Jason wakes to whispers.
“I’m sorry to drag you into this, Bruce. I know how much this is to ask. This kid, he just, he’s got nothing. And with Dent still out there--,”
“I understand, Jim.”
“You’re in the system already because of Dick, and after the whole thing with Zucco--,”
“I know, Jim--,”
“You can still say no, it’s just a possibility--,”
“Jim.” The voice says firmly. It’s a very deep voice. Jason thinks he sounds safe. “You and I both know I’m not going to say no.”
Jim sighs in relief.
“Thank you, Bruce.”
“What happened to his mother?”
Jim sighs again. This time it sounds sad. “By the time we got to the apartment, it was too late. She OD’d. Kid was trying to shake her awake.”
“How old is he?”
Jason works very hard to keep his breaths even, like he does when Daddy comes home late mushing all his words together.
“Is there anything else I need to sign? If it’s all the same to you, I’d really like to let him sleep in a bed.”
Jim must shake his head, because suddenly there’s a large, gentle hand on Jason’s shoulder, nudging him ‘awake’.
“Jason?” the voice, (Bruce, Jason remembers, Jim said his name was Bruce) asks.
Jason opens his eyes.
Bruce is enormous. He is the tallest person Jason has ever seen, with wide, wide shoulders and hands the size of Jason’s whole face.
Jason flinches backward on the couch, pulling the blanket the nice policeman gave him even tighter around him.
Bruce frowns and crouches down, leaning deliberately away from Jason. He has black hair, blueish grayish eyes and a thin nose. Jason thinks he looks like somebody from the movies Mommy used to sneak him into on Sunday afternoons.
“Jason?” Bruce asks quietly. Jason watches as he sits criss-cross applesauce on the floor by Jason’s couch and fold his hands in his lap. “Hi, kiddo. My name is Bruce.”
Something in the voice makes Jason look up from his blanket.
Bruce’s voice is sad.
Bruce’s voice is kind.
“I want to go home,” Jason whispers, meeting Bruce’s blueish grayish eyes with his own. He wants home. He wants his mom. He wants his neighbors and his street and the window in his room where he watches for Batman when the night is at its darkest.
Slowly, Bruce reaches up and takes his hand.
“I know,” he says softly. “I know you do, Jason. I can’t take you home, but I would like to help. Will you let me help?”
Bruce’s face is sad.
Bruce’s face is kind.
Jason sucks in a hard breath as tears trail down his cheeks. Bruce squeezes his hand.
Jason is asleep again when Bruce pulls into the garage.
He takes a moment to lean back when he shuts off the car, staring at the child in the borrowed booster seat in his rearview mirror.
“Shit.” Bruce whispers to himself as he stares at the unruly black curls falling from the boy’s tiny head. He takes a deep breath before exiting the car and unbuckling Jason from the seat.
What the hell has he done?
Which is exactly the moment Jason’s tiny, tiny fingers choose to grip into Bruce’s shirt. Jason’s unruly curls nuzzle into his neck, and Bruce unconsciously hugs the boy tighter to him.
“Master Bruce?” Alfred asks softly from the door of the garage.
“This is Jason.” Bruce whispers. “He’ll be staying here.”
Bruce means to add ‘for a while’ to the end of the statement, but Jason chooses that moment to wrap his short little legs around Bruce’s waist and grip his shirt even tighter, and Bruce realizes he’d be entirely okay if Jason stayed forever.
Jason wakes next to a door creaking open.
He sits up and finds a black-haired boy at the door, his face scrunched up in a wince.
“Sorry,” the boy whispers before walking over to the bed. “Alfred just wanted me to check on you, not wake you up. Are you hungry? Al’s got the whole spread ready down there for you.”
Jason has a lot of questions. Because this isn’t the police station anymore, it’s a very fancy bedroom. And Jason isn’t wearing his clothes from last night, he’s wearing PJ’s that are way too big for him, covered in dinosaurs. It’s not nighttime, it’s morning, and Jason remembers a big man named Bruce with kind sad eyes, but he doesn’t remember anyone named Alfred and--
“Who are you?” Jason asks. His voice still sounds sleepy.
The boy smiles. His eyes are very, very blue. “I’m Richard. You can call me Dick, though.”
Jason scrunches his nose. “Mommy says that’s a bad word.”
Dick laughs. “It’s a name, too. It’s my name, and I like it. That’s what my parents called me.”
Called. Not call.
Mommy said it was a bad word. She can’t say it anymore.
“Jason?” Dick says gently, jumping up to sit beside him on the big bed.
“Is this Bruce’s house?” Jason asks. His voice sounds all clogged up, like he’s sick again.
Dick nods. “Bruce is good. He’ll keep us safe.”
Jason sniffs. “You promise?” He holds out his pinky, cause that how you make the most important promises. Mommy taught him that.
