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The Little Girl That Changed Everything

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“Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.” A cheerful voice burst through his bedroom door.

He groaned at the unexpected weight hitting his stomach. Quickly wrapping his arms around her, he brought her into a tight hug and nestled his chin on her head. “Muntchin…it’s a Sunday. Sunday is for sleeping.” He said groggily.

“Daddy.” She whined. “It’s Monday. It’s my first day of school. I don’t want to be late.”

His eyes shot open at her statement as he dumbly reached to his bedside drawer trying to find his phone. 8:05 am, Monday. Millie squealed as he sprung his body up and lifted her onto his shoulder charging out into the kitchen.

Placing her down on a bar stool, he began to stack pots and pans on the kitchen island. “What do you want for Breakfast, sunshine?”

“Pancakes.” She beamed with that million-watt smile.

Frowning at her words, he stopped and turned to her. “You had pancakes yesterday.”

“But you promised me pancakes for my first day at school.” She pouted. If he wasn’t in such a hurry would have stopped and stared at how adorable she looked. “And, you make the best pancakes in the world.” She was only 6 years old and already had him wrapped around her finger. Once she learned that a set of puppy dog eyes and compliments would make him do anything, she abused that knowledge regularly.

Staring into the eyes of his baby girl, he could feel his willpower crumble. He was a trained assassin and was submitting to the whims of a child. Not even the Batglare had the same effect. “Fine.” He grumbled.

Obviously pleased with the result, she flashed him a set of pearly whites before running back to her room to change. He chuckled before picking out the ingredients. She wasn’t lying when she said Jason makes the best pancakes in the world. It was the best because Alfred had taught him. Almost everything he knew about cooking came from the butler.

He vowed that he would raise Millie the same way Alfred raised him. However, the prospect of being a father initially terrified Jason but he was so glad he took that chance. Life had given him a second chance and in turn, he gave Millie one too. Everything he had, everything he loved paled in comparison to her and in turn she loved him for it.

It had been three years since he found something more important to him than being the Red Hood. Cast aside in a dumpster, the piercing cries of a child had caught his attention, he found a sickly, thin but relatively cleanly dressed black-haired toddler balling her eyes out. Rage burst through his veins as he came to terms with the fact that someone had abandoned, effectively leaving the child for dead, in Crime Alley. Jason still remembers the moment that the toddler looked at him through a haze of tears and screamed at the top of her lungs. At least she knew what stranger danger meant. He was startled by the high-pitched scream and kept his distance. His heart ached as he waited until she screamed and cried herself to sleep.

He didn’t know what to do. The system was absolutely horrendous and the logical side of his brain fought with his emotional side, arguing why it would be a horrible idea to take care of her. He had the money, he had a ‘home’ and he had the ability to take care of her and raise her. But he also had PTSD, he punched criminals late at night and had a stockpile of weapons in every safehouse he owned. He could look after her, but he could also end up hurting her. Five minutes turned to ten as he stood there weighing his options. The Narrows were becoming safer, which still somehow baffled him, the Bats didn’t really care or check up on him and his nightmares were becoming less frequent. Shifting side to side, he finally decided and grabbed the little girl, quickly hurrying back to his nearest safehouse, wondering what the hell he was thinking.

It had been three years. Three years since he made the biggest decision of his life. The first few days of his new life, he wanted to track down Millie’s biological parents and put a bullet in their heads. Thankfully, the child had his attention 24/7, screaming and crying at why this stranger just ‘kidnapped’ her. It didn’t further help that the little bag of flesh would always somehow disappear without him noticing. He was a master of stealth and detection but was reduced to frantically overturning furniture looking for a gurgling three-year-old. And then there were the weapons. A collection of guns, knives and explosives once littered the aging apartment and he had to leave after having a heart attack seeing Millie try to bite on a semtex. He only kept a couple of specially modified pistols for emergencies.

They live in Crime Alley, he wasn’t stupid.

Upon purchasing a brand new three-bedroom apartment in one of the safer areas of Park Row, he went out of his way to buy anything and everything a child would need, wanting to give the child the best livelihood she could have.

