

Mom’s going to be baking a cake, which is just so cool, and Jason has saved up all of his money from doing chores and helping with the bodega downstairs to go to the really fun arcade.

Jason is so excited.

Bruce even promised to help out mom today– he’s going to be the one to take them to the arcade while mom and Alfie bake the cake and man the kitchen. Bruce is so cool, he’s so big and broad, and he always picks Jason up when Jason asks and has all kinds of fun facts to share.

Dick gets the front seat because he’s older, the big nerd, but he ignores Bruce’s warnings and turns all the way around to talk to them in the backseat. Jason, his two school friends, and Tim are all scrunched up and giggling, excited to play certain kinds of arcade games and betting on who’d get the most tickets at the end of the day. Jason even has his best shirt on! It’s sort of greenish blue! Mom said it looks good on him, patting his head and kissing him on the cheek as she waved their car goodbye.

The car they ride in is super fancy and it goes really fast, but since the arcade isn’t that far so they don’t get to go that fast. Bruce promises that if they’re good, maybe he’ll go out on a freeway and go as fast as he can just to make them happy.

(Jason thinks that he won’t go as fast as mom does sometimes when she’s late and mad, screaming out words that Jason can’t repeat as she passes people.)

But it’s the thought that counts.

The arcade is all purple lights that make Bruce’s smile light up a bright blinding white. It makes Jason’s socks glow too, along with Dick’s white circus shirt and Tim’s shorts. The place smells like pizza and french fries and Jason can’t wait to be able to play all of the games he wants. He’s been thinking about this for months. He’s got just enough money saved up to be able to buy enough credit to play six machines.

It’s his birthday and he’s going to have so much fun.

Bruce checks them all in at the desk. He’s talking to the worker behind the counter. Dick holds Tim’s hand and they all talk about who can get the most tickets by the end of it. Maybe they could even pool enough to get the main prize!

They get their little wristbands– the ones that say that they actually came in here for real and weren’t sneaking in the back.

Before they break off into the wild of the arcade, Bruce hands them each a little game card.

Jason holds it in his hands, looking at it with wide eyes as he reads over the big UNLIMITED that has been printed along the side. It’s purple and glittery, and even comes with a lanyard. Jason has snatched a lot of these cards from the garbage bin but he’s never seen one that looks like this before.

“Have fun.” Bruce tells them all. “I’ll be by the laser tag area on my computer if you need me for any reason at all. You guys have six hours here, okay?”

Jason can’t get over the glittery purple of the card in his hands. It’s so painfully beautiful.

“Okay Bruce!” Dick’s smile is wide and sharp, and Jason has learned that nothing good comes from it. “I’ll look after everyone.”

They get set free into the game room and Jason immediately has to try it out. Has to know-

He turns to the first machine he can see– it’s one of those skeeball machines, the one that’s easier to throw into the hole instead of rolling it up the ramp– and inserts the card.

The machine gives out a little ping!

The remaining balance is 999.99.

Dick moves right beside Jason, slotting his own card into the machine.

“I bet you I can win that big Superman stuffed plush.” Dick challenges.

He’s talking about the really, really big plushies that hangs from the very top of the prize corner– the one that are as big as Bruce. They have three actually– a Superman, a Wonderwoman, and a Batman. They’re all cartoony and more beanbag than stuffed animal– but Jason had never seen anybody win them before.

But then again, Jason has never seen these cards in use before. Maybe with an unlimited number of games to play tucked away in them, they could actually do it.

“We have six hours.” Jason says back to Dick, already fishing for a skeeball.

He throws it, perfect aim. Right in the 500.

“I think we can win all three.”

-🦇-

They can.

They do.

Bruce can’t fit the things in the back of his car. He has to wrangle them onto the roof with the help of the employees of the arcade. They bungee the massive stuffed superhero bean bags onto the top of Bruce’s Porsche.

Jason was the best at laser tag and he had gotten the best scores out of anybody. Tim had been too little to play so he and Bruce sat outside while Jason demolished the others! The two school friends were chattering about how they were gonna use all of their own cool prank winnings at school tomorrow. They had gotten a lot of weird whoopie cushions and prank pencils and books and fun rings and slingshots!

Jason had saved up all of his winnings and had gotten the Wonder Woman plush. Dick got the Superman one, while Tim had just enough to get the Batman.

They drop off the two school friends on the way back to Jason’s apartment. Six whole hours after school was reaching towards nine o’clock, and the boys had only been able to get to come to the arcade– not the afterparty at Jason’s house.

Their apartment buildings are right next to one another though. Their parents are waiting on the stoop and chatting with one another when Bruce pulls up front.

They thank Bruce for being so nice, for taking the boys out and escorting them all throughout the day, and greets a “have a good night” before going their separate ways.

During the winding path back to Jason’s own home undoubtedly filled with pizza and french fries and soda, Jason's eyes start to weigh heavy. Tim’s already long gone, asleep on Dick’s lap in the back. Jason rides the front now, looking at the streetlights as they pass.

“Thanks.” Jason tells them, over the sound of the fast engine and the radio playing some old music. “Thanks for taking me out today. It was really fun.”

“Anytime, Jaylad.” Bruce answers. His voice is soft, eyes crinkling from where they’re focused on the road. “Happy birthday.”

It was a good birthday.

Jason holds the glittery purple unlimited pass in his hands. There’s no dates on it, no expiration. He didn’t even have to spend any of his saved up money– but now that the high from the day is waning, he wonders what he can do with it.

He’s got nearly twenty whole dollars burning a hole in his pocket. It’s his hard earned money, yes, but it’s not everyday that you get to celebrate something. Money is meant to be spent on something you enjoyed if you worked so hard for it.

They pass by the ice cream shop that Jason had met his brothers Dick and Tim in. The lights are still on and the people inside look like they’re still serving.

“Can I buy you ice cream?” Jason has to ask, “I know Mom and Alfie are waiting for us, but I didn't spend any of my allowance today.”

Bruce laughs a little bit, gently. “Maybe in a day or two I’ll allow you to buy me ice cream. I believe we still have so much food to eat at home, chum.”

It’s not a fair trade, they both know it, but Jason can’t get any more even than this. Jason only has so much to give, and Bruce has given him so much already. He’s got Dick and Tim and Alfred and food and memories and a fun cool Dad-...someone.

“Thanks for letting me hang out with you.” Jason has to say again, forcing all his genuineness in his voice. He has too. All of the emotions inside him bubble up and boil over and become all kinds of tangled up in each other and he has to let Bruce know. “With Mom getting sicker, we couldn’t really go out as much.”

“Is she doing okay?” Bruce asks as he pulls into the guest spots for Jason’s building. He’s lucky the parking garage locks here or else Bruce wouldn’t have any tires left by the time he came back– not with these new branded ones. “I don’t want to pry.”

Jason doesn’t know how much he can say. He doesn’t even know how much he actually does know. Jason’s just a kid, he’s a kid who’s just turned seven, and he listens to his Mom cry over hours at work in her room. He only knows that he can’t help her. Jason’s still just a kid–

“I don’t think she’s getting better.” What he manages to reply is almost barely a whisper. “I think her work is going to stop paying for our doctor.”

Bruce gets real quiet now. Really, really quiet. The kind of quiet that teachers get sometimes when Jason tells them that his biological dad’s in jail.

But he manages to smile at him, accompanied by a gentle hand on his shoulder, as he unbuckles his seatbelt. “I’ll talk to her about it, okay Jaylad?”

Jason smiles, big, showing off his little gap teeth. “Thanks, B.”

-🦇-

It’s easy enough to step into people’s lives sometimes.

Arthur Brown (Cluemaster, in another life, in another time) walks into the TV studio with a pitch idea and a dream.

He had once been made fun of, by an executive who was a terrible crime ridden caricature of a man– a man who had been in the pocket of big named organized crime families and had been in charge of the news media of Gotham. In another life Arthur Brown had been broken down and turned to a life of less than clean living to pay the bills, ruining his wife and daughter in the process.

Today he walks in and he’s got an appointment with somebody else entirely– a woman who’s all no nonsense and pissed that five out of her twelve board of directors had been busted up by the GCPD a week ago with damning evidence of their crimes provided by the city's bat themed vigilante of all people.

She loves his ideas. Arthur Brown gets signed right away as a producer on a long running game show network. He’s going to bring in some fresh and fun ideas to the business. He proposes fun stakes and flashy sets, with people from the city who need the money or the cars or the food that these games can provide.

It’s a wild hit.

Alfred watches the shows while he cleans, humming along to the theme songs.

Today, Arthur Brown goes home to his wife and daughter with great news and a smile. Stephanie, his baby girl, says that she's so happy for him, and giggles wildly when Arthur throws her into the air.

Life, from now on, will be different for the Browns.

-🦇-

“I can’t accept this.” Catherine holds the contract in her hands tight. The grip of her knuckles is white with the force she exerts in the thin paper. “This is too generous.”

It’s beginning to turn into winter now. The sky is gray, churning, and threatens to storm white snow every single day. The apartment buildings here are getting chilled with their only saving grace being that Gotham is built on a natural gas line, so the heating is cheap when it needs to be turned on. The problem is that the landowners don’t actually want to turn on the heat until the storm finally breaks, and by then, the winter settles in everyone's veins.

“It’s the going rate of somebody in that position.” Bruce informs her.

Catherine scoffs, shaky knees and even shakier fingers.

The boys are in the library, doing homework. Catherine had come to pick Jason up after Bruce had invited them both for dinner. Jason had been able to make it– but Catherine had been working overtime so she had sent Jason on his way with Alfred to Bruce’s manor after school.

Thirty-eight hours a week.

Her hours had been cut to just thirty-eight a week.

A week ago it was forty and a full time job.

She was officially part time now, part time and unable to qualify for benefits. Curse her sh*tty manager. Curse that woman to hell and back– and then some more. Catherine had doctors appointments to make, a kid to take care of, and an apartment that she owed rent on.

She had walked up the manor steps with a tired body and a mind twirling through all kinds of different hoops she needed to work through.

Alfred had greeted her at the doorway, ushered her inside and told her that the children were in the library.

Bruce had been waiting for her halfway through the journey.

With a contract.

An offer of a job.

A career.

One that wasn’t stocking selves and working a cash register. One that wasn’t on her feet for several hours a day.

“You can’t expect your current head of–” Catherine squints down at the paper again, reading the title. “–Gotham Charity Management to be very happy with the unexpected replacement.”

Bruce just shrugs, easy, the way only people with money knew how to do. “He’s retiring in a month. He’s going to travel the world with his wife and two daughters.”

Catherine bites her lip and looks back down at the contract in her hands, still uneasy. “You can’t just give this to me. I’m underqualified– I barely finished highschool. Bruce, if this is you feeling sorry for me I swear to god–”

“It’s nothing of the sort.” Bruce tells her, his voice stern and there’s something flashing behind his posture that sends a chill of what could be fear palpable through the entire hallway. Catherine always knew that there’s something that could be dangerous in Bruce, and the set in his jaw proves her correct.

She knows– has always known– that the Bruce she knows is different from the man that gets slandered in the media. She’s known it ever since she first had seen the man holding onto his children, panicked and half mad with worry. Catherine’s a smart woman. For all that she’s been through in her life, she’s at least proud to say she’s managed to get this far all on her own and even with Jason in tow.

Bruce pulls his words together, a moment of slow breath, as he gathers up what he wants to say.

He lays out exactly what he’s seen in her, how he knows that she interacts with many charities in the city. He tells her about how she knows what each charity does and how each charity affects which demographic and how each outreach program could be improved upon. The man who has this position now– the one who’s retiring soon– had been a man just like Catherine, before Bruce’s parents had snagged him during his recovery in Thomas’s charity ward in the hospital and gave him a future.

A person who doesn’t use the programs they offer can’t exactly be the best person for the job now, couldn’t they?

No, this position– this career– is fit for someone who knows how it is to be in the shoes of someone who has needed it. It was one of the finer intricacies between someone good for the job and someone who would be good for the people.

“If you don’t want this job, I can find another who uses the majority of the charities on the list Wayne Enterprises gives too.” Bruce says quickly, noting the discomfort on her face. “But Catherine, you are a good person, a good woman, and I know that if you could get a job that doesn’t take you away from your son– you would take it.”

The sound of pealing laughter comes from the open doors of the library. Children’s laughter.

“I know I would.” Bruce offers with a final uptick of his mouth. Gone is the man who registers as DANGER! in the lines of his shoulders, and back is Bruce, fellow parent to the boys she considers hers.

sh*t.

Catherine looks down at it again, the contract, the offering of a job that she never would have ever in a million years have applied to.

She thinks about her sh*tty manager’s face when she puts in her two week notice. Imagines the reaction when she tells Jason that they can spend more time together. When she can buy Jason a new coat for the upcoming winter this year, instead of going into the thrift stores and hoping they got lucky. She was looking forward to a time when she stops having to worry about bills– even how unlikely that may have been with her measly income– and now it’s there, within her reach, palpable.

Maybe, with this, she’d be able to finally put Jason in the same school as Dick and Tim– the single thing that Jason had put on his Christmas list this year.

She does take advantage of all of the charities that are around her area. She lives on food stamps and the sometimes community pantries of churches. She goes to the places that she frequents and tries to give as much as she takes. She offers her time, what little time she has during the day when her hours are odd, and helps out with food kitchens and feeding programs and recovery houses. She has tried to be the best she could be with what she had and tried to teach Jason to be the same.

She pulls the contract close now, close to her chest as if the warmth of the future could warm her up now. “Can I think about it? Can I take a day or two?”

Bruce just nods, smiling softly. “Of course. Take all the time you need.”

Jason’s laughter tinkles in the air as she turns her heel towards her son.

-🦇-

Catherine takes the job.

She takes it for her son.

Jason bursts into tears when Catherine tells him that not only that she’ll be around more for him after school, but also that if Jason really, really wants to, he can apply to go to the same school as Dick and Tim. She’s going to get them an apartment with heat that works all summer just because they can.

She wants to get Jason the braces he so desperately needs, maybe even to send him to the optometrist and get him checked out for glasses. Jason is going to get checked up, get his booster shots, and anything he’s missed or needed in the past few years, they’ll make up for– they could afford it now.

She takes the damn job for insurance as well, to finally try and figure out what’s been dragging her down, making her lethargic and feeling frailer than a year ago. She wants to understand the stuff that the free clinic doctors can’t seem to figure out.

She’s going to make the people respect her. Catherine’s going to make a name for herself and she’s going to take the Wayne Industries Chairty Department by f*cking storm.

Dick helps Jason apply to the school the very next day, the two of them talking about it with heads bent and over grilled cheese sandwiches while they both do homework after school. Catherine holds Tim on her hip as she cooks another couple more sandwiches for everyone else.

Catherine Jonah Todd is going to make the world a better place– she promises this with her whole chest– or she’s going to go screaming into her own grave trying.

-🦇-

“Dick, could you come here for a second?”

Bruce is sitting on the couch, a laptop in front of him, watching over the kids as they play.

(Dick is training them. Bruce knows this– he can see it– but nobody says anything as Dick coaches them through another way to do a flip– dodge a punch– how to wield a freaking sword.)

Dick walks on over, telling Jason and Tim not to kill one another.

(Jason and Tim immediately start to try and punch each other hard enough in the kidneys that the other would pee blood.)

Bruce has his laptop connected to the batcomputer, working remotely in the solarium and getting sunlight in the warm manor as opposed to sitting in the darkness of the cold cave. Dick wiggles himself into Bruce’s lap (he’s small! He’s been thrown back to when he was– is– ten and he’s going to take ruthless advantage of his almost four feet of height while Bruce still allows him too) and looks at what Bruce called him over for.

Well.

Bruce has found Dick’s tracking systems.

They’re bugs– little feelers he has set out on various cities around the world to alert Dick if anybody meeting his criteria was found, caught on camera, or mentioned in any news.

Lady Shiva never came up– of course she doesn’t because she was too good for that– but it appeared that somebody in a distant, almost safe, chat room was asking after David Cain’s services to assassinate a politician. The computer was picking up on the keywords, alerting with a little sidebar blip.

Dick settles against Bruce’s lap and chest with big innocent doe eyes, all the while being a nuisance and taking up as much space as he can. “What’s up, dad?”

Bruce’s miniature heart attack at being called dad eases up the tension written in his shoulders into something…soft.

He seems to have forgotten that his ward has set up the batcomputer to look for assassins to track, because he’s bringing an arm around and hugging the life out of Dick.

It’s a cheap trick but it works every time. To get Bruce off your back when he was curious about something, all you had to do was casually drop a ‘dad’ or two in conversation and Bruce was putty in your hands. The world’s strongest hero, weak against such a small word from Dick. It’s mostly a stall tactic, to hold off on the conversation until later, but it’s 100% effective.

(Dick had used it all the way up until Bruce had died.)

Dick basks in the glory of Bruce’s all encompassing hug, allowing Bruce to hide his face in his hair. Dick had forgotten how strong Bruce was for so very, very long. It’s nice to be reminded of it sometimes.

It also helps from the angle that Dick is trapped in the laptop’s screen can be seen without trouble so Dick can go over the whole conversation unfolding in real time, trying to get a read on where in the world his little sister might be.

-🦇-

Jason starts his new school with a new backpack, a new pair of sneakers (that make him run very fast!) and a new blazer that’s apparently his new uniform. It’s something he has to wear everyday to class.

No more having to pick out cool shirts everyday, no more having to hide the fact that he only had so many shirts to choose from– it’s weird to have to have that kind of choice taken away from him. Extremely weird for someone who’s done it for most of his school life.

But it’s also really cool to get to see Dick and Tim at lunch during the day.

They all sit together, eating their food and talking about classes and doing homework and discussing whether or not the villain of the week Batman is fighting really is worth the effort. It’s a fun way to spend an hour a day with his bro– with his not-brothers.

It absolutely makes Jason instantly take to the new school environment.

His grades before were stellar, all A’s, high achieving marks, great teacher recommendations. The teachers here just expect more-

And Jason rises to the occasion easily.

He’s always liked a challenge, always liked proving that not only can he do something, but he can do it better than everybody else. He turns in assignments after he gets them and he’s soaring to the top of the class faster than a geyser. Jason loves being challenged and this new environment might as well be his second home from.

He doesn’t even notice that somehow, someway, he’s included himself into a strange and small enclave that Richard Grayson has built around himself. That people have been trying to be friends with the ward of Bruce Wayne for ages and ages now– and yet Richard has only bothered to latch onto the equally hard to reach Drake kid.

Which makes Jason Todd the approachable one.

And it gives Jason the opportunity to make a lot of new friends, very fast.

But that’s not to say that many of those friends actually manage to stay.

Jason learns fast, faster than most anybody else. He is quick and he is smart and he is under the protective wing of his big brother–

A protective Big Brother that knew all of the dirty secrets in Gotham.

-🦇-

Janet Drake comes back to her home, exhausted and tired and wrung out from her travels. Jack is already half asleep, already moving towards the master bedroom to set himself down and go to bed. Jackets get tossed to the back of the couch, their bags are at the bottom of the staircase and they are just walking through the door just as the light of dawn breaks through the trees.

Janet, only by the grace of God, looks into her son's room to see what he’s up to.

Turns out.

Nothing.

The room is as it always is, neat and without many things to clutter it. Tim is allowed nothing in his room besides his clothing because he keeps messing, cluttering it up, so Janet has gotten into the habit of making sure he’s not doing anything wrong in here. Again.

(She has caught him one too many times taking things apart as much as he puts things together. It only took a toaster on wheels for her to realize it, and two taped up male cords from salvaged appliances for her to enforce the rule.)

Well. You really can’t do anything wrong if you aren’t here, Janet supposes.

Neatly made bed, nothing but the rug on the floor. No kid in the bed, asleep at the tender hour of four am.

“Jack!” She calls down to her bedroom, where Jack is lying down. “Jack, did we send Timothy to school already?”

A muffled sound– maybe a no?– Janet was sure that she hadn’t sent her boy to boarding school early. Hell, did they still send him to that boarding school or did they hire a stay-at-home nanny for Tim to go to Gotham Academy and make friends with his future business partners like they talked about?

sh*t. She was too tired for this.

Timothy will turn up. Sooner or later, she thinks, going back into the masters bedroom following the sound of Jack’s snores.

-🦇-

“Are you sure this is safe?” Tim asks.

Dick is standing on the ground where he’s pulled out mats and everything. “Yeah I’m pretty sure.”

Jason is hooked up to a rope on his belt, which has been looped onto the railing on the other side of the foyer and then back to where Dick stands on the bottom floor.

Tim frowns, his little brow furrowed in worry. “I’m gonna need more than just a ‘pretty sure’–”

Jason’s already jumping.

Dick yanks on the rope, pulling all of the slack as fast as he can. He’s screaming along with Jason, who’s in free fall, both in glee.

There’s not a whole lot of room for error here, but Dick’s always felt that he works best under pressure.

Jason tucks himself into a flip like Dick has taught them to do, once, twice, three-!

The mats, which have been set up three thick on the wall and two on the floor to catch Jason when he slams into them, the rope has slowed Jason down by a significant margin, and Dick’s laughing so loud that the whole house echoes with it.

Success!

Jason’s already climbing back up, hollering about “Did you see that! Did you see how I did!?

“Me next!” Tim’s already running, jumping up the platform rings. “Me next! I wanna learn how to do more than one flip!”

-🦇-

“–then we need to get fingerprints, of course, to eliminate the people who hadn’t been in the room.” Tim is saying as Bruce walks into the kitchen.

Bruce looks up from the paper.

Dick has Jason and Tim around the table (not a rare sight nowadays, Bruce has these children in his house more often than they aren’t here) and they’re all looking down at–

“Dick.” Bruce folds his newspaper with a SNAP!, voice more confused than it’s stern. “What are you boys playing with?”

