There are so many people here that he just wants to clap his hands over his ears and scream until they all leave him alone. People who shake his hand, or ruffle his hair, and say they're sorry like they mean it.
A woman who looks enough like Jason himself that she's probably an aunt or a cousin clasps him on the shoulder and calls him kid and lets him bum a cigarette off her. She says she's sorry, just like everyone else is, and tells him that his dad was a hell of a guy. She calls the Batman a fucking bastard and a murdering scumbag and Jason keeps his mouth shut, even though he wants to tell her that it wasn't the Batman's fault that one of the other guys on the museum job tried to shoot him and hit Jason's dad instead.
Later, when everyone's getting drunk, another woman finds him sitting on the edge of the swimming pool. He wants to dip his feet in, but thinks he's probably not supposed to take his good shoes off. He's only been to this house once before, back when his dad started working for Two-Face. It doesn't look quite so big this time. He's never been to a wake before, ever.
This new woman says that his dad was a hell of a guy, too, but doesn't offer a sorry so Jason likes her better. She says her name's Shiva, and asks where Jason's mother is.
"She... the hospital," he manages. "After we found out about dad, she got sick." He'd found her with the needle still in her arm.
"You ever need a place to stay, you call this," she says, and gives him a card. It's blank apart from the phone number on one side. "I owe your father that."
He tucks the card in his pocket, but doubts he'll call it. She looks at him like a teacher looking at an essay.
By the time that everyone's really drunk, and telling stories about his dad, Jason just wants to go home and sleep until everything's normal again.
A kid about his own age, a girl in a dress that looks about as comfortable as his suit is, comes over and sits next to him. She dips her fingers in the pool water, now lit up with those underwater bulbs that always make Jason think of electrocution accidents.
"My dad says your dad was -"
"A hell of a guy?" Jason guesses. She shakes her head.
"A real jerk, but otherwise okay, actually. He told me that they were buds in prison. Art and Will, two things that'll change the world."
Jason smiles, a little.
"I'm Stephanie. I'm supposed to ask if you want to come stay with me and my family, while your mom's sick." She makes a face. "But you'll have to share my room, so you'd better not fart too much or anything."
"Some friend of Two-Face's is picking me up later. Or his valet is. I didn't really pay attention," answers Jason, his voice sounding dull and tired to his own ears.
"Well, you can come stay with us if he's not cool, okay?"
"Wanna go swimming?" she asks suddenly, kicking off her patent strap-shoes. "C'mon."
"These are my good clothes..."
"So? Who cares?"
Jason doesn't. Not about anything. He shrugs his jacket off, and jumps in after her.
The driver who picks Jason up doesn't say anything about the fact he's soaking wet, even though the car's a real expensive looking one. Jason could work out the make and model if the light was better and he wasn't so tired, but just watches the lights go past outside the window and wonders how long it'll be before he has to run away.
A teenage boy meets him at the new place. He's friendly and sympathetic-looking and Jason just wants to go to sleep.
"Hi, I'm Dick. Bruce is out of town at the moment, but he'll be back as soon as he can be. Do you want anything to eat before you go to bed? We've got a room set up for you."
Jason realises abruptly that he's really, really hungry. He hasn't eaten anything all day, not even any of the classy-looking catering at the wake.
Alfred, the driver, turns out to be the cook as well. He makes them both sandwiches and chocolate milk. Jason wishes Stephanie was there to hear his world-class burps, but Dick seems amused enough by them anyway.
"So what's this Bruce guy do? Is he in protection, or gunrunning, or fixing?" Jason asks as he gets stuck into his second plate of sandwiches. "If it's cars, I can help out a little. I'm good with tires."
Dick shakes his head, looking a little disturbed by the question. "Bruce isn't involved in anything like that."
Jason snorts. "Fine, don't tell me." A rich guy who's buddy-buddy enough with Harvey Dent to offer to take in a dead henchman's kid, and he's not into crime? Jason'll be believing in ghosts, next.
Someone's arranged for all his stuff to be brought over, which would be cool if it didn't remind Jason that he'll never be going home again. Even if his mom survives, she won't be in a position to look after him.
He peels off his wet funeral clothes and crawls into a bed that's too big and too soft.
It's obvious that Wayne's into something; there're rooms Jason's not allowed to poke around in, and Dick keeps pausing or talking cryptic when Jason gets in earshot. The more time Jason spends watching Alfred, the more his brain wants to scrub out 'butler' as the word which springs to mind and replace it with 'wetworks'. Something about the way the guy looks so cool no matter what he's doing.
Jason once told his dad that he wanted to be a hitman when he grew up. His dad had looked kinda funny, like he was sad and proud at the same time. Jason doesn't really want to be that, anymore, but isn't sure what else he'd like to be instead. He likes history; the French Revolution with all those gross bodies with no heads and the heads collected in baskets, or the Crusades. But 'liking history' isn't a job.
He doesn't bother poking around to find out the house's secrets, because he figures he'll find out when he's meant to. They'll need him for something, right? Otherwise they wouldn't have taken him in.
The one thing he doesn't get is Tim. Tim lives down the street, and he's even younger than Jason is, but he comes over all the time and hangs out with Dick like they're best buddies. Tim's a rich kid, but -- unlike Dick -- Jason's willing to buy that his family's wealth is legit.
According to Tim, he met Dick when he was a really young kid, when Dick's real parents got killed. It was an extortion thing, which makes Jason feel bad for Dick. Money is a crappy reason for someone to die.
So Tim met Dick, and wanted his parents to adopt Dick, but this Wayne guy did instead, and Tim just kind of stuck around. Like he wanted to make sure Dick was okay.
