Thank you to everyone who commented on Part 1!
Disclaimer was in the Notes, and as always, a special thanks to Chicago and Kerrie for beta and inspiration.
Nineteen boys dead. Eight on their way to the hospital with gunshot wounds. The ambulances had gone, leaving only a handful of Blüdhaven cops milling around in a search for evidence, and one scared, lonely little boy.
“Yo, Grayson, I got sumpin’,” Filb grunted, leaning over to pick up the gun the kid had pointed at Dick earlier.
“Bag it,” Dick said, automatically, shielding Filb with his body as the older cop “accidentally” rubbed the handle, obscuring any possible prints. Dick looked down at his second shadow. “What’s your name, kid?” he asked. The boy had clung to his side and refused to speak since the paramedics had declared his brother dead, zipped him in a body bag, and moved on to the next casualty.
“Spud,” the kid replied, flatly.
Dick was too tired to even wonder at the sheer absurdity of the street name. “Ok, Spud. I want you to come down to the station house with us. We need you to tell us what happened, and then we need to find you someplace to stay.”
“You said no one would take me away!” Spud shouted, in a sudden display of panic.
Out of the corner of his eye, Filb saw several young cops turn around and look at the middle of the sidewalk, where the small boy's face was quickly flushing red. Filb fixed his best nasty glare on them and was pleased when they all turned back to their duties.
“Spud, Scorch is dead,” Dick told him, kneeling on the ground. “He can’t take care of you anymore. We have to find you someplace to stay, at least for the night.” Dick paused, pleading silently with the boy to calm down. “Scorch would want you to be safe and warm.”
“Scorch would want me to go beat up the punks who killed him,” Spud snarled.
“Later, kid,” Filb broke in. “You can’t fight crime on an empty stomach.” He took hold of Spud’s hand and steered him toward the squad car. Spud tried to protest, but the crusty old cop would have none of it.
An O’Shaughnessy’s burger and an hour of questioning with a pair of youth cops took some of the fight out of Spud. Dick and Filb, their paperwork filed, sat in the observation room above the interrogation room and watched. Filb slurped coffee from a Styrofoam cup. Dick crossed his arms and looked grim. As the questioning wore on and Dick became more and more impatient, Blüdhaven's police chief opened the door of the observation room and beckoned them outside.
“They tell me the kid’s not talking,” he said, wiping his glasses on his shirttail in a gesture that reminded Dick suddenly of Jim Gordon. “I don’t think he’s got anything to say.”
At that point, the two youth cops walked out of the room. Filb slurped loudly from his coffee and glared at them. “What happened? Kid fall asleep?” he asked.
“Nah,” Wiest, a balding detective, answered around a wad of gum. “Kid doesn’t know squat. Brother made him hide in a dumpster before anything started up. We gotta call Social Services, Chief. Get someone to pick him up. No parents. Kids living on the street.” Wiest shook his head as if he’d never heard of it happening before.
“Let me take him home with me,” Dick offered. “My wife’ll cook him some dinner, he can get some rest, and we’ll call Social Services tomorrow. It’s late and it’ll take him forever to get processed through the system.”
The chief nodded, slowly, as if he was being thoughtful when everyone was too tired to be thoughtful. “You sure your wife’s up to it?” he asked, more to feel like he’d covered all his bases than out of any real concern. He’d met Barbara Grayson and knew she was up to just about anything.
“She’ll love him,” Dick answered the chief.
Addad shrugged. “Do it. Might be the only real home the boy sees ‘til he’s 18. Have him back here by noon tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Chief.” Dick opened the door to the interrogation room and spoke to the little boy who had just laid his head on the table. “Hey, Spud. C’mon, let’s go get some chow.”
“Are we going to O’Shaughnessy’s again?” Spud asked, hopefully.
“Nope,” Dick told him. “You’re going to spend the night at my house. And my wife’s going to make you dinner. Let’s move. We don’t want to keep her waiting.”