Dick flashes a smile, sharp and deadly. Bruce feels the dread build up in his stomach at the sight of his son’s bright ideas. “We’re playing detective, B.” He says it in the most obvious duh voice he can dredge up, like he can’t even believe that Bruce is so dumb to question it, and absolutely nonpulsed by the way Bruce’s frowns grows.

Well. Bruce is just going to question why Dick has spread the latest nighttime vigilante case across the kitchen table and is letting two other children engage with it.

(Damn it, Dick, those are crime scene photos!)

Jason pulls an aforementioned crime scene photo graph and inspects it– the crime scene! The scene that has dead bodies and drugs and weapons! None of which were censored! Holy sh*t!– meticulously absorbing every detail.

The boy makes a gentle noise, one of those noises that people make when they’re mildly surprised by the poker hand they’ve been playing. Not the noise that a child makes when presented with evidence of murder.

“I think that we’re looking for at least two shooters– look at the spread of the wounds on this second man right here and the blood splash.”

Tim scoffs, like this is a golf commentary match, “Of course there were two gunmen, we need to be looking at who was in the room at the party versus who stayed downstairs the whole time. This whole case reeks of mob business–”

Do children normally not care about gruesome high end murder? Bruce thought that children would be affected by this kind of thing. All of those children psychology books turned out to be bullsh*t after all. There’s not a damn piece of information in there on how to deal with what's happening right now.

Bruce needs to probably put this game to rest before it really does take off. He can not explain to anybody– teachers, Catherine, the Drakes, Alfred– on why his kiddos are chatting about murder so casually.

At least they’re talking about solving the murders?

That is not a distinction that teachers would make when they bring up their worries about Dick at parent teacher conferences. That is not at all a distinction that Dick’s teachers make when they ask Bruce about why Dick’s not making any friends in his classes. Dick has friends– he has two of them that he’s claimed as his brothers if the adoption papers that Bruce keeps finding on the keyboard of the Batcave has anything to say about it.

Bruce sighs, confused but too tired to question it. “Boys. We don’t get to play this game where we eat. This is not a game for polite company.”

The little kiddos make little kiddo groans and moans and disappointed huffs. They start to pack it up in the box that has a clear ‘CONFIDENTIAL’ label in front.

Good.

Bruce pats himself on the back for doing such a good parenting. He’s set professional boundaries and allowed the children to know who is the boss. Maybe those children psychology books weren’t useless after all.

-🦇-

Catherine learns a lot at her new job.

She learns a lot more about the people who donate to the cause however. They get a lot of income for various charities by people looking to make tax breaks. It’s more annoying than anything else because with the big donations come with specific qualifying little asterisks near the money that tells Cathrine what she can do, what she can put it towards, where she can donate it to, how she can distribute it in the right amounts over a specific time frame–

It’s almost more effort than it's worth.

Almost.

Catherine also likes getting around the rules and making each of the charities under her watchful eye blossom to reach more people, obtain better supplies, work environments, and better people. There’s something viciously satisfying about making Park Row a better place to live by grabbing it by the throat and raising it up herself.

She also has enough health insurance to actually go to specialists now.

Jason gets checked out first and foremost. The whole gamut. He gets braces and he gets glasses so he can read at night with ease and he gets a clean bill of health from the doctors who say he’s in remarkable shape.

Catherine herself is in … much worse shape than her son.

Hello Mrs. Todd, I’m Dr. Dlamini from Gotham Hospital here with your biopsy results–”

Cancer.

She sits down at her scratched up table from her old apartment in her brand new one, hand on her chest as if it would stop the growing panic in her heart. Jason is playing a video game in the living room, she can hear him talking on the phone to Dick about … the latest crime rates …? Is Jason rattling off what to do to collect blood samples when nothing sterile is available?

She’s ignoring that. She’s ignoring everything about that. She’s dealing with her own problems right now as she clutches her own phone, call with the doctor long been dropped.

Breast Cancer. Caught in the early stages of Stage Three. HER2 positive, tumor growing too fast, borderline metastatic–

They need to do surgery right away. It’s a miracle that they’ve caught it as it is right now before the symptoms overwhelm her body– they need to do surgery to remove it right away, then a round of radiation, then chemo, and then hormone therapy.

She doesn’t know what to think about it. How to feel about it.

She doesn’t know what her emotions are doing, rolling around in her chest– her chest which is killing her from the inside. She feels like something had come and hollowed out her heart, ripped out something deep inside that was a vital component of herself. She’s elated that they can do something about it– but the fact that they have to do something in the first place sits strangely in her gut, a heavy boulder on her shoulders.

The whole thing is such a fast whirlwind turn of events. She would have died without the intervention of the doctors, if she didn’t have enough money to go to the hospital and demand why everything hurts.

She would have left her son all alone.

(She would have started using again, to deal with the pain.)

Jason, on the phone with Dick and Tim, starts up another rattling rant about proper procedures in criminal justice and how shows and novels never seem to get it right, oblivious to Catherine’s world shattering around her ankles.

-🦇-

It’s a rare moment of just Tim and Jason at lunch. The two of them sit at their normal table, open up their lunches, and see what they want to swap around.

Dick’s out of school, due to a ‘bad case of food poisoning’. He had been fine last night when everybody was laughing around a game of Wizards and Warlocks.

Now, today, Jason and Tim sit alone at a table that feels too large at a school that feels too empty.

Tim is the one who starts up first. “We know this is related to the Poison Ivy breakout last night, right?”

Jason trades his grapes for Tim’s cookies. “Oh. For sure. They aren’t the best at keeping secrets.”

Tim accepts the grapes. He likes grapes. He likes grapes a lot. He would have fought bare knuckle for the potato chips– but cookies he can let go. Jason knows this and swaps both easily. “I think they think that we genuinely don’t know about their big stupid secret. That’s why they won’t let us play detective in the kitchen anymore.”

They had taken to playing detective in Dick’s room. The photos that they had used to play had either ‘property of Gotham Police Department’ on the bottom or a serial number with a last name and a case file– along with a printed image of a little bat.

Really? How oblivious do they think Tim and Jason are?

“How can we not know?” Jason has to ask, mostly to his ham and cheese sandwich. “We’re not stupid.”

Tim just shrugs, a jerky push and pull of his shoulders.

The two of them eat their lunch, discussing how they could maybe trace Ivy’s headquarters back using the money she’s paying her henchman with.

It might help Robin to stop these immediate ‘food poisoning’ absences at least.

-🦇-

Tim has known that Dick Grayson was Robin for a long time now. He is a rather smart cookie, having skipped two grades with the private tutoring his parents provided him. He’s got unlimited internet access, a focus on the heroes that are real and live in his city. He browses deep backwoods internet boards and vaguely illegal online rings to get videos that they don’t show online.

He watched Dick Grayson fly once, promising him to do a quadruple somersault just for Tim several years ago. Tim had watched with anticipation-turned-horror during his first and last time at the circus, as two people fell not even ten feet from where Tim had been sitting in between his parents. The front row had to be questioned by police for hours for eye witness statements as Dick Grayson got pulled away by Mr. Wayne and out of the limelight.

Tim had sat while looking at the people taking pictures and combing over the crime scene, and had watched as the bodies got moved away halfway through the long night and into the back of a coroner van. The police had asked everyone about everything they could, ignoring when the circus people came up and directly told the force that the culprit was the mobster who had tried to shake the circus down for money a week ago.

Tim had remembered that night well.

Extremely well.

And then Dick Grayson broke into his house during a thunderstorm, and asked if Tim wanted to have a brother.

Tim, of course, wanted a brother. He had been asking his parents for a brother through their official channels– email, fax, through Sandy the secretary– for years now. He had sent them notaries for Christmas and his birthdays and had not so subtly hinted at it during conversions when he had been sent to school.

Dick had offered the perfect compromise. Tim got a brother and his mother didn’t need to bother to birth another Drake.

Tim had continued with his obsession with Batman and Robin for months into his attachment to Dick and Mr. Wayne. He had looked into the new information on the vigilanties every night, been as careful as the people who picked up at the circus all that time ago. Tim had looked and looked and looked–

Looked until he found a blurry, half black video of Robin pulling a quadruple somersault to crash into a mugger and bring the woman down before she could hurt the man she held at knifepoint.

Tim recognized it. He recognized the hair and the posture and the flip.

It was easy from then on. He knew who Batman and Robin were, it was something that he kept close to his heart. He didn’t tell his parents. He didn’t tell his housekeeper, nor his teachers, nor his friends. He held it like a vice.

Til then came Jason, another brother, and a totally different variable altogether.

Tim had seen how Dick looked at Jason. Had known that Dick had already considered the other boy's family from the moment that Jason and Mr. Catherine had walked through the door of that ice cream parlor. Jason had been strange and new and smart and with a wicked sense of humor and a mind that Tim liked to bounce things off of.

Tim and Jason had somehow understood one another. They had looked at each other the first time Dick had limped his way to them during school lunch and had known.

Jason and Tim hadn’t said it, no words had passed between them but they had known.

They had known, but hadn't broken the seal of the heavy secret that rests between them.

Until now, of course.

-🦇-

Dick hurls, vomiting onto the nice streets of the Diamond District.

Fear gas curls around the air like translucent shadows, and Scarecrow’s men are on their first big run. Crane’s making a name for himself in a huge way by decimating the streets of the high end of Gotham.

It’s strange, not being at least somewhat immune to the effects.

Crane only had so many ways to manipulate the formula in the years he’s operated. The effects were potent– incredibly so– in his first ten year reign of terror. But they pettered off dramatically after every conceivable synthesized toxin and then cure. It had been a vicious cycle for a long, long time until Crane had finally given up his goat and put up his coat for good by hanging himself in his cell.

The man had gotten the news from his doctor that both his liver and kidneys were almost fully calcified from long term exposure to his own poison. There was no party after his morbid demise despite all the harm he’s done.

Now Dick is young– and so is Crane.

The fear toxin is fresh, new, untouched by humans before, and it’s strong in a way the first flush of a potent drug through a system always is.

“f*ck.” Robin curses to the ground. Soft and gentle where he’s leaned onto his own knees trying to get the sh*t out of his system. “Damn this sucks.”

People scream around them, civilians are sobbing, begging for their lives with hallucinations that aren’t real, shadows in their minds that can’t hurt them. Robin has learned a long time ago how to ignore the fear that leaks into his senses, the hallucinations of images and the screaming of his parents and siblings and friends. He had been mentally prepared for it.

Mentally? He’s pretty okay and hanging on.

Now physically is another story. The gas is souring his stomach and boiling his insides from the inside.

Christ he’s forgotten how much this job sucked sometimes.

Bruce is handling it much better, being a lot bigger and having had exposure and poison training while he ran around with the League of Assassins for a few years. He’s still not doing amazing but he’s still able to beat in the dime a dozen goons that have thick gas masks on and are trying their best to fill the streets with their modified gas tanks.

Dick remembers why their utility belts need to be heavy with equipment to do this job. Christ Almighty. f*cking hell.

There’s nothing worse than a fear toxin bender.

At least Dick holds tight to the thought that Jason and Tim are safe at home and protected from the darkness that grips at the edges of Dick’s vision. That Damian wasn’t even born yet to be hurt and Cass was on the other end of the entire world. Stephanie was safe and happy and doing great in gymnastics–

The edges of fear creak into those thoughts like claws.

What if maybe Dick has f*cked up the future irreparibly?

Maybe Dick has caused a huge wedge in their family by allowing everyone to come in early, by pulling people before their time and meddling with the outcomes of events that had been set in stone before. There’s something deep inside that’s screaming about messing with the timeline, about messing with the way things are meant to be.

A voice that sounds not like Dick expected it too rings louder than anything he’s stumbled across all these– those years. That voice of obsessive doubt sounds nothing like Bruce– nothing like Dick’s father– nothing like the old man that Bruce had become– nothing like the man who had whittled away at his own self until Gotham could stand on its own legs and still went out night after night. The voice of white knuckled tightly gripped fear sounds nothing like the man that Dick was half raised by, nothing like the well meaning mentor who sheltered Dick until Dick was able to fly on his own.

No.

The voice that screams Dick’s doubts, his fears, that chokes his throat up and settles like a lead weight in his chest and tears up Dick’s lungs sounds like Dick himself.

f*ck.

Dick vomits another dry heave. The emptiness of his stomach cramping.

It’s official. He really, really, really hates fear toxin.

-🦇-

Jack Drake stops by the Drake Manor for a thirty six hour layover before he gets onto a plane to go to the Middle Americas where he’ll be talking to hospitals about buying specific medical equipment from Drake Industries– and only Drake Industries. Medical supplies is a lucrative business and DI is known to be particularly high on top of the game.

He goes into his house, luggage full and ready to go into the laundry room to be swapped out with fresh clothes. He needs a full meal, a full day of sleep, and maybe a good long everything to face the people in the headquarters and the main offices.

First things first, however.

Jack finds his son in the kitchen, sitting on the countertop like he was raised in a barn eating rice with his hands, and with two other random children at the stovetop cooking what looks to be some chicken dish.

The scene wouldn’t be so weird if Jack knew which one was who. He knew who his son was, of course– Timothy had Janet’s freckles and face shape– but the other two he had no idea what their names were and why they were in his kitchen.

He frowns at the scene.

Did … Did Timothy have friends over?

“Oh.” Jack is travel worn, with his clothing rumpled from flight and his luggage still in his hands. His mind isn’t up to full speed just yet. “Timothy, you know that you have to ask us to invite people over.”

Timothy snaps his entire head to look at Jack. The boy still doesn’t move right, no matter how many times Janet has sent him to finishing classes. There’s something wrong with how the little bastard looks at you, how he jerks from one position to another, like a video not fully loaded. “I did. I scheduled with your secretary like you told me too.”

sh*t. Did he? Jack hasn’t checked his home calendar since eight months ago.

“Alright. Who are you two then?” Jack has to ask, maybe these two will be from somebody affluent–

“Dick!” The taller one smiles from where he’s holding the cookbook in his hands.

Well that’s just uncalled for?

“I’m Jason.” The one who’s between Timothy and the rude one in age answers the question better.

Timothy goes back to his food, picking up little bunches of rich and eating like a damn bird. The other two seem to take this as a sign to ignore the adult and go back to cooking.

“We add a bit of lemon zest next–” The one holding the cookbook reads off–

“How much, exactly? A handful? A whole lemon’s worth?” Jason has the spoon and he wields it like a dagger as he gestures around. “We gotta make this delicious for Alfred and Dad, you understand me?!”

“It just says a handful!”

“What does that even mean?!”

They argue, back and forth, bickering like children.

Well.

They are children, aren’t they?

Jack is feeling the migraine as it builds up behind his eyes.

“Add a quarter cup.” Timothy tells them both. “We can always add more but we can’t add less from the pot.”

The bickering cuts off, agreements ring out.

Jack–

Jack feels like a stranger in his own house.

There’s nothing here to comment on. He doesn’t know the children at the stove. He barely can hold a conversation with his own child before Timothy shuts him down with a few well placed sharp words here and there.

Jack turns from the kitchen, luggage in hand, and decides that he needs that nap right away more than he needs to bother with food.

-🦇-

Bruce is at the computer in the cave, sitting in his comfortable sweatpants and old Gotham Knight’s sweater, running a few samples of sem*n they’d collected from a crime scene through a government software named CODIS and other various systems that are obtained less than legally. The crime just seems to get worse by the day, more and more people coming out of the woodwork in elaborate costumes with elaborate schemes all effectively driven to the brink of insanity by one inane reason or another.

Dick jokes that maybe it’s something in the water.

Then Dick doesn’t joke that it’s something in the water.

Dick tells Batman to check it out, seriously, maybe even get Zatara or Zatanna or even the new player in the game called Constatine on it.

He’s sent samples over for inspection. Seventeen samples for each magician willing to do Batman a favor. Then of course seventeen samples for ten various labs across the country to look at and figure out composition and purity levels.

Now it’s just a waiting game for Dick’s hunch to come back either clean and safe, or Bruce feels like he’s going to have to spend a lot of WE money redoing pipes to get the lead content out.

While Bruce is waiting, there’s no harm in finishing up cases that have been on the docket for a few days.

This one is a serial rapist who attacked three men already. CODIS doesn’t seem to have anything on the culprit, but maybe work ID’s might, or government jobs, or that beautiful DNA database where everyone is sending a sample to get their ancestry.

There’s nothing that Batman can’t get into, nothing that stops him from finding out who’s been doing what.

Some people call this a gross overstepping of personal boundaries.

Bruce calls it a professional interest in people.

There’s nothing from the workers' cards, or higher up government jobs, but that ancestry database pings three or four close relatives who live near Amusem*nt Mile. Great.

He’s just got to find the right person in that particular family now, get their DNA, and secure it all nicely before dropping it off at the police precinct so they can make up some bullsh*t and secure an arrest warrant. Then if the police don’t Batman will make the man confess his crimes himself.

Easy enough.

A sound from the stairs grabs Bruce’s attention.

Alfred, maybe? Perhaps Dick’s coming down after school? Bruce didn’t lose that much time did he? These tests shouldn’t have been that long–

“Bruce?”

Bruce freezes, hands stopping on the keyboard entirely.

“Jason?”

Sure enough, by the uneven stairs, Jason stands. He’s got his Gotham Academy uniform, not a seam out of place, but his eyes are all red and puffy and he makes this little hitched sound–

Bruce is up, moving, running, already opening up his arms and asking “What’s wrong?”

He’ll figure out how children keep breaking into the cave later on. He’ll ask Alfred if this is his doing, or maybe ask Dick if he’s just allowing anybody to run around down here.

Right now?

Right now one of his boys needs him.

Bruce scoops Jason up easily in his arms, the heft and weight of the boy melting against Bruce’s chest instantly. Jason tucks his face into Bruce’s old sweater, folding himself up in Bruce’s arms as Jason wails out heartbreaking sobs.

“You’re okay.” Bruce is moving up the stairs– back up where Jason had just come from to get back to the manor above. “You’re okay.” He makes shushing sounds and gentle coos, brushing hair that flops back down into his eyes. “Jason you’re alright.”

The stairs down to the cave have been designed to be uneven, just off enough to make it hard to navigate safely. It’s so that if anybody does manage to stumble their way into the system that makes up Batman’s secret lair they’ll trip up and have to walk slowly or maybe be deterred all together. These sorts of stairs are not for children to casually move up and down with– but then again Dick had gotten used to them rather quickly didn’t he?

Jason is calming down now, hitching little soft sounds as he makes a wet spot on Bruce’s shoulder.

The manor is warm, bright, and there’s the distinct smell of cleaning supplies and old wood. Nothing like the wet rock and brackish smell that comes from the cold, dark cave.

Jason’s words don’t come out understandable for a long time, just a complicated mashing of sounds that might have been English at one point before it got scrambled.

(Or it might have been whatever deranged language that Dick is teaching them this week. Another vocabulary gets introduced into the house and Bruce hasn’t been this up to date on his Chavacano in years, much less its syntax and pronunciation that they’ve seemingly mastered after a month. The children are so scary fast at picking up words that Alfred and Bruce can’t even curse in other languages now because the children know what they’re saying.)

Bruce takes Jason to the solarium, the greenhouse attachment that holds all of the fresh herbs and the roses, rocking back and forth and making gentle noises as Jason chokes out his emotions.

Jason gets out that Catharine has finally told him that she’s dying.

Catharine had told Jason that she had been diagnosed with cancer, and Jason had been taken out of school early so she could see him before her surgery was scheduled.

Now Jason was a smart kid. He knew what cancer meant, he knew what it meant when he had to go to the hospital and listen to his mother tell him in no-nonsense tones what might happen to her. Jason had to say that he loved her, because there was a chance that he never would get to say that again.

Instead of going back to school, like where Alfred had agreed with Cathrine to take him, Jason had demanded to come home. Wayne Manor. Not the apartment down in Burnley– but home.

Had run right to Bruce, with all of his emotions in turmoil and wanting to be soothed. Run right into the most secret base of operations in the entire world– just to get a hug from his dad.

Bruce had provided.

Like Bruce will always do.

Jason cries himself in his arms, waiting for his mother to come back home.

-🦇-

Cassandra Cain.

Dick’s going to find her. He most certainly is. He’s not stupid (he’s actully rather scarily intelligent, for all the shields that he wears to keep people second guessing), but sometimes sh*t like finding a child with no social security and assassins for parents on the other side of the globe takes time and concentrated effort.

Bruce allows Dick his side projects.

Mostly.

“Why are you trying to hunt down Cain?” Bruce had asked one day, over a nice dinner event.

The whiteout gala was full of crystals and ice, diamonds and wine that was so pale and dry that all of the food had to be thick with fats and oils to counteract it. The garlic shrimp and alfredo was divine, which is what Dick was currently munching on. Bruce had a foie gras filled xiao long bao, rich and rare with real gold flakes sprinkled onto it.

The whiteout event was a winter-New Years bash that Batman and Robin had thwarted the robbery attempts of not once, not twice, but four times. There better not be anything wild happening here tonight. They better just have a nice dinner, talk to people who think way too highly of themselves, and then go home to sleep.

Dick was to hang out with Jason tomorrow, the two of them going on roller coasters in Amusem*nt Mile with Mrs. Catherine watching them.

If Dick had to spend all night caught up in some inane villain trap he was going to be too tired to have fun….

“I’m looking into something.” Dick responds to Bruce’s question with.

“You’re just casually looking into one of the most well known assassins in the entire world?”

“He’s a rather piss poor assassin if everybody knows about him, isn’t he?”

Bruce makes a little soft noise, a laugh that squeezes itself around his chest against Bruce’s fragile restraint. “Don’t avoid the question, chum.”

