Before I start the story, I have a few people to thank:
First off, CHICAGO!!! For putting me on an impossible schedule with supreme confidence that I can handle it. :) I try not to let her down. Also, the other people who put up with my rambling, Recce, Rose, Charlene and Kerrie. :)
Secondly, DarkMark! I totally missed your note right after the first part came out! I'm so sorry! Thank you! You were probably the first person to reply and somehow I skimmed down the topica page and right past it. *Smitty ducks*
Disclaimer in Notes
Archive: Let me know--I'm easy that way
Feedback: As you see fit. :) I'm getting horrible at answering in a timely manner, but I WILL answer. :)
Promptly at noon the next day, Officer Dick Grayson and his junior partner walked into Blüdhaven PD Headquarters.
“Social Services chick is waiting in Interrogation 3,” Filb warned him on his way to the coffee machine.
“Thanks,” Dick called back to him, walking Spud to his desk. He took off his light jacket and slung it around the back of the chair. He swung Spud up to sit on the desk and sat down in the chair. Spud watched as Dick fiddled around in the desk, straightening up things that didn’t need straightening and piling papers in random stacks.
“You ready to go?” Dick asked the boy, finding himself clean out of ways to procrastinate.
“I’m gonna get a raw deal, ain’t I?” Spud asked from his vantage point, swinging his legs.
Dick regarded him seriously. “You might have to live in a home for kids without parents.”
“What if I don’t want to?” Spud challenged him. “What if I run away, huh? What are you gonna do about that?”
“If I have to, I’ll come find you and bring you back,” Dick told him, seriously. “But I don’t want you to do that. Spud...” Dick sat down in his chair so they could talk eye-to-eye. “If I can swing it, do you want to stay with me and Babs?”
Spud raised one eyebrow. “What’s the catch?”
“No running away. No giving Babs any trouble. You have to go to school, and you have to help around the house.”
“School?” Spud wrinkled his freckled nose.
“You’d have to go to school, no matter where you go,” Dick told him.
“Right. So what’s the real catch?”
“I already told you.”
“No, the real catch—what’s in it for you? I know you don’t want me just so you don’t have to do dishes by yourself.”
“I’m a grownup who needs a kid. You’re a kid who needs a grownup.” Dick crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, balancing carefully as not to tip himself into the middle of the floor. “I want you as my kid. Do you want me as your grownup?”
Spud stared at his sneakers and wiggled around on the desk.
“Spud, watch—“ Dick winced as Spud’s squirming knocked a very large, very grotesque sandstone paperweight onto the floor, where it shattered, drawing the attention of several of the passing cops in the squadroom.
"Thank God that thing's gone," someone muttered within Dick's earshot.
“Whoops,” Spud said, not sounding all that upset.
“Spud, Dinah gave that to us for our second annivers—“ Dick frowned at the pile of dust on the floor. “That was a really ugly paperweight,” he mused. So ugly, in fact, that Babs had refused to keep it in the house and convinced Dick to take it to work with him. “I think this is a sign,” he said to Spud, lifting his eyes from the carnage to the boy.
“Officer Grayson?” The hand on his shoulder was slim and tan and the voice was familiar and impatient.
“Hi, Steph,” he said, with a sigh.
With a criminal mastermind for a father and a mother who popped pills, Stephanie Brown felt she was duly qualified by the School of Hard Knocks—and Gotham University—to survive as a social services worker. She was just starting to figure out that there was something very wrong with that reasoning.
"I'm afraid to even ask what regs you're trying to bend this time, Grayson," she frowned. "You ready to move this party into a room with a door or do you want to waste more of my time?"
"We're coming, Steph," Dick told her, standing up and holding the chair for Spud to use as a step on his way down. He'd run afoul of By-the-Book-Brown more than once in his career—official and otherwise. A few minutes later, Dick and Spud were sitting along one side of the table in a free interrogation room and Stephanie was sitting across them, rubbing the bridge of her nose and scribbling notes on her pad. Spud matter-of-factly told his horrifying tale of a life on the streets with Scorch; a life that ended with a nightmare of gunfire.
