“How did you convince Father to adopt you?”
They were several hours into a long night of surveillance, waiting for Falcone’s men to move a stash of weapons so they could find out where Falcone was storing his contraband. Damian had refused to play Twenty Questions or I Spy and so Dick was glad of the opportunity for conversation. Besides, he was pleased that Damian was taking an interest in the family’s history. “I didn’t try to,” Dick said. “Your father is a man that communicates better with actions than with words. At a time when I was uncertain of my place in his life, he chose to define our relationship legally as father and son.”
“But after your parents died, at the circus, you must have done something or said something to make him take you home with him,” Damian said.
“He’s always said that he saw himself in me at that moment,” Dick said softly. “Another boy who had lost everything at once.”
“But what did you say?” Damian persisted.
“I don’t remember,” Dick said. “If you really want to know what convinced him, you’ll have to ask Bruce.”
Damian made a disgruntled noise, clearly unsatisfied with the answer. “What about Drake? How did he get my father to adopt him?”
“Tim was Bruce’s Robin and protégé for several years before Jack Drake passed away,” Dick said. “He was family in all but name, so, when Tim was ready, Bruce made it official.”
“And Cassandra?” Damian asked.
“She developed a close relationship with Bruce while he was mentoring her,” Dick said. “I guess like with Tim and me, it was real long before it was legal.”
Damian frowned. “But what about Todd? Father adopted him right away. What did he do?”
“Jason’s parents had passed away a while before he met Bruce,” Dick said. “Jason needed a family and I think that Bruce did, too.”
“But why Todd?” Damian asked. “What was so special about him? He was just a stupid thief. There’s lots of those.”
Dick smiled, though the smile held a bit of sadness. “I think Bruce was impressed that this kid had the guts to try and steal from the Batman. And I think once he met Jason, he realized that this kid was smart and tough and deserved more than he’d get from the streets.”
“Don’t other kids deserve more, too?” Damian asked.
Dick nodded, surprised and pleased at this moment of empathy from Damian. “Sure they do. That’s why the Wayne Foundation works to get as many kids off the streets and into safe places as possible.”
“Do you think Father will adopt someone else?” Damian asked.
“It’s possible,” Dick said. “We’ve got a pretty full house right now, so I don’t think he’s looking for another kid, but it could happen again.”
“We’ve got a number of empty rooms in the Manor,” Damian pointed out.
Dick laughed. “I just meant that Bruce has you and me and Tim in Gotham right now, so he’s probably not looking for more Robins or more kids.”
“But suppose someone really special came along?” Damian asked.
“Maybe,” Dick said. He put an arm around Damian’s shoulders and gave him a quick hug. “Don’t worry, no one’s going to replace you.”
“Tt!” Damian squirmed away from the hug. “Of course not. I’m his real son. I’m merely making inquiries out of curiosity.”
* * *
“I’ll arrange for the security systems to be offline,” Damian told Colin. “All you have to do is remove the tires and take them to the pre-arranged location.”
The red-haired orphan stared wide-eyed at Damian. “Why would I steal Batman’s tires?”
“You’re bait,” Damian improvised. “There’s a tire-stealing ring and they’ve been recruiting kids. We want them to recruit you and you can give us the inside info.”
A grin lit up Colin’s face. “Oh, wow! You want me to work with you on a case?”
“Yes,” Damian said. “Batman thinks you could be a useful asset.”
“Oh, wow!” Colin breathed. “Are- are you sure about using the Batmobile, though? Wouldn’t a normal car be better? I mean- you can do that, right? Arrange for a normal car?”
“Of course we can,” Damian said. “But we feel that in order to get the attention of the criminals, you need to do something brash. There are plenty of tire-thieves in Gotham, you know, and we want to be certain they notice you.”
“That makes sense,” Colin said. “That’s really clever of you to think of that.”
“I am Robin,” Damian said.
“Can I ask you something?” Colin asked. “Is it true that there’s two Batmen now?”
“Yes,” Damian said. “But you’ll be working with the original. That’s why we’re waiting until next Saturday. This is an important case and we want the best men on the job.”
“Wow,” Colin said, cheeks pink with excitement. “I’ll have to sneak away from the nuns. That’s movie night. But I can do it!”
“Excellent,” Damian said. “We’re counting on you.” He was certain this plan would work, but he should have a back-up plan just in case. His father had taught him that it was best to have a number of plans in place before taking any action. He’d have to borrow that movie from Stephanie where the singing orphan girl was adopted by the singing war profiteer. He made a note to see if Colin could carry a tune.
* * *
Bruce’s first thought upon finding the tires of the Batmobile missing were that the Red Hood was playing games in Gotham again. He put out an alert on the comm to all operatives and asked Alfred to run a diagnostic check to determine how the Batmobile’s defenses had been compromised.
