“Lisa, are you sure you won’t let me cut your hair?” Jason tried for the hundredth time as he did his best to detangle the wild red locks.
“No! You can’t cut it!” she protested immediately, and it was only the fact that Jason’s fingers were almost literally trapped in her hair that kept her from darting away from him at the mere suggestion.
“Lisa,” he tried again, struggling to think of a way to make her see reason, but the little girl had no patience for that.
“No! I want hair like Aunt Kori’s!”
“Aunt Kori is an alien, carrot-top. And she has magical fire hair. She doesn’t have to worry about things like Gordian knots,” Jason grumbled as he meticulously worked through the tangles in her wet hair. Lisa had a ton of hair, but the strands were fine and wavy which meant they were easily tangled. It wasn’t so bad when her hair was dry, but Jason was spending a good fifteen minutes working the tangles out every night after bath time. That couldn’t be normal. He had to be doing something wrong here.
“I want long hair like Aunt Kori’s. And I want it to be on fire like hers.”
“Well, if you set your hair on fire that would solve our length problem since a good half of it would burn off,” Jason remarked.
“Hey!” Lisa protested, outraged.
“I’m just saying, you can have one or the other, princess. But if you do decide to set your hair on fire, you have to warn me first so I can be ready with a bucket of water. I’ll warn you though; burnt hair smells atrocious.”
“I’m not going to set my hair on fire,” she retorted, sounding rather put out by the fact.
“Choosing long hair over fire hair then?”
“…I guess…” she grumped, sullen.
“Alright, but we’re going to have to start doing something different here. This is getting ridiculous.” He was definitely out of his depth. He needed help. “I’ll talk to Aunt Steph tonight and see if she has any ideas on how to get the tangles out easier,” Jason decided, finally working the last tangle free. He sighed in relief and ran the brush through the strands a few extra times for good measure before tossing it aside so that he could braid the long strands together. “You’re going to have to do whatever she says though, or else we’ll to have to cut it at least a little.”
“Okay,” Lisa conceded reluctantly. “Can she help?”
“If anyone can, it’ll be Aunt Steph,” Jason said, tying off the end of the long braid. Stephanie’s hair was long and had a natural wavy curl similar to Lisa’s. It was also thicker than Barbara’s or Cass’s. Surely she had some sort of sorcery to tame it.
He stood up from the bed and started working back the covers. “Okay, carrot-top, in you go.”
Lisa scrambled across the large, cushy bed and wriggled under the covers. Jason pulled the blankets up and tucked them around her before he settled down on top of the blanket and grabbed Robin Hood from the nightstand. He’d found a set of young children’s classics at a bookstore and Lisa was devouring them, much to his excitement. She particularly liked Robin Hood and they were going back through it a second time to use as her bedtime story, a chapter or two each night.
Lisa listened eagerly as Robin attempted to rob Will Scarlet as he was traveling down the road. She’d quickly decided in their first read through that Will was her favorite character, so she’d been waiting rather impatiently for the chapter he first appeared. Jason was pretty sure she had a little crush on him, but he hadn’t brought it up. If he was wrong, he didn’t want to put ideas about boys into her head. She was only seven. That was way too early for even puppy crushes. Jason hadn’t reached the level of parenthood that equipped him to deal with that kind of stuff yet.
“Alright, princess,” Jason said after he finished the chapter. “That’s all for tonight. You have school tomorrow.”
“And then ballet!” she said excitedly. Her first real class was tomorrow, and she was more than a little excited.
“And then ballet. But first you’ve got to sleep.”
She huffed a little but settled in her bed.
“Red Hood to BG,” he spoke into the comm as he took a patrol break on a rooftop later that night. “I could use your input on something.”
It took a moment, but eventually Stephanie’s slightly winded voice came over the line. “My favorite first time parent,” she greeted cheerfully. “What can I do for you?
“Hair. I need help with Lisa’s Gordian knot hair. It’s going to be the death of me. No hair should be that tangled all the time.”
There was an amused snort. “I’m sorry, what?”
Jason ignored Stephanie’s poorly muffled giggles and pressed on. “Lisa’s hair. Keep up, damn it. It tangles in the shower and it takes forever to brush through. Can you help me or not?”
Stephanie just kept laughing and Jason’s teeth ground together. “Steph, I swear to God—”
“I’m sorry,” she said, choking on laughter. “It’s just that the Red Hood is coming to me for haircare tips.”
Jason took a deep breath and tried to remember that he liked Stephanie and it would probably be a bad idea if he shot her. “Well?” he ground out instead.
“Okay, okay,” she said, finally getting a hold of herself. “I can help you. First off, there is this magical product called detangling spray.”