Spud slid out of his seat and trailed Dick out to his car. He had nothing with him but a battered old ski jacket and a ratty stocking cap smashed over his head.
“Do you want to stop anywhere?” Dick asked. “Need to pick anything up?” Spud shook his head ‘no.’ “Ok, then. Next stop, Castle Grayson!”
The Grayson home was a sprawling ranch house located in the Gotham-Blüdhaven corridor. It was not a castle by any stretch of the definition, but it was a beautiful home, understated in its elegance and warmed by the love of its occupants. Spud stared at it in awe when he stepped out of the car.
“Yo, I’m not going in there,” he stated, turning away. “Your old lady’s gonna take one look at me and toss my butt out the back door.”
“Hold up, there,” Dick replied, catching Spud by the collar. “You’re not getting out of this.” He picked Spud up and tossed him over his shoulder. The boy giggled in spite of himself and kicked his feet half-heartedly.
“Babs!” Dick called, pulling open the kitchen door beside the driveway. “Look! It followed me home! Can I keep it?”
“Put him down,” Barbara laughed, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.
“Oh, you’re no fun,” Dick complained, good-naturedly, swinging Spud to the floor.
“I can’t believe you let some broad order you—“ Spud choked to a halt when he focused on Barbara Grayson, his mouth frozen open. “You... you’re in a wheelchair,” he blurted out, completely oblivious to the concept of tact.
Barbara shrugged. “Yep,” she said, cheerfully. “If you eat all your vegetables, I might even let you take a ride in it, later.”
“Really?” Spud asked, eyes wide, as Dick leaned over and stage-whispered,
“You don’t have to eat anything with turnips.”
“Oh, you!” Barbara teased, snapping him with her towel. “I didn’t make turnips, silly,” she told him, as he leaned down to kiss her hello.
“Good. What are we having?”
“You’ll see. Now go on and take a shower. You stink.” She turned to Spud. “And you, young man...” She regarded him, thoughtfully. “What’s your name?”
“Spud,” he informed her.
“Really?” she asked, skeptically. “What’s your real name?”
“Spud IS my real name!”
Barbara sighed. She couldn’t really argue a case against code names; not in this house. “Ok, ‘Spud,’” she agreed. “You’re filthy, too. At least go and scrub up to your elbows. And hurry up and catch Dick before he uses up all the hot water!” she called as he scampered down the hall after the recently vanished Officer Grayson. Barbara smiled as he ran off and rested her chin in her hand.
Dick had proposed, knowing full well she couldn’t bear his children. They had discussed surrogates, adoption, and foster care, extensively, then agreed to table the discussion until after that traditionally difficult first year of marriage. The subject had not come up again in the three years since that first anniversary, but they both thought of it, every once in while. They were both thinking it when he called her that afternoon from the station house. It was very unlikely, given his history, that Dick would be content to turn the boy over to Social Services the next day. Spud seemed to be on the brink of changing their lives forever, but for some reason, Barbara didn't seem to mind.
Dick reappeared in the kitchen wearing jeans and a button-down shirt, and smelling like soap and water. He sniffed the air appreciatively. “Mmmm...” he sighed. “You’re making Italian.” He leaned down to give her a quick kiss.
“Lasagna,” she affirmed.
“Thanks. Hey, Spud,” she said to the boy who had appeared in the doorway.
It was apparent that Dick had made him shower. His wet hair shone dark red and his skin was scrubbed pink. He wore one of Dick’s police academy t-shirts that hung past his knees and a pair of drawstring mesh shorts that once belonged to Tim Drake and had no acceptable reason for being at the Graysons’ house.
“I look like a loser!” he announced to the room.
“Well,” Barbara said, mildly, handing Dick a pair of potholders, “I’ll wash up your clothes tonight, and then you can go back to looking like an even bigger loser tomorrow.” Without waiting for an answer, she turned to Dick, who was lifting the heavy pan of lasagna from the oven. “Is milk ok?” she asked, moving a plate of crispy cheese bread to the table.
