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It's a Hard-Knock Life (Except When There's Cookies)

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First off, Jason Peter Todd (-Wayne, but that was only on a handful of documents that Jason was ninety-eight percent sure were actually forged and weren’t legal since Bruce had certainly never said anything before he went off and got himself killed by the Joker so were probably actually drawn up after he became legally dead) would like it to be known that he did not adopt an orphanage.

If anything, the little brats adopted him.

Look, it wasn’t his fault, no matter what the little menaces say.

It all started like this. Once upon a fucking time, there was an orphanage that happened to be in the middle of the Red Hood’s turf. The Red Hood, dashing anti-hero/former-crime-lord/villain/anti-villain/whatever-he-felt-like-being-today, was unaware of this fact for a little while.

Now Jason had a lot of issues, he knew that. Hey, you try having his life, see how mentally-balanced you turned out. Fucking Lazarus Pits.

He’d had a piss-poor day. Unlike certain crime-fighting vigilantes, he lived in a shitty apartment on the East End.

Okay, quick word for those confused. Gotham City works like this.

Gotham City is on an island. Most people know that. Gotham City, like all gigantic cities, is divided into sections. And, like most gigantic cities that happen to be occupied by superheroes, the sections each tend to belong to a different hero. Jason, after his last stint as a villain, carved himself out a little part of the East End. (It adjoined to Catwoman’s turf, which worked out for both of them. He liked Selina. She wasn’t about to go all goody-two-shoes on him, especially not now that his sanity was much more existent.) Basically, what was considered “common courtesy” among Bats (and other heroes) was this:

One: If you’re chasing someone, or on a case, it’s fine to go into other people’s territories. It’s nice to give a heads-up, but hey. Two: During an Arkham Break-Out, all hands on deck. Nobody cares what’s happening, just fucking round up the dangerous people before everybody dies. Three: Team-ups are encouraged. It helps communication or whatever. However, the Bat Family seems to take exception to Jason. They tend to ignore him for team-ups. And meetings. And important/pertinent information. Which is fine by him. Really. He doesn’t care a fucking bit. He doesn’t need the Bats, or their goddamn approval. Or the Birds of Prey for that matter. 

But anyways, Jason’s day had been very bad. It’s a very long tale that includes cigarettes, his second-favorite jacket, a rubber duck, and a message that came from Mia Dearden. (Yeah, they were still in contact. Fun kid.) However, it’s not very pertinent to the story. The point was that Jason was… let’s call it pissed off. (Grouchy or grumpy might be more appropriate, but Jason was a full-grown man and grown men didn’t grump or grouch, they glowered or glared.)

He walked the streets of his turf, trying to forget everything that had happened. A cigarette hung from between his teeth, unlit. He wore his third favorite leather jacket, the one with the really nice lining and a hidden holster. (The second-favorite jacket had three hidden knives and a holster, the favorite was a present from Alfred and had the best characteristics of both jackets.) He wore a pair of artistically scuffed combat boots, dark jeans and a dark red turtleneck. His hair was slightly too long, which meant that stupid white streak was falling into his face again. Ugh, he needed a haircut.

Grumbling to himself, he threw the cigarette into a trashcan out of bad temper. He really wasn’t in the mood. Half of the fun of smoking usually came from Dick or Bruce’s pained expressions anyway. The rest of the time it was mostly just the habit.

That was when the little hoodlum (haha) nearly ran him over. “Gah, sorry!” The kid flailed, slightly-too-long arms whirling around as he tried to regain his (frequenly lost) sense of balance before he fell ass-first onto the concrete. Jason grabbed him, picked him up (the kid needed to eat about a trillion chili-dogs: he was skinny as fuck) and set him back on the pavement upright.