“Fuck, there is?” Jason asked, stiffening. “Really?”
Stephanie snorted. “Yeah, you poor ignorant single dad. It works, but it can kind of leave a film in your hair if you use too much. And depending on the hair, it can take a lot to detangle. Also, conditioner. You want to find a moisturizing one and have her leave it in for a few minutes before she rinses it out. That’s what I do. And if her hair is really difficult, she can keep a brush in the shower and brush her hair with the conditioner in it before rinsing. Then it’s a lot easier to brush afterwards.”
“No shit,” Jason said, impressed. “Thanks, Blondie.”
“Sure thing, Dad Hood. Always happy to help. I’ll come by this weekend and chat with her about it. Give her a few pointers.”
“Maybe try convincing her she doesn’t want to light her hair on fire.”
“Like Aunt Kori’s?” Steph guessed, sounding amused. “Can’t say that I blame her. We might be able to do cool dye job that’ll give that effect. Won’t help much with the tangles though. I’ll see what I can come up with.”
“She’ll love that. Thanks,” Jason said, relieved to have something to try.
Bruce’s voice came over the line. “This isn’t the purpose of the emergency line.”
“Fuck off, B. This was clearly an emergency.” Steph jumped in immediately.
Jason found himself grinning. “Yeah, run along, B. The adults are talking.”
He could just hear Bruce’s long suffering sigh.
He got back to the Manor somewhere around four in the morning. He was trying to run shorter patrols so he had time to sleep and get work done in his loft before picking Lisa up from school in the afternoon, but so far he wasn’t managing to get much done on the renovation. The only way he was managing to get anything done at all was because Alfred had been getting Lisa up in the morning and taking her to school. Jason hadn’t wanted to put that on the older man, but after the third time Alfred found him asleep in random places at random times, the butler insisted.
His exact words had been, “Honestly, Master Jason. It’s becoming more and more difficult to tell you and Master Tim apart. The whole purpose of you staying here is so you don’t have to do everything alone. Therefore, I will be taking Miss Elisabeth to school in the mornings from here on out. If you wish to argue the point, might I suggest waiting until you’re better rested and are able to string a sentence together.”
And that had been that. Jason patrolled most nights, made his way back to the Manor somewhere between three and five in the morning, slept till nine or ten, then made his way over to the loft to rip out tile or tear down walls. Most afternoons, Lisa rode the bus back to the orphanage as a sort of after school program so she could either see her counselor or work on homework and play with her friends. Jason picked her up from the orphanage at five and took her back to the manor where they ate dinner and spent time together before it was time to get Lisa ready for bed. Today, however, he would be picking her up from school at three and taking her to ballet classes in the Upper East Side.
He was honestly a little nervous about how it would go. Lisa was incredibly excited about the class, and he didn’t want anything to ruin it for her. She had plenty of experience interacting with other kids, what with the warehouse, the orphanage and school. But they’d all been Crime Alley kids. Jason remembers his first day at Gotham Academy—his first time being surrounded by kids that grew up in an entirely different world than him. At the time he’d been so excited to be back in school that he hadn’t given a damn about the other kids and what they said to him or about him. But Lisa was only seven. She was tough as nails, but she should never have to deal with mean rich kids. Not that he knew they’d be mean.
He was just… worried.
He wondered if Bruce worried about him on his first day at Gotham Academy. Jason had been as just as excited to go to school as Lisa was about ballet. Had Bruce worried about that excitement being crushed? Because Jason was certainly worried about Lisa’s. She loved doing ballet with Cass. She was so excited to have actual classes. If that joy was taken away from her….
Yeah, Jason was worried.
He stopped by a drug store on the way to the school and spent a good fifteen minutes reading reviews of conditioners and detangling sprays on his phone. He then settled on a new moisturizing shampoo and conditioner set and a detangling spray that featured in a very helpful YouTube review. New purchases secured, he made his way to Lisa’s school.
“Daddy!” she exclaimed, running over to the motorcycle and jumping into his arms. She gave him a tight hug before pulling back and looking at him seriously. “Ballet.”
Jason chuckled. “Yeah, yeah, ballet. Helmet on,” he said, settling the smaller helmet on her head and buckling it beneath her chin. She bounced a couple of times in excitement before climbing up on the motorcycle. He waited until she was seated and secure before he took off. The traffic was starting to get heavy as the clock ticked closer and closer to rush hour, but they still made it to the ballet studio with time to spare. Jason parked his motorcycle in the small space in front of the building, helped Lisa off the bike, and grabbed the bag he’d packed for her.
