It didn’t start with the intention to adopt Lisa. At first, Jason just wanted the option to visit the little girl during the day while not wearing a mask. He wanted the freedom to take her out for ice cream and to the park. He wanted to take her to the library, to the movies, out to celebrate her finishing her first full book all by herself. He wanted to be able to do more than just sneak her out of her window for a fly underneath invisible stars. Only there were far too many things standing in the way of that. Mostly that Jason had no identity and no way to explain a connection to the little girl outside of his mask. Not having a legitimate identity hadn’t even remotely been an issue since his resurrection, but in the months since he fully recovered from the Joker, he could feel himself chafing at the restrictions instead of basking in the freedom.
He needed an identity. Not Jason Todd or Jason Wayne, just something that would allow him to see Lisa and spend time with her in daylight.
In the end, he went to Tim with a bag full of groceries. The younger vigilante didn’t seem the slightest bit surprised by his request. He was getting a little sick of being so apparently predictable.
“To be able to take her out of the orphanage, you’ll have to pass background checks. Even then it’ll be iffy unless you’re related to her.”
“Which is why I came to you,” Jason said, not above a little bit of flattery if it meant getting what he wanted. The chicken he was cooking wasn’t part of the bribe. That was just because Tim was still keeping too busy to cook. He was usually pretty good about eating decently nutritional takeout, but a home cooked meal would do him good. “You’re the best at this kind of thing.”
Tim glared like he knew exactly what the older bird was doing. Jason shrugged, unrepentant.
“We set up the orphanage to offer as much protection to the kids as possible. The level of work that would go into creating an identity that passes that level of scrutiny is ridiculous.”
“It just needs to pass a background check, Timmy,” he argued as he started to dish out dinner. “It’s not like I have to be able to adopt a kid.”
The look Tim gave him was somewhere between “yeah right” and completely offended that Jason would even suggest he’d do less than a completely thorough job. “I’m the one that designed the background check protocols, Jason. It’d be easier to legally raise you from the dead. With the orphanage partially named after you, they’d create some sort of big brother program that would allow you to spend time with Lisa. And then you’d have your real identity back on top of it.”
Jason had been in the process of setting a plate of food in front of Tim, but he immediately pulled it back at his words. “Absolutely not.” And when Tim looked like he was about to try and convince him of all the various merits, he continued. “Do you want to invite upon us the media shit storm that would occur if Vicki Vale ever found out I was alive, Timmy? And how the hell would we explain away the last few years? Besides, exposing myself to media attention would mean exposing Lisa to media attention and no. Not happening.”
Tim gave a longsuffering sigh. “Fine. But it’s going to take weeks. At least.”
Jason settled a little and slid Tim the plate, content to let him have it this time. “I know. We have time.”
It did take weeks. In the meantime, Jason visited every night and helped Lisa with her reading. She was a little behind where she should be for her age and wasn’t much of a fan of the exercise at all until it turned into nightly story time with the Red Hood. He would sit with her, taking turns with her reading to him while he helped her along and told her how good she was doing, then him reading with her following along. Once they had a routine established, she seemed to like reading time more and more. Jason was pretty sure she just liked having him and his attention all to herself, and that was fine. He was more than happy to give it to her.
By the time Tim was finished establishing him an identity, Sarah Hunt, the deceased older sister of Lisa’s mother, had a son named Jason. Jason Hunt grew up, graduated high school, studied abroad and returned home after he graduated college. Only to find Lisa’s mom dead and her dad in jail waiting to be tried for child abuse, endangerment, and the murder of his wife.
The identity was legitimate as it could possibly be without Jason Hunt actually existing. There were bank accounts, bills, tax records, and a social security number. Jason was pretty sure he might actually have to start paying taxes under the identity. With Tim’s work, he could probably run for president and get away with it, which meant it would stand up to the orphanage and the background checks well enough.
That night he dropped by Lisa and Mandy’s room and took off his domino, told her his name was Jason and they were going to pretend that he was her cousin so he could stop by and visit her during the day. Lisa was ecstatic and the next day she greeted him with a flying hug and a happy shriek of “Jay Jay!” when he showed up at the orphanage.
It took a bit of time to get everything sorted with the administration. Because of Lisa’s history, they weren’t comfortable with Jason taking her out of the building without getting to know him a little first. They started with regular supervised visits; just him, Lisa and one of the orphanage’s social workers. Jason helped her with her school work, they read together, colored, and he listened while she told him all about her day. After that, it didn’t take them long to decide that Jason would be fine unsupervised around the other kids. They recognized immediately that he was good with children and they thought it’d be nice for the kids to have someone coming around to visit. So he joined them for lunch one day, sat down next to Lisa, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the lunch; unexpectedly good chicken tenders, macaroni and cheese, green beans and a fresh orange for every kid.
“Holy crap, this is good,” Jason said, through his mouthful of food. It wasn’t anywhere near Alfred quality, but it was certainly better than anything he’d ever had in a school cafeteria.
Beside him, Lisa nodded seriously as she dunked a piece of chicken into what roughly equated to a lake of ketchup. Jason made a face at it.
“Nah uh,” Lisa protested right before she shoved half the ketchup bathed chicken tender in her mouth.
Jason pointed at her and repeated emphatically. “Gross.”
When she was finished chewing she stuck her tongue out at him. Jason returned the gesture immediately, ignoring the slightly disapproving look of one of the supervising adults across the room.
One table over, Alex was staring intently, his own chicken tenders completely forgotten. Jason wasn’t really surprised. None of the kids were particularly stupid, and they’d all seen him in just the domino plenty of times. That much exposure made his face pretty recognizable. He didn’t expect it to take long at all for them to make the connection.
Jason cocked an eyebrow at the kid, a familiar expression even behind the domino, and Alex’s eyes widened before he shoved up from his table and moved over. He sat down heavily across from him.
“Hood,” he greeted, like he couldn’t quite believe the Red Hood was sitting in jeans and a Cheaptrick t-shirt at a lunch table in the orphanage cafeteria.