She had his file. The cops who had interrogated him had given her his full name, and she wasn’t surprised to find the name already on record.
“All right,” she said tiredly, when he was done. “You’ve been to the Children’s Home before, so you know the drill-“
“Actually,” Dick interrupted her, “you can skip all that. Babs and I want Spud to live with us.”
Stephanie stopped and stared at him. “Ok, then,” she said carefully. “But Spud still has to go to the Home while we do the paperwork.”
“No!” Spud burst out. “I won’t go back there! I won’t stay!”
“Spud, let me handle this,” Dick told him quietly, making the boy meet his eyes. “I’ll do everything I can, ok? I can’t make any promises, but let me talk to her.”
“I’m not going back,” Spud warned him, his chin jutting out stubbornly.
“Dick, I need to talk to you--alone,” Stephanie interrupted.
Dick let out a harsh sigh of frustration. He felt like he was losing from all sides.
“Spud, can you do me a favor and sit on the bench outside for a couple minutes? Ms. Brown wants to talk to me for a little bit.”
Spud muttered something that most certainly would have Barbara washing his mouth out with soap and left the room.
“What are you doing, Dick?” Stephanie asked before the door was even fully closed. “Are you trying to be Bruce, Jr.? Trying to adopt your own little sidekick? And you think I’m going to let you *do* that?”
“I can not let you ruin this kid’s life!”
“I’m not going to turn him into my sidekick!” Dick shot back before Stephanie could open her mouth again. “Look where it got me and Bruce! Bucketloads of pain and regret, and I’m not going to do that to this kid.”
“Sure you aren’t.” Stephanie crossed her arms and studied him intently.
“Look, Steph, the courts weren’t about to let the circus adopt me... if Bruce hadn’t-“
“This boy isn’t *you* Dick,” Stephanie told him, pushing away from the wall to lean forward on the table. “Look at his file.” She shoved the folder across the desk at him. “Father unknown. Ditto on his dead brother. The mother took care of them in this tiny little apartment until she was strangled by a john when Spud was six. Social Services split them up, but they kept running away from their placement homes. They ran away from the state home over a year ago. Over a year, Dick. That boy’s been on the street for over a year. You can’t think that a week with Alfred will whip him into shape?”
“So what do you want me to do?” Dick shot back. “Give up on him? Leave him to your precious system that’s going to bounce him from foster home to foster home until he’s 18?”
“He’s not a toy, Dick... you can’t give him back!”
“Don’t you think I can keep a promise?”
Those words were spoken quietly and coldly. Stephanie froze, her face flushing red as her eyes burned into Dick's.
“All right, then,” she said, quietly, every syllable controlled. “I’ll start the paperwork and I’ll rush your interview with the director. Can you stop in today?” Dick watched her hand shake as she hastily gathered up her papers.
“Fine.” Stephanie stalked the door and yanked it open. “Good luck with your new toy!” she spat back at him bitterly.
Dick sat in the cold metal chair and sadly watched her retreat. Spud peeked around the corner.
“Well, that went well,” he observed.
Filb leaned against the wall, coffee cup in hand, listening to Grayson pitch his sell to the director of Social Services. The boy had been in there for over an hour, going over family history, financial statements, employment records, and of all things, medical history. Dick’s medical, psychological and background checks for his police academy entrance requirements helped fill in a lot of the necessary information. Filb was just waiting for the reference issue to come up so he could storm the room and offer up every good thing he could think of to say about Dick and Barbara Grayson. He glanced up from his coffee cup to see a pair of wide hazel eyes studying him critically.
“What?” he finally asked. “You need more cocoa?”
“Nope.” Spud examined Filb a little closer. “You’re awful fat for a cop.”
Filb patted his girth proudly. “Son, this is seventeen years of doughnuts and greasy Chinese food stakeouts. This is a gut to be proud of.”
Spud tilted his head and raised his eyebrow in a skeptical look. “What if you have to chase someone?”
“I leave the running to Grayson. I just call for backup.”
“What if he gets tired?”
“Grayson? Get tired? Ain’t gonna happen. That boy’s got more energy than Superman.”