“You ready?” he asked her, taking her hand. She nodded emphatically, and he smiled and led her up the stairs. “Alright then, here we go.”
The door opened up to a small reception area with a dark skinned teenage girl sitting behind the desk. Immediately to the right was a larger room with plenty of seating and small cubbies lining the walls. There were several young kids and even more guardians already waiting. The far wall had a large clear window that looked into one of the studios where a class was still going.
“Hi, can I help you?” The teenager smiled cheerfully.
“Yeah, this is our first time,” Jason answered, walking up to the desk.
“Awesome! Welcome!” she said, coming around from behind the desk so she could actually see Lisa. “I’m Nadine, what’s your name?” she asked, crouching down and thrusting her hand out for Lisa to shake.
Jason liked her already.
“Lisa,” Lisa replied, shaking her hand solemnly.
“You here for ballet class?” When Lisa nodded her head, Nadine’s smile widened. “Well you came to the right place. I’ve been taking classes here for ten years now, and I help with the beginner’s classes, so I’ll get to be in class with you. How does that sound?”
“Good,” Lisa nodded, still clearly excited, but a little shy in the face of a stranger.
Nadine smiled again. “You have your ballet gear with you?”
“Yeah, it’s in my bag,” she said, pointing at the small duffle bag Jason was carrying.
“Great. Why don’t you go ahead and get changed? There’s a bathroom right down there,” Nadine suggested, pointing to a door, right down the hall.
Lisa turned to Jason who crouched down to help her pull out her slippers, leotard and tights. “When you’re finished, I’ll fix your hair.”
She nodded intently and scurried off to the bathroom to change. Nadine moved back behind the desk and smiled at him as she accessed the computer. “What’s your name?”
Nadine did some quick typing and looked back up at him. “Okay, so it looks like Lisa’s first three months have already been paid for. After that, if you guys want to continue, we do monthly payments.”
“Sounds good,” Jason replied. “So how does this work?”
“Beginner’s classes are always on Wednesday afternoons, and they’re always an hour. Depending on how quickly Lisa progresses, Ms. Argyle might bump her up to the next level class before your three months are out, which would switch her class to Tuesday afternoons. Those ones are an hour and fifteen minutes. You’re free to drop Lisa off and go run some errands, but we do need a cell phone number for you and an additional emergency contact,” Nadine said, handing him a clipboard with some scant paperwork. “You’re also welcome to stay in the lounge here. We usually have some parents stay, we just ask that you don’t interrupt the class.”
“Got it,” Jason said, writing in Alfred’s name for the emergency contact. “What’s Ms. Argyle like?”
Nadine grinned. “The best, really. I’ve been learning from her for ten years. She takes ballet seriously, but she wants us to have fun too. And she’s really great. My family isn’t super well off, so she lets me work here after school to pay for my lessons.”
That won her major points in Jason’s mind. “That’s great,” he told her, handing the clipboard back.
Lisa scurried out of the bathroom, dressed and ready for ballet. She thrust her school clothes at Jason and he huffed in amusement as he packed them into the duffel.
“You guys can wait in the lounge if you want,” Nadine said, gesturing to the next room. “That class will let out in just a few minutes.”
“Okay, thanks,” Jason said, heading to the lounge with Lisa. He picked a chair and sat down, pulling her to him so he could get at her hair. He knew that when she’d left for school, it’d been in a nice, neat ponytail, but a long day and ride on the motorcycle had left it wild. He pulled out the detangling spray he’d gotten from the drug store and freed Lisa’s hair from the hair tie.
“Okay, carrot-top, let’s hope this works.”
“If it does, I get to keep it long, right?”
Lisa crossed her fingers on both hands and Jason grinned fondly.
He sprayed the detangling spray liberally through her hair and got to work. The difference was astonishing. “Holy sh-crap,” he said, barely managing not to curse as he brushed the detangling spray through her hair with relative ease. “Remind me to buy Aunt Steph a fruit basket.”
“It’s working?” Lisa asked excitedly.
“You feel me pulling your hair out?”
“Then it’s working.”
Lisa’s responding giggle was a little bit maniacal and Jason frowned. “This doesn’t mean you get to have fire hair. Long hair or fire hair, remember? It’s one or the other.”
She huffed and crossed her arms.
Jason smirked as he finished brushing out her hair. “Seriously, the biggest fruit basket ever,” he marveled before asking, “Okay, how do you want it?” In the past few weeks, he’d started learning a myriad of hairstyles. Braiding was easy. French braiding was a bit more difficult, but he’d gotten a lot better at it recently. Lisa usually wanted ponytails or braids, but when she dressed up in her ballet clothes and danced around the manor, she usually wanted a bun.