He smirked. “Jason, actually. I’m Lisa’s cousin. The nice people here have been letting me visit her.”
“Sure,” Alex replied, pure sarcasm.
Jason’s smirk widened.
“I call him Jay Jay,” Lisa supplied helpfully as she turned yet another chicken tender into a ketchup lathered monstrosity.
“Jay Jay,” Alex parroted incredulously.
“She’s the only one who can get away with that. Jason for the rest of you,” Jason warned.
Alex waited a beat before admitting. “I thought you’d be older.”
“As you’ve seen with the current brat, Batman doesn’t really have an age requirement for his Robins,” he replied wryly.
A considering look crossed his face before he asked, “So… is there like an application or something?”
Jason only barely managed not to swear loud enough for any of the adults to hear him. “Fuck no. Absolutely not. No. Think about it again and I’ll shoot you.”
Alex managed to look both a little amused and a little annoyed. “You did it.”
“Yeah and it didn’t turn out well for me,” Jason replied firmly. He absolutely did not want to have this conversation and he absolutely didn’t want to have it in earshot of Lisa. The last thing he needed to do was give her ideas. “You want to help people, you do it in a way that actually helps people. Finish school. Be a doctor like Doc Thompkins. Or hell, become a police officer and be one kids can actually trust. Anything but the child soldier gig.”
Alex looked less than impressed with the suggestions, but Jason didn’t care. There would be absolutely no little Crime Alley vigilantes running around. He wouldn’t allow it.
After a long moment, the kid gave up the line of questioning for a new one. “So does this mean you’re going to be around in daylight hours too?”
“Yep. You won’t be able to get rid of me now. I gotta make sure they’re taking care of my favorite little cousin,” he said, ruffling Lisa’s hair. It was a mark of how comfortable with him she’d gotten that she just ignored it and started on her orange.
“Cool,” Alex replied. “Then you can help me and Jacob with our math after lunch. Since it’s your fault we’re having to do it now and everything.”
Jason considered. “I think I can manage that.”
It was two weeks of daily visits before they let Jason take Lisa out of the orphanage. He took her down to the Upper East Side to an ice cream shop. She was positively gleeful as they rode across the Sprang River on his motorcycle and he was pretty sure it was the first time she’d ever been off the North Island, and he doubted she’d ever been out of Crime Alley, the Bowery and Robinsville at all. She was a little nervous with the unfamiliar surroundings and all the people at first, but the lure of a more affluent area of Gotham soon pulled her out of her shell and had her twirling around and pointing at everything in excitement. Though she didn’t once let go of his arm. Even so, her excitement was contagious, and Jason was pretty much grinning through the entire excursion.
After a few more weeks and a few more outings, the orphanage’s social workers came by his apartment to check and see if it was safe for a kid to be in and to see whether or not he had anything obviously illegal lying around. Luckily, he’d been expecting the visit and had stashed his myriad of weapons where they wouldn’t be found. After the visit was done, he was given the all clear to keep Lisa for the weekend. He bought sheets for the couch, a pillow and a fuzzy blanket he knew she’d love, and then he invited Roy and Kori to visit.
Though Lisa was nervous of them at first, it didn’t take them long to win her over, and his teammates were immediately smitten with her.
He and Roy were lounging on the roof of the building, watching the glowing streak of Kori in the sky. Lisa was giggling joyfully in her arms, and Jason idly wondered if he’d ever get her back now that the Tamaranean had her flying through the air. It was quite possible Kori would be her new favorite. Flight was kind of hard to compete with.
“We’re keeping her, right?” Roy asked, distracting him.
“She’s not a dog, Roy,” Jason retorted immediately.
“Well obviously. But she is pretty much the cutest kid I’ve ever met, not to mention I’ve never seen you this happy, Jaybird. So, we’re keeping her, right?”
Jason smirked, “I’m legally her cousin now. The only family she’s got left that’s not in jail for murder. So yeah, she’ll be around.”
Roy whistled. “How’d you manage that?”
“Of course,” he replied before a thoughtful look crossed his face. “You know, he’s a pretty handy kid. We should steal him from the Titans.”
Jason snorted. “Because Tim Drake screams Outlaw.”
“We could corrupt him,” Roy said, seeming confident in the idea. “Bet there’s a rebellious rule breaker repressed way deep down in there just dying to get out. We’d be helping him.”
It wasn’t that much of a stretch. These days Tim played by his own rules more than Bruce’s or anyone else’s. And they tended to be more fluid than Bruce’s hard lines anyway. He was better at manipulating rules to work in his favor, and even though he hadn’t thrown out rules completely, Jason thought the potential was there.
“Baby Bird as an Outlaw. I’d like to see that,” he decided. “But no one makes that kid do anything he doesn’t want to do. He’s stubborn as hell.”
"Family trait,” Roy replied easily. Jason shot him an unamused look. His best friend ignored him and called up to Kori, “Hey, it’s my turn! I wanna teach her how to shoot a bow and arrow!”
Jason chuckled at Lisa’s excited response.
It wasn’t long at all before Roy and Kori became Uncle Roy and Aunt Kori, and Jason wasn’t the least bit surprised when Roy showed up with a child’s bow and arrow the next time he visited. He set up a target and suddenly Lisa was shooting little arrows across the rooftop. Kori would swoop in and take her flying, and then Jason would make them all something to eat while Roy picked some ridiculous kid’s movie for them to watch together.
Stephanie also took to her immediately and refused to call her anything but “soul niece” and very enthusiastically led her and Jason around department stores trying to dress Lisa in an ungodly amount of eggplant colored clothing while also trying to con Jason into making her whatever dessert she was craving that day. Cassandra liked to practice reading with her and also started to teach her some ballet.