It had taken a while before she would stop flailing every time he tried to feed her, shower her or play with her. Sleeping was an absolute nightmare. Figuratively and literally. Most nights, his inner demons would haunt him with images of a bat, a smile and a crowbar. Whenever he screamed, she would cry. Whenever she screamed, he would run to her and hold her close, hoping it was enough. It had almost become oddly routine how often this happened. Despite his anger at everything that had happened to Millie, he couldn’t help but smile as her tiny fingers grabbed his shirt, forcing herself closer. The need for affection, safety and love projected at him. It was a small gesture but it meant everything.

From that night on, he noticed the changes. The extended arms that asked him for hugs, the small giggles she made whenever she played ‘scare the barely functioning adult by hiding’ and the mid-afternoon naps they had with her laying across his chest. It was nice. But with the new change in attitude meant a fresh pit of hell he had to deal with. Namely, how he severely underestimated how much chaotic energy the little squirt had. Granted he kept feeding her Alfred’s recipe of chocolate chip cookies, but even on days where she didn’t have a sugar rush, he was always running around trying to fulfil all of her demands.

It had taken a few months, but she had finally uttered her first words to him. His stomach dropped when she whispered “fuck” during movie night. He instantly regretted every time he swore in front of her and needless the say, he was petrified that Alfred would kick down his door and lobotomise him then and there.

There were other moments that made his heart stutter when she talked to him. Echoes of Jason and Jay Jay resounded within the apartment walls but none of it compared to when the 5-year-old flew at him, wrapping her arms around his neck, whispering into his ear. “I love you, Dad.” As far as he could remember, he had only cried three times. When his mother died, when he was being tortured and when he came back replaced. Falling to his knees, rambles of “I love you, too” escaped as tears cascaded his face.

Calming himself from his breakdown, he asked. “Sweetie. I love that you decided to call me that, but you know I’m not your real dad. Are you sure you still want to call me that?”

Breaking away from the hug, she stared into his eyes. “Ms. Donaldson said a dad is someone that loves me, takes care of me and protects me. You do all of that, so that makes you my daddy.” She said with such confidence that left his awestruck.

Nope. He definitely wasn’t crying again.,

So here he was. 24, certifiable badass and single father of a beautiful girl. Walking her hand in hand to Gotham Primary was some of the hardest steps of his life. He had left her with babysitters and kindergartens before, but this was different. She was going alone to new surroundings, people and most importantly, boys… It took every bit of his willpower to not camp out in an unregistered van and perform overwatch, ready to spring into action at any confrontation.

The only reason why he didn’t was that he had enough common sense to know that the combination of a rough looking man, a white van and a primary school would not go well with local authorities.

Upon reaching the school gates he looked down at his baby girl, and it didn’t need an expert to know she was also nervous. “Hey, Sunshine.” Crouching down to her level. “It’s ok to be nervous. But I know you’re going to be fine. Do you know why?” She shook her head, pouting. “Because you’re my baby girl.”

He didn’t explain further, and she didn’t need him to. “Bad girls for life.” She stated. He huffed a laugh at their inside joke.

“Damn right.” Bringing her into a tight hug. “I love you, sweetheart.”

“I love you too, dad.” She giggled as he planted light kisses across her face and ran off into the crowd waving at the him with the biggest smile she had.

People were eyeing the young man in the brown leather jacket, smiling at the small girl that disappeared into the ensuing chaos. He was young, too young to have a girl that age. Tall, incredibly muscular, black hair with a tuft of white and hardened eyes. Some thought of him as a two-bit criminal that shouldn’t have children and some thought of him as an older brother that was going through a phase. Jason could feel the glares directed at him as single moms came up and introduced themselves, wanting to know more about the mystery bad boy and the little girl. Some even handed them their phone numbers, but he had to respectfully decline, charming them with the excuse that Millie was his everything and it just wouldn’t be fair to these lovely ladies.

It was somewhat ironic that he was given another chance at life and somehow, outside of Millie, he had no life. However, he didn’t care. Millie was his everything and if she wanted his undivided attention, then she would have it. Turning around he felt jittery, unable to shake the nerves he held, but had to push the thought away. He had work to do.

Making his way towards the Manor, thoughts constantly popped into his head about the inevitable fallout of when the Waynes finally find out about Millie.