Dick just shrugs, making sure to use the right fork to stab at his shrimp. “I heard a rumor or two I wanted to check out.”

Bruce doesn’t even engage in that, just continuing to give Dick the Eyebrow of Doom™ that Bruce had picked up from Alfred.

Damn that eyebrow. It makes you spill your secrets.

“There’s a rumor that he was using a kid– like you do, as a partner.” Dick needs to word this just right, but thankfully he’s been preparing for this speech for quite a while now. It was inevitable that Bruce would find out what Dick had been doing on the computer– it’s not like any account was secret from the other or anything. That would only happen later, after Jason would run off to find his real biological mother–

The separation of accounts and locking away information under lock and key would come much, much later.

(It made Tim insufferable about getting into your personal information, is what the result of that was. It just made Tim better at crawling around where he wasn’t meant to be.)

So Dick plays the right cards now.

“I’m wondering about other kids like me.” Dick thinks to his team, somewhere out there just coming into their powers, just crawling out of the depths, just waking up to the world of superheros, how alone and strange the universe was to them now. “Just thinking about how you’re the only real business guy in your friend group I know of that has a kid my age. I can’t be the only one out there. I know I can’t be the only kid that finds themselves in a position that I was in.”

Bruce takes another sip of his dry wine. The ice glass it’s made out of is frosted over, chilly in its cotton napkin case, held gently in Bruce’s white leather gloves. Dick’s words were filled with euphemisms and an underhanded backwards way of talking about it, but the meaning was clear to the two of them.

Dick continues on, “I’m not lonely, not really, with Jason and Tim, but I want some other kids my own age who might be able to share in the burden of being such a young business partner with me– like you do with Clark and Diana.”

Bruce hums, gentle, an up and down motion of sound. “Like I have with Clark and Diana?”

Hook, line, and sinker.

Dick smiles, genuinely. This was going much better than it did the first time, when Dick just surprised Bruce with his new teammates and his new idea all at once with nothing to think about. Bruce hates surprises, he likes mulling things over for a while to get acquainted with his own thoughts.

“I wanted friends who knew what it was like to be in similar situations that I find myself in. So I looked into the rumors about Cain and Shiva.”

That catches Bruce's attention in a whole new and interesting way. “What do you mean, Shiva?”

Dick can’t reveal his whole hand, not yet, not when he has more than four aces, but he can certainly put down a pair. “I heard, by some of the ninja’s, that Cain had a girl– a girl about my own age who looked remarkably like Lady Shiva.”

Bruce takes another sip of wine, long and drawn out, his eyes are not at all focused anywhere near Dick’s head anymore.

He’s thinking hard.

That means he’s going to look into it now. He’s going to focus more efforts into it than Dick ever could–

Hell, Bruce might even sic some of the League on this.

Dick smiles innocently enough incase Bruce snaps out of it.

Get ready, Cass, because your big brother is on his way.

-🦇-

The white tie, whiteout event continues on as an unremarkable drag. It’s truly pretty here, sure, with all of the people dressed up in glittering diamonds and with the ice all around them, but there’s nothing interesting enough to keep him from jettisoning off into his brain for a bit.

And he is thinking.

Bruce considers his wards words. There’s some benefit in letting the superheroes gather their resources and pool together on babysitting baby heroes for a few weekends. Ollie’s got a kid now doesn’t he? Hasn’t Flash mentioned that he is dealing with his wife’s little baby cousin?

Maybe Bruce should look into it some more, give the kids a space to work all on their own, let their energies and strengths out, and hand them missions that Bruce knows his kid can handle.

Well, his kid and some others. It would keep them from wanting to be underfoot during the bigger, more difficult missions that were emerging as fast as they recruited people to combat them with. Telling the kiddos that they need to be focused as a team on evacuation or on information gathering might actually make their superpowered kids be on a task. Divert their powers into something useful and productive before something tempts them to turn.

Bruce halfheartedly flirts with some people here, talks with some others, he makes sure that there’s nobody here that doesn’t get personalized attention. It makes people feel like Bruce really does give a sh*t about them all.

Which Bruce doesn’t, not most of them, but it’s good business practice.

He’s still sipping on the white wine from dinner, he’s not allowing himself more than three glasses for this nightmare of a shindig.

Bruce grabs another hor devours, munching the rich texture of the veal meatball through the white sauce that has been artistically draped over it. Bruce eats a lot to keep up with his activity levels– he doesn’t get nearly as much press about it as Dick does since the kid could eat most of the appetizer bar and keep going– but he does. He just doesn’t like people noticing.

Like Janet Drake, who’s looking at Dick who's grabbing another round on his plate. Her and Jack had shown up in a blaze of glory– complete with ivory and forigen fabrics lugged by paid help and beautiful smiles. Bruce had looked and looked, but it looked like Jack and Janet had put Tim into the room where all of the young children stayed– or they might not have brought Tim at all.

A good chance to talk to Janet, though.

Bruce made his way slowly but surely over to her. They could talk, parent to parent, about their kids. A much nicer thing to discuss than stocks or investments or marriage prospects or who was sleeping with who– the usual works.

He makes his way in a loose circle towards her, taking his sweet time as his attention shifts from person to person.

When he makes his way within her earshot she perks up, stops looking casually around and keeps attention on Bruce and Bruce alone.

It’s a talent Bruce has wielded like a sword in social events his whole life. He drapes attention across himself like he does to his cape. Wields expectations like a fencer to manipulate people around him with a few words and a few glances. A brush of fingers across a shoulder, a lean-in-close whisper. It’s learned, all of it, everything having to deal with the crowds and making them want to know everything that Bruce has to say.

Reading the body language, asking the right questions, disguising the way he wants to wince away from people’s grabbing hands– Batman might hold a lot of training, but Brucie has a different skill set altogether.

Bruce makes his way to Janet, with an easy smile and a glass tilt of hello.

She allows him to stand by her with a smile.

She’s gorgeous tonight, in white linens and with ivory colors across her throat like a slit. She’s tall, thin, and with hair dark enough that the light stops shining through it.

She’s absolutely dangerous.

“Janet.” Bruce smiles, with every effort of not thinking he can possibly portray. “I see you’ve come out in full force tonight.”

She smiles back, “Brucie, lovely to see you here, like always.”

They idly pass back and forth pleasantries. Jack is somewhere wrapped with the rest of the crowd, talking to people and making sure they’re in each other's good graces, Janet seems amused, delighted to have such a person of high standing in her area.

And they quickly run out of simple pleasantries, too.

Bruce has gotten used to the parental banter of Catherine and the parent teacher associations. He’s used to the talk that’s mostly focused on the children and their accomplishments in school or outside of it. Bruce likes having a conversational shortcut like that since it's easier to talk to people when there’s something definitive to chat about.

Janet seems to not want to talk about her kid at all.

In fact, she was downright defensive about the subject.

Every question was met with cold indifference, or even outright hostility.

Bruce has no idea where he went wrong.

So he leaves. Bids farewell and moves to where Dick is hanging out by the food and the outdoor patio, plate full of goodies that Bruce hopes his ward would share.

They were definitely going to talk more about this gathering that Dick wanted to form.

-🦇-

Janet feels it in her bones, the more and more she watches Bruce talk and walk and drape himself over everyone who comes within ten feet of him the more she’s sure that Bruce has certain goals in mind.

She’s heard the rumor that Bruce has caught the baby bug once he had snatched up his little circus kid.

Not just any random adoption baby bug.

A very specific kind.

Janet wasn’t stupid. She had seen and heard Timothy’s transformation over this past year. He had bloomed into somebody that Janet didn’t recognize, didn’t realize was moving in a direction she had no idea of until she had come home and saw her little boy be a person that wasn’t her son.

She had asked Timothy, carefully, prying the information out of him one word at a time. Timothy had been so excited to talk with his mother, chattering on and on about his homework and his days at school and his new friends.

Richard Grayson. Jason Todd.

Janet had known who Richard Grayson was– she had been proud of Timothy in his networking capabilities.

Or better yet, she had been proud until she had seen the pictures that Timothy had taken of them all.

The older boys look … exactly the same.

There’s some kind of difference, sure, when you look hard at the slope of their noses and the way that their eyes upturned. The middle of them had much larger ears, the oldest had a look that was almost too pretty.

Janet looked at the pictures that Timothy showed her, the pictures of them all close together, cuddled up and laughing, being picture perfect children. Janet had seen the way that her own son was growing into features that aren’t Jack’s– that resemble the blue eyes and black hair of Tim’s real father–

The same black hair and blue eyes and strong jaw that the boys in these pictures are starting to develop.

Janet Drake doesn’t give a sh*t about who else Bruce Wayne has slept with, she is not letting the man take her f*cking son away from her.

-🦇-

Cathrine calls.

Her fingers shake on the dial pad because she feels terrible about this.

The ringing tone echoes loud, her doctor looks away to give her some privacy. Her hand again falls on her chest– or the remnants of it.

She had been getting better. She had been getting better.

“Hello, Pennyworth speaking for the Wayne residence.” The phone clicks, the soft tones of Alfred’s accent come droll through the spreaker. The sound of the man relaxes her a little bit– the sound of Alfred means that something good is coming, that something is going to be fixed, that something is happening and you don’t need to worry anymore.

“It’s Cathrine.” She tells him, speaking clearly and easily into the phone. She will not let herself falter here. “I’m going to need to ask if you can pick up Jason with the rest of the boys today. I’m afraid my doctor's appointment is going to take a lot longer than I was expecting.”

“Of course, Lady Cathrine.” Alfred doesn’t even seem bothered by the request. Catherine and him had an unspoken agreement about who would look after the children– and Alfred and Bruce had been so understanding about all this medical nonsense. They’ve been great, amazing people who love Jason just like Cathrine does, just like a son. Catherine loves the two boys they have just the same. All three children are amazing and bright and brilliant and deserve better than a mother who can’t hold her head up as she pukes through another round of chemotherapy or hates to look at anything resembling the color red.

She hates this. She does. She had the postoperative appointment today to see that everything had healed up correctly and okay. She had lost her whole chest, the only thing that ever made boys stop and pay attention to her– her f*ckin tit*– just to hear that the cancer might have spread further than what they had just taken from her. Too many medical jargon just to say that she wasn’t getting better. That she would still need to come to chemotherapy again, and still might relapse.

She’s not going to let this stop her. Not yet. She still has things to do. She has to see her child graduate from highschool, from college, get married, have a baby of his own. She still has so much to live for.

She’s not going to die from this.

She refuses.

Fingers ghost her chest as she puts the phone down.

-🦇-

Dick erases another half written word on the cave computer. Nightwi–

He had been working against nearly fifty years of muscle memory on this one, so it didn’t come easy. Dick had been Nightwing for a hell of a lot longer than he had been Robin, had been Batman, had been any other name under the sun. Dick liked the name Nightwing, liked his style and his costumes and the comfort and protection it offered. He liked being able to be his own person under the insignia of black and blue.

But being Robin was in his roots. Dick can’t deny that. He’s got the colors in his blood and the name fiercely remembered in his mother’s soft voice. He’s a dangerous combination of running too hot and then too cold, whiplash between a child and an old man.

He wants to be a child, desperately, and see’s the efforts he has put in begin to pay off. He checks in on people all over Gotham– checks in on the Brown’s and their picture perfect family now that money trouble has disappeared. Checks in on Huntress, and Bluebird, and the Foxes and–

He checks in on Terry and Matt’s grandmother, a young mother with a six year old boy who’s just thinking about tripping into college.

Then there’s Harleen Quinzell, who hasn’t changed into the toxin ridden Harley Quinn yet and won’t until the end of Jason’s run as Robin.

Maybe Dick should just go ahead and make Jason Robin. It’s not like Dick can learn anything else from flying underneath the colors. Dick’s already lived his own childhood– twice. Bruce did the best that Bruce could have done under the circ*mstances and Dick would love him for that until the end of time. He had loved Bruce for it, had loved Bruce until Bruce had died, had loved Bruce long after Bruce had died.

But …

Dick wants to be selfish a little longer. He likes being able to fit snug and secure underneath Bruce’s cape. Wants to feel the soft protection of Batman– of Bruce– for a little longer.

Just a little bit.

Dick deletes another half typed Nightwing, the report is halfway done. Halfway over.

Dick can’t help but feel the same way about his own nogalistic tenure here as Robin.

-🦇-

Jason picks up Tim, holding Tim right under the armpits.

Jason isn’t terribly tall yet– curse Dick for hitting a stride early and being four or five inches above them all– but Tim’s still small enough for Jason to hold him easily enough.

Well, maybe not terribly easy, as the tips of Tim’s toes drag on the floor– but it’s the principle of the matter really. Tim doesn’t put up much of a fight, he’s been rather listless these past few days and Jason is determined to get to the bottom of this. This sadness that permeates the household has gotten a hold on Dick and Tim and stops them in their tracks.

They need to go back to their training! They need to work on doing flips and stretches and aiming and defending themselves.

Jason isn’t letting anybody out of his grasp. Not anybody.

Not his mom, not his brothers, not his dad.

Jason carries Tim into the library, where Dick is typing something on his laptop and curled into a well worn fluffy bright blanket. Dick perks up when he hears their footsteps, just barely popping over the top of his laptop to watch Jason drag-carry Tim into the room.

Dick cracks an eyebrow up at the display, still working on whatever has a majority of his attention.

He slings Tim onto the couch first, before he himself pops up on the cushions. Tim allows this, limp and easy to bully into positions and Jason plops Tim and himself into Dick’s space, his personal bubble, his lap.

“Hey– Jay– I’m working–” Dick tries to wiggle away, moving his laptop somewhere safe and unreadable. He’s got a little furrow in his brow that means he really is on the edge of annoyed-to-no-return. Dick only loses his temper once in a blue moon but Jason is really good at pushing the buttons to get Dick there really fast.

Tim, however, is also really good at soothing all of them. All Tim has to do is look up with his big sad pale eyes and Dick melts all over himself with happy little sounds.

Jason continues his relentless pursuit, dragging Tim behind him to crowd up into Dick’s space.

And Dick eventually runs out of couch.

Jason wins by default. Ha.

Tim gets put into Dicks lap, doing his best impression of a ragdoll and a begging puppy.

Dick grabs onto Tim immediately, latching onto with an instinct that is born from being a trapeze artist first and human second. Jason has seen Dick grab onto anything in his reach, like a reflex, not even realize he had been doing it. There’s nothing that Dick won’t hold onto when pressed into his hands.

(Unlike Tim, who will look at the offering with his big unblinking eyes and lean back when you try to hand it to him. He won’t pick something up unless it’s been put down and he knows exactly what it is.)

Jason bullies himself into the space that doesn’t exist. Making, carving it out, prying it apart and settling into the scar.

Dick huffs, loud, annoyed.

He relents though, eventually, letting his limbs go loose and easy, allowing himself to be crushed by his brothers like it’s his right to be a human cushion.

“You’re not allowed to be sad.” Jason demands of him. “Do you understand me?”

Dick laughs, making Tim finally slam his hands down for balance on the arm rest as Dick giggles. Jason can tell that Dick’s whole heart isn’t in it, but it’s better than he’s been for the past couple of days.

“I’m serious.” Jason tells him, jamming his pointy fingers into Dick’s ribs. “Don’t you be sad. You can’t. Not when everyone around us is also sad.”

Dick’s giggles soften, just a little bit, “Oh Jaybird, I’m okay–”

Jason slams his head into the cook of Dick’s neck, right underneath Tim's own set of wild hair. “Don’t lie to me! You and Tim have been upset and Mom’s been upset and Da– Bruce’s been upset! Everyone’s been so– so f*ckin’ sad!”

Dick sighs, deeply. Expanding his ribs far enough to press into both of his siblings. “We’re going to be okay.” He promises, something in his voice is steel.

Jason relaxes, slowly, against his brother's side.

Everything’s going to be okay.

-🦇-

“We’re thinking about moving the St. Francis Soup Kitchen into a larger area.” Catherine talks to the people at the table with a firm voice, a solid set to her shoulders. “We need to expand it– the church just isn’t big enough to hold four charities, so we’re thinking of buying the abandoned building across the street and donating it under the condition that the building be used for charity work and charity housing. The top is zoned for residential after all, and can be used as a break space for the volunteers who help out at the kitchen from time to time.”

“Are you worried about maintenance fees that will go into the new space? The St. Francis Soup Kitchen is only barely able to serve the ten blocks around it– we need to consider if we want to look into expanding St. Francis or if we want to look into expanding the Motherhood Help and Service center that’s a block down.”

That’s a good point, Catherine gives that to one of the people on her board, however– “The Motherhood Help and Service center doesn’t need to be expanded, we need to talk to medical suppliers and see if we can bring more prenatal supplements into it. They have enough physical space, just not enough supplies, the exact opposite problem that St. Francis is having.”

“If this gets approved for the St. Francis Soup Kitchen then we’ll need to retrofit the building and donate them with a bigger commercial kitchen.” Bruce is here, leaning back in a leather seat, in the office that overlooks the Narrows and is interested in what the whole Charity Commission has to say and what they’ve been doing with the money they’ve been allotted. They’re all wearing suits now, sure, but Cathrine can see the man underneath all that fine Italian satin. His eyes were unreadable, but that’s the same man that plays with his kids when he gets home and gets elbow (and knees!) deep in the mud to make them happy. Bruce Wayne is a complex father, who genuinely wants to help with all of his resources, and Cathrine welcomes him to talk with them about this.

“The place used to be a small bakery.” Catherine has already thought about Bruce’s worry. “We don’t need to spend as much as you’re thinking on making this an ideal donation.”

They’re also in the same meeting today because of the giggles that come from underneath the table.

Bringing your child to work day is going well, the whole building is full of children’s happy laughing and inquisitive insights.

“Will a bakery’s kitchen be enough to support a full soup kitchen?” A woman to the left asks. She’s the woman in charge of wrangling the crime alley charities and bringing them to Catherine. She’s got her baby sleeping on her chest, cradled in her arms, snoring softly.

“It can’t be.” The man who brought up the first opposition is thinking, leaned back, his teenage girl sits next to him writing down notes in furious scribbles. “But maybe we can. We’ll need to see if that old charity off of twenty third– the one who has the clothing drive every month– still owns the old batch of fast food restaurants that have all that old industrial cooking equipment.”

More giggles from underneath the table. Catherine see’s a small flash of Jason peaking out by where Bruce sits to steal another notepad.

The meeting continues, moving on to talking about what to do with the requests that have been put in this week and if any charity needs management intervention.

The children eventually poke out from underneath the table after it's over. They’ve made some kind of intricate throwing stars out of all the paper they’ve been stealing and have a good strong throw with accurate aim when they begin to pelt Bruce with it.

Eight children, all roped into it by Dick’s charismatic smile, throwing things at his father once the meeting is dismissed. Bruce takes it with a smile, miming a theatrical death scene right in the hallway.

-🦇-

Alfred passes a brochure to Bruce.

Bruce looks at it like it’s radioactive.

“You think I need therapy?” He asks.

Alfred looks taken aback. Then he gestures to the cave that they’re standing in, decked out in crime fighting equipment and laboratory technology and a state of the art gym area and a garage that would make even the most dedicated weep.

Which. Not fair. Bruce didn’t start out with all this.

He slowly gained it over time.

“I don’t want to go to therapy. I’m fine.”

“While we disagree on that–” Alfred gestures once again to the cave, this time at the computer that has three case files running and all sort of half thought of ideals sprawled across it in different colors of sticky notes and bat stickers. “I was more informing you that I’m putting your children into therapy.”

Which.

“What?” Bruce blinks, his brain is still fixated on the gunshot residue that’s been found on six suspects during a break in. “They’re fine?”

“Master Bruce.”

The tone that Alfred takes is one that Bruce is long familiar with. It’s a tone that means rethink, reassess, redo.

So Bruce does. He thinks about how his kids are fine, they chat about solving murders while they move through the motions of the training that Dick gets taught. They bring intelligent and thought provoking conversation to the table and since bring your kid to work day a few weeks ago they’ve learned that the funniest sh*t they could possibly be doing is emailing each other about homework and case files and all of the blackmail they can get their hands on–

“Oh.” Bruce has a revelation, and it’s one he should have had a long time ago. “Oh, my kids might be a little f*cked up.”

Alfred throws his hands, once again, at the cave around them. “Master Bruce, we’re all a little f*cked up, but the earlier we intervene the more well adjusted those children might be in the future.”

“If it's any consolation, they’re already handling it better than I was at this age?” His voice ends in a question more than a statement, which honestly? He’s not sure about that either.

At this, like the gods above are laughing at them, Dick screeches and skids into the main area of the cave. Bright smiles and ruffled hair– boy it’s getting too long. He’s holding something above his head– a bullet casing?

“I’ve figured it out!” He’s shouting, excited as he continues to run at Bruce and Alfred. “The bullet casing has striations on it that are indications of a silencer! There was a gun at the scene! Fired in the crowd! Nobody heard it because of the silencer!”

Dick slams himself into Bruce’s side, blabbing about how he’s gonna now get to reassess everything again with new information. Bruce holds Dick gently, steadying him against the momunem he’s built up. Dick is prattling on and on about the new evidence, and there’s a genuine light in his eyes, ecstatic as a stark contrast against the words that he’s saying.

Yeah. Bruce see’s Alfreds point. His kid might be a little f*cked up, as he smiles along.

He’ll look into getting him real therapy in the morning.

-🦇-

Dr. Harleen Quinzel is looking for a job in Gotham.

She’s specifically looking for a job at Arkham Asylum, because the people who live there are ripe with dangerous insanity of all flavors. There's something intriguing to be able to try and get under the cracks in the minds of such a deviation from the norm. She wasn’t looking to cure them, not really, but she was looking into her theory that maybe giving the inmates something else to focus on would be beneficial for them. Like maybe taking their obsession off of the local maybe-real vigilante. Harleen wasn’t terribly convinced that the Gotham Bat wasn’t a folie a deux inspired by whatever was in the water.