Filb nodded confidently. “Really.”
Dick Grayson was tired. And mad. His entire life, minus his nocturnal activities, was spread out on the desk in front of him, being carefully mulled over by one elderly Dr. Kramer, who kept adjusting his glasses.
“Your wife is in a wheelchair?” Dr. Kramer asked, squinting at the paperwork in front of him.
“Yes, sir,” Dick answered, holding onto his temper with both hands and quite possibly one foot. Why was this taking so long?
“And she works at home?”
“Yes, sir. She’s a research librarian for the Gotham City Library and she compiles daabases for the Gotham City PD.”
“I see...” Dr. Kramer nodded. “And you’re a police officer?”
I’m standing right here in my blues, Dick thought, annoyed. “Yes, sir, I am, and have been for the past five years.”
“Dangerous job you got there.”
Immediately, Dick saw what he was getting at. “I know, sir, and so does my wife. Her father was killed in the line of duty. But I feel that it’s an honorable job and someone has to do it. I don’t take unnecessary risks and I follow the rules.” There might have been a little white lie somewhere in that speech, but he ignored the little tug on his conscience.
“You were taken in as a ward of the state when you were nine years old?”
“Yes, sir. My parents were trapeze artists. They died during a show. I spent a few days in the Juvenile Detention Center because they were out of beds in the Children’s Home. That’s why it’s so important to me that Spud... James... not be taken away from me. I’ve been with him since his brother died, and I know from experience that it’s important for grieving children to have a consistent support figure from the moment of the incident.”
Dr. Kramer arched an eyebrow, but the inquisitive effect was ruined when his glasses slid down his nose and he was forced to push them back up.
“I see. And then you became the ward of Mr. Bruce Wayne.”
“And how did you like that?”
“Um... it was nice...” Nice? Dick frantically wracked his mind for something better to say. “It was a big house—I’d never lived in a house before, and never dreamed one could be so big. Alfred—Bruce’s valet—cooked and cleaned everything and kept me in line.”
“I see... was Mr. Wayne around much?”
“He always made time to play with me when I was little. As I got older, he got busier and we spent less time together. We’ve gotten back into talking lately... I like to think of him as a friend.”
“Mmmhmm. Did he ever try to adopt you?”
Dick flinched. He couldn’t help it. And he knew Dr. Kramer saw it. “No,” he said, carefully. “He was a good guy, always helping people out, but he was a little absent-minded and by the time he realized he’d never tried, I was almost too old anyway.”
“And did Mr. Wayne ever act inappropriately toward you? Did he ever touch you in a suggestive manner?”
Dick's eyes hardened, meeting Dr. Kramer's gaze.
“Bruce was like a second father to me," he ground out between clenched teeth. "He never ‘acted inappropriately’ or abused me in any way, shape or form.” Except maybe letting me wear those awful green shorts, he noted gloomily to himself.
“I don’t know anything yet,” Barbara lamented to Dinah through their commlink. “Dick promised he’d call as soon as he knew something, but I haven’t heard from him since he left the house.”
“Well, you know,” Dinah said practically, as she applied her boot to a burly guard’s posterior, “it’s only been a couple hours.” She took the second guard out with a quick chop to a certain pressure point and looked around for more guards. “And after all, it’s not the end of the world if the kid has to cool his heels with the state for a couple of nights.”
“Maybe not to us, but Dick’s not going to be able to sit still until he’s here,” Barbara said, tracing patterns in the rice on her lunch plate. “He... he was placed with the state after his parents died, but they had to keep him in juvie...” She shook her, head, smashing the rice patterns with her fork.
“Dick doesn’t seem to be the only one who can’t sit still,” Dinah commented mildly as she infiltrated the laboratory Babs had pinpointed as a major heroin distribution center.
Barbara sighed. “I know. I’m restless, too. He’s... I just know it, Dinah. He’s our little boy. I love him already.”
“I am with you, babe,” Dinah assured her, scrambling up the rickety ladder to a catwalk. “I mean, I’m not with you, I’m just... well, you know what I mean.”