Tracking the thief was absurdly easy, heightening Bruce’s belief that this was a trap. Rain earlier that day had dampened the muck in Gotham’s streets and the tires had left a clear path where someone had rolled them away. Rolled! Not like a professional thief, but like a boy, too small to carry the tires. Footprints beside the tires also indicated that a child was involved. Bruce growled. If the Red Hood had pulled some innocent child into his twisted game, he would pay and pay dearly.
Bruce tracked the thief back to a warehouse. He searched the exterior for trip wires, sensors or any other signs of physical traps that the Red Hood might have laid out. None were evident. He recognized the warehouse - it was one that had been purchased recently by the Wayne Foundation with plans to convert it to a homeless shelter, though renovations had not yet begun. How like the Red Hood to use his own property against him!
A heat scan of the warehouse showed only one life form inside - a small one, likely the child that had been manipulated into becoming the Red Hood’s pawn. Bruce was reluctant to enter the building on the Red Hood’s terms, but he wouldn’t leave the child alone here.
He did another sweep of the interior using all the tools available and then flipped on the lights. A red-haired, freckled boy in a worn grey sweatshirt sat on one of the missing tires. He blinked at the sudden light and frowned at Batman. “Are you supposed to be here?”
“Don’t move,” Bruce growled. He approached the boy and scanned the area and the tires. No traps were evident.
“Did- did I mess up the plan?” the boy asked.
“Who hired you?” Bruce asked.
“Nobody. I mean, I’m not getting paid. I think. I wanted to help!”
Interesting. What lies had the Red Hood’s twisted mind concocted to recruit this child? “Who are you helping?”
The boy blinked. “Well... you. And Robin, of course.”
Robin. The name hit him like a blow to the gut. What cruel trick was this? “The man who recruited you called himself Robin?”
“Yes. I mean, he is Robin. And he’s not a man, he’s my age,” the boy said.
Had the Red Hood drawn two boys into his twisted game? What was the objective here?
His comm crackled. ”Batman,” Alfred said. ”I know how the car was disabled.”
“Tell me,” Bruce said.
“Well-” the boy began, but Bruce held up a finger to silence him and tapped a finger on the side of his cowl that covered his ear. The boy fell silent.
“It was Robin, sir,” Alfred said.
”Robin?” Bruce asked. He had several pieces of the puzzle, but they weren’t forming the shape he expected.
”Yes, sir,” Alfred said. ”The, ah, current one.”
”Batman,” Batgirl’s voice joined the conversation. ”The Red Hood is still incarcerated. Oracle checked the surveillance feed.”
“I see,” Bruce said. “Thank you both. Robin. Report.”
”Yes, sir?” Damian’s voice responded over the comm.
“Do you have any information on why my tires are sitting in a warehouse instead of on my vehicle?”
”Perhaps a gutsy young thief lifted them?” Damian suggested. “You should talk to him. Get to know him a little.”
“Robin, what -” Bruce began, but Dick interrupted.
“Wait. Robin, do you know this thief?” Dick asked.
There was a long moment before Damian replied, ”I may have encountered him on a previous patrol.”
Dick sighed. ”Batman, I think I know what’s going on.”
* * *
Colin wasn’t sure what had happened, only that Robin had lied to him and worse, had lied to Batman. Both of them! Now he was in the Batbunker with two Batmans, Batgirl and Robin, which would have been really awesome if he weren’t in so much trouble.
“He’s a friend of Robin’s,” said one Batman, who Colin secretly dubbed Nice Batman. “He was forcibly treated with venom and now he’s a meta, able to transform into an adult form with high levels of strength.”
“Hnn,” the other Batman (Grumpy Batman) said. He addressed Damian. “And you thought that you could convince me to adopt your friend by staging the theft of my tires?”
Robin wanted Batman to adopt Colin. Wow!
“There was precedent,” Damian said, folding his arms over his chest.
“He’s got you there,” Nice Batman said, smiling at Grumpy Batman.
“That was a unique situation,” Grumpy Batman said. “And given the outcome -” He frowned even more, something Colin wouldn’t have thought possible. “It’s not one that will be repeated.”
“But why not?” Damian asked. “We’ve got plenty of room.”
“I am not adopting Colin,” Grumpy Batman said, and that appeared to be the final word.
Nice Batman knelt next to Colin and put a hand on his shoulder. “Are you unhappy at the orphanage? Is anyone hurting you or making you uncomfortable?”
Colin blinked at the questions. “No, the nuns are pretty nice. It’s all right, I guess.”
“He should have a family,” Damian said firmly. “Families are important.”
Nice Batman smiled, “They are, Damian. I’m glad you realize that.”
Grumpy Batman cleared his throat.
“Colin knows my ID,” Damian admitted.
“We can look for a family for you,” Nice Batman said to Colin, quickly, before Grumpy Batman could say something grumpier. “I can’t make any promises, though.”
Batgirl spoke up. "I might have a solution," she said. "A couple of friends of my mom really want to have kids, but they've had difficulties with adoption agencies because one of them is HIV positive. Do you know what that is, Colin?"