“Does a body good,” Dick replied. When he had called Barbara earlier that day, she had warned him that their usual glass of wine with dinner would have to be forgone while Spud was eating with them. Dick had readily agreed.
Barbara poured three glasses of milk and set a crisp green salad on the table.
Spud stood where he was, stunned that Barbara had dissed his colors.
“You eating or what?” Barbara asked him, as she rolled up to the table and Dick sat down. “It’s rude to stand there with your mouth open.”
Spud blinked at her and quickly sat down in the empty seat.
Barbara reached a hand across to Dick, then, after a brief pause, stretched her other one to Spud, who regarded it suspiciously.
“Are you praying?” he asked, incredulously.
“Sometimes,” Dick answered, evenly. “Sometimes we just sit for a minute. We try to take a moment every night to be happy that we can be together. We haven’t always been this lucky.”
“Oh.” Reluctantly, Spud took their hands and glanced at them as they closed their eyes. He squeezed his eyes shut, too. Except that when he did, he saw his brother’s body etched in his memory, and the burning knowledge that he was alone in the world, except for these two strangers, who were holding his hands just for the night. He jerked away and tucked his hands under his arms.
Barbara opened her eyes and looked at him. “Do you want to pray?” she asked, softly. “We can pray for your brother and that he’s in a safer place, now.”
“No.” Spud shook his head, stubbornly. “I don’t pray. There’s not really anyone listening.”
“Maybe not,” Barbara agreed, shrugging. She reached for her glass and took a sip of milk. “But people have been talking for thousands of years, and some of them are sure someone is listening to them. In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans had lots of gods they talked to. They asked Athena for wisdom and courage in battle, and they asked Aphrodite for love and beauty.”
Spud wrinkled his freckled nose at the mention of love. “Who are all those people?” he asked, watching Dick shovel lasagna from the pan with a huge, green-handled scoop that looked more appropriate to bricklaying.
“They were characters in stories,” Barbara told him. “Long, long ago, people believed that the universe created special beings with superpowers, who watched over the humans on earth and helped them when they had problems.”
“Like Nightwing?” Spud asked, innocently, stuffing a square of lasagna into his mouth.
“Just like Nightwing,” Barbara assured him, as Dick choked into a napkin.
“Oh. Why don’t people believe in them anymore?”
“I don’t know, Spud. Maybe some of them decided no one really was listening, too. Or maybe they found other things to believe in.” Barbara gazed at him for a moment, holding her glass between her hands.
“That’s when people started talking about God and Christianity,” Dick offered, helpfully. “They found someone else to ask for help. Sometimes that happens.”
Barbara ate a forkful of salad, then set down her utensil, firmly. “I’m sorry,” she stated, “but I cannot keep calling you Spud. Until I call Dick Mr. Potatohead, I’m just going to feel silly calling you Spud. I know you must have a real name. What is it?”
“She’d love to call me Mr. Potatohead,” Dick whispered.
Spud just scowled down at his plate and shoveled in another mouthful of food. Barbara and Dick exchanged concerned glances and looked back at their small charge.
“It’s James,” he grumbled. “Scorch said Mommy named me James.”
Barbara raised an eyebrow and glanced at Dick, whose eyes were filled with compassion and understanding.
“James was my father’s name,” she said, deliberately stabbing a piece of lasagna with her fork and eating it, slowly. “It’s a very special name, and I want you to take good care of it, ok?” She looked up at the freckled little boy, who was staring back at her, his eyes wide with astonishment. It was the first time anyone had ever indicated that he possessed something of value.
“Ok,” he agreed, quietly, turning his attention back to his lasagna, where it stayed for an entire three seconds. “You still have a Daddy?” he finally inquired.
“No,” she admitted, after a moment. “He died a couple of years ago.”
“Oh,” Spud processed this. “Do you have a Mommy?”
“No, she died when I was a little girl.”
“Oh.” Spud chewed for a minute, then turned his attention to Dick. “Did your Mommy and Daddy die, too?”