Tim was also becoming a regular in Lisa’s life. After he achieved his ultimate goal of forcing Jason back into the family, he really did expect him to stop coming around. Except he didn’t. He dropped by regularly and in full Red Robin gear in order to eat Jason’s food and corrupt Lisa, mainly by teaching a beginner’s course in hacking and subverting bedtime. And every time Jason tried to call him out on it, he was a little shit about it.
“No, I’m not teaching her how to hack things, Jason. That’s week 8 stuff; we’re only on week 3.”
“Bedtimes are more like bed suggestions, Lisa. Don’t let anyone force you to conform to a standard 24 hour schedule just because that’s what society deems normal. You be you no matter what anyone says.”
“When you’re ready, Lisa, coffee is waiting for you. It will be your best friend.”
Jason wasn’t sure if Tim really just had zero clue how to be a responsible adult when it came to kids, or if it was an intentional move to make him suffer for all the crap the younger bird had to deal with in his mission to domesticate Jason. Personally he felt like the Caribbean vacation he’d sent him, Steph and Cass on more than made up for it, but Tim had come back from the vacation with a commentary on how the mark of civilization in today’s world was based off how accessible the country’s Wi-Fi was.
In any case, “Don’t listen to Uncle Timbers” was becoming something of a motto on his weekends with Lisa, and Steph was backing him up on that at least.
As summer progressed, an increasing amount of toys and clothes and shoes for Lisa appeared in Jason’s loft and he was starting to consider knocking down the wall and expanding further into the top floor in order to give the little girl her own room and space for all the stuff she kept collecting. She was staying with him for enough weekends to warrant her own room after all and Jason owned the whole floor even if he wasn’t currently using all of it.
He also decided he wanted to introduce the little girl to Alfred. They still had their weekly lunches, but Lisa came over on the weekends and as much as the old butler had to listen to Jason going on and on about her, he hadn’t yet had the chance to meet her. So Alfred waited for the perfect opportunity (when Bruce was supposed to be in Metropolis for some sort of event) and invited the two of them over for Saturday brunch.
Lisa stiffened as soon as they came in sight of the manor and Jason could hardly blame her. He remembered his first time seeing the huge, imposing structure and how he thought everyone in the building he’d grown up in could have lived on one floor. He and Lisa had ventured out into some of the nicer areas of Gotham, but she hadn’t experienced anything close to the manor’s level of opulence.
“It’s a castle,” she breathed as he parked and helped her slip off the child’s helmet he’d purchased for her. “You lived here?”
“For a couple of years,” Jason answered as she hopped off the motorcycle. “Batman brought me here after I stole the tires off the Batmobile when I was twelve.”
She nodded, not taking her eyes off the large building. Jason had explained the basics of his childhood to her, including Bruce Wayne and Batman. Lisa was a smart kid, and she might not have cared much about a rich man who had nothing to do with her, but she already knew Batman was the Red Hood’s “dad” so it was really only a matter of time before she was socially aware enough to realize who Bruce Wayne was. Jason decided to circumvent that eventual realization and explained it all to her beforehand. He wasn’t worried about Lisa keeping the secret. Again, she was a smart kid and Jason was committing to being a part of her life for the long term, meaning it would need to be addressed eventually anyway.
He had no idea whether or not Bruce would approve. He also really didn’t care. Their truce was tentative still, but Lisa was more important.
“You ready, Lissie-Beth?” Jason asked and was rewarded when she stopped the wide-eyed gawking at the manor to shoot him a glare instead.
“You’re not supposed to call me that!”
Jason grinned down at her, “Oh yeah? Says who?”
“Oh, well what about just Lissie?”
The look of pure exasperation on her face had Jason choking down a snort. “Nooooooooo…” she complained, all frustration.
“Jay!” she whined and Jason couldn’t stop the chuckle.
“Oh, I know. I got it this time for sure. You’ll like this one.”
“…What?” Lisa asked, both cautious and skeptical.
“Jay Jay!” She protested loudly.
Jason laughed and swept her up, tossing her over his shoulder, jostling and bouncing her a bit as he tickled her sides. He snickered at the loud objections she managed through her giggles. “I guess we’ll just have to settle on carrot-top then.”
“Or Lisa,” she said pointedly.
“Nah. Carrot-top or Princess Lissie-Beth. Take your pick.”
“Ughhhhhh,” Lisa grumbled, but remained slumped over his shoulder. “Fine!” she declared, like it was the biggest chore in the world.
“Master Jason, are you tormenting our poor guest?” Alfred’s voice came from the top of the front steps. Jason looked up to see the old butler looking immaculate as ever standing in the open doorway of the manor. There was the tiniest hint of a curl to his lips and a definite twinkle in his eye. As far as Alfred’s expressions went, it was practically a grin.
Jason found himself grinning in response. “Whenever I can, Alfie.” But he felt the way Lisa tensed up over his shoulder and he swung her around so that she was on his back. After months of counseling and weeks of Jason taking her out into the world, the little girl was doing a lot better, but it was still the position she was most comfortable in when she was meeting new people. She still got nervous and she needed to feel like Jason was standing between her and the rest of the world, ready to protect her if anyone tried anything.
“No need to be nervous, princess,” he assured her as he moved towards the steps. “That’s Alfred. He raised the man who raised me so that pretty much makes him your great grandpa, right?”
Lisa peered over Jason’s shoulder curiously. “He’s the one that makes the cookies?”
Jason’s grin went wide as Alfred gave the girl a smile. “I do indeed make cookies. I’d be happy to make you some this afternoon, but for now let’s focus on brunch. Does that sound alright to you, Mistress Elisabeth?”
Lisa nodded. “Okay.”
“Oh, so he gets to call you Elisabeth?” Jason protested.
“Cookies,” she answered sagely.
“Ah yes, how could I ever compete with cookies?” Jason retorted, rolling his eyes. She stiffened again as they moved into the manor, arms clenching around him as she looked around wide-eyed and clearly intimidated.
“Don’t worry. We’ll stick together. I won’t let you get lost,” Jason promised her.
She nodded. “Can I see your room?”