She had gotten bored with her cushy hospital job in New York, bored of doing the same thing day in and day out. She writes prescriptions for the same rich people and their kids, pad full of Xanax and Adderall. She gets paid well but she doesn’t feel like she's doing anything.

So she’s looking at job openings in Gotham.

It’s meant to be exciting there, it’s meant to be full of danger and vibrancy and something lurking deeper underneath the surface that calls to her curiosity. People who move there never move away, almost like they’re compelled to stay for some reason.

Harleen wants to study them all.She’s drinking lemonade, feet kicked up on the couch wearing what a woman of her age got dirty looks for wearing, and browsing job boards. She would have to take a paycut to work in Arkham since the facility isn’t equipped to pay her at her current rate which would be such a bummer but–

Wait a second.

There, the newest posting after a refresh. At more than her current salary– a private job.

She’s applying immediately.

Wayne Enterprises– she’s heard of that before, hell it's the people who make her phone and laptop on top of whatever dealings that corporation probably has been dabbling with. Why the f*ck do they need a …. a personal psychologist who f*cking knows.

All she knows is that she’s excited to see if she gets contacted back.

-🦇-

Tim is shaking like a leaf as he waits for the door to open. He knocked, like he always does, ever so carefully on the bottom half of the door in a pattern that's long since been ingrained in him.

But there’s a new addition to his routine today.

Janet is behind him and she want to have a talk with Mr. Wayne while Jack did somethings for DI.

The tone she held while they told this to Tim had promised nothing good, the same tone had been taken right before Tim had gotten his games taken away from him, had moved up a grade– even the same tone had been taken before his parents left.

Now she want to talk to Mr. Wayne.

Tim wants the Waynes not to be home– wants the Waynes not to answer– if only to push the conversation back another few days until his parents are inevitably out of town again. Tim is a master of pushing things off, of hiding things away so that his parents won’t have enough time to deal with it.

She had sprung this meeting on him, had grabbed him as he was walking out the door– they were meant to have left last night, but apparently the flight had been delayed and now they had all of this time to bother to look into their kid.

The door opens.

Alfred’s on the other side, smiling down at Tim like he always does. Gentle and easy with a hint of concern. Tim basks in it, like he always does, smiling back.

Janet catches attention with a hard cough.

Alfred’s expression morphs into his normal one when dealing with guests. A bland, uninterested kind of facial emotion that portrays disappointment but also somehow an uncanny interest. “May I be of service, Mrs. Drake?”

Janet smiles, in that same not-smile that the rich grace each other with. “Mr. Pennyworth, A pleasure. I would absolutely love to see how Tim has been spending his time lately.”A conundrum, because Alfred can’t tell them no (since Tim is her child) but Alfred has expressed his great distintrest in both of Tim’s parents.

Eventually Alfred moves over and allows all three inside.Tim is a coward. He steps fast and gets inside before Janet steps over the threshold. He bolts into the one of the more family oriented parlor rooms, trying to find Dick and Jason–

Sure enough, Jason’s got the mats out already and the furniture has been pushed to the side of the big room. They had been meant to be playing gymnastics today (Dick isn’t subtle, he’s used the word training more than once, and has taught them what to do when they get stabbed) but Tim needs to get them gone. He needs to run away and hide them away from the warpath that is the Drakes.Jason perks up at the sound of Tim’s feet, but he goes from smiles and easy laughter to alert and dangerous.

“What's wrong?”“My mom is here.”

Jason’s expression darkens, fury reading off the slopes of his frown. The entire Wayne household has their opinions, and Jason tends to err on the side of positive, but when he’s swinging negative he swings very, very, opinionated. He’s stubborn at his core, with a bulldog type bite into his beliefs. Jason decided about three months into their friendship that he hated Janet and Jack, fervently, and with a gusto that was frankly a little nerve wracking.

“Dickie’s with B.” Jason informs Tim, Jason’s already moving. “Why is she here?”

Tim doesn’t know. He’s got an idea, sure, Janet has kept Tim from Bruce Wayne for a long while, and it doesn’t take a genius to look at Tim’s black hair and put his parent’s blonde and red together and come up with the milkman– so to speak. “They don’t want Bruce to sue for custody.”

Jason’s steps falter, just a hint of hesitation, but he’s too good to be kept down for long.

He’s too smart not to latch onto that bit of weird information.

They’re running down the hallways, taking the less than secret passages throughout the manor to get to Bruce first. They hear Alfred talking, the soft sound of the man’s voice travels easily around, always able to be heard even in the twisting floor plan of the home.

The study that Bruce prefers is close to the family quarters, it’s got pictures of all of them on the walls and a chair that has good back support. There’s a good view of the front lawn and Bruce’s entrance to the batcave.

It’s easy to get to via the back rooms and the hidden passages.

Dick is on Bruce’s desk, swinging his legs and drinking a juice box. Bruce is typing. They both know that Alfred has a guest, there’s systems in place that alert everybody in the manor of new people entering and exiting, so they’re not shocked to see Jason and Tim barge in.

What they are shocked to see Tim white as a sheet and Jason with his eyebrows so furrowed that they’ve carved a canyon onto his face.

Dick’s popping off the desk, moving forward before they even get their mouths open. “What’s going on?”

Jason explains, with as few words as he can, moving to grasp onto Dick’s hand. Bruce is standing up, watching his children like a hawk, putting away his work and moving to the front of the desk.

Tim wants to leave, wants to run, wants his parents to leave and to keep his friends, his family.

Dick and Bruce just look at one another.

Bruce makes a hand gesture.

Dick is moving, scooping up Tim as he moves. “Let Bruce handle this.”

Tim is scared, scared that his mom won’t let Mr. Wayne ever see him. Won’t let him play with his brothers anymore.

Tim tucks himself into Dick’s chest because there’s something deep inside of everyone that triggers on safe when Dick hugs you. Something that seems like Dick knows exactly how to protect you, something that tells everyone that Dick won’t let you be hurt in his arms.

They run to the rooms in the family wing. Hiding in Dick’s nice well lived bedroom, the room that has a rug that’s also a canvas from a high top tent and is full of pictures that have been printed out so carefully from camera’s that friends and family wield.

There’s also thick blankets here, heavy blankets that can wrap around all three of them and then some.

“I don’t wanna leave.” Tim is hiccuping out words and sentences that smash around and don’t make much sense. “Mom hates Mr. Wayne. She says she doesn’t want me to ever see anybody again.”

Dick curls Tim further into the embrace.

The three of them sit together, touching shoulders and lacing their fingers together. There’s nothing they can do to fight the storm. They just have to sit here and weather it through.

-🦇-

Janet is very clear, she doesn’t want Bruce to get anywhere near her son. Timothy is hers and hers alone, she was the one who made him, gave birth to him, and then spent resources on raising him all this time.

Bruce was adamant that he wasn’t stealing anybody. Tim was just hanging with the neighbors, enjoying playing with boys his own age.

They scream at each other in the silent way that only people truly concerned with one's image can be. They snip at each other with barbs that are long and sharp, that are designed to hurt and to damage and peel at the rot under one another’s skins. There’s nothing that gets held back.

Alfred watches, coming in and out with refreshments every twenty minutes like the most well trained help in the world.

“Janet what is your incessant problem with this?” Bruce demands, gesturing around the space. “It’s perfectly sensible to allow children to have friends!”“I don’t give a sh*t about the friends and you know it!” Janet’s voice is hard and vicious and cold.

“I don’t! Actually!” Bruce hisses back at her. “I have no idea why you’re so f*cking upset about this!”

“I have such a problem because I can see what you’ve been doing!”

Enlighten me then!” Bruce demands.

Janet flushes in her anger, all bright red on her cheeks. “You’ve been collecting up all of your biological children so nobody can sue you!”

What!?” Bruce’s voice wasn’t quiet now, but it shakes the rafters above them. It’s loud enough that Bruce can hear Alfred’s footsteps pick up the pace and start to make a bee-line towards the study.

But now that Janet’s shown her hand she’s laying all of her cards down. “I have eyes, you gigantic moron! I’ve seen what those boys look like, I've seen what you look like! I know for a damn fact that you’ve been doing all kinds of things for the city lately and it would look incredibly poor of you to leave your little bastards out on the streets, wouldn’t it? You’ve been cleaning up Gotham and your public image–”

Janet’s still yelling, still talking about how Bruce could take every other stray he’s left in his trail of heartbreak and womanizing but Tim was hers.

Bruce is still stuck, relistening to Janet’s admission over and over in his mind.

He thinks back– he had taken in Dick and nearly immediately gotten a vasectomy to assure that he could never add a child to the household that needed attention elsewhere.

A little too late it turns out.

In the smallest voice, just the smallest voice that Bruce has spoken in for a long time, “Tim– Tim is mine?”

Janet snaps her mouth closed.

They stare at each other.

A door opens, Alfred looks inside, looks around, then lets himself back out again.

“You didn’t know?” Janet asks, still sharp and still dangerous but soft now, fragile.

“How was I meant to know!” Bruce feels like he needs to reevaluate a lot of things. Can kids sense it when they meet a sibling? Can kids tell the future? What the f*ck can kids do that Bruce needs to know about, is Jason his? No. Bruce was too young– He had just come back to Gotham from his world tour when Tim would have been convinced. “Janet, I was only sixteen when Dick would have been born.”

Janet barks a laugh. “You think I wasn’t sleeping with people at sixteen?”

Of all the things– “Janet, I was not sleeping with anybody at sixteen. I was nineteen when I lost my virginity.”

Janet clearly does the math in her head, thinking over the age of the two boys in Bruce’s house- “Your oldest really isn’t … isn’t yours?”

“I adopted Dick because I saw myself in him, Janet.” Bruce doesn’t like to retell the story, but it's a rather well known little ditty that goes around the news stories every few months or so. They call Dick a Cinderella story, laughing about how Dick had moved up in the world and into a billionaire's arms.

Bruce knew that he was a downgrade compared to Dick’s real parents. All of the money in the world can’t replace the people who love you like that.

“I saw kids who needed help and I helped them. I wouldn’t let people suffer through the limelight I did. I wasn’t going to let a good woman and her son starve on the street, I wasn’t going to let a kid rot alone in your house.” Bruce’s voice is sharp, for all that it is soft. There’s something gentle about it, something underneath that leaks out true kindness, but it’s covered in steel.

“He was fine.” Janet bites out the sound. “He never talked back, he did everything we said, he was perfect until he started to come over here.”

Bruce can recall the lonely slip of a child that had arrived on his doorstep, with wide eyes and with such a stillness that Bruce didn’t even know he was breathing most of the time.

“I think you need to get out of my house, Janet.”

They’re conversation is over.

Bruce has tests he needs to run.

-🦇-

Janet leaves, she doesn’t take Tim with her.

Bruce checks up on all of them, all of his boys. Dick’s on the outside of the bed, Jason’s on the other side tucked up against the window, and Tim’s chuffing little soft sounds in between them all. Asleep from a little daytime nap.

Exhausted, all of them.

Bruce runs his fingers through Dick’s hair, the boy making little rumbling murmur sounds and leans into Bruce’s hand. Bruce kisses his forehead. Jason gets the same treatment, smoothing out his curls on the side of his head and getting grumpy huffing off almost curse words in a sleepy breath. A kiss to the spot of hair right above his ear. Bruce ruffles Tim’s hair next, right in the middle, sweating like he’s in a furnace between the two heaters that are Dick and Jason. Bruce apologizes as he runs a hand through Tim’s hair, finding a strand near the forehead and singling it out–

Yank

Tim’s almost-snores, the little chuffing sounds he makes when he’s upset in his sleep, stutters and he makes a questioning sound. Bruce soothes the sting away with another gentle kiss.

His kids deserve this late afternoon nap. All of them.

Bruce closes the door gently, holding onto the hair that he needs to run through DNA.

-🦇-

Tim’s his. Even biologically.

Bruce sighs, looking at the match that displays itself across the screen.

This doesn’t change anything. It just means that the next time Janet abandons Tim in that cold house, Bruce can snatch him up in the eyes of the law.

Hopefully the looming threat will keep Janet and Jack here for a little while longer.

Dick’s going to be insufferable about this. Son of a bitch.

Bruce sighs, closing out the tab and filing away the data for another rainy day. If Tim ever needs an organ maybe Bruce would be able to donate.

Bruce has been so careful, is careful when he sleeps around. There’s been plenty of legal cases trying to prove paternity but Bruce always gets a DNA test to disprove the theory. Most of everybody knows that Bruce doesn’t have biological kids–

And they won’t know any differently from here on out.

There doesn’t need to be a biological connection for Bruce to be a parent, not in the beginning and not now. The press would just tear apart Bruce and try to get more claws into the kids than they already have.

It would be easier for everyone if this just… never got mentioned again. It has no relevance, not really.

It does however make Bruce bump up the priority on the rumor that Cain has a daughter.

It also means that the next time the league meets, they’re going to talk about making a little club for the kids to come along with.

-🦇-

Robin is ecstatic.

He’s got a hand in Batman’s, holding tight to his mentor as Batman leads him into the main area of where the Justice League meets. These are the big boys, the end all be all heroes. Dick’s met all of them before, but how fun is it to meet everyone all over again for the first time? He’s seen the highest of highs for these people and the lowest of lows. He’s seen Superman cry onto the shoulder of Batman after his wife died of some stupid doomsday senario. He’s seen Wonder Woman die, get replaced with Donna then with Cassie, then for Diana to come back to carry on a mantle for years and years under the weight of the deaths of the people around her. He’s seen people come and go, people die in the name of duty, people coming back in the name of saving others.

Dick’s been around for a long, long time. Hell he was even Batman for a while there, working with the big league and hating every second of it.

But he’s not Batman now. He’s Robin. He’s getting officially introduced today and he’s ready for it.

There’s nothing that will stop him from being a total menace here.

Dick walks into the Justice League, already having foiled a plan for mind control by requesting the whole supper echelon of the League here (Martian Mindhunter will slap down any attempts like swatting a fly), and he’s going to have a great time finding his old friends again.

Sure enough, Green Arrow is already here, with a familiar red sidekick right by his hip. Speedy– Roy– is a year or two older than Dick is but he looks great here. With no scars in his inner arms and a healthy glow to his face he wouldn’t refind in the original timeline until he was thirty. Oliver Queen’s Star City has gotten a helping hand from Wayne Enterprises in the rehabilitation and job acquisition of former drug addicts. Dick had been adamant about it. Hopefully Dick can help calm Roy down from his attention and party seeking behavior before it causes major rifts in Roy’s and Oliver's relationship.

There’s Wonder Woman with a shy Wonder Girl talking to each other too–

And by God, Dick has missed his best friend. Donna looks so light, so unburdened, so happy. She’s got a little pony tail and her starry outfit is loose around the shoulders. She looks so excited to be here, wide eyes glancing around the big hall and holding tightly onto her own fingers.

f*ck. Dick can’t wait to get his best friend in the whole world back. Donna was a wonderful person, a wonderful girl, and a wonderful human being to lean on. There’s an emptiness in his chest that yearns to have his friends together, right now, right here–But that will take time. Time, time, time. It always will take f*cking time. Time is what Dick has plenty of right now. The years get fast later on, but for now there’s enough of them all to handle pretty much everything.

Batman walks into the room and sticks close to Dick. They don’t have to mingle– not yet– but Dick wants to get a jumpstart on making friends. The speedsters won’t get here until they’re late, as always, and Arthur was hesitant to bring what was largely considered a blight and a bad luck curse to this meeting in the first place.

He goes for Donna then.

Bruce is happy to exist in the same space as Diana, they’re both perfectly content people to sit side by side and not interact with one another.

“Hey!” Robin sticks out his hand, a smile wide on his face, “You’re Wonder Girl, right?”

Donna nervously smiles back, her fingers squeezing one more time before she shakes them loose and returns Robin greeting. “Hello! Yes. I’m Wonder Girl– you can just call me Donna though.”

The shake is easy, light, but it feels like a promise, and Dick knows this is the start of a wonderful friendship.

-🦇-

Wally, Garth, Donna, Roy and Robin get a little section that’s all their own in the world full of heroes. They get assigned their own missions, and when it’s all hands on deck, they get to help out with all kinds of things– from damage control to keeping the body count down to search and rescue to actually getting to help come up with plans.

It’s much more involved than the Titans originally were, not at all the huge gaping separation that Dick remembers it to have. They still hang out in Mount Justice, but it’s more integrated with communication to their mentors, in talking to each other, and he finds that in this new timeline, they get new members fast.

Any teenager with superpowers goes to the League now in hopes to get accepted into their ‘teenage intern program’, as the Titans are dubbed by the media. People have mixed feelings about it, but Dick remembers when he was little the first time and the media tore the Teen Titans apart.

This was way better.

The media would eat up and chew anything that puts any moral doubt onto the Justice League– the first time around, the League had to separate themselves entirely from the Teen Titans because it got so bad. This time the Titans are protected from the fire of the sh*tstorm that the reporters are trying to desperately get a statement for.

There’s a program that allows any child under the age of eighteen to get help with their powers through the people the Justice League trusts to do right by them. Robin and Batman spearhead the whole production– Robin was adamant that there be a place for children who are just being introduced to the powers that they’re developing to explore them and be safe with. There’s therapists, and there's heroes, and there’s training missions that are more teambuilding and summer camp than anything else.

The only Titans that get to help with mission planning and dangerous life threatening situations are the original ones– at least for the first months of the team existing. Everyone else that gets to ‘join’ the Titans are there to help themselves before they can help others.

Garth– Beast Boy– wants to be a hero so badly that everyone could taste it. Just like the last time.

(Nightwing cried into Beast Boy’s body after a massive fight, holding onto Garth’s torn up shirt and trying to pull himself together. Beast Boy had just turned forty, just a week prior, he had been so young, so young when he started. He was stringing along as a desperate bundle of PTSD and people pleasing instincts. Dick would not put him through that life again, not until he was ready, not until Garth was at least sixteen, not now when Garth was a smiling little bundle of boy that was just the same age as Tim.)

They let him have a t-shirt, but they don’t let him on the field yet, not yet, not at all.

Cyborg’s older, so is Raven, and they’re invaluable members when they join the less dangerous missions.

There’s teenage drama, of course there is. Robin forgets how draining it all is. Donna holds his hand and cries about dating Roy, about wanting to find love. Dick assures her that she will, one day, find the man who loves her and for now she shouldn’t have to be this worried about it.

Roy talks about wanting to know, wanting to explore, wanting to spread his wings and find himself like his mentor did when he was young (this gets redirected into better hobbies and thoughts. It gets morphed and changed from going out and partying every night to healiter avenues of thoughts like hiking.)

Garth is very chill, but Robin also knows that Tempest has been smoking the Atlantean

equivalent to weed for years now. Garth feels bad for not being able to be out of the water for too long, and he gets mopey about it, but that’s just something that Garth needs to grow into– needs his lungs to develop a little bit more as he ages. (Robin also bums the weed off of him, because having it every now and again isn’t that bad, and Batman won’t do drug testing unless they all get dosed with some kind of new strain of chemical.)

Then there’s Wally.

Damn, Dick has missed Wally to his core.

There’s something easy between them, as children of big names have, as people who are talented and serious and dedicated do. They click in ways that nobody else does. Dick loves Wally. Dick loves Wally like nobody else in the whole world. Dick was once in a relationship with Wally when they had been older.

Now Wally is annoying as hell with an imagined confrontational beef between the two of them and his constant teenage angst.

They’ll all grow out of it, come out the other side as better people in the end. They were by Dick’s side before all of this sh*t happened–

Dick loves them.

But boy do they get on his nerves sometimes.

That’s family for you though. That’s family.

-🦇-

“I have an update for you.” Green Arrow says to Batman one day after an undercover data collection mission.

The two of them are climbing into the jet on the way back to the base. They’ve got the files they need, they’ve erased what they don’t want Luthor to have, and they’re (mainly) injury free. Not a soul saw them and not a soul was the wiser that the base here in the middle of f*cking nowhere Brazil has been comprismised.

The jet isn’t either one of theirs too, there's no labeling and there's no logos. They stole it from another bad guy about a year ago and have been using it for undercover missions ever since.

So Batman doesn’t even miss a beat until they buckle in.

“An update?” Batman has to grumble.

A million things go through Bruce’s head, a million bits and bobs and threads of thoughts. Everything from an update on the rotation of the watchtower schedule that Batman has proposed to an update telling Batman that everyone he ever loved has died in the few hours that he’s gone. There’s nothing that a word like update says that’s unique enough to be able to differentiate.

“I used my own network to catch up on what Cain has been doing– that’s the hitman that you’ve looked into, right?– and found out that he’s been up to some f*cked up sh*t.”

Thank God it was an update on that, and not something drastic like his entire current family dying in a tragic recreation of his own parents and then being burned into unrecognizable twisted corpses, and then being reanimated to haunt him for the rest of his days.

Nothing drastic like that at least.

“Report.”

Oliver rolls his eyes so hard that Batman can feel it even from the front seat. “He’s got a kid, you were right about that– she’s young too, underneath ten, and from what I’ve heard the man’s training her to be some kind of weapon. Nobody’s ever heard her speak or even seen the poor girl in anything other than rags. We need to intervene.”

“Any information on where Cain is now?”

Green Arrow laughs, “Somewhere in France, you thinking you want to pull a rescue right now? With no backup?”

Well that makes no sense.

“You’re here, aren’t you?” That counts as backup, doesn’t it?

