Dick Grayson comes to live with Bruce Wayne on a Tuesday afternoon when he’s nine years old.
It’s a Tuesday like any other, so Bruce settles the boy in and leaves him in Alfred’s capable hands after dinner and heads out for patrol. Gotham’s underworld does not take a day off, and therefore Batman cannot either.
Dick awakes in the middle of the night screaming and Bruce isn’t there. Alfred calms Dick down and sits with him until he can close his eyes without seeing flashes of crumpled bodies and he falls into restless sleep once again. Alfred assures him that Bruce would have been there if he could and Dick believes him.
But it doesn’t take long for Dick to stop believing.
Alfred is the one to send him off to school every morning, Bruce is always still asleep or too busy with something for Wayne Enterprises. Alfred picks him up from school as well, and more often than not, Bruce isn’t around when Dick returns to the Manor. Dick does his homework on his own, with Alfred’s help sometimes. He spends time alone in the gym practicing flying, because he can’t let that die with his parents. He finds some way to entertain himself when he isn’t doing that, and if he’s lucky, Bruce is home in time for dinner, and Dick will plaster a huge smile on his face and rush to greet his guardian, to ask him about his day. Most of the time Bruce will answer with a small smile. Sometimes he doesn’t. Dick tries to smile all the time anyway. And then most nights Bruce will bid Dick goodnight later in the evening, and then he disappears and Dick is left alone with Alfred again.
The day after Tony Zucco is found beaten and bound on the steps of Gotham PD headquarters, Dick says how much he wishes it could have been him to bring Zucco to justice for killing his parents, but that he’s just glad that he’s been caught. He thought Bruce would have… some kind of reaction. Some words of support for Dick. Words of advice. Anything, really. But he just scrunches up his nose and disappears even earlier that night, claiming he has serious business to attend to. Even this news isn’t enough to make Bruce stay. Dick can’t deny that he’s upset about that. Alfred tries to comfort him, but Dick knows that ‘serious business’ means that Alfred will just have to disappear after Bruce soon too. He should be happy that his parents’ killer has been found, that he can’t hurt anyone else.
All he feels is lonely.
Wayne Manor is too big and too empty and too quiet for Dick. Too echoey and lonely and old and formal.
And he’s not even really a Wayne.
Dick… he doesn’t belong.
He’s grateful that Bruce got him out of that awful, awful place they’d stuck him before, but he doesn’t like this.
Bruce Wayne might be okay with the echoey, empty old manor, but Dick Grayson was not meant to live this way. He was not meant for faking smiles for old ladies who pinch his cheeks too hard at parties and listening to how he might take over Wayne Enterprises one day and china worth more than everything he’s ever owned. Dick Grayson was meant for travelling and trapezes and a ‘family’ too big to fit in a single room. Dick Grayson was meant to fly.
But he still plasters a smile on his face each evening when Bruce comes home from work and tries to find some way to get Bruce to stick around just a little longer that night. It doesn’t work, and with every failed attempt, Dick’s next smile is just a little less bright.
By the time he’s fifteen, Dick is spending nights with friends from school and spending evenings in the gym training on the uneven bars and the trapeze Alfred set up and taking meals in his room, the only part of the manor that doesn’t feel so old and dusty. Anything to avoid noticing how… alone he is all the time.
When he’s a month away from turning sixteen, he can’t take it anymore. Dick moves out.
He’s still Bruce’s ward. Let him keep getting good press for his kindness in taking in a circus kid, an orphan just like he was. Let him be lauded for the excellent parenting he must have done to be able to trust his ward to stay in his Gotham City penthouse on his own so often. Dick doesn’t know how the press has missed that he lives in the penthouse permanently now, and he doubts Bruce even noticed he’d moved out at all. But let the press think what they want. Dick doesn’t care. As long as he’s not alone in that huge manor anymore, he doesn’t care what the press is running about his relationship with Bruce.
