He is fifteen years old, when he steps in to stop Mike Brandt from beating the shit out of Aaron Rice. Aaron is small and scrawny, hasn't yet hit a growth spurt, while Mike is tall, with big fists.
Blake ends up with half his face a mess of bruises, and Father Reilly pulls him into his office.
He braces himself for the usual adult crap – a lecture about fighting, about personal responsibility, maybe even some Catholic “turn the other cheek” shit. It's what he's come to expect, after four foster homes and a system that doesn't really care about him.
But Reilly doesn't say anything for several minutes, just digs through his desk until he pulls out a first aid kit, and offers him a cold pack for his face. Blake takes it, silently, warily. Waits for the other shoe to drop.
“Feel better?” he finally asks, and somehow, Blake knows he's not talking about the cold pack. He doesn't respond, and Reilly leans against the desk, arms crossed over his chest. “Pick your fights carefully,” he says, and it's the last thing Blake expected to hear from the priest. “You won't do Aaron or anyone else any good from the hospital.”
“How do I know which fights to pick?” he asks, startled out of his sullen silence.
“Do your research,” Reilly responds simply.
It's the first time Blake takes advice from an adult to heart.
He dates a girl named Grace during his time at the police academy. They last maybe six months, and when she breaks up with him, she says, “you're a great guy, but a terrible boyfriend.”
“What does that mean?” he asks, more confused than he is hurt.
She shakes her head, smiling sadly. “I know if I ever needed help, you'd give it, no questions asked. I know if I ever had a problem, you'd listen and let me spill my guts. But you'd never do that with me. You're always 'fine', there's 'nothing wrong'. I only found out your real name by accident.
“I don't know who you are,” she finishes. “And I don't think you'd ever let me find out.”
He's been on the force less than a year when he gets assigned the Old Town beat. His new partner, an older guy, gives him a look. “What'd you do to get this shit hole, rookie?” he asks.
“I requested it,” Blake says flatly, and the look from his partner turns to one of annoyance.
“Old Town won't land you in a cushy desk job any quicker, it'll just chew you up and spit you out, kid.”
“I don't want a desk job,” Blake responds, but that's all he says. He doesn't explain that he wants to work a beat on his home turf, he doesn't say anything about the fact that St. Swithin's is two blocks away and he knows he can help those kids more right here than he ever could in an office somewhere.
He doesn't say much of anything, just makes a point of dropping by to see Father Reilly on his break.
He takes Gordon to St. Swithin's after they leave his apartment, but less than 24 hours later they're on the move again, to another part of the city. They rely mostly on Blake's knowledge, to plan patrol routes as they can, supply runs, moving certain high-profile people from safe house to safe house.
Gordon coordinates everything, but still chafes at the role he's forced into.
“It should be me going out there,” he says.
“No, sir,” Blake says, his voice firm. “They all know you by sight, you wouldn't last ten minutes with Bane's men.”
Six weeks into the occupation, Blake follows Bane's men, one crisp autumn evening, after they've rounded up more people. He itches to do something, try and help the prisoners, but he's outgunned and outnumbered, and it would only end in death for all of them.
So he follows them instead. He's good at making himself invisible, knows the streets like the back of his hand, and it's easy enough to sneak into the public “court of the people”.
The “people,” of course, are mostly the former inmates from Blackgate, along with Bane's thugs, and he reports back to Gordon and the others and watches the Commissioner's face go stony with anger as he mutters about “that lunatic Crane.”
“It should be me out there,” he says angrily, for the millionth time.
“You're more help to us alive,” Blake points out, again. “I'm a nobody; I'll take the risk.”
A nobody, with no family, no one to care if he lives or dies. He's won the argument, like he always does.
Six weeks after the end of the occupation, Gotham is beginning to seem like a real city again, with real people inhabiting it, and Blake coaches basketball for the kids at Wayne Manor, and does odd jobs around the place because it is a big house and needs a lot of maintenance.
“You could leave, you know,” Reilly says to him one afternoon, when the sun is bright and warm enough to allow them to finally leave off their jackets. “Do some traveling, get away for a while.”
He's right – Blake could get out of town for a while, if he wanted. He's got money saved up. Hell, he could move permanently. Start over again somewhere new, it's not like he has anyone to hold him in Gotham.
Except all of Gotham, and a cave under Wayne Manor that's the legacy of a man he looked up to, a man who trusted him enough to give him that responsibility.
He hasn't done anything with it, yet, except keep its secrets, but listening to Reilly's words settles something in his mind, and he shakes his head at his old friend and mentor.
“I've got plenty to do here,” he says. “Why would I want to leave?”
Later that evening, in the cave, he makes a phone call.
“Mr. Fox? This is John Blake.”