He had purposely lessened the amount of patrols he had per week to spend more time with his daughter. He didn’t hear it, but he knew all of the Bats were classifying his lack of vigilantism as laziness and were silently glad that he wasn’t that much of a bother anymore. At one point in time, he would have told them about her, wanting to gain whatever form of approval for how well he was raising her but he knew full well how the emotionally constipated family would lash out and try force her away from him, spouting bullshit about how irresponsible he was, how much danger she was in and how he wasn’t fit to be a father. Which in all honesty was true at one point but at the same time, Bruce didn’t have the fucking right to say that to him. Not after everything the entire family, not just Jason, had gone through because of the prick.

The debrief went by rather well. He answered any questions quickly with no snarky tone or hurtful quips. Jason wanted to get out as soon as possible and Bruce looked a little…sad(?) because of it. Everyone else hid their emotions rather well whenever Jason was around but he honestly didn’t care anymore. Work was work and that was all that mattered.

Jason didn’t know, but they were all surprised at how well mannered and orderly he was. Even Damian was shocked at the change in behaviour over the recent months and tried to antagonise him only to be subsequently ignored without a hint of anger or self-restraint. They all felt a stab through the heart at how dismissive he was to any form of bonding, prioritising work over them. Jason didn’t notice the pained glances the Bats shared, and to be honest, even if he did, he didn’t care.

Once the meeting was over he made his way up towards the kitchen wanting to say goodbye to Alfred and have a quick snack before leaving. Alfred, as always, was slaving away at the kitchen preparing for lunch. From the smell alone, Jason would have guessed that the Manor was being treated to leek and bacon soup.

“Ah. Master Jason.” Alfred greeted, peering over his shoulder. “Would you like something to eat before you go?”

“Smells great as usual, Alfie.” Jason responded. “But I’ll probably stick to a quick snack and go.” Reaching over to the pile of fruits and grabbing an apple.

Turning his attention away from the stove, Alfred stared at the young man. If Jason was being honest, he felt a bit vulnerable whenever Alfred looked at him like that. As if all his secrets were out for the world to see.

“You’ve changed, Master Jason.” Alfred stated. It wasn’t a question but it certainly felt like one. Give him Bruce and Jason would have walked away. Give him Alfred and Jason would crumble right then and there.

Casually shrugging, hoping Alfred wouldn’t notice the tension in his shoulders, he responded. “Perks of growing up, I guess.”

Alfred didn’t respond and continued to stare at him. Jason was becoming nervous at the questioning stare and scratched his arm. He instantly regretted his action as Alfred stared harder at him, scanning his entire body for a clue. Jason shuddered at the eye movement, knowing full well that Batman was not the world’s greatest detective. Alfred was.

“May I ask what caused the change, Master Jason?” Jason was breaking under pressure. He just stood there going through his options and all of them didn’t result in a suitable escape. If he ran, all of them would have hunted him down, if he told the truth, maybe…just maybe Alfred wouldn’t snitch to Bruce.

Choosing the lesser of two evils, he took a deep breath and quietly answered. “I have a daughter.”

Alfred has always been neutral and calm in every and all situations, so watching his eyes widen in shock unnerved Jason. They stood there for what could have been an eternity until Alfred, as calm as possible responded with a breathless. “Oh…”

Lying to the rest of the Bats was one thing, but looking at his grandfather figure, he couldn’t do it. “She just turned six.” He quietly mumbled. “I adopted her three years ago.”

Alfred’s world crashed as he listened intently, his mind unable to comprehend what Jason had just said. For three years, the young master had a child and none of them knew. For three years, Jason had hid her from them. “I see…” Clearly shaken from the news.

Both of them stared at the ground, unable to continue and Jason decided it would be best to leave. “I have to go, Alfie. It’s her first day at school and I have to pick her up.” Apparently, that was a poor choice of words as he looked at the crestfallen face of the butler. Reminding someone they were missing out on another first of their great-grandchild’s life was not the right idea. Without further notice, he slowly turned and left, leaving a clearly shocked Alfred standing stock still, who had forgotten about the soup that was about to overboil.