Dick smiles again and loops his larger pinky tight around Jason’s
(Ten years later, crouched down in the wet dirt of his little brother’s grave, Dick will remember this moment. He will remember the tiny child with the wild black curls crowning his face and tears making his teal eyes bright. The tiny child absolutely swamped by his own hand-me-down pajamas whose entire world had just collapsed around him.
Dick will remember this child. He will remember the promise he made the child, the lie that he told.
And he will scream.)
Bruce looks up from his paper to see Dick padding down the stairs, holding a reluctant Jason’s hand.
His mind has been awash with to-do lists as he halfheartedly reads the newspaper: Jason will need his shots, Dent needs to be dealt with, Jason should go to the dentist, is Willis Todd safe enough in Blackgate, Jason needs new clothes, Catherine Todd needs a funeral planned, Jason--
Jason looks even tinier this morning, drowning in an old pair of Dick’s pajamas that someone had the foresight to roll up the pant legs and sleeves of so the boy could walk. His inky curls are falling into his eyes.
(--Jason needs a haircut, he adds to the list.)
“Good morning, boys,” Bruce says calmly, standing up to greet them. He doesn’t make a move forward; Bruce hadn’t missed the way Jason flinched last night as they met.
“Morning, Bruce!” Dick chirps, gently pulling Jason along with him to the table. Dick pulls out a seat next to Bruce for Jason to take. The boy hesitates before finally sitting down.
He’s too short to reach the table.
Christ, he’s small.
“Here,” Dick calls, rushing back into the room, and Bruce hadn’t even noticed him leave, “Use the cushion,” he says, nudging Jason up from the chair and laying down a cushion from the armchair in the foyer.
It’s a Louis XVI armchair straight from Versailles.
“Perfect!” Dick says with a clap of his hand, before skipping around the table to take his seat across from Jason. “What do you like to eat, Jason? I think Alfred made a bit of everything this morning.”
Jason looks at the spread, the fruit and biscuits, sausages, bacon, and eggs, all laid before him like a feast, his eyes wide as saucers.
“Is this a castle?” Jason’s voice is soft, eyes now on the chandelier above them.
“No, Jason,” Bruce says lightly.
Dick grins, “It’s home.”
Jason spills syrup from his “pannycakes” on the side of the Louis XVI cushion.
Bruce and Alfred never bother to buy him a real booster seat for the table.
The cushion is the right height.
After breakfast, Jason meets Alfred.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, young Master Jason. My name is Alfred Pennyworth. I am Master Bruce’s butler and the keeper of his home and estate. Should you ever have any questions or concerns about anything in particular, please do not hesitate to ask.”
Alfred looks like he’s supposed to be old, but he’s too fast and skinny to actually be old. He’s tall, with a cool mustache, and he talks funny.
“Why do you talk different?” The question is out of Jason’s mouth before he even has time to think about it. Alfred smiles.
“I’m from another country, Master Jason, and there we have another manner of speech. Have you ever heard of England?”
“There’s a queen there.”
“Right in one, Master Jason.”
“Have you ever been to a castle?”
“Bruce says this isn’t a castle.”
“No, this is a manor.”
“What’s the difference?”
Alfred smiles wider. “Perhaps I can explain it to you as I draw you a bath, Master Jason. We need to get you out of these old pajamas and find you some proper clothes.”
Jason frowns, gripping the folds of the clean and soft dinosaurs now covering him. He likes these pajamas.
“You can still keep them,” Alfred says gently, and Jason nods and follows him to the bath.
(Ten years later, Alfred will be rummaging in Jason’s closet, blinded by tears as he searches for his black suit. Alfred will find first a box of clothes Jason outgrew years ago. Against his better judgement, Alfred will open the box.
He will find the old, well-worn dinosaur pajamas at the very top of the box. He will remember the tiny child who wore those pajamas ragged, the child who grew into a teenager who will not grow any longer. A child who, from now on, only needs a black suit for proper clothes.
And Alfred will sit down in the dark closet and sob.)
Harvey Dent is sent to Arkham.
Willis Todd is shivved in Blackgate.
Jason Todd is an orphan.
“’It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.’” Bruce reads aloud, running a hand through Jason’s curls. He needs another haircut. “’Charlotte was both.’” He closes the book with a snap and lays it on Jason’s bedside table.
Jason sighs. “I don’t like when good stories are over.”
Bruce grins. “That’s how you know they were good, kiddo.” He leans down and kisses the top of Jason’s head. “Besides, Wilbur got a happy ending. Isn’t that good?”
Jason sighs again. “Daddy says stories are silly. Daddy says there’s no such thing as happy ever after.”
“Happily ever after,” Bruce corrects softly.
“That’s what I said.”
They sit in silence for a bit, Bruce still brushing his hand through Jason’s unruly curls.