Jason looked to Alfred, not actually sure whether his room was still there or not.
Alfred answered the look. “Your room is right where you left it, Master Jason. You can take Mistress Elisabeth on a tour after brunch.”
“Cool,” Lisa smiled.
Jason didn’t know how he felt about that, but before long they were in the kitchen where Alfred had set up a brunch feast on the smaller table in the kitchen. He was glad it wasn’t the grand one in the dining room. He’d always preferred the kitchen and he thought the dining room might be a little much for Lisa right now.
The little redhead started wriggling her way off his back as soon as she saw the feast and Jason huffed in amusement as he released her. She darted towards the table and got on her knees in one of the chairs in order to better see the food.
“Whoa,” she breathed, wide-eyed.
“And it’s all going to be delicious,” Jason promised, sitting next to her. “Alfred’s the best cook ever.”
“An exaggeration, Master Jason,” Alfred replied.
“Yeah right,” he said dismissively before turning to Lisa. “Okay, kiddo. What do you want?”
He grinned. “That’s my girl.”
He was a little surprised when Tim trudged in a few minutes later, in pajamas and still sleep rumpled. “What are you doing here, baby bird? I thought you were at your place.”
“Uncle Timmy!” Lisa greeted happily.
Tim was clearly still half asleep, but he made an effort to smile at the girl as he took a seat at the table beside her. He gratefully accepted the mug of coffee Alfred passed his way before he began loading up his plate. It took him a few sips of coffee, but eventually he managed to speak. “Late case last night and I needed to borrow the Batcave. Alfred wouldn’t let me leave.”
“You would have fallen asleep on your motorcycle halfway home,” Alfred replied primly.
“Uncle Timmy doesn’t sleep enough,” Jason said to Lisa. “People do dumb crap like crash motorcycles when they don’t get enough sleep. That’s why we don’t listen to Uncle Timmy about coffee and bedtime.”
“Is that why…?” she trailed off, pointing beneath her eyes with both hands.
Jason snorted at the gesture and Tim’s slightly offended look. “The infinite pits of darkness under his eyes? Yeah, that’s why.”
Lisa turned back to Tim and told him firmly, “You should sleep more, Uncle Timmy.”
Jason grinned, feeling victorious. “You tell him, princess.”
“Don’t buy into the lie, Lisa. As long as coffee is in the world, people don’t actually need sleep.”
Alfred made a disapproving noise. “You would do well to ignore his words, Mistress Elisabeth. Master Timothy only thinks he doesn’t need sleep.”
Lisa shrugged and happily chowed down for a little while longer before her attention eventually found Tim again. “Are you going to hang out with us today?” she asked, turning her big green eyes on him. “Jay Jay is going to explore with me and then we’re going to make cookies with Alfred.”
Tim looked to Jason and he smirked. “You’re not going to turn down a cute face like that, are you, Timbers?”
He smiled at Lisa, “Sure. Maybe while we’re exploring we can find your daddy’s old detention slips.”
Jason almost fell out of his chair at the word “daddy” before his brain recovered from the short circuit enough to focus on the rest. “Hey!”
Lisa turned those big green eyes on him in one of the biggest disappointed expressions he’d ever seen on a six year old’s face. “You got detention?”
He blinked, wide eyed and a little bit stunned that she didn’t react at all to Tim calling him her “daddy” given what an abusive scumbag her actual dad was. “Umm…”
Tim snickered and Alfred elaborated. “Your father got into the occasional fight in school. Though never without reason, and he had much fewer detentions than the rest of his brothers.”
Jason jerked again in his chair and turned wide eyes on the old man. Again, Lisa didn’t blink.
Alfred continued. “He at least always did his homework and never missed class if he could help it. Which is more than I can say for some of those at this table,” he finished with a pointed look at Tim.
“School was a waste of time,” Tim retorted from behind his coffee mug.
Jason glared. “You’re a disgrace and keep that talk away from Lisa.” He turned back his gaze back to the little redhead and spoke seriously. “School is important. We love school.”
She shrugged lightly. “It’s alright.”
Tim smirked amused and Jason shot him a heavy glare. “I will shoot you.” Beside him, Lisa gasped.
“You can’t shoot Uncle Timmy!”
The younger bird grinned victoriously.
Tim did end up accompanying them on the tour of the Manor, showing Lisa the best hiding places and telling stories about things Dick and Damian had broken over the years. He even managed a few stories about Jason that shouldn’t have surprised him as much as they did. It was time he just accepted that Tim knew all whether he’d been there for Jason’s time at the Manor or not. The constantly being taken aback by the fact was getting a little embarrassing.
After a while Tim retreated to the Batcave to continue his workaholic tendencies and was quickly replaced by Dick who rather immediately spirited Lisa away to play and have gymnastics lessons. Jason wasn’t quite sure how he caught wind of the little girl being at the Manor, but it was from either Tim or Alfred. He let it slide though because Lisa looked like she was having the time of her life and Dick hadn’t stopped grinning.
“She’s an enchanting young lady, Master Jason,” Alfred spoke. He and Jason were sitting out in the courtyard watching as Dick helped Lisa through a back bend in the grass. He’d wanted to take her down to the mats in the Batcave but Jason had put his foot down. Again, the last thing he wanted was to give the girl ideas. He didn’t mind Dick teaching her gymnastics or Roy teaching her archery, but under no conditions was she going to be in any sort of tights or cape. Ever, if he could help it. Introducing her to the Batcave would be putting them all on the fast track to doom.
“Entirely charming,” he added with a small smile.
Jason grinned wide. “Yeah, she’s something else. She’s had it rough, but she’s tough as nails. She’ll be okay.”
“May I ask what happened?”
Jason was silent a moment before sharing quietly. “Her father was abusive. Her mother’s death was initially ruled an accident, but the bastard shoved her down the stairs and she broke her neck. They both had a few hospital visits for broken bones and stuff before that. Lisa was absolutely terrified of me at first, wouldn’t come anywhere near me, but she warmed up after a couple of weeks. Then a child rapist and murderer snatched her off the street. I made it to her in time, but it was really rough on her.”