Bruce hits three buttons in the plane– one for the League to be updated on the status of their mission, one to let Alfred know that he was safe and unharmed, and one to warn Dick that he was headed home and to sort out whatever trouble he was finding himself in before the jet lands.

(Better give the little gremlin a heads up on hiding any blood stains.)

Oliver stutters out something that might have been words, flattered, in the background.

Batman plans his flightpath, and heads in that direction.

-🦇-

Cassandra Cain is a little slip of a thing.

Bruce is surprised when the girl shows up in front of him, not at all hiding behind the man who brings her into the room.

Bruce crouches just to get eye level with her.

She’s got a rat’s nest of matted hair, with pockmarked skin that’s dirty and already full of scars. Her sneer shows that she’s missing teeth– where her crooked little baring of her fangs shows them. She’s thin, too thin, and in a stance that means she’ll rip Bruce’s throat out if he moves too fast.

Bruce already sort of likes her.

“Are you f*ckin’ happy now?” Cain spits, literally. The man is, as he always is, a sight. He’s rumpled, smells like alcohol and fire and sweat, and he looks like he hasn’t brushed his own hair since Bruce lost his parents. “I showed you the girl. She’s f*ckin’ fine.”

She’s not, actually. She’s underfed and she’s undercared for and she’s more feral half rabid dog than little girl. She’s a haunted thing to look at, just even standing here right now. She doesn’t have even an ounce of baby fat on her cheeks– a thing that even Dick still has. She’s been honed into something sharp as a scalpel, a knife so sharp you wouldn’t feel it cut into you.

Bruce eases his posture, makes it so that everything about him is open, and gentle, and worried.

Cassandra’s shoulders relax, her deep beautiful brown eyes go wide and sparkling, interested.

“No, Cain.” Bruce keeps his voice neutral, his stance welcoming and accepting, but he makes his words ice. “I’m not at all happy. I’m furious. Who beat it into your insufferable head that you can raise or rear a child like this? You’re killing her.”

Cain jerks back, as if slapped. “Excuse me?”

Cassandra looks between the two men, wildly, head snapping back and forth. She’s not listening to their words, she's looking at their faces.

Bruce’s heart sinks.

Cassandra doesn’t know what they’re saying.

Bruce get’s the feeling that Cassandra hasn’t been taught much of anything that doesn’t have to do with her fists.

Bruce squares his shoulders, standing back up to his full height.

He’s about to have a serious talk with David Cain.

-🦇-

The serious talk goes well.David Cain tried to talk.Batman beats the sh*t out of him.Green Arrow gives food to Cassandra, the snacks he keeps in his belt and quiver disappear into Cassandra’s hands and open mouth.

David was snarling something about the perfect soldier, about breeding the child to perfection, about how he had never bothered with teaching her anything but the fight

David Cain gets his jaw broken in six places, gets his fingers ground to dust, gets his legs shattered under the force of steel toed shoes. David Cain tries to sell Bruce on the idea that raising children to be labor slaves to deal pain was the way of the superpowered future.

Bruce is reminded of Dick’s happy smile, his wiggles when he gets a good grade or when he comes back from therapy with Dr. Quinzel or when Bruce hugs him. He thinks about Jason’s black and red braces, of his tenacious dedication to making others happy and his passionate love of reading and academia. He thinks about Tim’s chewed on fingernails, about how the kiddo might move like a buffering movie but he’s so excited to talk about his favorite shows.

Children are meant to be able to be children. They’re meant to be happy, not alone, not scared, not half starved, not out of their own minds with delirious fever pitched beliefs. Children want to be happy and healthy and want to learn all of the things they can– and it’s a parents job to facilitate that. Parents are there to help, to be supportive, to help make the world better for the kid that comes after them.

This? This is abuse.

David Cain is a gasping mess of a man, Bruce has several broken ribs himself.

Cassandra has her hands flexing open closed open closed open as Bruce limps back to where Oliver has a gentle hand on her shoulder.

Cassandra looks up at him, all big brown eyes and a razor sharp gaze. Bruce makes himself as open as he can be, as safe as his shoulders will portray.

The jet’s not meant for three people, but Cassandra is small enough to curl herself into Bruce’s lap as he flies. Oliver said he would hold her, but Cassandra had gripped Bruce’s hand and didn’t let go once.

Bruce holds tight onto her the entire way home.

Family You Made (Go Back, Do it Again) - JUBE514 - Batman (6)

-🦇-

She isn’t sure, exactly, who this man is.

But he is good. She knows he is good.

She doesn’t have the words, won’t have the words for a very long while yet, but she speaks fluently in the language of the body. She knows that the man in black won’t ever hurt her. Won’t ever raise a hand against her. She sticks close to him, even though the bad smelling white room-healing place, through the colorful people in bright costumes that the former caretaker had told her always to avoid. Always stay away from the brightly colored people. They are bad. They will stop you.

She stays with the man in black, the man with the happy yellow on his chest, the man who fought the former caretaker– the former caretaker who had beat her into the ground when she did something wrong. She follows him to a cave that has wet air and has uneven ground and has the smells of food and care built into its bones.

There’s a big house on top of the cave, one of those houses that she sometimes went into to watch her caretaker make the owners never move again. People speak to her, soft words she doesn’t know, gentle tones and gentle body language. There’s something delicate in the way they make noises, something deeper that she yearns for.

There's food here, and lots of it.

Older-Dangerous makes it. Cooks and cleans and caretakes the entire estate. He moves like he’s long over his prime but like he can still dash out more damage than she can handle at once. He’s always saying something soft, cleaning up her clumsy first few days and wiping dirt off of her face when she eats.

Sometimes there is a Soft-Worried-Sick who passes by, a slip of an adult non-fighter who has soft hands and softer eyes. There is nothing that can compare to when Soft-Worried-Sick gently brushes her hair and twists it into strange and new pretty knots.

Wrong-Body-Twister is older than her by a few years but not old enough to be an adult. She can take him in a fight, but just barely. He’s good, Wrong-Body-Twister is better than her old caretaker but he’s also strong in a way that is flexible like his spine. She pins him after a long battle, an exhilarating thrill of a matchup that ends up with Small-Smart-Slippery and Broad-Strong-Gentle shouting and cheering and becoming excited with.

Broad-Strong-Gentle follows her in her daily rituals from then on out, stretching and doing katas and strength training. He doesn’t talk often, is maybe her similar age, maybe a little younger, and holds the things in his hands so gently that she wants to ask him how, wants to emulate the way he moves his hands with such directed force. He’s dangerous in a way that budding belladonna is.

He will be hard to beat when he’s older.

Small-Smart-Slippery is much, much younger. They are so young that she cannot tell the difference between he and she yet. That is fine. She doesn’t need to know, not yet, Small-Smart-Slippery makes words at her often, makes noises and teaches her things she never knew about before. They do not stay down when pushed, they are able to use their size and wiggle out of many pinning holds. She is getting better at restraining them day by day.

Man-in-Black was often in clothing that wasn’t black, but held a plushness to it that she wanted to sink her fingers into. The Man-in-black gave her her own set of plushness fuzziness. She had to be shown how to wear everything, but it’s always clean and smells good. She is a fast learner. He doesn't even have to break her fingers for getting anything wrong. She’s good at this.

She can even recognize what they call her here!

She– Cassandra, Cass– finds that she likes it here, in her new area, her new home. The people are nice here, in ways that are strange, but they never hurt her, never raise their voices, and hold her hand when they invite her to play with them.

She would hold onto them tightly, promises herself that she would.

She is never, ever, going to go back to her old caretaker without dying first.

-🦇-

New clothes. New birth certificate. New therapy sessions.

Bruce has Cass on a child leash because the little girl loves the pink sparkles and she likes to be able to run all around at Bruce’s feet with relative freedom. She's estimated to be about a year older than Jason, which puts her at about ten years old to date.

When Bruce shows up to Dr. Quinzel with Cassandra in tow the woman is visibly not happy with him.

“I’m not specialized in child sh*t.” Dr. Quinzel huffs, sitting languidly at the private office that she occupies in Wayne Enterprises. She’s thrown herself into the work of keeping an entire company sane in this city– and finds that there is a lot of work to do. She takes a sort of perverse pleasure in picking apart the mental health of the people in the company. (She’s even pointed out in her reports who needs to take a serious vacation before they snap. Bruce finds her invaluable, even if she keeps telling him to take time off.)

“I don’t know where to start.” Bruce admits. “Cass really needs somewhere to jump off from.”

Dr. Quinzel rolls her eyes and squats down to get face to face with the little girl in front of her.

“What’cha name, kiddo?”

Cass just looks at Dr. Quinzel, her tilled soil brown eyes blown wide as she takes in the new interesting person that has been put into her death sphere.

Cass moves to one side, then another step further in. She reaches out her hands, patting Dr. Quinzel’s bicep, the Dr.’s hair, her knee, her shoulder.

“She shy?” Dr. Quinzel pops gum as she speaks.

“She hasn’t been taught how to talk.” Bruce admits.Dr. Quinzel’s head snaps to Bruce, her eyes blowing wide in excitement.

Really?” The woman looks back at Cassandra with a whole new level of interest. “Talk about unethical behavior, is that why ya stole her?”

“It’s why her former guardian isn’t in the picture anymore. I need to know how to begin to handle this.” Bruce feels sort of awkward standing up in the room where the only other adult is squatting, despite, you know, owning the entire building.

So he also squats down on his feet. Sure it ruins the lines of his suit but who honestly cares?

Cass makes an excited noise and darts into Bruce’s hold.

Cass f*cking loves hugs. She’s always got a hand on Dick or Alfred or Bruce himself. When Tim and Jason are over she doesn’t let the two out of her sight. It’s all rather cute.

Well, it's cute until Cass panics because somebody needs to go to the bathroom and they lock her out without being able to explain what's happening. She’s broken down more than one door like this.

Dr. Quinzel makes another interesting noise. She’s already thinking about how to write a paper or two– hell maybe even submit something to the people who make those psychiatry books. Bruce can feel that he’s going to have a request on his desk by tomorrow. “I can talk to some people. She’s going to need a lot of help to overcome this.”

Thank God.

Bruce relaxes, rocks back onto his heels and up his feet. Cass giggles at the movement, wiggling out of Bruce's hold to go back to exploring Dr. Quinzel and her shoulderpads.

“I’d love a list of that this week. I got all my kids long after they learned how to speak so I have no idea what I’m doing.” Bruce only admits that because Cass doesn’t understand his words, just his posture.

“I’m unda the impression that no parent ever does.” Dr. Quinzel tells him as she's allowing Cassandra to tug at her long blonde hair. “But from what I’ve seen, ya doin’ a stand up job.”

Bruce smiles and says a watery, proud “Thanks.”

-🦇-

Catharine isn’t sure what to think about Cassandra.

Cass is a walking ball of fierce protectiveness wrapped up in what was clearly an abused and battered bundle. Catharine gets better reactions than Bruce when she’s watching the children because she sees Bruce with black eyes and gingerly holding his limbs usually after trying to get the girl to stop her play or come down to dinner. Cassandra startles when she doesn’t see you and you talk to her. The poor girl lashes out, sure, but she instantly is sorry about it written all over her face, soothing the hurt she delivers with fluttering hands and frantic pats.

Catharine thinks she's adorable most of the time.

Cassandra gets paired with the rest of the children by natural ease of logistics. She’s half feral and bites more than she vocalizes her very few words, but Jason thinks the world of her and Tim is seen riding on her shoulders more often than not.

Jason’s nine now, shooting up like a little weed and maybe he’ll get his braces off next year. Catharine loves watching him be able to grow up happy and healthy and blossom under opportunities that she never would have even been able to imagine four years ago.

Dick is such a blessing, to have a heart big enough for everyone he comes across. Dick sometimes brings his friends over to the manor to play with everyone. They’re an interesting bunch of kiddos so it always gets lively here. Catherine had been worried about the age gap, but even at twelve Dick still looks out for everyone like he’s their real big brother.

Tim and Jason are inseparable. She thinks that they’ve gotten it into their heads that they’re going to be helping Batman of all people one day, but they seem to thoroughly enjoy their game and it keeps them active, so Catharine lets them have their fun.

She watches over the kids on the weekends, at her own modest home in the suburbs, when Dick is normally off with his friends and Bruce is galavanting with his own group of partiers. Dick will spend every third weekend with everyone, and Bruce sometimes is too injured from his terrible sport habit to be anywhere but the manor, and Catharine wields her control over the three littlest kids like a knife when she needs too.

She’ll casually drop a “go to Bruce, he misses you” when she suspects the man is working when he shouldn’t be. The children are eager to comply with the suggestion. She’ll even tell them casually that she sure does miss movie nights and they’ll rally up and make a quiet night in the evening with everyone present.

It’s not the most ethical, sure, but it gets the job done.

Cassandra loves Catherine, loves it when Catherine does her hair, loves it when Catherine takes her shopping and reads her books and has fun dresses for the girl to try on. Cassandra will put the pink sparkly glitter child leash into Catherine’s hands whenever they are about to go out, an honor that is normally only reserved for Bruce himself.

(Cassandra can slip off the leash at any moment, but she likes it, it’s as much of a leash for the adult as it is for the child.)

Catherine might not have had any biological children of her own, but she’s half raising several now and she couldn’t be happier.

-🦇-

“Do we tell Cass what we know?” Jason asks Tim.

The two of them are in the creek in the yard, up to their knees in the cool clear water and fishing out shiny interesting rocks they found. Jason’s found a really funny looking one that he thinks might be a fossil– they’ll have to ask Bruce about it later. Cass is working on her assignments from the doctor, the real basic level stuff that she’s getting better with everyday. She’s wearing a selection from her new closet that’s frilly and yellow, and looks like it's picked right from a Monet painting. She talks more and more everyday, but is still limited in what she knows.

In short, she’s getting there.

Bruce has told them they’re not allowed to confuse her further by introducing new languages, but Cass learns fast and Jason thinks they can teach her all of the swear words in at least ten before Bruce catches on. They’re up to six so far and still doing well.

Tim hums a little up down note– in the summer sun his freckles come out in full force and he’s more spots than he is boy– fully focused on his hands under the water. “I think she’s half figured it out already, even if she doesn’t know exactly the words for it.”Because Cass is smart. She’s whip quick and a better fighter than nearly all of them. Dick has been training them up but Cass puts their ass onto the mat everytime. The only one who can beat her is Bruce, and he barely spars with them because Bruce is either afraid to hurt them or afraid that he’ll reveal his identity as Batman.

Like they don’t already know it.

Jason sort of frowns, he picks up another rock. Dick’s got a ‘common cold’ that is a very poor cover for his broken ribs so he’s laying flat on the comfortable pillows by Cass on the bank. Alfred is going to bring them all lunch soon and Bruce is obviously talking to the police about Batman business. Batman always got meaner when there was no Robin around.

Since Dick can’t move faster than a snail at the moment, the prediction for the next few nights isn’t a good one.

Jason fishes out another rock, straightens up and looks at the silica mixture in his hand. “Hrm.”

It shines with a churning combination of glinting quartz and simple limestone. It was pretty, in an ordinary kind of way.

It would be prettier when it was wet, however, in that way that rocks can only be found when they’re in a river. So Jason puts it back.

“We should tell Dick and Cass that we know.” Jason decides. The cold water feels good on numb toes, there’s the sharp smell of spring edging onto the heat of summer, the sound of rustling of trees and birdsong. There’s the distant sound of a city, but far enough away that you can ignore it entirely because there’s something peaceful out here, in this moment.

Tim looks up, he’s got a smooth pebble in his hand, the striations in it twist on themselves, blacks and yellows and reds. “You think that’s a good idea?”

“It’s better we tell them soon, rather than lie to them more, don't you think?”

Tim drops the stone that has its colors twisted in a knot, smeared around in a messy mix. “My mother told me it was okay to lie, as long as you don’t get caught.”

Jason ignores the red flags in that, because what do you even say to that? What the hell? He’ll ask Dick about that later. “How would you feel if somebody lied to you?”

Tim thinks about it, Jason can see it in the way that Tim’s face goes entirely blank.

The creek swirls around them, rolling and pursuing lazily around their knees. There’s nothing but crayfish and little frogs here, filling the space around them, and the bugs aren’t out in full force yet and won’t be for another week.

“Did they have a good reason to lie to me?” Tim asks.

Jason… doesn’t know how to answer that.

Tim continues then, “If they had a good reason to lie, I wouldn’t be too upset. I would be mad if it was a stupid reason.”

“You’re sort of a whack job of a kid, you know that?”

Tim rolls his eyes at Jason’s response, going back to looking for pretty rocks.

“But maybe you’re right, I think it’s kinda stupid they’re still hiding it when we obviously know how to get into the Cave.”

-🦇-

Bruce sits perfectly poised as his tiny children push a whiteboard into the drawing room.

He suppressed the urge to twitch at the fact that they had to drag that particular whiteboard from his favorite study upstairs– the one that’s across from the upper floor of the library and had no good access to the stairs.

How far did everyone pull this?

Dick doesn’t suppress his own laughter, giggling wildly through his bruised up and fractured ribs.

Alfred murmurs a low little “Oh my!” as Jason and Tim drag the wheels across the antique persian rug.

Cass is on the floor in between Bruce’s legs, chewing on her own knuckles but with her sharp eyes focused entirely on the display in front of her.

Jason and Tim manage to get the transparent whiteboard right where they want it- right in the middle of the beautiful drawing room and right in front of the rest of the family that they’ve gathered here. The boys begin to furiously erase the numbers that Bruce has scrawled across the thing– a scattered assessment of the new funding for the R&D department– not a moment after.

They aren’t tall enough to actually reach the whole board. They only erase the bottom half.

Bruce hears Alfred let out a delighted little chuff of air as he hides his own bubbling laugh. It’s ruining about a week of work but it’s very, very cute.

Jason uncaps the marker to hand it to Tim– who has better handwriting. Tim has brought his own small step stool to reach a good portion of the board.

Jason clears his throat. It’s all very dramatic.

Tim starts to write.

“Gentlemen– and Cass– we’ve brought you here today to bring the family all onto the same page.”

Tim finishes the word Batman, and suddenly this isn’t very cute anymore.

Bruce sort of feels like this is an intervention. Oh goodness sh*t.

Alfred is laughing, Dick is laughing. Cass is delighted and is pulling on Bruce’s sweatpants.

“Tim and I would like to inform you that we know that you–” a small pointer points directly at him, “–are Batman.”

Dick is losing his mind; he's laughing so hard, wheezing into Bruce’s side in a position that has got to hurt his ribs. Alfred is cracking up, like Bruce has only seen the man do while watching Americans do a British accent on his TV dramas.

Tim has drawn a little caricature of Batman onto it, and starts to write out what looks like the beginning of a thought web– oh my God.

“We’ve come up with this information through a series of hypotheses–” Jason lisps the word through his braces– “and independent tests, and have come up with the conclusion that not only are you Batman, but you also are very piss poor at hiding the fact you are Batman.”

Tim’s writing something that seems to be a list of major injuries connected to cases– does he just know this off the top of his head?!

Bruce is sitting, unbelieving, in between the family that is howling with laughter.

Jason straightens up, tapping on the board like he’s a professor in a college course and furrowing his eyebrows. “Listen up! We want to prove to you that we’re good to be in on this secret too!”

Bruce puts his face in his hands, thinking very seriously of asking Clark to come and save him.

-🦇-

“How was your week?” Catherine asks when she picks them all up. The kids cram into the small space of her still reliable Corolla, out for a day over at the Todd’s.

Dick, for reasons unknown, starts laughing his fool head off, wheezing every other fit of guffaws. Catherine is concerned that he might be seriously hurt if he keeps it up.

Jason and Tim and Cass, however, look brilliantly happy at the question.

Cass pipes up first– as this is a question and series of words she knows and can answer easily– “We killed Bruce!”

Catherine’s smile freezes awkwardly on her face. “I’m sorry– what, honey?”

Cass nods, “We.” She gestures to the people around her, her brothers. Her voice cracks and jumps from its disuse but it's strong and solid. “Killed our father. Killed him dead.”

Dick’s crying, he’s laughing so hard.

-🦇-

The cave is full of noise.

Bruce sort of likes it.

Dick and Jason are in the foam pit, having fallen from the ropes course and are now trying to smother one another in the foam squares. Cass and Tim are sparring– or rather, Tim’s gotten his hands onto a chain and is having much too much fun slinging it around. Bruce isn’t that worried. Tim’s not happy with any weapon he picks up so he’ll drop the chain in a day or two and Cass won’t get hit unless she’s wanting too for any reason.

They all seemed rather impressed with the cave, giving what Bruce is fifty-fifty guessing were either very polite bored oohs and awws or actually rather enamored with the empire he’s assembled down here.

(Dr. Quinnzel tells him that his collections are a valid way to express himself and that he shouldn’t feel bad about having objects that are important to him, as long as he’s aware and makes sure not to hoard things he doesn’t need or might be dangerous.)

The kids take to actual training like happy little trees to a Bob Ross painting. Tim and Jason are deadly on the mats– they’ve been involved in Dick’s play for nearly four years now– and they’re going to grow up and be some of the best fighters on this whole damn planet.

Cass is just much less interested in sparring. She’s sparred enough, honestly, and likes to explore other interesting things that challenge her mind, not her body. It’s now common for Bruce to walk down into the cave after work and see his kids climbing all over something, and Cass is just happy to be hanging off the dinosaur with a tablet in her hand, the sounds of learning programs tinkling out of the speakers.

He comes home from work and he heads directly down into the dark hole underneath his home. It’s cooler there, a little damp, and smells like brackish water and bats. He likes it because it’s his little space carved out in the earth that no one can reach.