“You okay kid?” Jason asked, squinting at him. The boy was about nine-years old. He had a shock of orange-colored hair that needed a haircut even more than Jason’s hair did, and wore clothes that were probably at least third hand. Jason noted, surprisingly, that the kid actually hadn’t tried to lift his wallet. Not that Jason would particularly care if the kid did, not when it was pretty clear that the kid needed a solid meal or ninety, but still. It was the principal of the thing. Jason, when he had been the kid’s age, would never have collided on someone, even by accident, and not made an effort.

Jason tried to decide if the kid was stupid, not actually as ill-fed as he looked, or just had one of those really bizarre cases of good morals that somehow manages to poke up in kids and occasionally doesn’t get beaten out of them.

Ah great, now he was getting philosophical again.

The kid, while Jason had been musing, had rambled out an answer and ran off, still without Jason’s wallet.

Jason glanced to his left, and noted that it was an orphanage. Ah, that’s probably why the kid hadn’t grabbed it. That was pretty clearly a religious place. Looked pretty well kept, if a bit low on funds. The gardens were neat, the lawn was carefully trimmed, the path and the porch carefully swept. But Jason noticed that the roof needed replacing, even if it wasn’t too far gone yet. The door had been recently painted, but it was a thin layer of paint, and was going to start peeling soon.

Ah well, what was the point of being a sometimes-hero if he didn’t help out the people who actually need it on occasion. He walked in.

The inside was in about the same shape as the outside. The carpets were a little threadbare, but aggressively cleaned of all grime and dust. The wood floors were scratched and battered, but Jason had lived for Alfred long enough to know the signs of frequent moppings. There wasn’t a speck of dust or cobwebs anywhere. The paintings and photographs (most made by or of the various child occupants of the building, doubtless) were strategically placed to hide mold spots or rips in the wallpaper. Jason’s mom had known all the tricks like this, and Jason knew them too. He’d kept them up while she had been sick, trying to keep up appearances, even when everybody in the building knew that Catherine Todd was too far gone to even get out of bed on most days, and anyone sensible probably should have called social services months, maybe even years before Catherine Todd actually died.

There was a desk right passed the door, made of highly-polished oak. A stern, elderly woman sat behind it, giving off the same aura that Doctor Leslie and Alfred did of pure competence. After Jason filled out some paperwork, she agreed to let him volunteer there, under supervision.

He came back the following day, after a long and aggressive patrol that raised his blood pressure a few notches. There were days when he tried to remember if he really had been that annoying as Robin, like Babs sometimes joked.

Ah well, anyways. Sister Agnes, the desk nun, who had ice-blue eyes that seemed to be able to freeze a man enough to convince him that leaving his knives at home probably would be the best idea, let him through.

There were about thirty kids in the room, playing loudly and obnoxiously as possible. One kid was standing on the table, crowing something about being Wonder Woman, a foot planted firmly on the behind of a boy a good foot taller than her. Two boys wrestled on the rug, with five other kids throwing building blocks and chunks of Lego at them, catcalling. In the corner, two small girls solemnly applied makeup to a poster of Batman. A scrawny looking girl and boy who looked related built a race track for their cars, chattering cheerfully as they went. One kid, with the pained look that Jason had seen on Tim’s face a lot, perched on top of a bookshelf, desperately trying to read, while a toddler stood below, wailing to be played with.

“Ahem,” Sister Cecilia, a large, cheerful looking Hispanic woman with a pair of piz-nez glasses perched on the edge of her nose, said. “Meet Mister Todd. He’s the new volunteer, children. Play nice.”

Slowly, almost robotically, the kids turned their heads to look at him. Jason felt, unusually, as if he was under the scope of a sniper. He shuffled awkwardly, realizing that it’s actually been a while since he actually had to interact with kids beyond grabbing them out of danger and dropping them into the arms of the nearest responsible adult.

Suddenly, a small toddler tugged on his pant leg. She was about three by Jason’s reckoning, wearing a Green Lantern T-shirt and Robin the Boy Wonder leggings, and had bright red hair that had cornflakes and glitter in it for some reason. “Play?” She asked, offering up a T-Rex to him.