Alfred frowned. “I’m sure it was. I’m glad you were there to rescue her.”
They watched as Dick started moving through the back bend a little more quickly, progressing it into more of a beginner’s back hand spring. “She’s very small,” Alfred remarked. “Even for her age.”
Jason nodded. “Malnutrition. She’ll hit a growth spurt soon enough though.”
“I do hope you’ll bring her around more, Master Jason. The Manor always seems so much lighter with happy children around.”
He considered it. Things were still on very tentative ground with Bruce. Not to mention there was a part of him that didn’t want his former father figure around Lisa at all, like he thought Bruce would take her away from him. Because when it came down to it, someone probably should and the man knew all the ways Jason was completely ill-equipped to be responsible for a child. He also didn’t want Bruce to judge how he was doing even if he didn’t try to make him take a step back from Lisa’s life.
But as he watched Lisa flop in the grass with Dick and laugh, he thought about how she had an Uncle Roy and Aunt Kori along with Aunt Steph and Aunt Cass and Uncle Timmy. He thought about how she could also have an Uncle Wing and maybe even an Uncle Dami. It would be good for her to have family. That wasn’t something he wanted to keep from her.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to stop her from seeing her great grandpa Alfred, right?”
Alfred smiled, eyes a little bit misty. “Of course not. I’ll expect you both next Saturday for brunch.”
To Jason’s surprise Damian took to the idea of being an uncle rather quickly. In retrospect, he really shouldn’t have been surprised at all since the kid seemed to think being an uncle meant being able to boss Lisa around as he attempted to teach her the art of swordsmanship with wooden practice swords. Kid always did like the opportunity to demonstrate his own superiority.
There were a lot of haughty comments.
“Adjust your stance, Toddling.”
“Unacceptable, Toddling. I was able to execute even more complicated combinations than that at your age.”
“Serviceable strike. Now try to put some actual strength behind it.”
Despite the remarks, the lessons remained pretty casual. They worked a lot on her form and how to block attacks, but Damian seemed to know that if he so much as slipped and accidentally struck Lisa, he’d have a war with Jason on his hands so he was pretty careful with the girl.
Jason was still adamant that Lisa would never become a vigilante, but he let the lessons continue because, despite Damian’s attitude, she seemed to enjoy them and the opportunity to spend time with her Uncle Dami. Although, he suspected it was more out of a spirit of competitiveness than because of Damian’s charming personality. Dick continued teaching her gymnastics, Tim continued her technological education while Cass continued the ballet lessons and Roy continued the archery. And, even though Jason hadn’t told any of the others, he’d started teaching her how to throw a decent punch.
He was aware everything she was learning would technically be useful if she ever wanted to be a vigilante. He wasn’t blind to the slippery slope they were navigating. But Lisa was developing a love of learning new things that he didn’t want to discourage, and though Jason would not let her be yet another child soldier doomed to a life of suffering and loss, he did want her to be able to defend herself in case of emergency. They lived in Crime Alley after all, and like it or not, his presence in her life, while offering a lot of protection, also exposed her to some risks.
Of course, Jason did think about adopting Lisa, but never very seriously. He certainly felt extremely protective of her and he already loved her like she was his own kid, but he was still the Red Hood. He went out at night and patrolled the streets of Gotham, he got shot, he went on missions with the Outlaws that sometimes had him away from Gotham for a few weeks at a time, he didn’t have a bedroom for her yet, and very little in his life was actually conducive to raising a child.
And yet Lisa had stopped telling people he was her cousin and had started introducing him as her dad, and Jason felt his heart leap out of his chest every time she did. She curled up next to him to watch movies on the couch and she went to him every time she was scared or had nightmares, and before he knew what was happening, everything he did, Lisa was at the forefront of his mind. As they quickly moved towards September and her 7th birthday, Jason realized that this little girl was the most important person in his life and he had no intention of changing that.
Still, he didn’t really believe adoption was an option. Not until Camille, the boss lady at the orphanage, brought it up one Sunday evening when he was returning Lisa from their weekend.
“I know you’re still very young and raising a child is a huge commitment to make at your age, but someone would have to be blind not to see how much you two love each other. Have you given any thought to adopting her?”
Jason had been about to head out, but Camille’s words had stopped him short.
“What?” he asked her, eyes wide.
Camille shrugged and continued. “You’re young and it’s a huge commitment, but do you think it’s one you’d want to make?”
He blinked, stunned. “You’d let me?”
Camille looked a little bemused by the question. “Well, you are family. And Lisa’s made such astonishing progress since you’ve been back in her life. She’s doing excellent in her schooling and the counselors are no longer worried about her. She hardly ever talks about the Red Hood anymore because she’s too busy talking about you.”
Jason smiled a little. “Really now?”
Camille nodded. “You’ve been excellent for her. And we’ve seen enough of you around to not worry about your character or how much you’ll be willing to do for her. I’d have no problem at all handing custody of Lisa over to you.”
“But I’m only twenty-one. And I work, but it’s freelance so it’s hectic and unpredictable.”
Camille gave him a look. “Jason. There is not an ounce of me that doesn’t believe you would do everything in your power to provide the best life possible for that little girl. And you’re smart and capable. You could both get out of Crime Alley if you wanted, but you’re here because she’s here. I’m not trying to pressure you at all. It’s a big commitment to make and you need to think it through. I just want you to know it’s an option. If you choose to, you can adopt Lisa.”
Jason felt a little like the rug had been pulled out from under him, but he nodded. “Thanks. Thank you. I...”
She nodded, understanding. “Think about it. In the meantime, you’re welcome here as often as you like, and I assume you’ll be taking Lisa for the weekend again?”
“Yeah. I’ll be back Friday for sure if I’m not able to drop by before then.”