Dick almost dove across the desk and strangled Dr. Kramer. ‘Well’? ‘Well’? After an hour and a half of ridiculously rigorous questioning about subjects the man did not need to know about all he had to say was ‘well’?
“I think I’d like to speak to Mr. Scranton.”
Dr. Kramer gave him a hard look... or as hard a look as a white-haired old man whose glasses kept sliding down his nose could manage. “Spud,” he clarified. “James Scranton.”
“Oh. Right.” Spud has a last name? Of course he does, Grayson! Dick chastised himself. “I’ll go get him.”
“That won’t be necessary. You stay here.”
“Ok.” Dick blinked at his own instantaneous agreement. There was just something about Kramer that told him the little doctor was not someone to mess with.
Dr. Karl Kramer walked into the hall and saw a little red-headed boy sitting cross-legged on the floor, clutching a nearly empty Styrofoam cup of hot cocoa. His hair was shiny and rumpled in half-formed curls, and his clothes were old, but clean. An overweight cop stood across from him, slurping some vile brew from an identical cup.
“Yeah?” the kid’s eyes instantly narrowed as he looked at the old man suspiciously.
“I’m Dr. Kramer. Do you remember me? I have to ask you a few questions.”
“Is this for Dick?”
“For Dick, for you... whoever. Mind I if I sit down?”
Spud shrugged and looked doubtfully at the floor beside him.
“You must be Officer Filbert,” Dr. Kramer said to the cop.
“That’s me, they—“
“Please go in my office with Officer Grayson for the time being. I assume you want to tell me how stable he and his wife are and how they would provide a wonderful homelife for Spud, here?”
Filb studied Kramer for a moment and then nodded. “Yep, pretty much.”
“Wonderful. Now, if you’ll run along?”
Filb looked at Spud and shrugged.
Spud shrugged back at him.
Filb went into Kramer’s office.
“Now,” Kramer said, sitting down next to Spud and imitating the boy’s pose--not an easy feat for a man his age, but one he’d kept in practice in his many years of looking out for children. “How are you today? You had a rough day yesterday, I know.”
“Yeah,” Spud admitted, looking into his cup. “Scorch died.”
“That’s what they tell me. I’ll bet you miss him.”
“Yeah.” Spud didn’t seem inclined to offer up further information.
“You look pretty scrubbed up. Did you get a bath somewhere?”
“Dick’s house. His old lady keeps making me wash up.”
“Why do you think she does that?”
“Hell, have you seen their place? It’s all clean and fancy and stuff... she probably doesn’t want me making a mess all over the place.”
“Clean’s usually considered a good thing.”
“Yeah, I guess. She cooks good, too.”
“Oh yeah? What’d she make?”
“Uh... I dunno. Something with cheese and noodles and stuff. And she let me have as much as I wanted.”
“She sounds pretty nice.”
Spud shrugged. “I guess. She let me ride in her chair.”
“Oh?” Dr. Kramer raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah, she can’t walk, so she’s got this wheelchair.”
“Yep. She’s got all kinds of stuff though. You know, so she can do stuff.”
“You know... stuff.”
“Ok. What about Dick?”
“Yeah. He found the cross for me.” Spud dug it out of his shirt and showed it to Dr. Kramer. “Remember when we were here the first time and Scorch bit that lady who tried to make him take it off to get in the showers?”
“Unfortunately,” Kramer agreed.
“Yeah... he told me he used to be in a circus. But then his parents died and he had to leave.”
“I see. Did he help you wash up last night?”
“Nah, he just pointed me to the bathroom and found me some stuff to wear. I looked like a big dork.”
“Sounds like he’s not a bad guy, though.”
Spud wrinkled up his nose. “I guess not. He did make me do dishes though.”
“He said I had to cook or clean and since Babs already had it all made I got stuck drying dishes.”
“Well, you can live with that, right?”
“Anything else you want to tell me?”
“Nah. It was pretty neat. I got to sleep in a room without anyone else. That was weird.”
“I would imagine so.” Kramer made some notes on his pad, then looked directly at Spud. “Would you like me to tell Dick that it’s all right for you to live there for a while?”