Jason knelt down slowly and accepted the cheap plastic toy. It had a few bitemarks, and was clearly old, same with most of the toys in the room. He made a mental note to set aside a large portion of his earnings for a while to help out this place. It was pretty clear that the nun’s could and would work miracles for whatever he could give them.

The instant he was at their level, he was swarmed. He was permitted to play with the little girl (Carrie) for a while, but soon he was recruited to referee the wrestling tournament, read out of a battered story book telling the adventures of Martian Manhunter, teach the kids to stand on their heads, and then assist in giving the second super-hero poster a makeover. When it happened to be Nightwing, Jason nearly fell over laughing, before accepting the glitter marker he was handed and draw a large goatee on Dick’s face.

All in all, visiting the kids was probably the healthiest thing Jason had done since being dumped in a Lazarus Pit.

Very soon, all bad guys learned that going anywhere near the street where the orphanage was located was  a Very Bad Idea. There weren’t any killings (he wouldn’t subject the kids to that), but Jason was very good at creative takedowns when he wanted to be. (He’s just really bad with uniforms and names.)

The Red Hood became an honest-to-Superman Hero in the books of the orphanage kids, much to Jason’s eternal surprise. (If learning about this made him clean up his act just a little more… well, hey, that was the first time he’s ever been someone’s inspiration just for being him.)

Amazingly, it was Carrie Kelley, the preciously adorable toddler who had appointed Jason her permanent perch, who put the two together. It was story-time. Jason sat cross-legged in front of the kids, reading out of a story book that details the adventures of Wonder Woman, Troia, and Wonder Girl, when Carrie leaned into his face, (in the middle of a sentence that included Donna kicking somebody’s ass) and asked, with all solemnity that only a three year old can have, if he ever met any of them.

She then called him Mister Red, and then everything went to shit.

The kids didn’t tell the nuns, (thank Flash), but…

Well there were certain consequences.

The first thing was that Colin Wilkes, the little kid who alerted him to the existence of the orphanage accidently, turned out to be Damian Wayne’s best friend.

Yeah, that was Jason’s reaction basically.

Until he realized, that he had a perfect opportunity. He dug out his phone, and started to tell Colin (and the rest of the kids, but mainly Colin) all the embarrassing stories he knew about Damian. (Stephanie Brown was a very talkative, and was always happy to chat, especially about Damian.)

He carefully explained to the kids the (edited) history of the Bat Family, and instructed them in the proper names for super-heroes. The kids obediently referred to Tim as “Doctor Midnight”, Dick as “Discowing” or “Fishscales”, and Bruce as “Brooder”, and were delighted greatly by it.

They drew pictures of him (in and out of costume), and he even put a few up on his fridge. Especially the ones Carrie drew, ones with her on his shoulder and the others grinning and waving behind them, not that he would ever admit to having a favorite. Ever.

Jason hadn’t been this happy since his days as Robin. The kids came to him as easy as breathing, and they made so much sense. He didn’t have to sort through motivations, he didn’t have to understand why they do the things they do beyond why the fuck would you think that was a good idea.

One day he came home from volunteering, only to find Alfred in his living room.

He froze. Sure, he knew that Babs and Bruce knew where he was, but it wasn’t like any of them ever took advantage of that knowledge, any more than he took advantage of knowing where the Bat Cave was. It just… wasn’t done.

“Master Jason,” the elderly Englishman said with a nod, and damn Jason is never introducing Sister Agnes and Alfred ever.

“Uh… Hi Alfred?” He said, feeling awkward as fuck. Dammit, it was his place, Alfred should be the one feeling awkward, not him.

Oh who was he kidding. Alfred never felt awkward. Alfred inspired the emotion, he never indulged in it himself.

Jason tried to remember when he’d last cleaned the apartment. Luckily, it had been Monday. Jason was no Alfred when it came to cleaning, but hey, he’s still a trillion and a half times better than Dick.

Alfred looked at the fridge, where the pictures from the kids were. “I do hope you haven’t been harvesting the results of your wild youth, Master Jason,” the butler said dryly.