And then Jason went back to his loft, crashed on the couch and stared up at the ceiling. Part of him was already making plans. He’d been planning to renovate the rest of the top floor of the building already, he just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. He could expand the loft, add in a bed and bathroom for Lisa, finish his own bathroom renovation, add a study, maybe even a guest bedroom. He could take her to school in the mornings and pick her up in the afternoons. He could let her join a gymnastics team or maybe ballet, or any other extracurricular she wanted to do. He could get her music lessons if that’s what she wanted. He could give her every opportunity in the world to accomplish anything she might possibly want to accomplish. He could give her a future. The ability to obtain any possible dream for herself. He could give her the world on a platter.
He could… he could be her dad. For real. Legally. He could make sure she didn’t need anything ever again.
He sucked in a deep breath. He wanted that. God, he wanted that. He’d never really considered it a possibility before, but now that it was, he wanted it.
But what was best for Lisa? Surely it couldn’t be him. All the money that he had now was either from Talia, or it was dirty money. He didn’t have a job. Not unless he counted being a vigilante, which didn’t pay, and the only real skill he had besides crime fighting was killing people and blowing shit up, and he couldn’t market that as a job without being a criminal. And he was a mess. He had issues and enemies and guns and knives and plenty of other reasons why he should be the last pick to raise a child.
But he understood Lisa and the life she was coming from. He understood what her home life had been before she lived on the streets and what she needed. Even if the nicest family in the world wanted to adopt her, would they ever understand Lisa like he did? Would they even come close? And what if she never got adopted? Was he a better or worse option than Lisa growing up in the orphanage?
Jason didn’t know and he agonized over it all week. He was no closer to a decision by time the weekend rolled around and it was leaving him a little distracted. So much so that Alfred called him out on it rather quickly.
“You’ve barely spoken a word since you arrived, Master Jason. It’s rather unlike you. And if I recall you were quiet at lunch Wednesday as well. What’s been troubling you?”
Jason looked over at where Lisa and Damian were occupying the coffee table in the family’s favorite drawing room. Lisa was going to town on a coloring book Steph had given her and Damian was drawing a rather impressive charcoal of Titus who was sleeping on the rug.
It was still a little bit of a mindfuck that they were only five years and nine months apart in age. Neither one had really been allowed childhoods, but Damian was forced to excel at everything from a very young age. The way he spoke, the things he knew, it was sometimes hard to remember he actually was still a kid. Especially given how much Jason trusted him in the field. Other times, especially when his temper got the best of him, it was impossible to forget. Damian was still discovering how to be a child now that he had the freedom to do so when he wanted.
Lisa had watched her abusive father push her mother to her death at five years old. She ran away from him and her home to live on the streets for weeks before Jason became the protector of the Alley children. Even then, it was weeks before she spoke to anyone. Weeks before she began opening up to Jason and relaxing. She really wasn’t allowed to be a child until the orphanage, but she took to it remarkably fast. Jason was constantly amazed by the resilience of children. Give them safety and it was incredible what they could do. Lisa still had troubles of course, she was still standoffish with strangers, she still had periods of time where she didn’t speak much, and she still had nightmares, both of her father and of the man who abducted her, but she was healing. She was being given the chance to grow into a healthy child, and Jason wanted to see that happen. If he did adopt her, he was going to make sure she continued to see her counselor regularly.
“Camille Black, the woman Tim and I chose to head up the orphanage, she told me I could adopt Lisa. If I want to, they’ll approve me. I can be Lisa’s legal guardian.”
“Then it’s obvious you and Master Timothy chose the right woman for the job,” Alfred replied easily.
Jason turned to Alfred, his gaze startled. “What?”
“You make an excellent father, Master Jason, albeit an unconventional one.”
“There are so many reasons why I shouldn’t do that to her,” Jason said. “She deserves a lot better than me. A lot better than anything I have to offer.”
Alfred regarded Jason seriously. “What she deserves is a family. Someone who will love her and put her needs above their own, who will do their best to take care of her to the best of their ability. You are already doing all of those things.”
“But what about the whole Red Hood thing? I’m trying to make Crime Alley a safe place to grow up. A safe place for her. Yeah, I could just move, but I’d be abandoning everyone else there. And it’s not like I can leave her home alone while I patrol. What if something happened?”
“You’re speaking as if you’d be left on your own to handle both Crime Alley and the raising of a child. You are part of a large family, Master Jason. One that won’t allow you to take such a journey alone. If you do decide to adopt young miss Elisabeth, you’ll have more help than you’ll be able to stand, I’m sure,” Alfred spoke firmly. “And if you’re seeking my opinion, if you do adopt her, I think she will be the better for it.”
Jason was pretty much floored by the amount of faith Alfred had in him and he had no idea what to say so he kept his mouth shut and turned his attention back to Lisa and Damian just in time to see Damian dodge a marker Lisa had aimed for his head.
“I see you inherited Todd’s temper, Toddling,” Damian remarked snidely.
Lisa was clearly about to throw another marker at Damian so Jason cut in with a frown. “Hey. What do you think you’re doing, carrot-top?”
“He deserved it!” she immediately defended herself, pointing at the other kid in outrage.
“I’m sure he did. Uncle Dami is a little shit at the best of times, but that doesn’t automatically mean throw something at him. There’s a thing called being the bigger person. It’s not fun, but it comes with superiority rights and a lack of parental consequences.”
“Superiority?” Lisa questioned, frown on her face, marker still gripped in her little fist.
“You get to act like you’re better than him because you didn’t stoop to his level.”
Her expression said it all. “Not good enough.”
“And lack of parental consequences,” Jason reminded her. “So what you gotta do, carrot-top, is take a moment to think. What’s gonna happen if you throw another marker at Uncle Dami, and is it worth it? Especially if you can’t hit him. No consequences are really worth it if you’re going to miss your target anyway. But if you think you can hit him, if you think it’s worth a chance, is hitting him worth the consequences to you?”
“Maybe,” Lisa considered. “If I hit him in the face.”