But now, some days Bruce walks down and sees everyone trying to land a triple flip, rolling through the movement with a fluid grace and tucking at just the right moment. Sometimes he comes down and his children have jumped into the river below, wading in the tide pools that litter the sides of the bottom of the gallery or relaxing on pool floats. Sometimes there’s fights, sparring and real ones, full of vitriol or full of frustration. Sometimes it’s mellow talks, echoing off the stalagmites, hardly audible against the screeching of the bats.

And sometimes Bruce walks down and all of his children are piled up on the thick mats that butt up against the climbing walls, asleep and curled into one another with a few blankets piled over their heads. They’re totally out when this happens, knocked asleep by a hard day exploring and having fun. Even Dick is quiet now, in sleep he looks a lot younger than his thirteen years.

Or maybe Bruce is just used to seeing Dick hold himself as much older than he is.

Bruce just sighs, quietly.

He takes a picture with his phone as he toes off the polished italian leather work shoes. He pulls a blanket from the basket by the computer and walks over to where his children rest.

Bruce plans on just laying down beside them, maybe do a little bit of work on his phone…

Alfred hangs the picture up in the kitchen, right in the breakfast nook. Bruce is curled around his children, dead to the work, and all of them have migrated to lay close to him. Dick is wrapped up in Bruce’s arms, against his chest, while Jason has tucked himself into Dick’s back by smashing his face into Dick’s shoulder blades. Tim is almost sort of sitting up, leaning against Bruce’s back to rest his head on Bruce’s shoulder. Cass has claimed Bruce’s legs all to herself.

The cave is noisy now, but Bruce finds that he likes it that way.

-🦇-

“I’m getting too old for the leotard.” Robin says, quiet, solemn, while the two of them are on patrol.

Batman is quiet too from where he rests partly on the ledge and partly on a gargoyle, looking out over the city.

They’ve mentioned something like this before, in stuttering hints and maybe half veiled jokes.

Robin doesn’t sound like he’s joking now.

Batman sort of figured this day would come, it was hard to miss that your son has been accidentally writing Nightwing on his reports since day one.

What Bruce didn’t get is… why did Dick want to be called Robin anyway? He responded to it well, but there was always a little bit of a delay, a little bit of hesitation, looking down for half a heartbeat before he moved to his side.

Batman never commented on it, he has his own personal theories on the subject.

“You’re going to give the name to your brother, or your sister?”

Robin thinks about it, kicking his feet out of sync over the entirety of Gotham, looking out on a clear night to see the neon lights mingle together in a cacophony of distractions that all come at a price.

“How did you know I wanted to change my name and not just give myself pants?” Robin dares, holding tightly onto the brick wall.

Bruce reaches over and cuffs Dick’s ear, chidely pinches the top and tugs a little. It makes Dick laugh and swat away at his father’s hands. Bruce rumbles out a low “Don’t be smart with me. You’d wear shorts all year round if we let you. I know it wasn’t a sudden urge to protect your knees.”

Family You Made (Go Back, Do it Again) - JUBE514 - Batman (7)

“I wear knee pads.” Robin kicks up his knees just to show them off, green and custom made to fit him.

Batman just gives him a look.

Robin huffs.

They stay like that, perched like the protectors they think selves to be. The sounds of the city wash through them. The wind up here is bustling and crisp, it feels good on overheated skin.

“Have you thought that, maybe, giving them a hand-me-down isn’t what is going to be the best for them?”

“They’re going to be out here sooner or later.” Robin points out.

Now isn’t that the truth. Bruce knows with each passing moment that the kids inch closer and closer to where Alfred makes them new suits and repairs looking a little bit too interested at the colorful fabrics. Jason loudly talks about how much he likes the color red, something that matches the dark color of his hair.

Bruce isn’t going to let Jason touch this business, not when he still holds his mothers hand and tells her about his day.

(Cathrine talks about how her cancer is just managed at the moment, that the symptoms are just kept at bay enough for her to function properly. She tells them, in heartbreaking sobs and arms hugged across her chest that she only has a half a year according to the doctors.

Bruce doesn’t think about this.)

“If they’re out here, wearing your colors, do you think that’s going to help them work through the same things you needed to work through, or do you think it’s going to limit their growth as people and heroes?”

Another round of silence, quiet even though the wind and the cars and the commerce below them. Thinking happens so fast between the two of them all of the time, every day, so having minutes to respond in a slow and considerate manner was something of a treat.

“You’ve been listening to Dr. Quinn?”

“She’s been rather helpful for the overall health of the company. I have a standing appointment with her every two weeks. She likes me for my mind.”

“That would be new for you.”“She’s gay.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard of you sleeping with a gay woman either.”

“Don’t read the tabloids, they’re bad for you. Also you’re thirteen. Also, stop avoiding the question.”

Not to say that sometimes they didn’t rapid fire sarcasm back and forth. Bruce likes the fact that his children are quick witted enough to flay people neck to hip with a few words. It keeps Bruce sharp.

There's a crackle from the police radio they’re tapped into, something about reported gunshots on Sixth and Kane, and the air turns grave.

“We’ll talk more later?” Robin asks as he starts getting up, already reaching to attach the grapple line to the harness underneath his suit.

“Absolutely, chum.”

A brief one arm hug passes between them. Fast and quick.

They fire their grapples, into the night, towards Sixth and Kane.

Later, Dick and Bruce will have this conversation. Later.

Right now, Batman and Robin have to get to work.

-🦇-

Dick sits, resting against the stairwell of the grand foyer.

He’s meant to be looking after the kids but he’s for sure allowing them to make what is for sure some kind of napalm concoction out of fun and interesting chemicals they’ve pulled from the cave.

Eh. He’s not too worried. They all know what chemicals not to mix. They had to sit through that lecture more than once.

Besides, the rug in the grand foyer is easily replaceable, they’ve also had that lecture before.

So as long as there’s no screaming, crying, or the smell of burning Dick wasn’t gonna move.

Dick was gonna use this time to think about what Bruce had said the other day, thinking about names, legacies, and what they mean.

Because they had all been Robin, at one point. But that wasn’t true was it? Duke hadn’t been, Cass hadn’t been, neither had Barbra or Harper or Jace–

There had only been seven robins, in total. Considering that four of them had died in the colors, it was a miracle they had even gotten that amount in the first place.

It was something Dick had thought about before, when he had turned thirty, when Jason and Tim and himself had gotten beers and drank on the roof of the Titans Tower discussing how f*cked up their lives were. How f*cked up they were. How the entire world was going to hell in a handbasket and there was only so much a Justice League could do about it. Jason– at twenty six and with his hair losing its color to the white streak– had chucked the empty bottle off into the sharp rocks below and had said one of his greatest regrets was not choosing something for himself when he had first started.

I was so wrapped up in the excitement” Jason had said, all those years ago, “I was so wrapped up in the excitement that I never even thought about being anybody that wasn’t you.”

Robin– the name, the colors, the meaning– had been special to Dick, had connected him to his parents and had been the armor against the darkness that leaked into the city all around him. Robin stood for something, stood for getting his parents murderer to justice, stood for being better than the criminals who hurt him–

But it most of all stood as a remembrance of grief.

I was never asked.” Tim had been too close to the edge that day on the roof, worrisome as if a gentle breeze could blow him away, “I was fueled by a need and there was a space so I made myself fit into it.”

There was the memory of Mary’s laughing voice calling out a beloved nickname and of John ruffling his hair and praising his little boy.

That was Dick’s memory.

That was Dick’s memory, and Dick’s alone.

So maybe Robin should be just that then, Dick’s and Dick’s alone. Not a baton to pass and keep alive long after so many of them had died with the R decorating their chest. This was a new start, but how sure was he that their fate was saved from all the troubles that name had given?

The thought of not passing down Robin though feels…

It feels like he is doing a disservice to the memory of the people that are twenty feet from him, twenty years from now.

The creeping feeling of grief imprints itself onto his heart. It’s an instant of warning, the yawning chasm of spiraling downfall that would come of thinking about the people that he lost with this mantle–(He has to sit here and think about the people he’ll gain. He has too. He needs to.)

Dick’s not going to break down any more than he already has about this. He’s not going to spend any more time in the bathroom crying his eyes out about wanting his family back, or about demanding the universe to stop taking things away from him.

“Children.”

That’s Alfred’s voice, on the threshold of the hallway that leads to the kitchen. It sounds serious.

Everyone perks up, from Dick sitting on the stairs to Cass, Tim, and Jason cooking up what might be a crime against humanity.

Alfred’s voice is normally full of warmth, affection, or biting sarcasm. He never sounds…

He never lets himself sound–

Oh.

He’s crying.

He’s holding a phone, crying silent stoic tears that run down his cheeks. “Children, we need to get in the car.”

-🦇-

Catherine Jonah Todd made the world a better place, and she went peacefully into her own heaven while making it so.

She had died in a hospital bed, holding the hands of the people that she loved, after finally losing a seven year long battle with aggressive cancer. She was thirty six years old. She is preceded in death by her husband, Willis Todd, and is survived by her child, Jason Todd.

She will be greatly missed.

- Gotham Gazette, Obituaries.

-🦇-

Catherine’s funeral was nice.

Catherine had a nice life insurance policy and she made sure each of her children had enough to go to at least one year of college. All of them. From Jason to Dick to Tim to Cass. Even if they didn’t need it.

The flowers were pretty. They smelt good.

Stargazers and lilies and mums. Stark white and fresh against the gray overcast and the mourners in black.

Jason cries the whole time. Dick doesn’t blame him. Dick cries a bunch too. The woman had been a mother figure for him for nearly five years now. Cass’s whole face is red, but she doesn’t shed any tears because she had promised she wouldn’t, she had promised that she would be strong for Catherine at the funeral. Tim on the other hand presses his face into whoever he’s closet too and cries into them.

Alfred made sure the funeral is nice. Bruce is there even if there's whisperings in the press about his presence and how he gets full custody of Jason Todd…

Bruce holds Jason, when Jason begins to sob in rib wracking shakes and can't even form words anymore.

Family You Made (Go Back, Do it Again) - JUBE514 - Batman (8)

There’s a lot of coworkers there too, people who really, genuinely loved her.

There’s coworkers, and old friends, and neighbors– all people who would miss her.

Catherine’s funeral was nice because she deserved this, just like how she deserved the flowers and the tears and the urn that’s a beautiful dark red– her absolute favorite color.

Jason hugs his mom close to him when they leave, silhouetted against the dying light of day the color matches his hair.

-🦇-

Dr. Quinn isn’t a child psychologist, but she knows enough around the area to make good recommendations.

They all see different ones, even though they don’t have permission for Tim to go to one. They grease the wheels easily enough with money and vague threats to Janet and Jack.

(They’re growing more and more distant by the day. The Drakes haven’t gone on any month-long trips to donate to less fortunate areas around the world in a while, instead visiting closer country villas when not at their manor. Bruce can tell the two of them are falling apart at the seams. Dick, however, makes a sharp comment towards Jack during an election dinner about how their CFO is looking worried that they’re home all the time, that the man can’t embezzle as easily anymore.)(At least the Drakes are too busy dealing with that particular legal mess to bother policing Tim, at any rate.)

Cass has been going to a few for a multitude of issues that came from delayed language development and isolation, and she’s doing very well. Jason goes to one for grief. Tim goes to one and his reason is different every time which is another problem altogether.

Bruce goes to a therapist too.

Dick thinks… Dick thinks that he should figure that out as well.

He’s gone to a few before undercover, sure, but never as just himself. Never this young. He’s not sure what to expect.

But he has to ask.

So he does, cornering Bruce after dinner when everyones all curled up in the living room for game night. Dick and Bruce clean up the dishes– unbreakable plastic plates with disney princesses and princes on them that are made for rough and rumble handling– and while cleaning they talk.

“I want to maybe go to therapy.”

Bruce hums a little up-down note. It’s not a yes, it's not a no, it's just a filler noise to show that he’s listening.

So Dick has to continue on. “I want to go to therapy because I think it will help me.”

“That’s a stronger statement than your first request.” Bruce says, finally, drying the Disney Hercules plates.

“If you benefit from therapy, then everybody can.” Dick scrubs hard against Prince Aladdin’s face.

“If anybody needs to benefit from therapy, it’s superheros.” Bruce agrees, his eyes are soft as he takes the plate from Dick’s hand. “You think that maybe we should make it mandatory?”

Now that’s an idea.

“We should.” Dick tells Bruce. “We should tell the JLA to make it mandatory.”

It would cut down on the heroes turning evil, that’s for sure. Bruce’s eyebrows pop up, like he’s already thinking of ideas to put into place.

They’re going to be okay.

It hurts now, but it will scar and fade into softer things in time and time is abundant for them right now.

-🦇-

The poppies bloom easily in the solarium. They’re beautiful, a deep russet red. They blossom under the tender care of the entire family.

It’s nice, being able to see the slow growth on the just blooming buds.

It was half and half, the urns. Biodegradable, and full of seeds–

Half of them filled to the brim with wild flowers, scattered carefully along the estate and in the cracks and crevices of the property, places where Catherine would watch the children happily play. Within the month, the Wayne estate is akin to a wildflower sacuantry. There’s butterflies and bumblebees and the colorful wildflowers bring in birds too, chirping in the morning hours and filling their bird feeders to the brim.

The smell of them is fresh, brillant scores of reds and yellows and purples and blues– all color and vibrant life in a once dead manor.

Alfred usually throws open the windows to let in the last dredges of summer and it fills the house with the sweet memory of smiles and laughter and of the name of the woman who had occupied a huge chunk in their lives.

The curtains billow in the soft winds, the memory of a small lonely boy on a cold stormy night with a broken window and a rabid bat gets smoothed over with the image of the children dancing with the fabric before dinner.

-🦇-

“I want to fight crime.”

It’s just Bruce, Jason, and Cass tonight at dinner, Dick’s in San Francisco with the Titans and Tim’s stuck in his own home with his parents.

Jason struck at just the right moment, and he knows it.

He’s a little sh*t like that.

Bruce goes through his list of normal arguments, from when you’re older (not applicable, considering Jason’s a year older than Dick when Dick started being Robin) to go ask your mother (not applicable, mother is dead).

He runs out of them rather fast, actually.

sh*t.

What are some of those Google searches he did about how to raise a kid? Why can he never remember anything from all those child raising books and for dummies guides? Bruce is terrible at this. There should be more than a handful of reasons why children shouldn’t go out and beat up muggers.

There should be a good reason.

Why is Bruce so bad at being able to come up with those reasons?!He shouldn’t have let Dick run around in a leotard and fight murders. Maybe that is where he went wrong in life. Exactly at that moment.

(Not at putting on the Batman costume. That was endangering himself and only himself, okay?)

“Eat your broccoli.” is the only thing that Bruce can think to say in response, brain lagging a little.

Jason and Cass scrunch up their noses, looking down at their plates that are lima beans and mashed potatoes and lemon pepper chicken.

Alfred, from where he is in the kitchen making desert, chokes on his laughter.

“I am attacked from all sides.” Bruce decides to announce, loudly enough to wrangle another chuckle out of Alfred.

“If you’re attacked on all sides that means you need help in the field right?” Jason cuts in, eyes too sharp for a ten year old, smile too wide for Bruce to feel comfortable. “That mean you need help? I can provide it.”

“Me too.” Cass taps her chest twice. She’s eleven, but that’s not any better than ten.

Bruce needs backup. Needs backup so bad.

At least Tim isn’t here, because he’s even younger.

And his arguments are also very good.

sh*t.

“How much have you thought about this?” Bruce has to ask, just to get an idea on how to proceed with his own argument– which at the moment is just berating him for the broccoli comment.

Jason and Cass look at one another, communicated through a complicated series of eyebrow twitches and sign language– wait is that Chinese Sign Language? Son of a bitch who is teaching these children all these languages?– before turning to him.

“I’ve been thinking of it since I was seven.” Jason decides on.

Cass forms the words much more slowly, much more thoughtfully. “I knew you were a fighter. At once. As soon as I saw you. I’m in.”

Bruce thinks, looks down at his lemon pepper chicken and tries to come up with anything to keep his children safe and sound for another moment– “I’m going to talk to Dick about this.”

Jason and Cass light up.

“This is not a yes.” Bruce warns them both and frowning at the way that it did feel like a yes to them. “Don’t think of it as such.”

-🦇-

“So are you going to say yes?” Robin asks.

Batman wants to rub at his temples, but sure enough the two of them are tied upside down over a pit of what might be acid, might be rancid mountain dew– who knew which was worse.

“I’m not going to say yes.” Batman growls. He’s got a knife in his belt– but his hands are squished to his back in the net and having no purchase to wiggle out of it is making it rather hard to wiggle around to grab at it. “They’re children.”

Robin scoffs, the bad guy scoffs, Harvey Dent and Jim Gordon (where they are also tied together) scoff.

“I did not ask for this audience!.” Batman reminds them all.

“I didn’t ask to capture you!” Sal Maroni is an idiot, and he’s caught in one of his own traps, hanging around by his ankle and too bulbous to climb himself up. Robin and Batman had interrupted him halfway through setup and now everyone is strung up hanging over what may or may not be lemon-limeade that went bad in ‘87.

Or it’s acid.

Either way, both options sucks.

Harvey and Jim are here because they were meant to be playing the part as bait but they weren’t put up over the trap when Batman had busted down the ceiling.

The entire thing went FUBAR sideways and rather quickly. Sal Maroni is tied above the second vat of what may or not be the world's most dangerous red bull, having been caught in his own trap as he tried to execute safety net measures to keep Batman from kicking his ass in less than a minute.

Really all that had happened was too many nets had shot out all at once from everywhere and the only thing that saved anybody was the fact that the nets had gotten stuck in both the rafters and all over them, leaving them all awkwardly suspended.

Well, Jim and Harvey are just regularly suspended about a foot off the ground. They’re not dangerously teetering over anything at all.

“I think you shouldn’t allow anybody to be a child soldier in your parody of a crusade.” Harvey is kicking his feet, idly waiting to be saved. “Including the one you have right here, in a crime scene and at this moment, nonetheless.”

Robin wiggles a little more, popping his face out of the netting right over Batman’s head. “I think you’re just upset because all members of law enforcement are required to get therapy now.”

“I think that you’re a child.” Harvey stresses the word. “There’s nothing good that will come out of you experiencing all of these things at the guidance of a madman.”

“I saw my first dead bodies before I even met Batman.”

Harvey startles at that, jerking back and making Jim go “Woah!” from where they were roped together.

Even Batman makes a wince.

Boo f*cking Hoo.

Dick’s got a lot of things to say to Harvey Dent.

He might not be Two Face here, and he might never be now that there’s an entire magical community taking apart the curses that leak into the water, but the man is still irritatingly bullheaded.

(Zatana’s got a whole collection of Gotham water and she’s rather astounded by its destructive capability. Constantine uses it as a strange kind of valuable barter for his demon acquaintances. Apparently the original sludge stuff where it came from tastes amazing to the denizens of hell.

This is a problem that has been slowly solved, Gotham is down from fourteen separate but active curses to only six the last time they checked. They’re doing great. It took ages to reach this point originally.)

(Also, Gotham is currently using the same watershed Metropolis does while they work out their whole ‘cursed’ problem. It sucks to share it with people from the sunnier side of the bay, but hey, they haven’t seen Killer Croc popping out from somewhere, so it’s mostly a win.)

So Dick destroys every single piece of sh*t argument that Harvey has ever thought of, has ever spoken of, has ever brought up on TV, during his grandstanding speeches. Dick wiggles so he faces where the other two men are hanging and lets all of his frustration that has been building up in his for years.

It’s a verbal beatdown that lasts about an hour.

He’s pretty proud of it too.

The only reason why Dick stops is that Bruce cuts them down, saying that it’s bad for people to be suspended for so long.

Harvey’s face is so red that he can’t look Batman or Robin in the eye. Jim is even embarrassed for him.

Sal Maroni gets cuffed and he looks like he’s pretty desperate to get out of this whole mess. He practically begs to get escorted out of there and out of Robin’s vicious line of fire words.

By the end of the whole ordeal Harvey has long gone, escaped into the first police car that arrived on scene. Sal Maroni is confessing enough to get into Blackgate Prison so he could get away from the demon of a kid, and Jim sidles back into the slight darkness that Batman and Robin occupy.

“Personally.” Jim starts, casual as he can. “I think that if the other kids need you, you should let them need you.”

Batman doesn’t respond, neither does Robin.

Jim didn’t expect them to.

“Sure, being a kid is about being safe, being protected, but sometimes–” Jim pulls a cigarette out, inspecting it more so than actually lighting it. “Sometimes, being a kid is about needing something bigger than the parent wants to give them. Exploring something new. It’s a phase, and all that.”

Robin moves closer to Batman, sliding right up and tucking himself into the darkness of the cape. Disappearing into it completely.

“You’re one of the best men out here, B.” Jim says, low and serious. “You’ve never put your kid in anything you thought he couldn’t handle.”

With that, Jim puts the cigarette to his mouth, moving to light it.

By the time Jim gets the first inhale of the warm spiced air of the Malbro Red, Batman and Robin are gone.

-🦇-

Jason and Cass hold one another’s hands. It’s dark, they’re meant to be sleeping, but it’s hard when there’s a thunderstorm raging outside and the radio in the kitchen had told them that there had been a huge gas explosion in China Town right before they were meant to lay down.

The door opens.

Cass and Jason shoot up, eyes white, desperate to see the figure of their father, or their oldest brother–

Only it’s Tim’s small form, holding onto the doorknob with white knuckles from the strength of his grip.

Cass scoots over.

Jason opens the covers.

Tim runs across the room, the entire place lighting up in a flash of lighting for enough of a moment to watch Tim make a leap to slam himself into the covers next to his siblings.

Jason’s wearing Bruce’s well worn, well loved Gotham’s Knight sweater, and with that means he has to be in the middle of the furnace that is their bed. Cass reaches over and gives Tim’s shoulder a squeeze.