“Nah, just been spending a lot of time helping out a few blocks over,” Jason said, shrugging self-consciously.  He wondered what the re—what the Bat Family had been thinking of his change in behavior. Then again, they might not have noticed.

They hadn’t noticed him crawling out of his goddamn grave, after all.

(Yes, he’s still the tiniest bit bitter about that particular detail.)

Alfred’s eyebrow rose slightly. “St. Mercy’s Orphanage?”

“Um… yeah.” He shouldn’t be surprised that Alfred knew about that, (the place probably got donations from the Wayne Foundation) but he was.

“I see.” Alfred’s look was indiscernible. “I left cookies for you on the counter, and a meatloaf in the freezer.”

Jason’s eyes lit up. Alfred’s meatloaf. He hadn’t had that in years. “Thanks Alfie,” he said earnestly, grinning.

“I’m glad to see you at least take care of your place,” Alfred said, giving him a small, but genuine smile. “I will refrain from mentioning your activities to Master Bruce.”

“Thanks,” Jason said, rubbing the back of his neck.

Alfred left, leaving Jason with a large container of cookies that he could share with the brats, and the greatest goddamn meatloaf Jason had had since he died.

“Damian’s going crazy!” Colin reported, grinning in the way of a friend who is holding something over someone’s head. “He wants to know how I knew about the Batcow.”

“He followed you home,” Nissa, a solemn black girl who liked to steal Jason’s leather jacket, said. “He’s in the tree outside.”

“Hey Cullen,” Jason said, carefully trying to remove applesauce from Carrie’s face. “Go scare him off, will you? Go ask him for his autograph.”

Cullen Row beamed at him, and ran to the window to do exactly that.

“Hey Mister Red!” Fred, the cheerful Korean boy with a mild obsession with Oracle. Jason predicted that the kid would have a lovely career as one of Babs’ top secret lackeys who she got to do her bidding to serve as distractions for her own activities. “Mister Pennyworth sent another care package!”

“Awesome. Call everybody in, will you? You know Sister Agnes’ rules about the cookies.”

“Sure thing!” Fred ran off, whistling.

Carrie tugged on his white forelock, frowning. “Cookie?”

“Not yet, squirt,” Jason said, hauling her into his arms. “Gotta wait for the others.”

Carrie pouted, but didn’t whine any more, for which Jason was grateful.

“It worked!” Cullen said, running in. “I didn’t even have to ask him if he could introduce me to Red Robin!”

“Can’t believe you like Red Robin,” Nissa said matter-of-factly. “Batgirl’s prettier.”

“But I like boys,” Cullen pointed out.

“Eh. Cooties.”

“Red Robin doesn’t have cooties!” Cullen said, scandalized.

“All boys have cooties,” Nissa said, frowning. “Everybody knows that.”

“Mister Red!” Cullen whined, turning to Jason. “Tell her Red Robin doesn’t have cooties!” His eyes were wide and earnest, pleading for Jason to save his precious crush from Nissa’s slanderous words.

“I don’t know, Cullen,” Jason said, allowing Carrie to clamber onto his shoulder. “I’ve never tested him, myself.”

“Hah!” Nissa said, sticking out her tongue triumphantly.

“He didn’t say he did!” Cullen protested.

“Okay you two, stop it. Either way, guy cooties don’t effect guys, which makes liking guys when you’re a guy just that much more awesome, right Cullen?”

“Right!” Cullen said, grinning broadly as he realized this. “So there!”

Nissa kept on coloring in her picture of Black Bat, humming to herself.

Jason’s phone went off. It was a message from Oracle. –Meeting tonight. You coming?—

--When and where?— He responded, wondering what was happening. He’d teamed up with Cass last week, (she was back in town, probably for good, which was cool. The kids needed more proof that girls could kick ass.)

Jason set down Carrie and opened the care-package from Alfred as the kids started to pour in, eager for chocolate chip goodness.

Yep, life was good.