“Ballerina bun,” she said, not surprising him in the slightest.
“Ballerina bun it is,” he said, pulling her hair back tight. He’d had a lot of practice with this one too, so it was only a matter of moments before he had her hair pinned up neatly. “Alright, carrot top, you’re all set.”
She scurried off to check his work in the bathroom mirror, which he would have found insulting if he didn’t know how important this was to her. As it was, he huffed in amusement and packed the brush and detangling spray back up in the duffel bag.
“Manny?” A woman asked from a few seats down. She was dressed in yoga gear that probably cost more than half his wardrobe and had a young fair-haired girl sitting in the seat beside her tapping away at a phone.
“I’m sorry?” Jason asked, confused as Lisa hurried back and hopped up into the seat next to him. She squirmed a bit, still clearly excited, but didn’t mention her hair so Jason figured it passed muster.
“Are you the manny?” the woman said again, smiling. “Amber here is mine,” she said, putting a hand briefly on the knee of the young girl next to her who didn’t bother looking up from her tablet. “But there’s quite a few nannies here and even one other manny,” she said with a smile that seemed genuine.
“I’m a nanny,” a college aged woman across from him offered companionably. “I’m Kirsten, nice to meet you. That’s your motorcycle, right?” she asked, gesturing to the window behind the first woman, where they could see Jason’s motorcycle parked on the street.
“Yeah, that’s mine,” Jason said, feeling a little caught off guard. For some reason, socializing with other parents was not something he’d predicted for the afternoon. He’d been legally Lisa’s father for a few weeks now, and the only other parents he’d associated with were Bruce and Alfred, and they hardly counted. He wasn’t at all prepared for this.
“Wow,” the first woman said, looking from the motorcycle out the window and back to Jason. “Her parents must trust you a lot to let her on a motorcycle.”
Irritation spiked through him. He was her parent. “I’m not the manny,” he told them both. “Lisa’s mine.”
Both sets of eyes widened briefly, darting from him to Lisa and back again. He knew what they were thinking, taking in Lisa’s red hair, pale skin, and his much darker complexion and wondering. He didn’t care though. Lisa was his in all the ways that mattered, and he didn’t give a damn about what they thought.
He was a little surprised when both their expressions lit up a bit.
“She’s so cute,” Kirsten cooed.
The first woman nodded and smiled at Jason, leaning towards him from her seat. “I’m Katrina and this is my daughter, Amber. Amber, say hello to Lisa,” she said, nudging her daughter’s shoulder.
The young girl glanced briefly up from her phone. “Hi,” she said, not rudely, but not especially interested either.
“Hi,” Lisa replied back, a little shyly. She’d come a long way, but she was still reserved around people she didn’t know. If the room weren’t filled with strangers, she’d be talking a million miles an hour, telling him everything that happened at school today. As it was she was just sitting in her seat watching them with big green eyes.
“Aww, she’s precious,” Kirsten smiled, turning her eyes back to Jason. “What’s your name?”
“Jason,” he answered, a little weirded out by how intently they were focusing on him.
“What do you do, Jason?” It was Katrina this time.
“Contracting,” he replied shortly. It was close enough to the truth since he spent all day working on renovating his apartment. He just wasn’t getting paid for it.
Before they could comment further, the door to the studio opened and a group of students streamed out, finding their guardians who had gathered in the lounge or entryway.
The woman Jason assumed was Ms. Argyle exited the studio, had a brief chat with a few of the departing students’ parents, then turned to those left. “Okay, beginners’ class, let’s get started.”
“That’s you, carrot-top,” Jason told Lisa quietly. She hopped down from the chair and turned to Jason with a nervous look.
“You’re going to be great,” he promised her softly, pulling her into a hug. “Just listen to what Ms. Argyle says and let Nadine help you if you need it.”
“Okay,” she said, squeezing him tightly before pulling back. Jason let her go and looked over to Nadine who seemed to be waiting for her.
“You ready, Lisa?”
“Yeah,” Lisa nodded, bouncing her way over to Nadine. They entered the studio and the door shut behind them. Jason watched through the window, trying to push down the anxiety in his gut. It’d be fine. She’d be fine.
“So, Jason,” Katrina said, distracting him. “You said you’re in contracting? What do you like to do in your free time?”
Jason turned to Katrina, startled. “What?”
Katrina’s smile went sly and Kirsten’s gaze was trained on him as she leaned forward as well. “You know, what do you like to do for fun.”
Oh my god, the rich suburban mom is flirting with me, Jason thought with a small level of horror. What the ever loving hell?