Jason couldn’t help the snort. “Yeah, fair enough.”
Alfred let out a small sigh and he got the distinct impression the old man was disapproving of Jason’s parenting style. Not everyone could rule a household with the sheer threat of one’s displeasure, however, so Jason had to work with what he had.
“What consequence?” she asked, stumbling a bit over the long word.
“None of Alfred’s afternoon cookies.”
The appalled look on her face as the marker was swiftly dropped on the table had Jason smirking. “Smart girl. And you,” he said, turning his attention to Damian. “Quit provoking my kid. She might not be able to hit you in the face with a marker, but I can hit you in the face with worse.”
Alfred cleared his throat and Jason amended. “I can and then will extensively make it up to Alfred.”
“You could try,” Damian retorted haughtily, but he returned to his drawing.
“No cookies is cheating,” Lisa pouted in his direction.
“Life is hard, carrot-top,” Jason replied sagely.
Lisa looked up at the doorway suddenly and Jason turned to see Bruce standing there, fresh in from wherever he’d been this time. He stiffened a little, frustrated that he hadn’t noticed the man coming in and had no idea how long he’d been there.
“Master Bruce, I didn’t expect you until this evening,” Alfred greeted.
“One of my meetings was cancelled so I came home early,” Bruce replied. “I see we have a guest,” he added as he gave Lisa a small smile and moved further into the room.
Jason looked at Lisa, fully prepared to soothe her in the likelihood that Bruce’s sudden presence made her nervous, but she just popped to her feet and chirped, “You’re my grandpa!”
Jason twitched, but Bruce actually stumbled.
“What?” he asked, eyes wide.
“You’re Jay Jay’s dad so that makes you my grandpa,” Lisa explained.
Bruce looked over at Jason, stunned at both the dad and grandpa part. Jason fought the urge to shift in discomfort and threw up some bravado instead. “What do you think, princess? You wanna call him Grandpa Batman?”
Damian made a noise and declared, “Utterly undignified.” But he didn’t seem too torn up by the fact.
“Long,” Lisa frowned.
“Grandpa B then. Or maybe just Gramps,” Jason said, smirking at Bruce who was still struggling a little in the mission to pull himself together.
“Grandpa B,” Lisa decided.
“Not Gramps?” Jason frowned. “I like Gramps.”
“I like Gramps,” Damian agreed with a vicious little smirk in his father’s direction.
Bruce still didn’t know what to say so he shifted the subject completely and focused on Lisa. “What are you coloring?” That of course led her into a long, rambled story about school and the pet turtle her class had. Bruce sat down beside her at the coffee table, and Lisa very kindly pulled out a page of her coloring book and passed it to him. Jason’s eyes widened a little when he immediately began to color the puppy as he talked to Lisa. Damian looked rather disturbed by the image of his father, the Batman, hunched down by the little redhead as they colored together. Jason sympathized. It was a disturbing image.
Eventually, it was just too much for Damian’s delicate sensibilities, and he beat a hasty retreat out of the room. Jason would have loved to beat a similar retreat with Lisa in tow, but she seemed perfectly content coloring and chattering with Bruce. And Bruce would be the first person she took to immediately. Of course he would be, because that was exactly Jason’s luck. Every other person there’d been an element of wariness at first, but not with him.
And Bruce was good with her too, in a way he only ever was with small children and Cassandra. His body was somehow no longer huge and imposing, his voice gentle and not demanding as he spoke lowly, asking her questions and actually listening to her answers. Jason wanted to hug him and hit him in equal parts, and by the time Alfred slipped out of the room to get started on the afternoon cookies, he was a mess of mixed emotions.
It was a relief when Tim popped his head in.
“Uncle Timmy!” Lisa greeted happily. Ever since Dick had come into her life as Uncle Wing, Tim seemed determined to win the title of favorite uncle and he was not opposed to doing so through numerous bribes. And of course Dick was putting up a fight for it. The two of them were causing Jason endless headaches.
“Hey, Lisa. I brought video games. You want to play Mario Kart with me?”
“Yeah!” Lisa cried excitedly, jumping up and running to Tim, leaving Jason and Bruce alone in the room without a second thought.
From the next room over, Jason heard Dick protest. “Mario Kart? That’s totally cheating, Tim!”
“Just because you didn’t think of it first doesn’t make it cheating, Dick,” Tim replied easily.
“Well at least let me play too.”
“If you think you can keep up.”
“Oh, it’s on! Come on, Lisa; you can sit with me.”
Lisa giggled in the background, more than delighted by the two men vying for her affections.
Jason sighed and rubbed at his temples. “They’re going to spoil the hell out of her,” he mumbled, momentarily forgetting Bruce.
“I imagine it’s hard not to. She’s special,” Bruce spoke, reminding Jason he was in the room. He tensed a little.
“Yeah, she is,” he agreed, reluctant to speak to the older man. He’d been avoiding Bruce all summer. Part of it was because he didn’t trust their truce—didn’t trust their ability to actually get along and not end up in a screaming match at the slightest disagreement so he thought it would be better not to push it and find out. Mostly though, it was because he’d been avoiding Bruce bringing up the topic of Lisa. And now because of Tim stealing away his kid, Jason was alone in the room with the man.
Bruce hesitated and Jason could feel the awkwardness between them as the man clearly wanted to say something, but held himself back.
Jason’s shoulders hunched defensively. “Spit it out, Bruce,” he said, and it came out harsher than he intended. But he figured that was fair since he was about to start with the criticizing.
“You both should stay the night.”
Jason twitched, surprised. “Huh?”
Bruce tapped fingers on the coffee table, and from him it was as good as a fidget. It was enough to show that he was just as uncomfortable as him.
“You could stay the night,” he said again. “Your brothers are. Alfred is cooking dinner and we could watch a movie before patrol. Maybe have a family breakfast in the morning. Cassandra and Stephanie could come as well. It’d be…nice. To have the whole family together.”
