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Gentlemen and Street Urchins

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“C’mon,”

Timmy struggled to keep up behind his brother, the pace he set was too fast for the younger boys skinny legs to keep up with. Although he was used to the sewers by now he still didn’t like them. Of course no one really would he thought but, Timmy especially didn’t, he hated the dark.

It wasn’t so bad when they could bring a lantern down with them but the candle had burned down last week and they hadn’t made enough to buy another and still eat yet. Toshing could be a fickle business.

 One week Jay had found two shillings in one day and they had had food in their bellies everyday and somewhere to sleep before it was spent. But, some days all that turned up were bits of old rope or buttons and scraps of cloth or sometimes leather.

In the dark,  he scrambled after his brother realising he had gone quite away ahead of him now. When he reached him he grabbed onto the back of Jay’s waistcoat knowing that he needed his free hand to pick up anything he saw while his other held the sack he would deposit their finds in.

They trudged on through the filth and dark in silence for a while longer before Jay stopped suddenly causing Timmy to smack into his back.

The older boy turned to him laughing his smirking face barely discernable in the dark. “Watch where ya’ goin’ mate, you’ll do y’self a mischief stumbling about like that.”

Timmy scowled in response causing his brother not to apologise but to reach out and cuff him on the head laughing harder. Apparently his scowl was not quite as ferocious as he wished.

His brother spoke again, “c’mon then you, I think we might as well call it a night, there ain’t nothing else we’re gonna find down here tonight.”

 It was then Timmy looked up and realised they had stopped directly under a grate, how his brother always knew exactly where they were in these godforsaken tunnels would forever be beyond him.

 Jay gave him a boost so he could peer about the street to make sure all was clear. No one was about so he set about lifting himself out. He was quickly followed by his brother who replaced the grate and took his hand in a firm grasp still tightly clutching the almost empty sack in the other before setting off at that still too fast pace for their lodging house. It wasn’t that toshing was illegal, strictly speaking, but really who wants to be seen clambering out of a sewer in the dead of night?

When back at the crumbling house where they rented floor space in a room crammed with at least thirty other people they woke up the older boy whom they shared the straw pallet they rented with, along with whoever paid for the remaining eight hours in the day. Timmy felt lucky that he was still small enough to be able to curl up comfortably next to his brother, he felt safer being able to sleep right next to him knowing that if anyone tried to bother them that Jay would have no problem sending them on their way. He had done it before and to men older than his own ancient twelve years. Or rather his twelve years which seemed ancient to eight year old Timmy.

Jay was grateful that Timmy was still small enough to sleep next to him and on the pallet safely and he was grateful that he was still young enough for them to get away with not being forced by the landlady, Mrs. Wood to pay for two pallets. He shifted so Timmy could curl into the small ball he usually slept in so he could position himself around him with the wall at Timmy’s back and the boy and the sack between them safe from twitching fingers.

***

Jay felt guilty as he left his brother sleeping feverishly in the lodging house but, he knew he would feel worse if he didn’t keep his promise to look after his patch while the younger boy was sick and he knew that old Nell would keep an eye on him through the night as he had asked. If the boy was honest he was nervous about taking Timmy’s place sweeping outside the gentlemen’s club, he had never had any interaction with the likes of them before and he had never street swept before now either. He calmed himself by thinking how hard could it be? And with the thought that he wouldn’t have to talk to anyone just sweep the muck away and hold out his hand hoping for a few coins. His eight year old brother did this every night, so could he. He pushed away the voice that said his brother still had the advantage of looking cute and forlorn unlike himself who had never seemed to have the look that engendered the generosity that his brother seemed to get.

The boy had been at his post for near on three hours – he had gained two pennies, a shilling and soaked clothes from a short downpour – when the taxi cab pulled up. He set to work straight away brushing the muck and rainwater into the gutter so the two gentlemen alighting from the cab would not soil their shoes and trouser cuffs. He held out his hand as they approached (Jay hated this part it always felt a little too much like begging for his taste and there was always the threat of not receiving anything) the men stopped and he readied himself to close his grubby hand and mutter a thank you for whatever tip they gave him but no coin dropped in his palm. He raised his eyes and found himself to be under scrutiny. The two men were obviously well to do.

The man stood directly in front of him spoke. “Who are you? Where is young Timothy? If you think you can bully the lad into letting you steal his place without any consequences then you’ve got another th-“he was cut off by the man stood to his right placing a hand on his arm.

Before the other man could speak or his friend could continue Jay straightened up.

“I ‘avent bullied no one into nothing! Timmy’s my brother; I’m just uh filling in for him.” the man who spoke first seemed to colour slightly obviously embarrassed by his jumping to the wrong conclusions.