“Jason,” he finally starts. “Would you—do you like living here?”
Jason frowns. “Yes,” he finally says. His lip is quivering.
Shit, kid thinks he’s being thrown out, shit shit shit--
“Would you like to stay?”
Jason’s eyes fill with tears.
“Forever.” Bruce adds hastily. “Would you like to stay here with us forever? Because I’d very much like you to, I’d like to adopt you so you can--,”
“You want to be my daddy?” The question is so quiet Bruce almost misses it. He turns quickly, finally meeting Jason’s round eyes.
Bruce nearly gives a long-winded, well-reasoned monologue about how yes, Bruce wants to take care of Jason, wants to be his parent, and though he may love Jason dearly, Bruce will never replace the father he lost, but--
Willis Todd was a piece of shit, and Jason deserved better.
Jason deserves better.
And maybe Bruce isn’t better, but he will always try to be. This child will have a happily ever after if Bruce Wayne has anything to say about it.
“Yes,” Bruce answers. “I want to be your dad.”
(Bruce Wayne isn’t a fool. He knows with this quest for Gotham and the enemies he’s made, he’s very likely to die young.
But these children he’s taken in against his better judgement, these wonderful kids who have somehow sneaked their way into his heart, they deserve good lives. They deserve happy endings, no matter what happens to him.
So, he plans.
He’s got the will set, he’s got his lawyers updating it consistently, he’s got custody of Dick and Jason figured out for literally every scenario of his demise.
There are trust funds, college funds, video messages, handwritten letters to be sent in the event of his death. He even has goddamn birthday presents stowed away, to be sent on his sons’ birthdays every year after Bruce passes.
If Bruce dies, his kids will be sad, but they will have happy endings. He makes sure of it.
It’s a funny thing, though.
Bruce has never once considered planning for the kids dying before him.)
Jason is six when he officially becomes Jason Wayne.
Alfred makes him wear a suit to the courthouse, which Jason thinks is silly, but nobody says no to Alfred so that’s how it goes.
The judge smiles a lot, and Bruce smiles a lot. Dick and Alfred never stop smiling.
“Bruce Wayne, do you wish to adopt Jason into your family?” The judge asks.
“Yes, your honor.” Bruce’s hand around his shoulder squeezes, and Jason leans in to the hug.
“Jason,” the judge asks kindly, “Would you like Bruce to be your dad?”
“Yes, your honor.” Jason tries to sound all deep and solemn like Bruce, but his answer just makes everyone in the courtroom laugh. Bruce laughs though, too, and picks him up and hugs him tight.
Then Dick squirms his way into the hug, and Alfred puts a hand on his shoulder and it’s good.
It’s really good.
Jason thinks maybe, this is what happily ever after feels like.
(Thirteen years later, Jason will be back in cave, working on a case with the whole goddamn batclan against his better judgement.
He will grow irritated with their indecisiveness and inaction, he will stand up and pace and see that stupid (painful) glass case in the corner, housing the tatters of his Robin uniform and the life he once loved.
A good soldier.
“I thought I was your son.” Jason will say snidely, and Bruce will stiffen. His cowl will be down. All eyes will turn to Jason. Stephanie’s, Cass’, the demon brat’s and Dick’s. Even that replacement child Bruce still keeps around.
“You are my son.” Bruce will respond evenly, and Jason will snort.
“I’m pretty sure any responsibility the adoption gave you was voided by my death certificate, Bruce.”
Someone will gasp.
Dick will curse.
And Jason will be shocked as, for the first time, he watches Bruce’s (kind, sad, blueish grayish) eyes fill with tears.)
“Goodnight, Daddy,” Jason says that night for the first time.
Daddy smiles. “Goodnight, Jay.”
(Thirteen and a half years later, Jason will be shot. He will be shot straight in the chest and will very nearly die again. Leslie and Alfred and Bruce will spend a night forcing his heart to keep beating and his lungs to expand until they’re strong enough to do it again on their own.
Jason will wake up three days later in his bedroom, the fancy room of the house he used to think must be a castle. Dick will be sleeping in a chair to his left, hand clasped loosely with Jason’s own.
And Bruce will be to the right, a worn copy of Pride and Prejudice in his hand.
"’With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them, and they were both sensible of the warmest gratitude towards persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them.’" Bruce will read.
Then he will snap the book closed with one hand, the other on Jason’s head, running through his curls, just like when Jason was a child.
“There’s no such thing as happy endings,” Jason will say with a rasp, “Not in real life.”
Bruce will frown, his hand still running through Jason’s hair.
“Let me try,” Bruce will whisper, and for the second time Jason will see tears fill his eyes. “Please, let me try.”
Bruce’s face is sad.
Bruce’s face is kind.
Jason will suck in a hard breath as tears trail down his cheeks. Bruce will reach down and squeeze his hand.