The questions nag at the back of his mind though. Keep him awake thinking at night sometimes. Why did Bruce take him in if he had no intention of spending any time with him? Why take in a kid you didn’t want? There were easier ways to get good press. Easier ways by far. So why had Bruce done this? And what the hell was he doing all the time? What was so important that he left Dick alone in that godforsaken manor so often? If he had something so important going on, why take in a child?
Dick thinks himself in circles and never gets anywhere.
Not three months after Dick moves out, he gets a phone call from Alfred that sends his stomach lurching.
“Master Richard, do you have a moment to speak?” Alfred’s voice sounds over his phone’s speaker where it’s set to the side of the stove next to Dick.
“Yeah, Alfie, what’s up? Does Bruce need me to get all dolled up for some gala or something?” Dick jokes, though there’s a hint of bitterness he can’t keep out of his voice at the mention of his guardian.
“Nothing of the sort, sir,” Alfred says, and his tone has changed enough to make Dick tense.
“Well there’s a new face around the Manor, Master Richard,” Alfred says, and Dick finally pins down what changed about Alfred’s tone. He’s wary. If Dick didn’t know better, he’d think Alfred was worried about telling Dick whatever it is he has to say. Dick can guess what it is and, well, he understands Alfred’s hesitation.
He takes a deep breath and tells himself his hands aren’t shaking. “Oh, really?”
“The papers went through yesterday morning. I was hoping Master Bruce would have called you himself, but it seems he’s gotten a bit caught up in things.” And isn’t that just typical Bruce. Dick isn’t surprised. He is surprised though, at the news Alfred is delivering. “Master Jason was officially adopted yesterday. You’ve got a new little brother.”
Dick drops the wooden spoon he was using to cook. Pasta sauce splatters all over the floor. He barely notices.
He cannot believe Bruce. He can’t believe that even after he messed up so much in raising Dick, if letting Alfred take care of him all the time could even be called raising him, even then, Bruce was stupid enough to go and take in another kid. He can’t believe that Bruce is stupid enough to take in another child who will be confined to the empty, echoey, lonely old manor. And he can’t deny that he’s just a little bitter that Bruce actually adopted Jason when Dick is still nothing more than just Bruce’s ward, despite having lived with Bruce for half his life.
“Master Richard, are you quite alright?”
Alfred’s voice snaps Dick back to the present and he shakes his head to clear it, taking a deep breath.
“Yeah, fine” he says with false cheer, “Jason. Tell me a little bit about him,” Dick requests, because what else can he say? How else can he respond to this news? Is the air getting thinner? It feels a little like he can’t breathe.
He tells himself he’s fine and listens to Alfred tell him about Jason Todd, his thirteen year old new brother, who Bruce ran into at the Gotham City Police Department while paying Jim Gordon a visit. Jason had been arrested that same morning for trying to boost the tires off a car a block away from the precinct, and was in the middle of picking the lock of his cuffs when Bruce had come across him. Rather than letting him be sent to a foster home, or worse, a juvenile detention center, Bruce had taken him in. Just a few weeks later, he’s no longer Jason Todd, but Jason Todd-Wayne and Dick had only just found out he existed. Dick wonders how he could’ve gone so long without hearing anything about this. When Bruce had taken him in, it’d been all over the news. But for the past few weeks, there’s only been debates about the Gotham Bat and his violent methods of preventing crime and if he was crossing a line, even if he didn’t kill. No room for the second orphan Bruce Wayne had scooped off the streets of Gotham.
It takes Dick a moment to realize Alfred’s stopped talking, and he makes himself respond, thanking Alfred for the call and claiming he has to get back to the dinner he was cooking. It’s ruined now and the only thing he’s really going to do is throw it all out, but he really just needs a moment to process all of this. He has a brother. Well, in a sense.