Jason wants to say that it all sounds really gay, except that he understands. He thinks about Stephanie, sometimes, and sort of wants to check that she's okay, too. Maybe he's feeling the same thing Tim was.
One afternoon, when Dick and Tim are off doing one of the things that Jason's not supposed to know about (and doesn't care about, because if they want to have their shitty little secrets then he doesn't care), Jason thinks about calling Shiva. At least she seemed to want to do something with him.
Instead, he goes through the stuff still in boxes in his room until he finds his dad's address book. There's only one guy listed who could be an Art, like Stephanie said her dad was. Arthur Brown.
It's the first time he's used the phone at the house, and the dial tone makes his throat go dry. Every time he's heard it ring, he's been sure it's the hospital to say his mother's died. She's still in a coma. Jason tries not to think about it, but that doesn't work as well as he'd like.
Eventually someone picks up.
"Is Stephanie there?"
The guy swears loudly. "That little bitch. No, she ain't here, and if you know where I can track her down you'd better tell me quicksmart, kid. Haven't seen her for days."
Now Jason knows that he feels the same way that Tim did about Dick. He hangs the phone up without saying anything else and stares at it.
Then he writes down Arthur Brown's address, puts on his coat, and goes to steal one of Wayne's cars.
Maybe he should become a private eye. It only takes him the rest of the afternoon and half the night to think of checking the school.
"Stephanie?" Jason calls, stepping gingerly into a classroom. There's the remnants of a people-nest there, just like the ones Jason himself used to make in handy corners when he needed to rough it. Blankets, a backpack, and the leftovers of a meal. "Stephanie, are you here?"
Something stirs behind the teacher's desk and she stands, straggle-haired and surprised. "Jason?"
"Are you okay? I tried calling you, but some guy said you'd run away."
Her face twists into a snarl of disgust. "Yeah, he's a creep. Babysitter. My parents are away."
"Did he try to hurt you?" Jason can imagine himself killing somebody, if they'd hurt her. At least, he thinks he can.
"Um, no," she blushes, and glances away from him. Out the window, where the trees in the playground are stirring with night-time breezes. "He wanted to, you know. Do stuff."
"Oh." Yeah, he could commit murder. He's pretty sure of that. "You're okay?"
She shrugs. "I'm living on peanut butter sandwiches in a classroom. Your call."
"I've got a car. Well, it's not mine. But I've got it for now. If you want to drive somewhere."
She shrugs again, then nods. "'kay. Where should we go?"
Now it's his turn to shrug. "I dunno."
"Maybe we should just stay here, and go somewhere in the morning. I'm not sure I trust you to drive at this hour." Her mouth twists up into a smirk. "We could go on a road trip. See Metropolis."
They eat peanut butter sandwiches and drink flat soda out of paper cups, and talk about the time that Jason hid spider eggs in one of the unused mailboxes in his building's lobby and the baby spiders ran out everywhere and made everybody scream and freak out, and the time Stephanie bought a whole bunch of cheap plastic bracelets from a dime store and then sold them to kids at school as if they were jewels from one of her dad's heists.
And then, under blankets that smell a bit like school supply closets, they fall asleep.
The hand on his shoulder is gentle, but feels strange. When Jason blinks his eyes open and looks at it, he understands why -- it's wearing a glove.
"It's all right," Batman says quietly. "Come on, let's get you home."
"Can't go home," Jason corrects him, still feeling more than half asleep.
"Somewhere better than this, at least," Batman amends. Jason turns his head, taking in the fact that Stephanie and her backpack are gone.
"She's in the car already." Batman pulls him to his feet. Jason leans against the arm offered to him, allowing himself to be led through the dark halls. The school feels empty, haunted and sad. Jason doesn't want to be there anymore.
"Guess I'm busted, huh?" Jason sighs. "I never even met Bruce Wayne, and now he'll hate me for pinching his wheels."
"I'm sure he'll understand, if you explain."
"I know it wasn't your fault. My dad. Some lady at the funeral said it was. But I'm not sore at you. It's okay." Jason yawns, remembering too late to cover his mouth.
"It was a great shame, what happened to your parents. I'm sorry."
"So long as..." Jason yawns again. "You don't tell me that he was a hell of a guy. Wait." Feeling suddenly awake, he stops walking. Batman looks more than a little bit like a nightmare, but Jason swallows down his fear and looks up at him. "Stephanie can't go back to her house. The guy there's going to... he's bad."
"It's all right. You'll both be safe."
Batman's always been the monster in the dark, the creature that steals kids' parents away and gets them locked up, but maybe Jason's just too tired to care for the moment. He nods, and starts walking again.
"You're very young to have driven a car, Jason."
"I'm no kid." Of course, his voice sounds bratty and stupid when he says it, and he almost wants to laugh at himself.
"I never suggested you were." And now Batman sounds like he almost wants to laugh at him too, and Jason just gives up and sighs and coughs to cover a snicker.
"Am I the lamest crook you've ever caught?"
"No. You're competing with Crazy Quilt for that title, don't forget. And the Ventriloquist."
"Hey, I've met that guy, don't rag him," Jason protests. "He's frigging scary."
Batman pats him on the shoulder, and holds the door open for him. He can see the car parked ahead, the faint ghost of Stephanie's pale hair visible behind the windows.
"You promise you're not taking me to juvenile hall? Because I've got friends in high places." He doesn't, not that would spring him from juvie, but it sounds good to say.
"I promise," Batman answers, and Jason figures that he might as well believe the guy.