“Yes, they did,” Dick nodded. “When I was nine. But then I went to live with someone else, and I got a new father.”
“You can’t have two fathers,” Spud snorted.
“Sure you can,” Barbara disagreed. “Sometimes Mommies and Daddies decided not to live together anymore—“
“It’s called a divorce,” Spud informed her.
“Thank you. And sometimes they get remarried to other people—“
“That’s not a REAL dad.”
“It’s as real as you make it,” Dick told him. “Bruce and I aren’t related at all, but I’ve though of him as my dad for a long time.”
“Hmmph.” Spud dug through his lasagna for a moment, looking for, Barbara soon determined, a mouthful of cheese. “Are you going to try to be my mom and dad?” he asked, just before stuffing his mouth full of melted mozzarella and ricotta.
Dick and Babs automatically glanced at each other, then quickly turned away.
“We’ll talk about it later,” Dick told him, just as Babs said,
“Right now you need to eat up and get some rest before we figure that one out.”
Spud glanced from one to the other and swallowed his mound of cheese. “Nice start,” he mumbled, reaching for his milk glass.
Dick pushed back his chair with a contented sigh and patted his full stomach.
“A man could get fat on your cooking, darling,” he complimented the chef.
The chef was busy trying to convince her young guest to wipe his mouth on his napkin, rather than the back of his hand. “Never you,” she replied, smashing a napkin onto Spud’s tomato-decorated face.
“’Fraid so,” he sighed, pushing away from the table. “C’mon, kid, time to clean up.”
“Clean up?” Spud echoed. “Why we gotta do that?”
“Because we didn’t cook,” Dick told him, with the simplicity of someone who had been living under the maxim his entire life. It was an act. Dick was still in the process of finding the perfect butler.
“But that’s girl stuff,” Spud complained, wrinkling his nose.
“Oh, yeah? Let’s see you cook something, tough guy.”
“No buts.” Dick lifted Spud bodily from his seat and stood him on the floor. “Here,” he instructed, handing him a plate. “Take this to the sink. Break it and you have to glue it back together.”
“That might be fun,” Spud scoffed, his small chin jutting out defiantly.
“Until it’s perfect.”
“Go put it in the sink.”
With a long-suffering sigh, Spud did as instructed.
“I’m going to check on Dinah,” Barbara told her husband, with a cheery smile. “You have fun, now.”
“Roger that,” Dick replied, determination edging his voice.
Barbara rolled into her private study, a room wired from the inside out with everything she could ask for to function as Oracle. It was going to be hell to keep Spud out of here, she sighed, knowing she was already thinking to a future that may or may not happen. She signed on and activated her link to Black Canary’s communication piece.
“Howdy ho, Oracle.”
“What are you doing right now?” Babs asked, needing to talk to her best friend about her current situation, but not wanting to disrupt the pursuit the world peace to do so.
“I’m in my hotel room, lying on the bed with a glass of water, waiting for you to tell me how to run my life.”
Babs smiled. “I’ll forget you said that, if you forget that I was about to do it.”
“Deal. What’s up?”
Barbara opened her mouth, then hesitated. “I don’t know where to start,” she admitted.
“Just shoot from the hip,” Dinah advised, the background noise suddenly reducing as she turned off the television.
“We’ve got this kid spending the night with us,” Barbara blurted out. “Dick pulled cleanup duty after a bunch of kids shot each other to death, and he was the little brother of one of the victims. Their parents were dead and they’d been living on the streets for the last couple of years. He brought him home for the night, but he’s got to go to Social Services tomorrow; and his name’s James, just like Daddy.”
“And we haven’t talked about keeping him, or anything, but Dick was stuck in Juvenile Hall for a few days just after his parents died, and I know he’s not going to want the poor boy to go back there.”
“He calls himself Spud. I guess that was his street name, or something, but Dinah’s he’s so cute—he’s got red hair, just like Jason Todd did, I guess you didn’t know Jason Todd, and right now Dick has him washing up the dishes.
