There was a little kid huddled miserably against the Batmobile. Bruce watched from above, looking up and down the alley, into every possible hiding place an ambush might spring from, but the child appeared to be alone. Alone and in distress.
Bruce shot off a grapple and jumped, swinging into the alley and landing noiselessly a few feet from the child, then deliberately scuffed his foot.
The child—a little boy—and lurched backward, smacking the back his head against the car with a dull clang that must have hurt. The boy whimpered and clutched both hands against his head, trying to control the pain with pressure. Bruce sat by, resisting every instinct to reach forward and pick the boy up so he could check that the boy hadn't hurt himself too badly, but he'd learned early on that young children wandering the streets of Gotham alone at night did not take kindly to being touched by anyone, especially large male strangers.
"Are you okay?" he asked instead.
The boy whimpered again and curled up even tighter. "'m fine. I—please don't hurt me."
It was a painful plea, but not an entirely unusual one, especially this close to Crime Alley, where many of the henchmen he rounded up on the nightly smacked around their wives and children with as little guilt as they attacked any other innocent.
"I'm not going to hurt you. I don't hurt children," Bruce assured him.
A sniffle. "But I hurt your car."
Bruce couldn't help but chuckle. "I'm sure you didn't. You have a very small head, son. I'm more worried about you."
The boy peeked out from behind his legs, wary little eyes fixed on Bruce and mouth set in a delicate pout. "Promise?"
Bruce nodded solemnly. "Of course. You have my word."
The boy searched his expression a few moments more before he seemed to believe it and he relaxed slightly, letting Bruce get a better look at him.
He was definitely quite young, six or seven if Bruce had to guess, thin, but not starved. Likely not a street kid, then, or maybe very recently homeless. He was cute, too, with dark hair and light eyes in shades that Bruce couldn't quite distinguish in the dark.
"What's your name?" Bruce asked.
"I'm Jay," the boy whispered.
"Jay." Bruce smiled softly. "What's your last name, Jay?"
"I see. What are you doing out here all alone, Jay?" If he didn't have any parents, then it would probably be easy to find a good foster home, maybe even a permanent home, for him with how young and cute he was.
Jay took a deep breath, his chest swelling with air and courage as he seemed to work himself up. "Y—you—"
Bruce waited a moment for the boy to continue, but that seemed to be as brave as the boy was going to get without prompting. "I...?"
Jay inhaled sharply and yelped, "You gotta take responsibility!"
Every thought process came crashing to a halt. He—The last time he'd been told that he needed to take responsibility, his ex-girlfriend was telling him that he needed to acknowledge that the baby born eleven months after the last time he'd seen her was his. The time before that, another ex had been trying to baby trap him. With a baby that she'd adopted solely for that purpose. It had been a very cute baby, but he didn't know how she'd thought that would work given that the baby was Asian and both of them were white. She'd given the baby up for adoption again, poor kid, after that, and it was only the knowledge that he would be giving Alfred a lot more work that kept him from taking the baby in himself. In the end, he'd done a bit of behind the scenes work and found the baby a nice new family outside of Gotham. The time before that, his girlfriend had tried to fake a pregnancy just so he'd give her money for doctor's appointments and baby supplies. They hadn't even slept together.
He would have known if he'd had a kid, right? Especially—no offense to the child's mother who he was sure was doing her best, but the state of Jay's clothes indicated low income, and surely the mother would have known that he could have afforded child support.
"What?" Bruce said before even processing the word.
"You put my dad in jail!" Jay cried, half yell, half sob, and Bruce felt a stab of guilt for the relief.
"I'm sorry, Jay," Bruce said sincerely, more meaning that he was sorry that Jay's father had been the type to be on his radar in the first place. He only arrested people who preyed on the innocent, and he'd never be sorry for that, even as he did what he could to fund rehabilitation programs. "Do you and your adult need money?" Adult because the current guardian could be anyone. Parent, stepparent, father's partner, family friend, grandparent, the list went on.
That was the wrong thing to say. Jay's shoulders shook, and he curled back in on himself with a puppy-like keen.
"Do you have another another adult?" Bruce asked gently.
"M—m—my—mom—" The words were choked off by a sob, and Jason shook his head.
"Did she pass away?" It was a soft way to ask a terrible question, often too gentle for what had really happened.
Jay nodded, and Bruce took a chance and shifted forward a bit.
Jay yelped and flinched, but before Bruce could pull away, Jay launched himself at Bruce and clung desperately to his neck. Bruce brought his arms up and held Jay as securely as he could while the boy shook apart in a mess of sobs and broken attempts at words. Praying the intimacy wasn't too much for a child he'd never met but who desperately needed a kind adult presence, Bruce ran his fingers through Jay's hair and whispered soothing assurances. The part of his brain that was Batman noted with every tangle he teased out of Jay's hair that Jay's hair wasn't as bad as it would have been if he'd been on his own for long. He'd guess Jason had been on the streets a few days, maybe a bit longer. His mother might not have even been buried yet. Or maybe Jay had run from foster care, and there was an abusive or at least neglectful foster parent Bruce would have to deal with.
He could do that later, though. After only a few minutes of crying, Jay was already sagging, and his cries were interrupted with yawning. He must have been so tired, so stressed and waiting up so late for Batman to return to his car. It had probably taken Jay a long time to find the car too, a long time wandering all over Gotham on little legs that should have been in bed.
"Jay?" Bruce asked, giving Jay's scalp a little scratch to make sure he was awake.
Jay sniffled. "Yeah?"
"Do you want to come home with me?" It might be temporary. There could be next of kin or family friends, but Bruce suspected there was no one if Jay had come to Batman to be adopted.
He had another son.
Jay nodded into Bruce's neck and squirmed to press himself even tighter to Bruce's body.
Bruce smiled and pressed a kiss to the top of Jay's head. "Okay. Let's go home."