They tracked side by side through the most run-down parts of Fawcett City.
Billy had stopped being creeped out by the sketchy people and ghost houses a long time ago. A glance at Batman told him that he wasn’t fazed either. He supposed that this place mightn’t look that bad compared to the Crime Alley of Gotham.
Comfortable silence hung in the air, smothering his panic, and he couldn’t be more grateful. The result of hours upon hours of arguing and scolding, where Billy barely got a word in, was the decision that he could remain on the League. The fact that he lived alone was highlighted and they wanted to see his home. But most of the League didn’t get that it went against rules he lived by. Give away the location to the semi-safe spot you crawled to once the day is over and the next time it might be gone. Batman had been the only one who understood his reluctance, so he’d asked timidly if he could be the one to come with him. He thought he made the right choice since the large hand on his shoulder hadn’t let go once but hadn’t become suffocating or caging, just kept him steady. There hadn’t been any questioning looks about where he was leading them, just silent acceptance.
The number of houses passing them began to decline as they neared the edge of town. More trees and overgrown bushes dominated the scenery. Billy shook the hand from his shoulder (no matter how assuring it was) and took a turn from the road, disappearing inside the greenery.
He realized that it might be difficult for Batman to move himself between the low branches and peeked behind to see if he was following. Sure enough, the dark knight maneuvered himself along the small trail that he’d made with his constant padding there and back with ease. The older man even managed to avoid the few thorns that were in the way, none of them getting stuck in his cloak, which is more than Billy could say for himself.
Billy popped out from the last of the bushes and motioned for Batman to do the same. The dark knight cocked his head at the rusted train tracks beneath their feat. It gave Billy a feeling that he was raising an eyebrow under his cowl which made the kid giggle at him and grab his hand. He led them down the old railway with a skip in his step.
Bruce’s lips twitched a bit at the newfound cheerfulness in the child before him. The train track was like a tunnel between the trees, making a clear passage for them to walk through. It was peaceful there, despite being so near the city. ‘The kid obviously knows the area well and is comfortable here’, he noted as he watched Billy balance his steps on one rail without paying much attention to their surroundings. Like his feet were carrying him on memory and all he was concerned about was showing off his balancing skills.
Soon they made it to the end of the railway to what looked like an abandoned train station. It seemed as it was just out of sight from a highway judging by the sound of cars speeding past in the distance. Despite that, it looked like no one had been there in years, the thin tree line between the busy road and the station blocking it from view. Most people probably didn’t even know it was there. Bruce was impressed by Billy. It couldn’t be easy to find a place like this. Though, from the looks of it, the kid was fond of wandering around where he shouldn’t be so it was likely that he’d discovered the place by accident.
The concrete platform was covered with weeds that had sprouted from the cracks in the pavement, some even looked like they’d been placed there on purpose. Batman spotted Rosemary and Lavender, common plants kept by magic users to amplify and aid their powers. Billy caught where the older man was looking and grinned, “Can’t have Captain Marvel have all my trump cards, can we?”
Bruce hadn’t even considered that Billy would know some form of magic but seeing who his alter ego was, it was only natural that he had some interest in it. Though without the Wisdom of Soloman it would be difficult to learn. He was glad that the kid had at least some form of self-defense. He seemed so vulnerable compared to the rest of the League who still had their abilities when going about their everyday life. “No, we can’t.”
Billy leaned over, snipping a leaf from a mint and sticking it in his mouth. “Do you like my garden?” He said and gestured towards the plants wildly growing around the concrete.
“You call this a garden?” While Bruce could spot a few herbs, the rest were just common weeds. It made him a little conscious to where he could step since there was no clear batter to the plants. He could be stepping on something as common as Field Bindweed and accidentally destroy something precious to the kid.
“Yup,” Billy said like it was obvious, “It’s a chaos garden!” Batman suppressed a chuckle. There was a muddy pair of gloves and a worn toy watering can near the little bush of Sage that indicated that Billy indeed took care of the plants there. He didn’t bother asking how the kid could tell the weeds and plants apart, he clearly had his ways.
Billy popped another mint leaf into his mouth and tugged Batman along to the lonely wagon at the end of the tracks. It looked ancient and rusted. There was no way it would be moving from its final resting place again.