They should be out there, with Bruce and Dick– helping them be safe– helping people who need it.

But for now, they wait.

-🦇-

Bruce holds Jason in one hand, and Cass in the other. He presses both children to his chest, holding them tightly.

“You have to follow every instruction I give you.” He tells them fiercely. “Every single word I say to you on the field you follow, do you understand?”

Two nods, quick and excitedly furious against Bruce’s shoulders.

“You’ll have to go through serious training and don’t act like it’s just play.” He says again, he’ll say as many times as he needs too. “If I catch you out there not taking this seriously– I’ll pull you out and bring you home.”

More nods, Cass is wiggling in his hold.

“My main priority is your safety.” Bruce had come to terms about that in therapy– that he had to shift focus from making the people of Gotham better now and had to shift into crime prevention methods. This includes making sure that children have access to opportunities that their parents didn’t. It’s also all about giving income across the board to everyone who lives inside the borders of the city and having enough charity work centered here more than the rest of the country combined.

“If I tell you to go to your brother, or to go home, you do just that.”

Bruce holds both of them tightly. Just one more time.

He lets his arms go lax.

Both of them wiggle free, excited, bright and happy. They’re already asking about training.

They don’t actually need that much more, they’ve been prepped for this their whole lives through various and vastly different means.

But Bruce is going to train them anyway, just to make sure that they’re not only good but that they're better than good.

“Are we both going to be Robin?” Cass asks, looking back over her shoulder, a questioning quirk of her brow.

It’s a good question, one that Bruce doesn’t have the right to answer.

-🦇-

Dick kicks out Jason’s ankle.

Jason shouts a curse as he goes down in a ball of fury.

Cass is with Tim on the comfortable mat by the climbing wall, going over how to collect evidence at a crime scene.

Jason lays there, on the floor, huffing out and trying to get his breath. He’s not wheezing hard yet, just getting into a good stride in his workout.

Bruce was at the computer, listening to them, while Alfred was cleaning up after the bats that live above them, cursing greatly as he scrubs.

Dick holds out a hand.

Jason takes it.

And he’s back on his feet, time to go another round.

“Are we going to be Robin too?” Jason has to ask, figuring it was easy enough to get it over now.

Cass had wanted to wait until the right moment, perfectly placing the words she had painstakingly written out and considered. Jason was more impatient, he had known Dick for longer and knew that Dick would react just as well to the spontaneous question than to a more detailed interview.

High kick. Dodge. Low jab. Dodge.

Dick co*cks his head, a holdover from having to emote through a mask. He’s thinking.

High jab. Dodge. Low Kick. Dodge.

“Robin was my mothers nickname for me.” Dick says this slowly, carefully, like he’s already had this conversation before and just needs to phrase it just right.

Right hook. Dodge. Left hook. Dodge.

Dick’s motions are practiced, perfected, better than perfect. Most criminals don’t have any kind of mastery over fighting– they rely on weapons and guns– so having this one thing over the criminals on the street ends more fights than prolongs.

High kick. Dodge. Low jab. Dodge.

“I think–” Dick swallows his words, just for a second. “I think that you and Cass need to find wings of your own.”

Jason’s heart sinks.

High jab– whack!

Now his nose is broken too!

“Jason!” Dick’s instantly there, soothing and reaching out and pressing fingers gingerly against Jason’s face.

Dick sets Jason’s nose, the pop loud in Jason’s ears.

It stings, but broken noses are more annoying than they are deadly– he knows this from all those years playing high stakes chicken with Tim. Jason’s probably going to have two black eyes in the upcoming days.

Which honestly? f*cking sucks.

But that’s the least of his worries.

Dick pries open Jason’s closed eyes, looking into both of them, demanding Jason to follow his finger. Head injuries are no joke, even when doing low stakes basic sparring that’s more move-set than force.

Jason doesn’t have a concussion, he can tell, the hit just got his nose hit wrong.

Dick’s still there, making soothing shushing noises and gently rubbing Jason’s temples.

“I didn’t mean it like that.” Dick is saying over the soft sounds that escape him. “I meant that you need to find your own reason to fly.”

Jason buries his head into the embrace, being extremely careful of his face. He puts his forehead right on Dick’s collarbone.

“Little wing, the colors you decide to fly under should be yours. It should be personal to you and you alone. Bruce chose bats to conquer his fear, I chose a robin to pay tribute to my mother– you and Cass need to find your own reason to go out there too.”

Dick is four years older than Jason, and taller, so when he holds Jason he encompases the whole of Jason’s self.

“If you fly as Robin, you won't be fighting for you.” Dick’s whispering, fierce, determined, steel. “What do you want to say about your kind of justice, Jason? What do you want people to look at when you defend them? What kind of symbol do you want to embody?”

“Who do you want to honor, when you fly?”

-🦇-

Cass thinks about it. She thinks about it long and hard and considers each of the people in her life that she may or may not want to reflect on when she goes to fight. She stands on the back porch right before the sun rises, woken up by Alfred moving around downstairs.

Jason already has his name. He had thought about it for nearly a whole week before he had presented it to the whole family in practiced confidence hiding his embarrassment.

It was only met with excitement and congratulations.

He was going to take his mothers middle name and turn into a hero that would help people like her. He wants to help the battered women and the poor and the addicted– everyone he’s seen down on their luck before Dick came into their lives. He wants to fight for the people that need a hand up the most.

For her it’s different.

Cass doesn’t want to fight for her real father, the man who denied her the pleasures of words and communication, who stuck her alone and haunted for so, so long. She doesn’t want to fight for her mother, who views Cass as more of a strange half formed being than anything else. No, she doesn’t want to fight for them.

But she does want to in some way. She wants to fight because she’s good at fighting. She’s more natural at using her body to beat down than she is with asking for another cookie after dinner.

She wants to fight for the people who have taken her in and made her feel so welcome here, have taught her so many things, who gave her the gift to speak and to read and to have friends. She’ll get to be in Jason’s grade soon because she’s very very smart according to her tutors– smart enough even that she’ll be able to follow along and get to interact with people outside of her ballet and theater classes.

She wants to fight for her brothers, who don’t treat her like glass, who help her with her assignments, who explain things to her when she asks them too, and who will always spar with her when she needs to get the energy out. She wants to fight for her dad, who picks her up while he’s on the phone and who lets her ride around on his shoulders like she never got to with her birth father, and who teaches her how to soothe the ache in her bones. She wants to fight for her grandfather too, who cooks her wonderful food, who lets her take long wonderful showers, and who makes her clothes that are bright and happy and swirl around her as she dances.

She wants to fight. It was hardly an option to not to.

Yet.

Sometimes … sometimes she doesn’t want it as much as she should.

She likes working in the lab. She likes learning new things in the books that her and Tim read about forensics. She likes working the communication lines with Jason. She likes hearing about how Dick has to talk to the police and explain how the crime had been committed and what the plan was now moving forward. She likes listening to Bruce run the company, hearing him talk about numbers and statistics, and having to figure out the flow and logistics in his complicated business words.

She likes the fact that there’s this option that’s existing outside of having to bruise her knuckles. She likes looking down and seeing her skin be blemish free for the first time in her entire life. She likes being out of pain.

Her heart sings and thrives and she wants to make sure that others can feel the same way she does, now.

But to do that without fighting requires something like Bruce is doing with his company, requires her to be older, more wise in the ways of the world with numbers she only recently grasped, to learn from him for years and years more.

For now, at this moment, all she can do well is fight.

Cass glances at her fingers and looks at them as crooked and scarred and molted things that have created so much pain in her short life.

She looks at the fingers that one day might help more than they ever could hope to hurt.

She thinks about what she wants, looking at the autumn sun rising over the thousands of wildflowers that have overtaken the edges of the lawn to bring a new day into the world.

Cass smiles at it as she comes up with her name.

-🦇-

Sunbird and Dove.

Robin can’t look prouder, holding a shoulder each of the two young pretweens who stand beside him.

Jim, on the other hand, itches for another cigarette. He’s promised his wife and his daughter that he would quit. He’s down to two a night. It’s been going well.

But this?

Batman looks like a man who is showing off his kids’ gold medals. He’s practically preening. Jim is sure he looks the same when one of his kids does something particularly clever.

Sunbird is a little slip of a child, short and thin and with a cowl covering their hair. The mask has yellow lacing on it, lacing that connects to the hood to keep the hood up. There’s a bird logo made out of that same lacing on the kid’s chest, dyed to make it look like a sunrise. The kid’s got a huge utility belt that’s also in that sunrise yellow color, that also is held up by that same lacing. Everything that isn’t the lacing is matte black.

Dove is the exact opposite, in blues and whites and with just the domino mask that Robin favors so his curly hair can spring free. This is the second kid who’s running around in shorts too– God don’t they get cold? Dove’s logo is also a stylized bird, only different in that light baby blue hue.

They’re super cute, Jim admits. He did help with the idea so he shouldn’t really be surprised.

“New recruits?” Jim has to ask, smiling down at them. “Must say, this whole group is starting to look real professional.”

Sunbird and Dove get even brighter, Robin looks like he’s about to burst from happiness.

The kids sort of look like halloween trick or treaters, but only if trick or treaters are also armed to the teeth.

Dove walks forward, holding one of the bags that Jim recognizes from when Batman and Robin have given the GCPD evidence before. It’s sealed with a special tape that has little bats on it. It’s a super cute aesthetic for a man who’s able to break every bone in a man’s body.

Jim thanks Dove for handing it over. Dove is a strict professional, rattling off the case, where it was, who they had caught there, what was in the bag, and what the police would find when they entered the scene. A robbery gone wrong and the culprit is now knocked out and tied to the barstool of the widow’s home.

Jim almost wants to give Dove a sticker. That was more professional than most cops can deliver when on the stand.

Sunbird has another bag, Sunbird walks forward and hands over another bundle of evidence, with that same cute tape to seal it, and talks about a money laundering scheme that they had found evidence of while going through case files and mapping out current murder sprees.

By the time Jim realizes the absurdity of it all, he’s already received six cases for the night and the birds are already gearing up to go.

They move like a well oiled machine, taking out their grapples, hooking it to the harness underneath their suits, and already off within seconds together.

“They’re cute.” Jim tells B. “You’re raising them well.”

Batman sighs, deep. “I don’t know if I’m raising them, or if they’re raising me at this point.”

-🦇-

Tim works support in the cave as he hasn’t reached the weight or the height requirements that Bruce has set yet. Yet being the operative term there.

Dove and Sunbird work with Robin, and Batman takes everything that’s actually really dangerous.

It works for everyone.

Dove gets his name laughed at once before he breaks that asshole’s jaw. It also gets around pretty quickly that Robin and Dove are the distraction for Sunbird to come up and kick your sh*t in.

Sunbird is quiet, and over the radio if you listen hard enough you’ll hear the family call her Sunny.

Dove on the other hand is loud and is proud, and he hits hard against everyone in his direct path. He’s got that typical creativity and ingenuity of a bat, but the righteous mean streak against everyday criminal assholes and kindness towards the abused is all his.

He’s got a blue and white knuckle duster, Dove uses it literally and liberally.

Sunbird is partial to her own plain fist in armored gloves, but it’s quickly known that the lacing on her costume doubles as a sunrise colored garrote when needed.

They get a little older again, as time tends to do to the people who live it.

The Titans love Dove and Sunbird, they latch onto the little siblings that Dick shares with them during the occasional team ups and visits.

People seem surprised to learn that Sunbird is a girl– they thought that she was another boy albeit with a smaller figure compared to the other two. When that little tidbit gets around people are horrifically upset for whatever reason, but the fashion line that Wayne Industries put out– designed by Dick himself and modeled by his sister Cassandra– gets eaten up by the women and girls who love the fact that they have their own home grown Gotham girl fighting against the ever lowering crime rate.

Dick couldn’t have been any prouder.

-🦇-

A stray rumor gets passed onto them, from the grapevine of a grapevine of a grapevine.

The Justice League had overhears something about the whisperings of growing mumblings– of the assassins that believe in a perfect biodiversity.

Clark grabs ahold of Bruce’s elbow after one meeting up in the watchtower, gently tugging against the rough and tumble pads there. It’s urgent enough that Superman hardly stops himself from pulling his strength.

Superman had spoken to Batman about how Robin asked him to keep an ear out on this particular compound– maybe just listening occasionally to make sure the League of Assassins didn’t do anything too egregious. Clark had reported things every now and again, speaking to heroes that work in the area that the League had bases most of their regions and they’re budding into something that’s more than a threat.

It usually is just a normal amount of worrisome, something he doesn’t really put too much thought aside from deploying heroes to mitigate any possibility of it growing into something more alarming.

Well, usually, until something had jumped out at him, about a week ago.

It was a sharp cry of a young child, a baby, The quick hushing of a woman, the quick exchange of words that are angry, in a language that Clark only sort of understood. A curse, another woman chiding.

The woman was mad cursing something that translates to the prince of demons, rambling about how he had been stolen from the bat.

Clark had listened a lot harder, then. He had gathered up information, gathered up things that might have been useful for Batman to hear.

The hero had a good understanding about what had been happening over there was happening as quietly as it could possibly be– it’s hard not to understand that despite the lack of translation– of a woman and the soft cries of a baby trying to be kept hidden from everyone outside of the compound's walls. He had asked Bruce about it, after the meeting.

Bruce had gone very still, and very quiet.

Clark makes sure that he’s there, breathing, leaning against his best friend as Bruce shakes himself apart over a lie that had been told to him.

-🦇-

Dick is aware that he might have erased Damian’s entire existence with his actions. He understands the consequences of messing with the timeline.

Nothing was guaranteed, not in the past when Dick had been doing this the first time around and certainly not now the second time through.

Stephanie, in the first life, was a smiling chaotic mess that was a great addition to the team, snarky and purple and wild and free

Now, in the second, she is still Stephanie, but she will never become a vigilante.

There’s no reason for her to ever take that step anyways. Her father isn’t a criminal. Crime rates are down all across the city. She’s happy, her family is thriving and they’re doing so well her mother is actually pregnant with another child at the moment. Stephanie’s a gymnast and she’s still got that excited spunk that made her fundamentally Steph, but she’s different in more ways than her previous self was.

She’s happier like this.

Dick has to be okay with that.

(He has to. What is done is done.)

But Damian is a whole different story. Damian is the result of two ends of madness smashing together to get an angry ball of highly trained rage. Dick had half raised Damian up into a respectable young man– a young man who had gone to veterinary school and had cried for two days surrounded by family when he first had to put down an animal.

Damian was Dick’s youngest little baby bat of a brother who mumbled out his thoughts when he was thinking too hard and wrapped himself around you when he gave hugs. Damian had been the only brother not to surpass Dick in height, the only brother to braid his hair and paint henna onto his hands during downtimes or when the rest couldn’t be pulled out of each of their works.

And Dick had to live with the question on whether or not Damian would exist at all.

Dick had known, had known, that nothing was set in stone. He had come to look at himself hard when he had first woken up in the past and had made himself a promise that he was here to make everyone happy, not to gain back the family that he had lost, the very family that suffered and had weathered storms nobody should ever have to live through.

Dick had told himself sterny that he was not going to undermine his family and friends' lives just so he can get certain people back.

So when Dick hears the news– that Damian is alive, that Damian is a true baby now just waking up the world, that his brother his baby brother oh my God

Dick weeps.

-🦇-

“You’re going to be good for Uncle Clark?” Bruce tugs down Tim’s shirt as he asks the question. It’s red and it’s printed on with some kind of comic book hero on the front– a testament on how much of a child he is despite all his intelligence. “Are you going to be good while we go on this mission?”

Tim smiles like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. “Of course! When are we ever bad, huh Bruce?”

He lies.

Bruce could make a list so long he’d have a novel. His kids are little demons. He could call them out on it with receipts upon receipts upon f*cking reciepts.

But instead of doing just that, he pinches Tim’s ear, tweaking the outside of it and making Tim’s face twitch. “Be nice. You’ve already run off all the other babysitters I could ask or even pay for.”

“And Jason will never forgive me for running away Ms. Diana, yes, yes, I remember. I understand that Bruce.” Tim rolls his eyes but Jason was very serious about making Tim sorry he had been born when Tim had accidentally set Diana’s hair on fire that one time. Bruce wasn’t there to see it, only getting a frantic call about a lighter and some insect repellant spray. He comes back to the Wonder Woman asking where he found the little hellhounds, a little bit singed.

Cass, from the manor’s security cameras, had been laughing very hard for somebody on Diana’s shoulders at the time of the incident.

Hal had been asked to do this once too, but he still had the scars on his hands from what Dick, Cass, Jason, and Tim had inflicted on him with a toaster.

Barry loved the kids, but the speedster was too easily distractible and the children liked using him for educational (see: mischievous) purposes more than anything else– Barry couldn’t even tell any of them no.

Aquaman had tried once, using the brackish water in the cave’s tide pools for a bed to get away from all the ruckus– but when he had woken up the children had been sleeping in the water with him on precarious pool floats. The resulting freak out resulted in the water in the cave being a half a foot higher than it should be, which honestly hasn’t even gone down from when it happened two months ago.

The titans were fun and fine and all that, but the children are just too damn persuasive and the last time they babysat was when Bruce had to break his mission early to come home and prevent them all from putting the state of California into a dictator state with Cyborg in charge and Beast Boy as the mascot.

And not to mention J’onn– but then again the less said about J’onn’s tenure as their babysitter the better everyone’s sanity is. He’s still not very vocal about what happened or how he got stuck halfway into the refrigerator with the orange juice being where his spleen was.

Now Clark is up to the plate, normally not asked for his usefulness is usually more important elsewhere.

The man in question is watching from the door, leaning against the doorframe and holding Dick on his hip.

Dick wanted to go with Bruce, demanding, screaming, crying, but Bruce had put his foot down and had told Dick no.

Dick was fourteen, almost fifteen. He was good, so good, at what he did– that also included tantrums apparently.

But Bruce loved him too much to watch Dick shatter if this went wrong.

Bruce isn’t stupid, he is actually rather smart if he does say so. He’s watched his kid grow and flourish for nearly eight years now. He had seen Dick go from terrified to unsure to confident and bold in a matter of months. He’s watched as Dick already had plans, already knew things and objects that he shouldn’t, he’s watched and made note that Dick already knew who his family was, long before he had ever heard of them.

Bruce knows that Dick knew who this secret kid was. Bruce knows that Dick probably had memories and a sibling relationship and a connection to the boy in the mountains that may or may not be who Dick was thinking of.

Bruce wouldn’t let Dick be crushed if something went wrong. Couldn’t let his first child down in case it wasn’t what he hoped it to be.

So while they watch, he finishes straightening up Tim’s shirt and brushing off invisible lints, kissing the kid on the forehead and standing up from his crouch.

Tim darts away, giggling something soft that promises danger in that cute voice he has. Bruce is definitely not going to be envious of Clark these next coming days.

Bruce moves to pass by Clark, to pass out of the family rooms and into the foyer where he knows Jason waits for him to say goodbye too. Dick reaches his arms out, and the boy might be getting big but Bruce is still strong enough to hold him close.

So he does. He picked Dick up effortlessly, bracing the teen against his hip like Clark had done.

Dick in turn tucks his head into Bruce’s collarbone, frowning.

Bruce hums a little up down half song the whole way, something easy and simple and something he might have half remembered from Alfred comforting Bruce when Bruce was little.

He has to leave soon, to grab the son who they both made in bed, in spirit– in her with methods of surrogation because of his vasectomy– a son who Talia had told him had died two years ago from something he couldn’t remember now.

But for now, Bruce gets to hold the first son he ever had close, butterfly kisses on his crown.

-🦇-

Clark sleeps in one of the guest rooms, herding the children to their pre-bed routines and off to each of their rooms after a long night of patrol with the help of Alfred.

Tim needs to be reminded to brush his teeth and to be told to stop using his gadgets after midnight. Jason needs to be reminded about his retainer and needs to be checked in on to make sure he’s not reading. Cass goes to bed rather easily, but she needs to be kept asleep, as she is sometimes prone to nightmares and subsequently known to throw a loose punch upon waking up from it. She doesn’t like to be alone, so Clark, albeit tired, indulges her for an episode of Totally Spies– a bat-approved activity that makes her fall asleep within minutes.

Easy enough to follow the instructions.

Clark wonders if that’s it, that that’s what made rounds in the JLA breakroom like horror stories.

They must be overreacting. Hal should be embarrassed by how easy it is for Clark.

Well– maybe he gloats in his head until Cass disappears.

She’s not in her bed, or in her room, or in the bathroom– she’s not in the kitchen, she’s not in Jason’s room (“Put the book away, Jason, I can see your light under the covers– that won’t work, I have xray vision–”), she’s not in Tim’s room (“If I catch you on your laptop open again I’m taking it away from you– Tim please, you don’t need to know the hearing frequency of dogs at two in the morning– ”) she’s not in Dick’s room (which he surprisingly finds the boy actually tucked in and sleeping) and she’s definitely not in Bruce’s untouched room.

No– her heartbeat keeps moving. One second it's in the library and Clark makes his way there, only for it to then turn and suddenly it’s in the study, then it turns again and somehow it’s downstairs. All of this without meeting his frantic speeding down the hallways.

Is she crawling through the walls?

It takes six hours to finally track her down to the greenhouse, asleep among the roses with her arm bent under her head. She looks too peaceful for someone who has made Clark run around in circles down the corridors of Wayne’s West Wing.

He can’t even move her, because she’d wake up and he’ll have to start all over again. So Clark sighs, and reminds himself to tell Alfred where Cassandra is and how she hadn’t gotten enough sleep last night and to maybe let her skip breakfast–

But now Tim is up and about. Clark could hear his little heartbeat, rapid fast and excited, over something.