None of them noticed the third presence listening around the corner. Bruce was hyperventilating, unable to properly breath. He had a grandchild and he didn’t know about it. He knew full well, Jason didn’t do it out of spite, he had hidden her away in fear. In fear of what Bruce would do Jason’s relationship with his daughter, in fear of Bruce taking her away from him and Bruce just stood there, reeling at the development, clasping his eyelids tight, letting out a shuddering breath.

~

Reaching the school gates, Jason looked around the mass of bodies exiting the grounds. It took a couple of minutes before he found the small black-haired girl sprinting towards him with the most dazzling smile, ever. Glad that nothing bad happened, he scooped her up into a hug and twirled her around.

“Heya, squirt. I missed you.” He said, nuzzling into her neck.

“I missed you too, Dad. I had the best day EVER.” She exclaimed into his ear. The same single moms from that morning, swooned at the sight and blushed a deep crimson red as he playfully winked at them.

“Really? Tell me more about your day.” Lifting her up further and brought her down onto his shoulders. Her slender fingers grabbed onto his hair, bouncing excitedly whilst she retold him about everything.

Walking back to their apartment, they were in their own little bubble. Apparently, her teacher Mrs, Robinson let them play games all day whilst going over basic English and mathematics. Other girls and sadly, boys loved Millie and had somehow already made a dozen friends. Except for a blonde named Evelyn. She was apparently a bitch. They were so engrossed in their conversation that he almost didn’t recognise the three distant sets of footsteps following them. It was only three in the afternoon and he could already smell the booze lingering off the pursuers.

He sighed, why today? Can’t he just have one perfect day with his daughter? Turning into a deserted alleyway, he reached up and brought Millie down whispering into his ears. “Some bad people are following us. I’m just gonna set you down but don’t go anywhere, alright? Just close your eyes and wait for me.”

Millie nodded firmly at his order. It wasn’t the first time they were in this situation and it definitely won’t be the last. Of course, it scared the hell out of her a couple years back when she first experienced it, but that day she learned that her dad was big, strong and mean.

It was awesome.

It had been a couple of years since the first incident but she wasn’t scared, because her dad was right there protecting her. The safest place in the world was being right by his side. Nobody messes with him and his baby girl. Millie couldn’t see anything, firmly clasping her eyelids tight, but the sounds of broken glass, screams of pain and hardened fists against soft flesh echoed within the tiny alley. A moment later the same deep, soft voice whispered to her. “Let’s go home, Sunshine.”

Opening her eyes to the sight of three unconscious men lying face first in the dirt and grime, she took his hand and restarted their walk back home. Jason was delighted that she continued their conversation, happy that she placed so much trust onto him. She displayed the same level of buzzing excitement as 5 minutes ago, as if the fight didn’t even happen.

Eventually making their way home, Millie ran to the door, unlocking the deadbolts and disengaging the biometric locks and skipped into the living room. He had explained to her a year back about his security system and told her to never tell anyone about it. She loved it, thinking her dad was a super spy and that made him appear even more awesome in her eyes.

Diving onto the couch, the abundant energy somehow disappeared, without a word she fell asleep. Jason chuckled at the sight, setting his bag down. Making his way towards his daughter he gently scooped her up and laid down as well, placing her on his chest. She curled into the familiar warmth tucking her head underneath his chin, fingers clasping onto his shirts. Within minutes, listening to the gentle breathing of his daughter, he fell asleep as well.

Jason didn’t know how long they were asleep for. Waking up to the orange light of sunset peeking through his windows, he noticed Millie had slipped into the crevice between his body and the couch. Silently and slowly, he peeled himself out of her hold and walked towards the kitchen.

Opening the fridge, he wandered what he should cook for dinner. Ground beef, onions, tomato, lettuce and an assortment of herbs and spices was laid across the kitchen bench and upon hearing all the commotion, Millie walked up rubbing her eyes awake. “What are we having tonight, dad?”

Smiling at her, he juggled balls of meat in his hands. “Your favourite. Burgers.” She immediately brightened up, jumping in glee.

“Can I help?”  Bouncing on her toes in excitement.

“Of course. Wash your hands first.” She raced towards the kitchen sink. Upon finishing she clambered onto the step stool, making her tall enough to look over.