“What free time?” he answered glibly. “Between work and taking care of Lisa, I don’t really have any free time.” And God, wasn’t that the truth?
“So you’re a single dad?” Kirsten asked eagerly, looking at him with just as much interest as Katrina was.
God. He hoped no one found out about this. Ever. He would never live it down. For his entire life he’d hear crap about the suburban ballet moms thinking he was a hot dad.
“Yeah,” he said, because he’d never ask Lisa to lie about something concerning her mom, even if it’d make his life easier.
“It’s so great to see dedicated fathers,” Katrina said, moving over a couple of seats so she was sitting closer. “Amber’s father travels so much for work. He’s hardly ever around. It’s hard doing it all by myself. Gets lonely too. He’s gone all week, you know.”
Jason had nothing to say to that. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and pretended to check his email. “Sorry,” he said, standing up. “There’s a problem at work. I need to make a call.” And he moved quickly outside as he dialed Roy’s number.
“Jaybird, what’s up?”
“I need you to talk on the phone with me for roughly the next hour, and I need you to not ask me why,” Jason said, settling against his motorcycle. He could see Lisa through the studio windows. The class had their heels together and hands above their heads. Ms. Argyle and Nadine were moving around, adjusting positions here and there.
“If you say so, but that means I get to talk about whatever the hell I want without you complaining,” Roy retorted immediately. “And you have to listen and engage.”
“Deal,” Jason decided immediately, determinedly not looking at the other window where four of the women had grouped and were apparently watching him.
His skin prickled uncomfortably, and he kept his eyes firmly trained on the ballet class through the window. Roy took the opportunity to talk his ear off about a number of random and pointless topics that Jason would normally tune out, because as much as Roy was his best friend, he didn’t really care what his friend was planning to build with the stolen parts from Queen’s microwave. But better Roy’s shoptalk than the overeager Stepford mothers inside.
Finally, Lisa’s class came to an end.
“Time’s up. Thanks,” Jason said, standing fully and moving back towards the door.
“You ever going to tell me what that was about?” Roy asked curiously.
“No chance,” Jason said, hanging up the phone and sliding it back into his pocket. There wasn’t time for the vultures to descend, because the door to the studio was opening. Lisa was one of the first ones out and she ran to Jason and leapt into his arms. He couldn’t help but grin at the excited look on his face.
“Look, Daddy! I got a sticker!” she said, pointing to her chest happily. There was a brightly colored rainbow sticker with FANTASTIC! written across it in all caps.
“Looks like you’re fantastic. Did you like it?”
“Yes! I want the next class to be tomorrow.”
“Well, we’ve got to wait a week, unfortunately. But maybe you can dance with Aunt Cass tomorrow.”
“Okay, that’s good too,” Lisa said, placated by the idea of spending time with Aunt Cass.
“Mr. Hunt?” A voice distracted him. He looked up from Lisa to see Ms. Argyle standing nearby.
“Jason, please,” he responded, reaching one hand out to shake. Lisa wiggled in his grasp and he let her slide down to the ground. She looked up at Ms. Argyle with something like awe in her eyes.
Ms. Argyle smiled at Lisa before turning her attention back to Jason. “Lisa is an excellent student,” she told him pleasantly. “She’s already got very good turn out and her positions are excellent. She mentioned she practices with her aunts?”
“Yeah, we’ve got a former ballet dancer and a current ballet dancer. They’ve both taught her a few things.”
“Well we’re happy to have her. Nadine tells me you’re paid up for the next three months. What’s your schedule like? Are Wednesday afternoons the only day you can bring her in?”
“No, I’m flexible.”
Ms. Argyle smiled. “Alright. Next week we’ll do the same day and time, but after that I may move her to Tuesday afternoons, if that’s alright with you.”
“Yeah, we can do that,” Jason nodded.
“Excellent.” She then turned her attention down to Lisa. “Practice what I showed you in class, Lisa, and I’ll see you next week,” she said with a smile.
“I will,” Lisa promised gravely, and waited until Ms. Argyle had gone to talk to another parent before turning to Jason with an extremely serious expression on her face.
“Daddy, I know what I want to be when I grow up.”
Please don’t say costumed vigilante, he thought desperately as he tossed her duffle bag over her shoulder and grabbed her hand. “Oh yeah?” he asked, forcing his tone to be casual as he lead her out the door while Kirsten and Katrina were distracted by their kids and Ms. Argyle. “And what’s that?”
Lisa waited until they were at the motorcycle so she could turn and face Jason head on, serious expression still in place. “I want to be a ballerina.”
The rush of relief was instantaneous, and he grinned, handing Lisa her helmet. “Good choice, carrot-top. We can work with that.”