Clark makes his way to Tim’s room, following the sounds of giggles and the irritating sound of–

White noise.

It jarrs Clark, making him stumble as he is walking up the stairs.

A white noise machine, and it’s set at just the right frequency to really be an irritating earworm. Eugh. It drowns out the rest of the noises of the hou–

Tim’s not in his room. He repeats, Tim is not in his darn room.

Another white noise machine starts up, somewhere further down the hallway.

Clark has the sinking feeling that he’s about to be played like a fiddle by the kids in this house.

-🦇-

Nanda Prabat is exactly like how Bruce remembers it. The leader of this cult has lived for six hundred years already and so change does not come swiftly in these hills.

The weather is the same, bitingly cold and piled with frostbitten winds. The buildings are the same too, gilded and shining and half on the edge of falling apart. Even the people are the same.

Talia fights like she f*cks.

That hasn’t changed either.

She’s vicious, deadly, and so damn beautiful. This is the world's most dangerous version of flirting.

Bruce didn’t come here to fight her just as much as he didn’t come here to go against Ra’s. He came here to see why she lied to him.

And from her insistent blows and heated words, they’re nowhere near the talking phase.

This is going to take some time.

-🦇-

There’s seven white noise machines. SEVEN!

And they all overlap.

Clark has not seen one darn kid this entire weekend.

Jason had shown up to breakfast once, informed Clark in succinct tones that the four of them– yes, Dick included– were going to be dismantling a cult about some kind of bird in Gotham, and that they knew that Clark wasn’t meant to let them out without Bruce being here but that also Clark couldn’t catch them now, could he?

They knew what they were doing, he says as he sipped his orange juice. Clark could only frown.

Then It seemed like Clark had just blinked and suddenly Alfred was laughing at him and the kid was gone together with the rest of the plate of stacked up waffles.

Sometimes there was a giggle coming from a rafter, or from a window, or from under the couch. Sometimes Clark could hear them moving around the damn white noise machines that were driving him up the f*cking wall!

He’d snap his head back, breaking the speed of light that it makes his movements a f*cking blur, but they’d still be long f*cking gone before he caught either hair or hide of anyone.

“Please!” Clark begs to the walls. “I will buy you ice cream!”

They have got to be moving through passages in the walls. Clark can almost swear it if he could only catch them. That's the only way the kids have avoided him for this long.

But the damn walls have lead paint in them so his xray was next to useless and Clark is in literal hell.

Alfred is no help too. He cleans up, does his regular room maintenance and chores, discusses the estate with the hired help that cleans the grounds, and puts out food at timed intervals.

Clark has tried watching the food– watched it for nearly an hour– and nearly tore his hair out.

He had been called away for only half a second– only half a damn second because he’s Superman and one of the fastest beings on Earth– just for a second to handle something in Metropolis that needed a minute of Superman’s time.

And food had been gone when he came back, licked clean and ready to be picked up and cleaned by Alfred who merely smiled at the ends of his mustache.

He checked the cave, all over– even the stalagmites which might have scared some bats– and still they’re not there. Bedrooms, Libraries, studies, dens, parlors, servants quarters, stairways, closets– all of them.

The kids were here. They were in the manor. He hears them scuttling.

Clark just needed to prove it.

-🦇-

“This is a cult!” Bruce screams, he’s got Talia pinned in the snow, pretty, panting, with blood around them that isn’t theirs by littered half alive ninjas. They’re outside, the wind whips around them in a furious SCREECH! “A cult that has overtaken your life, your dreams, and your ideas! What have you done that's just you? What has this place not tainted you with?”

“What do you know?!” Talia screams back, she’s fighting like a demon against Bruce’s hold, writhing and pulling and kicking. But Bruce is bigger. Larger. She will not get out unless he wants to– and he doesn’t want to. They needed this conversation. “What do you know about separating yourself from the work that you do? You’ve been nothing but obsessed over that city ever since I met you!”

“You think I don’t know that?” Bruce has a broken nose, bruised ribs, he knows more secrets now than he thought he did going in. The fight is done, but Batman isn’t.

How dare Ra’s act like this? “You think I didn’t know that I’m obsessive, and addicted, and all those other horrible things that leads to ruining my own f*cking life? You think I didn’t know that if I got in here with you, all the way, I wouldn’t end up just the same as I am right now– over my head? I know I would be and that’s why I left!

“You would have been fighting by my side, by your son's side! With a purpose!–”

“I wouldn’t be fighting with anybody! I would be just as ruined here as I am everywhere else.”

The fight goes out of Talia, collapsing onto the snow, her hair spills around her like a bloody halo of the people that they’ve fought.

Bruce has to make her understand. “I’m a terrible, awful person, Talia. I don’t pay enough attention to anybody around me, I’m f*cked up in the head, I’m broken in ways you– or anyone– can fix. Do you understand? You can’t fix me.”

Talia looks up at him, into his eyes. It wasn’t the first time they were in this position– she hopes it wouldn’t be the last. “You haven’t let me try, beloved.

-🦇-

Clark is going mad. Maybe even enough to send his mandated JLA therapy session several weeks earlier.

It’s been four days.

He has seen the very tip of Tim’s heel once.

He’s tried to call in favors, really, he has! But people merely wished him luck and told freaking Superman that this is something that they can’t handle.

The children are clearly doing something, because there have been unprecedented strings of arrests in the upper echelon of the Gotham elite. It’s all over the news, plastered on TV and Twitter, and Facebook– all about rich people being paraded out of their homes in handcuffs and cussing at the sky.

Robin, Sunbird, and Dove have been credited in all of the arrests.

And Clark is losing it at home.

He can’t hear anything in the house, they’ve taken to turning the things on and off at random, with no pattern, it’s just enough that Clark wants to tear his hair out with the noise and the un-noise. The whole house, at its core, is almost designed on purpose to be confusing to regular people unfamiliar with it. Add the white noise and the lead painted walls meant that Clark can’t even cheat despite how frantic he begs the vents to make it stop.

Clark shows up in Gotham once to try and catch the little assholes when they’re outside and in the city when they aren’t meant to be. He hasn’t even heard of them despite the continuous coverage of what’s happening over something the Gotham’s local bird population has been tearing down.

They’re crafty bastards, the kids are winning.

He’s not going to let Bruce down, he promised to keep an eye on these kids, he’s begged and bartered and even tried offering to bring them down to the fortress and let them explore if they just allowed him reprieve.

Only a giggle and shushing through the corridors echoed back at his face.

The kids are taunting him.

This is a horror movie, specifically designed to make Clark crazy.

There’s giggling coming from the attic again, Clark can tell it’s Cass this time. There’s also the sound of feet in the wine cellar, the weight of each footprint makes Clark think it’s Jason.

Son of a bitch.

-🦇-

Talia shows him riches he doesn’t care about, shows him people who would serve him that won’t compare to Alfred back at home. She tries to sway him with the animals that they’ve kept from extinction, and while Bruce is very proud that they’re trying to conserve things like this, there’s also the downside that they’re keeping some of these rare and exotic animals like strange pets.

Bruce, still, pets a dodo bird. He’s not going to turn that one down.

Talia is a wonderful woman, with wonderful persuasive techniques on top of her knowing her effect on him–

But Bruce and her are bad for each other. He knows this. She knows this too.

They fight more than they talk and it takes Bruce nearly three days to actually see Talia’s lies, all bundled up in silk and in the arms of a nursemaid.

Talia said his name was Damian.

Bruce holds the child gently, so gently. Damian’s got his mother’s green eyes and elegant nose, but aside from that is all from Bruce’s– his cheekbones were Martha’s and it’s Thomas’ ears and pout. The child fusses, is huffy and full of whines, but he’s only two. It’s clear that he’s tired and bites out Bruce’s name like a curse.

He’s absolutely goddamn perfect.

It takes Bruce the rest of the week to demand something that works out between Talia and himself.

They argue, scream, and fight. It seems like that’s all they do these days no matter how peaceful any of their initial thoughts were. Talia is the fire to Bruce’s oil.

They do love each other though– and that’s the worst part. Their love can’t also be the cost of their grief, and they both know this rings too true for every scathing remark and well given blows– even if it’s half hearted or how much they pull back.

Talia agrees on the terms and conditions that Bruce presents her with. Six months out of the year, he gets Damian in his care, six months Talia gets to have him. They’ll exchange for school holidays.

He leaves with Damian bundled up safely in his back seat and drowsy with the effects of a long day.

-🦇-

Clark hears the jet long before Bruce actually manages to come home. He notices the distinct sound of the sleek black Batplane about four hours before Bruce should land.

He tells this fact to Alfred, that Bruce isn’t that far out and that they should get ready.

Clark still can’t find the kids. It’s been a week, and he can’t find the children.

He keeps the TV on to listen to the flushing out of the Court of Owls from Gotham’s high rollers. There’s people that get arrested for all kinds of sh*t, from actual real life murder to embezzlement to insider trading. The Gotham City police are working with the FBI and both Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent are leading the pack to clean out the rot that has leaked into the system from above.

People are either rioting or partying in the streets, chanting the names of the people that have failed them, asking questions like who else had failed the city, had abused the system, had twisted Gotham for their own sick needs.

People had looked at Bruce Wayne, standing at the head of everything that had turned out to be rotten, and had even tried everything they could to see if Bruce had any hand in this.

Clark should know– he’s seen the Bat compute keep out the cyber attacks and the slander on social media.

He also knows the kids are on it by how no one gets through Bruce’s email and how the WE PR department seem to know what statements to refute.

Bruce’s reputation is as a sleeze, as a slu*t, and as a man who flirts around.

But he runs his company like a watertight ship.

Wayne Enterprises is being looked at, but there’s nothing for anybody to find. Bruce’s money was made over generations, he pays all of his employee’s at least seventy thousand dollars a year that even the janitor can get out of town trips just by working hard in WE. You see the WE hires– the ones ranging from interns to board members defending the man online, and on TV, and on the streets– because why shouldn’t they? There’s great healthcare, dental, eyecare, paternity, maternity, there’s resources that are open and available for all of the people who work for Wayne– all transparent for everyone to see.

His company is not just the biggest in Gotham, it is also the best.

Clark sort of feels bad that Bruce is going to come home to this sh*tshow and with a new kid to take care of to boot.

Clark heads down to the cave when Bruce is coming in for a landing. The man had opened up communications with the cave an hour ago and by the sound of it, he’s as tired as Clark is.

Clark just can’t wait to tell Bruce that not only does he need to go to work for a government audit on his entire finances but also that Clark has no idea where the hell his children might be off too.

The plane gets cleared to land by Alfred, the older man flips three signals and starts to rattle off instructions and wind speed and the current flightplan of the commercial airlines in the area like their very own control tower.

Clark learns over the railing that overlooks the bay that Bruce is going to land in.

“I’m excited that he’s gonna be back home.” Jason’s voice comes from his left side.

Clark jumps because he’s so surprised.

“I’m excited to see his reaction to me hiding all of the evidence that Bruce has been spending his money on Batman!” Tim chimes in on the right. “I think it was pretty good. Dick said so himself.”

The little menace is still in his pajamas, which thank God has been changed from what he wore from the last time Bruce– and Clark!– has seen him.

“I’m excited to get to meet our brother.” Dick’s voice is crisp and sharp and– does he have a limp? Is he… injured?

Clark finally can use his xray, finally for the first time–

“I want to go back to normal.” Cass hums from where she’s tucked up into Jason’s side.

The plane lands, screeching to a halt with a break wire.

Bruce cracks open the co*ckpit, and his children are already running to him before Clark can finish his iota of thought.

-🦇-

Bruce holds his actual real baby in one arm, the squirming mass of a child that he had just worked out the deal with Talia with, and his first baby in another.Dick’s sobbing, and Bruce isn’t sure what to do about it. The best thing that Bruce can figure is to just hold on tightly, wrap his arm around Dick’s shoulders and rub his hair as best as he could.

Dick latches on, not letting go.

They sit like that for an hour, huddled together in the chill of the cave. Damian never stops wiggling, irritated and slightly cold, huffy about not being with his mom but not crying like he could’ve been. Dick’s been ugly crying for about thirty minutes until he ran out of tears to cry, one arm wrapped around his dad and his other hand loosely, gently holding onto Damian.

Dick lays limp there, on his father, with his littlest itsines baby brother in his sight and the rest of his siblings clinging on, just happy to be there.

-🦇-

The baby is a wiggling mass of irritation and demands. He’s not even really a baby, truly, at two years old Damian can walk and can talk and run and open things.

That’s the part that is the best and worst part of having Damian in the house, he guesses.

(Well, okay, Dick loves having Damian in the house because Damian is his baby brother. His littlest bat! He remembers Damian as a spitfire first, then an emotional mess, and THEN a hardy individual who could take on the damn world and win. Damian grew up hard and grew up lean, never taller than Talia but still able to fight his way out of anything that could be thrown at him.

Damian was– is– a bat like the rest of them.)

Now Damian isn’t a trained assassin, or a stunted emotional ball of taught disgust and regal family values. Damian is a two year old boy who speaks sort of a combination of three languages and is very grabby and fussy and wants to be held pretty much all of the time.

Nearly everybody speaks either Arabic or Chinese when they’re around him– only Bruce and Dick know the League’s secret spoken dialect. It’s easier to keep a language that Damian already knows going than trying to introduce him to new words and topics that would just confuse him.

Damian, for all of his little fussy twenty-four month old self, kicks a fit whenever he gets passed between one person to another. He does play favorites just as hard as Dick remembers him.

(Damian died protecting them all, equally all at once, one of the last of the Bats standing in this horrific game called their lives. Dick had wept for him, wept for days and days and days. Dick was always Damian’s favorite, the baby bat made no effort to keep that secret from anybody.)

Damian prefers to be held by Dick– even now. Even in this do-over Damian still settles down the fastest when it’s Dick that plucks him up from wherever Damian is running too.

And Dick thanks anyone who would listen that fate decided to make it so.

Bruce still gets the most screeches, it seems. Damian’s protesting his father even now when Bruce had taken him to be raised somewhere where Damian could actually be a child for half a year. Damian is definitely a momma’s boy through and through, even at this age.

What’s surprising is that Damian enjoys it when Tim gets close– when Tim picks Damian up with small arms and holds him like an overstuffed teddy bear. Damian must either like the heat that Tim provides– that only little kids could provide– or just like how damn careful Tim is with him. Both of them are little heaters, it can’t be comfortable for them to fall asleep on one another during movie nights or when they’re playing, but they do.

It’s too damn cute.

Dick doesn’t think that he makes the right decisions too often, overthinks and oversteps and constantly runs through each choice that he has made during his do-over–

But looking down at the two littlest Waynes, sometimes Dick thinks he’s done just fine.

-🦇-

Damian and Tim and Jason and Cass and Dick.

How had Bruce’s family gotten so large?

Family You Made (Go Back, Do it Again) - JUBE514 - Batman (9)

His taxes get flaunted to the world in the heavily documented and transparent government audit and his dependents are listed so casually right there pinned at the top. Bruce had to change his information with his lawyers and accountants pretty fast as soon as Damian had come onto the scene, so when the government had snagged Wayne Enterprises financial information they had also subpoenaed the Waynes. Bruce had to submit his old and brand new versions, to show that the only thing on it that had changed where the new dependents.

And there were quite a few of them there.

He had kept nearly all of his children out of the media spotlight so far– had kept Cass’ quiet adoption and all of their sordid history– away from the curious interviewees who always wanted another quote. He has kept Tim’s terrible relationship with his parents quiet to keep the Drake name clean and keep the only other company in Gotham not to be affected by the Court of Owl nonsense from taking a hit. He had had Damian for about a f*cking week and suddenly the boy is out there in the lime light with the rest of them.

Then his personal financial business was on the internet and everyone was asking him things.

Yes, he was housing five children. Yes, he was acting like the father to them all. No, he was not the biological father to all of them. No, he would not elaborate which ones were his ‘real’ kid– they’re all his real kids, thank you for asking.

No, you may not ask one more question. He’s done.

The only good things to the day now was going out as Batman during the night, with his birds trailing after him and with Tim in their ear babbling coordinates and clues and how Damian on the kid’s lap is clicking at the dummy keyboard and Alfred is double checking something or another in the background.

There’s something to be said during dinner when all of his children are around him too, talking about their days and what they wanted to do and what they were thinking of doing tomorrow.

Damian demanded attention, and Bruce loved to give it to him. Tim was showing up with a new hero design every other day and Bruce had to remind him that Tim needed to reach at least ten years old, a five more inches, or fifty more pounds. Since it was statistically unlikely for even a ten year old to reach five foot five or one fifty Bruce figures he has three more years.

Cassandra and Jason make a fast and devious team both on field and in the manor. They’re beginning to cause the villains to flee on sight when they arrive as much as Batman does. Bruce doesn’t know whether to be proud that he’s managed to raise them like this or horrified at the power they wield when they glued him to the dinner table one time.

Dick’s spies continue to inform the people around him of threats. Bruce always takes him seriously.

Alfred is constant, at Bruce’s side, willing and easy to lend Bruce an ear or a shoulder. They talk about the ups and downs of fatherhood. It’s a talk that Bruce admits he always wanted to have with his father– and now he has. Alfred dabs away tears at that statement.

Life goes on. As it always does. Once again and always.

-🦇-

Jason shoots up like a weed in months to years. Cassandra doesn’t. It’s a rather hilarious sight to see when the two of them fight alongside a rather shorter Dick.

Batman and his Birds.

Tim is still a slight of a human, but he’s quick and moves in such a creepy way that when Bruce sends him along with his older siblings to the Titans for a weekend (to spend time with Damian, and make sure the kid was actually bothering to learn English instead of just demanding things in Arabic all the time– he really regrets having everyone know that language by how much they spoil the baby.) Bruce walks into an emergency Justice League meeting that Tuesday with everyone asking where the f*ck they had found that f*cking freak of a kid.

Tim– and everyone of the birds– just smiles.

Dick still wraps everyone up in hugs after patrols, hunts them all down and pulls them onto the sparring mats and has everyone scream at him to take a shower rather than rub all his sweat on them.

Bruce loves them all. He loves them all silly. He wants to protect them with all of his heart.

He wants to be the best dad he can be for the children in his care who need it.

-🦇-

Dick gets older, thinks about college, trains with the titans still. He’s training the team he had made that had grown into a monster of an organization that is helping teenagers and kids who had powers thrust onto them unexpectedly.

Cass is not only doing great in school, but she’s at the top of her class, learning more and more everyday, and thinking about maybe one day wanting to follow in the footsteps of her father to run a business that help brought Gotham from a crime riddled desolate land into one of the best cities to live in.

Maybe Cass would take up the mantle one day, grab at the cowl and become the Batman.

But for now Cass wants to go in a different direction, help the most that she can and to do that she needs to be more than a myth like her dad.

Bruce… Bruce is getting older, his priorities have shifted and changed. He asks Jason something that he makes sure Jason knows he can say no to.

Jason cries, real heavy thick tears as he accepts.

Batman gets passed down, from father to son.

Dick didn’t need it– not Batman, he’s already lived a lifetime in this suit– not the form of strict righteous justice that Batman brought with him wherever Batman went. Dick needed something more flexible, something more open to change, something that fit him more. Dick likes to teach, he always has, and looks into making the Titans something a little bit more legit, more far reaching and accessible to anybody who needs it.

He picks a name like before, and a profession unlike his previous.

Tim asks to follow Jason while they’re out in the field, Dove number two is smaller, slighter, but dangerous with his expert handling of a bo-staff and his sharp mind. The two of them are wonderfully paired up together as a fighting machine, Batman and Dove, having been working together for almost a decade at this point.

Damian, all of five years old, demands to be trained by his father, demands to sit on Bruce’s lap and demands to run the coms every night with him. Bruce bounces Damian on his knees and talks about how to direct the field agents to the best of their ability while rechecking crime scene reports.

-🦇-

Dick wakes up from his nightmare, gasping, sweating, panicked. The bed underneath him is too warm so he throws off the sheets in a quick move. He always did have nightmares even during the most peaceful of nights.

The sun is just beginning to peak over the edges of the treeline, just lightening up the sky. There’s no clouds in sight, not from where Dick throws open the curtains.

It’s warm, he notes, as Dick plods through the manor towards the kitchen barefooted.

The trees outside are brilliant in the fall, just beginning to turn colors as the season changes– reaching upwards and swaying gently in the breeze. They’ll turn all kinds of interesting hues soon, reds and brilliant golds and oranges like Starfire’s skin. For now, the view from the windows is breathtaking and idyllic.

The grand staircase of the main entrance hall is opulent, like always, but the warm wood is now stained with the fingerprints of everyone who runs through these halls, using the walls as banisters in their mad dash of glee. There’s the smell of Bruce’s cologne, of Alfred’s aftershave, of Jason’s baking experiments, of Damian’s animals, of Tim’s faintly chemical smell, of Cass’s gardening habits. There’s shoes piled by the door, messy, and there’s already the faint hint of sounds coming from the kitchen.

Gently, gingerly, Dick moves himself to the stairs, looking up at the portrait that hangs on the wall, in between two big windows letting in the gentle light of morning, and sees his entire family smiling out from a painted image of happiness.

Everyone’s looking out of the frame, smiling, leaning against each other with looped arms and laughing easy eyes. It’s nothing like Dick had before, before he had been thrown backwards in time– no strain that existed beforehand when everything was sh*ttier than it could’ve been.

It’s more whole, something about it is smoother, less worn down– more warm.

In the light of morning, Dick smells the breakfast that’s getting made, hears his family all around him happy and safe, and knows that from here on out things will only get better.

Family You Made (Go Back, Do it Again) - JUBE514 - Batman (2024)

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