Jason floundered. “You serious? You want a family weekend?”
Bruce looked him dead in the eye, still sitting at the coffee table with a half colored puppy in front of him. “Yes.”
Jason was a bit off balance. “Yeah. I mean, I want to check with Lisa. Make sure she’s comfortable with it. She likes it here though, so I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
Bruce looked cautiously pleased and again Jason was at a loss of what to do or say. Especially when he offered, “You’re good with her.”
Jason shrugged. “Like you said; she’s special.”
“Not just that,” he said immediately. “You’re good with her. This… it suits you.”
He blamed it on the surprise of Bruce having anything positive to say about the fact that he was sort of raising a kid, but all of the sudden he was blurting out in a jumbled rush. “The orphanage said I could adopt her.” And he was immediately horrified for the slip because it meant opening up the opportunity for Bruce to tell him how bad of an idea it was and all the reasons why Jason wasn’t fit to be a parent.
But, that never came. Instead he asked, “What do you want?”
Jason was a little startled. “What?”
“What do you want, Jason?” Bruce asked again, patient and serious.
“I…” he paused to think it over even though he’d been thinking it over for days already. “I want her to have the best life possible. Opportunities for anything she wants to do. A good home. A family that loves her and will give her the world. I want her to be happy.”
“You should adopt her.”
Jason was really beginning to get annoyed with how much Bruce was catching him off guard in the conversation, but he couldn’t help the surprise he felt. “I should what?” he asked, halfway convinced he’d misheard.
“You should adopt her,” he said again, firmer this time. “You will do all those things. You love her, she loves you. You’ll give her the best home possible and that’s what she deserves. If you’re sure that’s what you want, you should do it.”
“But I… I’m a complete screw up, B. You know that. She deserves better. And what about the night job? How am I supposed to raise a kid?”
Bruce’s eyes narrowed and Jason could see the anger he’d been waiting for the entire conversation to see. Only it wasn’t in the way he’d expected. “You are not a screw up, Jason. You will mess up from time to time. Every parent does. But you’re already better than most, far better than me, so that’s alright. As for the rest of it, you’ll have us to help you. We can make it work.”
“Being with me will put her in danger,” Jason protested.
“More danger than growing up in Crime Alley without you for a father?” Bruce challenged.
“Yeah, okay,” he admitted, because that was a fair point. “Do you… do you really think I’d be any good for her?”
“You already are, Jason. And she’s good for you. If it’s what you want, you should adopt her.”
And for the first time Jason thought about it in terms of something that was actually, realistically possible and not just a far off dream. “I need to build her a bedroom,” he realized sitting up a little straighter. “I mean, I was already going to, but I need to get moving on it. She can’t just move in on the couch.”
“You both could stay here until it’s finished,” Bruce offered. “We’re not far from Crime Alley. She can remain in her class with her friends and at night Alfred would be here to make sure she’s fine while you patrol.”
Jason gave him a skeptical look. “You want us to move in. Are you serious?”
"Yes,” Bruce replied honestly. “You don’t have to permanently, but for now it would be easiest on you. You could work on your renovation while she’s in school and she’d already be asleep by the time you went out on patrol. Alfred would be here in case of any emergency and you’d have support while you adjust to becoming a full time parent. Once the renovation is complete, you both can move back into your building and then we can set up a rotation for keeping watch during patrols. Whenever we need all hands on deck, she could stay here with Alfred.”
“You’re for real,” Jason realized, surprised.
“You’re not alone, Jason,” Bruce said seriously. “You won’t have to do any of it alone.”
He was surprised to realize he was actually considering it. The thought of that much exposure to Bruce made him edgy, but he didn’t want Lisa to have to live with the construction on the loft nor did he want to have to wait to get her until he’d finished the renovation. Plus, having Alfred there for backup would make the transition easier. By the time Jason and Lisa moved back into the loft, he’d have a much better handle on the whole full-time dad thing. “Fine. We’ll move here. But only until I’m finished with the apartment.”
Bruce smiled, looking genuinely pleased. Jason felt something clench in his chest at the look and his emotions regarding the older man were still a little too jumbled to tell what it was from, but it was possibly positive.
“I’m glad,” Bruce said and his voice actually sounded warm. Again, Jason didn’t know what to do with that. “Alfred’s already begun planning her 7th birthday party,” he admitted. Jason wasn’t the slightest bit surprised that Bruce knew when her birthday was. He was sure the man had been keeping tabs on the both of them for months.
“Of course he has,” he snorted, not surprised by that either. “As long as Roy and Kori are invited. She loves them, and the extra competition from Roy will distract Dick and let Tim sneak the lead for favorite uncle.” He stood from the couch and Bruce followed suit as they both headed to the main family room to see what Lisa, Dick and Tim were getting up to.
“Shouldn’t you be impartial?” Bruce challenged, looking vaguely amused.
“Probably, but I’m sort of concerned about what lengths Tim will go to in order to beat Dick, and the longer it goes on, the closer Lisa comes to realizing how to make it work for her. If that happens, we’re all doomed.”
Of course, as soon as they stepped into the room, their eyes landed on Dick who was wheedling Lisa. “Yeah, Mario Kart is fun, but have you ever played Mario Party? It’s a party, Lisa!”
Tim made no argument when the little redhead looked at him expectantly. Instead he slid one of Alfred’s cookies her way and she took it with a pleased expression before turning back to eye Dick’s cookie. He handed it over without question and Lisa sat back on the couch munching her prizes happily. As soon as she saw Jason, she lit up like a Christmas tree.
“Jay Jay! I had five cookies!”
He glared at his brothers. “Are you kidding me?!”
Dick had the decency to look chagrined as Lisa continued to happily munch away, but Tim was completely unashamed. “What?” he shrugged. “I’m not the one that has to get her to sleep tonight.” And Jason briefly considered strangling him.
Bruce patted his shoulder sympathetically. “Welcome to fatherhood.”
Jason swore fervently.