She loved cooking with her dad. The smells would always linger throughout the apartment making her stomach emit a cute rumble telling Jason to work faster. She giggled whenever he would hip bump her and laughed when she squirted a giant blob of mayonnaise at his face. Somehow, everything they did, he always made it fun.

Her dad was the best.

~

Bruce and Co. watched the interactions between Jason and his daughter from the adjacent building and were crushed. They watched as he chased her around the living room, putting on his fakest scary face and pretended to be a monster. Bruce couldn’t help but smile, looking at how comfortable and at ease Jason was. He couldn’t deny the look of love the two had for each other and only wished for Millie to be part of his family. He wanted Jason to come back to him. They didn’t know how long they had been staring through the apartment building and honestly didn’t care that they were probably skipping that night’s duties.

Looking through the window into Jason’s soul, they all asked themselves how they had missed this. Jason had become a father to a beautiful little girl for three years. Anger raged through them for missing out. They hated themselves for not checking up on Jason, for not actively trying to be part of his life and most of all, they hated how they once thought of him. He wasn’t skipping out on patrols because he was incompetent or lazy, he was skipping out because he wanted to be a father, and they had unknowingly slandered him for it.

They must have been standing there for hours until Jason made his way to his daughter’s bedroom with her in tow. Racing towards the apartment window not wanting to miss out another second of it, they listened in.

The voices were faint but they could still hear the gentle and deep sound of their brother reading a bedtime story for the little girl.

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

“Daddy?”

“Yeah, Sunshine?” The family couldn’t take it and slipped in, cautiously entering without making a sound, listening intently.

“Wilbur and Charlotte were a family.” She asked tiredly. “Do you have one as well? You’ve never told me before.”

Silence followed and the Bats waited, wanting to know the answer as well. “Once.” He began, and their hearts immediately plummeted. “My first dad wasn’t always the best and my mother was sick. She tried to love me but it all became too much for her. I looked after her the best I could, but I was just a kid.”

“What happened?” She asked quietly.

“Bad things happened and I was alone for a long time before another family found me. My new dad was cool. He was strong, brave, smart and everything I wanted to be when I grew up.” Bruce’s heart was stuck in his throat listening in. “We had our differences but I loved him, my brother at the time was kind of mean but we got better at it. But the one I loved the most was my grandpa. He was amazing. He taught me how to cook, how to dance. He would stay by my side late at night and help me catch up in school. The burgers you had tonight was his recipe.”

“Really?” The tone in her voice was of awestruck.

“Really.” Jason confirmed. “I had to go away for some time and the family grew up a bit. When I came back, we didn’t go back to the loving family we were back then. I became different but they didn’t like different.”

“But you’re amazing.” She defended.

“Thanks, hon. I am now, but back then I wasn’t. Since then we didn’t really get along and we were family only in name.” The Bats glanced at each other with heartbroken faces.

“So that means I’ll never meet them? They won’t like me?” Every single one of them wanted to rush in and say otherwise. The kid was adorable and shown Jason something none of them had in a long time. Love.

“What? No!” Jason exclaimed. “They would love you but I’m just not sure when you’ll be able to meet them. Things right now aren’t the best so wait a bit and I’ll figure something out, ok?”

“Ok.” She yawned. Jason didn’t say anything further and the only thing the Bats could hear were the rustling of bedsheets as the little girl got comfortable.

“Goodnight, Princess.” Jason said softly.

“Night, Dad. I love you.” Her voice was so soft and quiet that Bruce had to press his ears against the wooden door to hear.

“Love you too, sweetheart.”

Knowing that Jason would soon walk out of Millie’s bedroom, the vigilantes quietly rushed outside, not wanting to spook Jason about why a child was living with him. A fight was the last thing they wanted and despite Jason’s tentative agreement with the group, blood will be spilled if they took the little girl away from him.

They were all emotionally constipated but had enough common sense to know confronting Jason whilst wearing their night time uniforms was not the way to go. Time. They had to show him time and time again that he was part of their family. They had to show him that they were there for him, no matter what. Patience and consistency was the key. So they left, making plans for family dinners and 2am milkshake runs, all of which Jason would decline, but at least it showed. It showed that he was still important and it will eventually show that they would be there waiting for the day Jason introduced the small 6-year-old girl that took over his life.

They just had to be patient.