But that’s irrelevant. No matter what legal documents say, Dick’s going to make sure this kid has the best older brother in the world, because Dick knows there’s no guarantee his father is going to actually be a father. Too busy with work and his secret dealings that had him disappearing all the time.
Dick is going to do everything in his power to make sure that Jason isn’t alone.
Which is how he finds himself at the Manor gate for the first time in months the next afternoon. Alfred had said the kid likes to read, so Dick had spent two hours the day before looking through the shelves at a bookstore for the small stack of paperbacks in his hands, a ‘welcome to the family’ gift of sorts.
It takes him twenty minutes after Alfred lets him in to actually find Jason in the sprawling manor, too many doors and halls to search through before he finds the boy hunched over a desk tucked in the corner of a room that’s hardly ever been used in the past. It’s clearly been used a bit in the past few weeks, though, Jason’s school things scattered about in neat little piles. Dick knocks on the door even though it’s open.
Jason tenses up immediately.
“Who are you?” he asks, eyes narrowing as he turns around to look at Dick.
Dick smiles and steps into the room, sitting in one of the over stuffed chairs up against the opposite wall. “Technically, your new big brother. Dick Grayson. It’s nice to meet you, Jason.”
Jason’s expression relaxes a bit, though his posture is still tense, like he’s ready to bolt if Dick even looks at him wrong.
When Jason doesn’t say anything, Dick continues. “I’m sorry I didn’t come by sooner. I… well Bruce must’ve gotten caught up in work and finalizing papers and everything. Alfred only just called me about all this yesterday. I brought you something to try to start making up for not starting out so great at this whole ‘big brother’ thing,” Dick says with a small shrug. He stands then, reaching out to hand Jason the small stack of books. Jason accepts them with a raised eyebrow and a skeptical look. “Alfie said you like to read, so I did my best. They’re all new except that top one. That one was one Pop Haly gave me when I was still a kid in the circus. Birthday present I think? He said it’d be good reading once I could understand it. Left the circus before I ever could though. But I figure, I’ve got a family to share it with again now, right?” Dick says softly, watching as Jason’s fingers trail gently over the short note Pop Haly had written on the inside of the cover.
Jason’s eyes are wide as he reads it and then looks up at Dick. “I. Wow. Thanks, Dick. I kinda thought you just didn’t give a shit when you didn’t come around but, this is. Thanks. Promise I’ll take good care of it,” he mumbles, a little like he doesn’t know how to respond.
Dick smiles in response, taking a seat again, tucking his feet underneath him. “I trust you with it kid. You’re my little brother after all,” he says softly, trying to find the words to say what he wants. He can’t bring himself to say anything more and they lapse into awkward silence until Jason shifts and glances back at the papers he’s got strewn all over the desk. He seems to be having an internal debate for a long minute while Dick watches on quietly. Jason lets out a heavy sigh and looks forlornly at the notebook in the center of the desk before turning to look at Dick again.
“Could you maybe stick around and gimme a hand with this?” Jason asks like it pains him to do so. Dick’s expression softens and he nods, dragging up a chair to take a look. He’s sure to leave Jason plenty of space, and Dick notices him relax minutely when Dick doesn’t press any closer. “Alfie said you’re real good at this sort of thing, right? So look,” he points at the work he’s done out already. “I can’t make this damn problem work. Think you can get it?”
Dick holds out a hand for the original problem sheet and the notebook and shuffles just a little closer so that he can look at the papers with Jason. Jason doesn’t shift away, and hey, that’s a start.
Bruce still hasn’t come home by the time Alfred comes to get them to let them know dinner is being served, so Dick sticks around so Jason’s not all by himself with the butler. As great as Alfred is, it can feel lonely with only him around. Jason doesn’t talk much, but he sits next to Dick and smiles when Dick tells him stories of the circus, about Zitka the elephant and performing and his face lights up when Dick promises that one day, he’ll teach Jason how to fly.
It’s not much, but Dick thinks he’ll count the night as a win.