Spud scrunched up his face.
“If you want me to tell him no, I can do that, too.”
“No,” Spud said, finally. “I want to go live with him.”
“All right. I’ll tell him. But you have to do me a favor, too.”
“It’s not a tough one.”
“I want you to remember that if something is wrong or if you feel like you can’t stay there, that you can always call me or Ms. Brown and we’ll come get you. You don’t have to stay there if you don’t like it. But you can’t just run away. All right?”
“No running away.” Spud nodded. “Sure.”
“You suck at this patience thing, Grayson,” Filb informed him.
“I know,” Dick agreed absently as he watched an old man and a little boy sit on the floor and choose a future. He rested his forehead on the glass that separated them, blocking the sound.
“You know, long as it don’t bother you or nothing.”
Filb just shook his head.
"I just love the sight of burning heroin," Dinah sighed happily as she watched the warehouse go up in flames.
"I love the thought of burning heroin," Babs replied, eyeing new information that had come across her screen. "Are you up to a quick stop in Rheelasia before you come home?"
"Sure," Dinah agreed. "Although I'll have to cancel my dinner plans."
"I'm sure Bruce will understand." Babs smiled as she said this, awaiting the standard reaction.
"I'm *not* sleeping with Bruce!"
"In that case, you might want to turn your throat mike off the next time you go to the mansion."
An indignant gasp echoed from South America.
"'Cause Alfred announcing tea is a general tip that you're not at your apartment," Babs finished, teasing her friend.
"You're not funny," Dinah grumbled.
"I'm a riot," Babs returned. "You've been sleeping with the guy for five years, Dinah. EVERYBODY knows."
"That's not true. Tim doesn't know."
"How does Tim not know?"
"Mr. Clueless is up to his eyeballs in being Lucius Fox's protégé, and between working on his Master's and taking care of that little brother of his, his time in the Batcave consists of picking up new Batarangs and swiping cookies from Alfred."
"Poor guy," Babs mused. "We'll have to have him over for dinner one of these nights and pump him for information. Hey," she added, her lightning-fast brain putting two and two together. "You know an awful lot for not spending any time at the Manor."
"Oh, shut up."
Dr. Kramer's eyes crinkled at the corners. "There's no need for that, young man. I'm not going to make you do pushups." He had Spud's hand enclosed in his own, and he nudged the youngster forward. "You put up with a hellacious amount of questions without losing your temper and this little tyke seems to want to go home with you..."
A thousand kilowatt grin broke out on Dick's face as he looked down at Spud, who was pointedly not looking at him.
"...so the state is granting you and Mrs. Grayson temporary custody of Mr. James Scranton, age eight. Ms. Brown will be handling your case. You'll need to see her on the way out, and she'll be keeping an eye on things for a while."
"Thank you, Doctor, you have no idea—" Dick started excitedly.
"I have seven children, Officer Grayson. Not one of them from birth."
Dick found himself nodding. "You *do* understand," he stated.
"Now, get out of here," Kramer interrupted, pushing Spud toward Dick. "Not you, Officer Filbert. I need you to write up your glowing recommendation, now."
"Sure thing, Doc."
Dick looked at Spud, who was still studying the wall. "Ready to go home, chum?"
Spud finally turned serious hazel eyes on Dick. "Promise never to call me that again, and we have a deal."
"They're home!" Babs' voice was so loud, Dinah winced and cupped a hand over one earring.
"Easy on the ears," she requested. "So what's the word?"
Her reply was a click and silence.
"Babs? Aren't you going to tell me?" Dinah rolled her eyes when she didn't get an answer. "Ok, fine," she decided, pulling a small cellular phone from her hip and punching in a number.
"Hi, Alfred!" she greeted the man who answered. "I'm not going to make it to dinner tonight—I have to go to Rheelasia. Can you tell Bruce for me?" She smiled at the older man's answer. "You're such a sweetie. Hey, Alfred? Have you spoken to Dick or Babs in the last couple days? No? Oh, Alfred, have I got some gossip for you!"