"Sure," Colin said. "My friend Joey's got that. He has to take lots of pills and it's sort of contagious but it's safe to hug him and play baseball with him and lots of other stuff."
Batgirl nodded. "That's right. Would you be interested in having two moms?"
"Two moms?" Colin's eyes widened. "Sure! That'd be even better than one mom!"
"But no father," Damian pointed out.
"No, but a couple of uncles," Batgirl said. "And several cousins."
"Wow," Colin breathed. "That's a lotta family!"
“Wait,” Damian said. “Are they poor like you?”
“Damian!” Nice Batman scolded.
Batgirl stuck out her tongue at Robin. “They’re not rich, but they do okay.”
“I don’t mind!” Colin said. “I don’t need lots of stuff and I don’t take up very much space.”
Batgirl laughed. "Okay, let me talk to them." She pulled out her phone, but reception in the bunker for her non-Bat phone wasn't available, so she headed upstairs.
"Let me talk to them with you," Nice Batman said, following her. "I want them to know about Colin’s situation before this goes any further.” They went upstairs, leaving Colin with Damian and Grumpy Batman.
“If they adopt me, would I have to tell them about Abuse?” Colin asked Damian.
“Abuse?” Grumpy Batman asked sharply, and Colin and Damian explained about Colin’s alter identity as the crime-fighting hero Abuse. Grumpy Batman didn’t seem happy about the news, and Colin suspected Damian was going to be in a lot of trouble. He felt really bad, but he hadn’t asked Damian to try and get him adopted, so how could he have known?
“I think it would be best to keep them informed of your nocturnal activities,” Grumpy Batman said. Colin was pretty sure that meant yes, he’d have to tell them.
Batgirl and Nice Batman came back downstairs, smiling. “They want to meet you!” Batgirl grinned.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Nice Batman said. “A representative from the Wayne Foundation will pick you up from the orphanage tomorrow afternoon - assuming it’s okay with the nuns. If it’s not, don’t worry, we’ll find a time that’s good for everyone. If you all like each other, we’ll arrange for you to be fostered with them - that means you’ll go live with them, but you won’t be adopted just yet.”
Colin nodded, because it seemed like he was supposed to. “Okay. How do I get adopted?”
“If the three of you decide you want to become a permanent family, then you’ll go to court and be officially adopted,” Nice Batman said. “Colin, if it doesn’t work out, we’ll try again. If you’re not happy with this family, I want you to promise me you’ll tell someone.”
Colin nodded. “I promise.”
* * *
Four months later, the family filed paperwork to start Colin’s adoption.
Damian came by Colin’s house once he heard the news. He perched on the roof just below Colin’s window and tapped on the glass.
Colin slid the window open. “You could come in the front door,” he said. “They like you.”
“I’d have to change clothes and I’m on patrol,” Damian said gruffly. He pulled back his hood but left his mask on. “Is it true? Are you staying with them?” He examined the bedroom with a critical eye. No TV, no game system, just a bed, dresser and desk. He noticed Colin’s teddy bear Rory on the dresser with several other stuffed animals, including a Batman plush doll.
“Yes!” Colin smiled. “Why, don’t you think it’s a good idea?”
“I’m still not certain a household led by two women is the best place for you,” Damian said. “Shouldn’t you have a man around?”
“For what?” Colin asked, puzzled.
Damian didn’t have a good answer for that. “Manly things,” he said, as if Colin should know.
Colin frowned, trying to figure this out. “Uncle Carl taught me how to tie a tie,” he offered.
“Well,” Damian said. “I suppose that’s useful.”
“You have two fathers,” Colin said. “Do you need a mom around?”
“I don’t have two fathers!” Damian sputtered. “One of them’s my brother!”
“Oh,” Colin said. He pondered that. “But he acts like a father, doesn’t he?”
“But he’s not,” Damian said. “Father is my real father. And I don’t need a mother. I should know. I used to have one and it didn’t work out.”
“You can come over and borrow one of mine if you change your mind,” Colin offered. “They’re really good moms.”
“You’re certain you’re happy?” Damian asked.
“Oh, yes!” Colin said.
Damian nodded. “My brother’s a really good brother. But don’t tell him I said that.” He drew his hood up over his head. “I’ve got to continue my duties. I just wanted to check in.”
“Sure! I’m sorry I can’t patrol with you, but I’m not supposed to be a superhero on school nights,” Colin said. “Unless it’s a really big emergency. See you Saturday?”
“It’s on my calendar,” Damian said. He slipped out the window and out of Colin’s line of sight, but he waited for a few minutes and listened as Colin joined his mothers downstairs. They were laughing and singing along with some pop song on the radio. It seemed all was, indeed, well with this family and Damian wouldn’t have to use his Plan B to find Colin a new home. Which was fortunate, as Colin was clearly tone deaf.
* * * * * *