Batman followed the kid when he slipped through the door and into the first compartment. There was a rat nest of blankets on one of the double seats where Billy flopped down as soon as they entered. Bruce let his eyes wonder and take in the tiny space that served as a home to the boy in front of him. There weren’t any leaks in the ceiling and the seats weren’t rotting or covered in mold so the sight was already a lot better than it could have been. Two of the windows were cracked and another one broken entirely but covered in unholy amount of sellotape so no wind broke through. The walls were covered with clumsy crayon drawings and newspaper clipping. Most about the Justice League but there some on animals here and there. A few drying flowers were hanging upside down tied to the windows so sunlight would shine right on them. Underneath the makeshift bed seats was a bile of things.
A sparse amount of clothes, an absurd number of single socks, a stuffed tiger toy, a pack of old crayons and a wrinkled comic book. That was it. This little bile of belongings was all the chipper kid in front of him possessed. Sadly, it was exactly what Bruce had been expecting but it didn’t make it any easier to see.
Billy took the stuffed tiger from the floor and held it up in a show off fashion, “This is Mister Tawky Tawny.” When Bruce had finished taking a good look the kid snatched it close to his chest. Absentmindedly playing with the little furs covering the toy and fidgeting slightly under the older hero's gaze.
Bruce resisted the urge to coo and tried to ease into the topic they both knew was coming. “It’s a nice place you have.” He wasn’t lying, for a kid who’s living on the street with no one to previously help a place like this was one of the best possible outcomes. It kept most of the elements away, thought it would still freeze over in the winter, and was in a remote location that not many knew about but was still inside the city. “But you have other options, you know.”
The kid froze like a deer in the headlights and Bruce could already guess what he was thinking. Before Billy could open his mouth, he continued, “I don’t mean the foster system, Billy.” His hands went lax around the stuffed tiger and he relaxed somewhat. He'd read his files, all of them, anything he could get his hands on. There was no way he’d make him go back there. It was a wonder that a bright kid like Billy had made it through and still held so much hope for the world around him, even after everything that had happened to him.
“There are separate quarters for all JL members in the Watchtower.” Billy knew that already, having stayed in his once after a longer mission when the stamina of Atlas failed him and he couldn’t drag himself home.
“I thought those were for temporary use,” He mumbled uncertainly.
“Only because most of the League have their own homes to go back to at the end of the day. But not always, J'onn used to stay in the Watchtower 24/7 before he got a life.” The joke was weak but still got a giggle out of Billy before he fell quiet again.
“Think about it, there is always someone in Watchtower, either on monitor duty, mission or just in the rec rooms.” Bruce felt bad for using Billy’s loneliness against him but he really couldn’t leave him there like this. He also couldn’t force him to come with him so all he had left was to sell his points as well as he could. Something in him wouldn’t rest until he had the kid somewhere safe, fed, inside a fuzzy blanket and surrounded by friends. It helped that Billy already knew them and trusted them. That made coaxing him a lot easier since there was less uncertainty about their intensions from his part.
Billy bit his lip and Bruce could see that he was considering it. There was still some doubt in him though. “I can’t leave Fawcett City.” Ah, there it was.
“The zeta beam could get you from Watchtower to Fawcett in under a minute, there would be nothing standing in your way of going on patrol or taking action when an occasional bad guy shows up.” Billy still looked unconvinced but couldn’t find a fault in Batman’s logic. This wasn’t about logic, it was about fear, Bruce knew but wasn’t going to mention it. He patiently waited for Billy to bring it up himself.
When the kid lifted his huge blue eyes up to meet his and uttered: “You really want me?” in a small voice, it took all of Bruce’s restraint not to wrap him into a hug. He recognized that look, nearly all of his kids had given it to him at one point or another. It just screamed of being used to disappointment after disappointment until hope that someone actually cared about you seemed so far away.
He sat down onto the makeshift bed right next to him and placed a heavy hand on his shoulder. “At this point, there’s very little you could do to get rid of us,” he said it as the most set-in-stone statement in the world, putting everything he had into making the kid see that it was true.
Those blue eyes got a little misty and looked away. He got a tiny “okay” in response. After a second of collecting his thoughts he said, “Could... could we start with the weekends?”
Bruce wanted to beam in glee. It wasn’t everything but it was a start and a damn good start at that. Even if there were so many important things left to discuss like school and guardianships. “Of course, but you’re getting a better blanket.”
Billy did beam at him after hearing that, “Thank you so much, Batma-”
“Hmh?” The kid made a confused sound and tilted his head in a way that earned him a rare smile.
He took ahold of his cowl and pulled it off, looking Billy directly on with the same colored eyes, “Call me Bruce.”