“I mean, Dick and I haven’t talked about this, or anything. The subject of children hasn’t come up in years and I don’t know how he feels—well, I’m sure he wants to keep him, but I haven’t even thought about it, and I’m just going crazy because I don’t know what I want or what I’m supposed to be thinking or feeling.” Silence. “Dinah?”
“Are you done?”
“Yes.” Barbara colored. “Sorry.”
“As I was saying... congratulations! It’s a boy!”
“Do you want to wash, or dry?”
“Not an option. Play in soapy water or get to brandish a dish towel. It’s not really that harsh a deal.”
“No.” Spud’s arms were crossed and a frown settled deep into his small face. “I’m not doing no girl stuff.”
“Buddy, I hate to tell you this, but you don’t have a choice,” Dick told him, squatting down to his level. “That’s the deal ‘round this house. If you eat it, you either cook it, or you clean it up."
“I guess cooking’s more girly,” Spud admitted, grudgingly.
“That’s right,” Dick agreed, tossing him a towel. “Cooking’s girly. But barbeque... now, that’s a man’s job!”
“I don’t understand how a bunch of kids—they were just little kids, Babs—could get the firepower to inflict that much damage on each other,” Dick was saying, under his breath, so Spud couldn’t hear him. “Someone out there is doing some serious violation of gun registration laws. Do you think someone might have instigated the shootout?”
“I think that it’s a violent time,” Barbara said, carefully. “I’m sure someone did instigate the shootout...”
“But who would want a bunch of kids to shoot each other up?” Dick interrupted.
“As I was saying,” Barbara continued, firmly, “I don’t think you can put the blame on any one person. And if there is a person to blame, he’s probably either dead or in the hospital right now.”
“You think one of the kids planned this?” Dick frowned, pushing his feet against the ground. He sat on the porch swing, Barbara on his lap, as Spud coasted down the driveway in Babs’ chair.
“I don’t think there was any planning involved,” Barbara declared. “I think one of the kids said ‘Show up here, now’ and all the kids did.”
“And look what’s left,” Dick muttered, as Spud whizzed down the driveway.
“Are you going on patrol, tonight?” Babs asked, ruffling his hair.
“Thought I’d stay in, tonight,” Dick said, watching Spud. “Sometimes... sometimes little boys have nightmares on their first night away from home.”
Later that night, after Spud had been tucked into bed with a minimum of “stupid mushy stuff”, Babs and Dick lay together in bed, heads nestled inches apart on the same pillow.
“So what time do you have to take Spud back to the station?” Barbara asked, quietly.
“My shift starts at noon,” Dick replied. “Barbara...”
“You know, I’m making burgers tomorrow night for dinner,” she interrupted. “If there’s anyway they would let you bring him home tomorrow night, I think he’d really like that.”
“There... there might be some paperwork involved in that,” Dick said, carefully. “If there is, do you want me to—“
“Yes,” Barbara nodded. “Sign whatever you need to.”
“You know,” Dick said, softly. “This is a big change for us.”
“Yeah,” Barbara agreed, brushing his cowlick away from his forehead. “But it’s one we need.”
Barbara opened her eyes and couldn’t figure out what was going on. What were those sounds? Spud! She sat up and instantly transferred herself to her chair. Dick’s side of the bed was empty already. She wheeled across the hall to the little guest room. The light inside was blazing, and Dick sat on the bed, a blanket-tangled Spud on his lap. Dick was rocking back and forth, ever so gently, and Barbara couldn’t hear what he was saying. Unsure of what to do, and unwilling to interrupt, Barbara stayed in the doorway, watching the little drama play out before her. She bit her lip as Spud buried his head in Dick’s shoulder and wished she had something to say or do that would make everything better. But she didn’t. At long last, Dick raised his head to meet her eyes. Go on to bed, they told her. There’s nothing you can do here. And then he lowered his head again. But she didn’t leave.