 He spoke again this time in a more subdued tone looking down at the indignant boy. “I am sorry for the mistake boy, I am just so used to Timothy that it was somewhat of a shock to see you in his place. If you don’t mind my asking, where is the young fellow? You said you were filling in?”

Bruce Wayne mustered a smile for the young boy in front of him noticing the boy’s nod when he explained that he was used to seeing his brother.

“Oh yeah, you must be Mr Wayne and-“he turned to nod at the man’s companion – “Dr Elliot? Timmy’s mentioned you.”

 At Bruce's and Elliot’s agreeing nods the boy raised his dirty hand again smiling almost shyly. “He said you was real generous.” The Dr laughed and moved to give the boy his tip but Bruce stopped his hand.

“Where exactly is Timothy?” the boy shifted uncomfortably and Bruce felt some regret for his harsh tone but he was worried about the little chap and this boy could be anyone, he may have only known the usual sweep’s name and used it to present himself as the boy’s brother. The grubby boy sighed.

“He’s sick so I’m taking his place for tonight so no one steals it. He’s at our lodgings.” Jay held out his hand once more hoping to have satisfied the man but he was once again un rewarded.

The two gentlemen shared a look at the boy’s mention of sickness. “What is wrong with him? Has he seen a doctor?” Jay laughed at first at the suggestion that Timmy would have seen a doctor, doctor’s weren’t for the likes of them.

He said as much to the gentlemen. Adding, “he feels hot when I touch him but he says he cold” he added under his breath, “ not much I can do about that though”  thinking of the sacking they slept under which his brother was now wrapped in along with the boys own jacket and Jay’s.

 Dr Elliot spoke up again, “well, that simply will not do. I shall tend to the boy. Free of charge of course.”

 After some protestation from Jay who finally gave in. Partly, because Bruce gave the boy a very generous tip and, partly because he was worried about his brother and wanted him to see a doctor.

 Jay was bundled into the cab the men had arrived in and gave the directions to the driver who made some noise making his feelings on the matter of the gentlemen and the ragged boy going there clear, but did so anyway.

Upon arriving at the boys’ place of residence Bruce had to try very hard indeed to mask his disgust at the smell and general disrepair of the place. Once inside he was forced to exact even more control when he saw that the boy’s did not live – as he suspected – with their parents in one room, but in fact in one room with dozens of strangers where apparently the beds were rented by the hour.

They found Timothy at the end of one such room next to an empty bed which caused the boy – Jay, apparently. Certainly not a biblical name – to swear quite loudly and curse old ‘gin soaked’ women. Bruce watched as his good friend Thomas Elliot knelt to assess the boy. Although he himself had no medical degree it was obvious the boy was in a terrible state and he was certain the conditions around him were not helping matters.

The doctor stood after a few minutes and turned to face Jay.

“He has a fever and I can tell you now he isn’t going to get better here in this filthy place.”

Before Jay could answer Bruce did. “Timothy can stay at my house while he recovers, I have plenty of room and you could visit to treat him.”

Jay opened his mouth to protest but was cut off by the gentleman. “and of course you can stay too young man, I wouldn’t dream of keeping you from your brother.” He didn’t add that there was no way he could in good conscience leave the boy in this place when he could do something about it.

Elliot smirked at him when the boy looked away obviously dying to make some sly remark about his tendency to pick up strays.

Jay was once again bundled back inside the cab which the gentlemen had needed to pay generously to wait in such an area.

This time however his little brother was with him, still wrapped in the dirty sack and both boys jackets. Even covered as such the young boy still shivered, watching his brother tremble in such a way served to remind Jay how cold he himself was. His already ragged and thin clothing soaked through from standing in freezing rain, his bare feet throbbed as they began to warm up in the relative heat of the cab as they drove through the city to the obviously more affluent part of town.

The cab came to a stop outside what Jay could only describe as a mansion, the closest he had ever been to such a house was when he prowled the sewers beneath for the scraps discarded by the inhabitants of this different world.

He was ushered out of the cab by Dr Elliot while Mr Wayne went ahead carrying Timmy. Jay thought it strange that Mr Wayne had to ring to enter his own house but who was he to question the way rich people did things.

The older man who answered the door furrowed his brow when he caught sight of the two bedraggled looking boys but showed no other sign of surprise or shock. He merely stepped aside to allow Mr Wayne and his charge to enter, followed by Dr Elliot.

Jay stopped at the doorway marvelling at the inside of the house, never had he seen such a place. He was wary of entering the grand house, half certain that he would be pushed straight back out again. Looking down he noticed that the tile of the floor was white, his eyes went from that pristine floor to his own filthy feet.

 Before he could make up his mind Mr Wayne called from the staircase for him to hurry up and come inside. He scuttled through the door past the butler who merely raised an eyebrow at him before sweeping away to take his instructions from the master of the house.

 Jay followed the three men having to jog a little to keep up with their brisk pace, he had to stop himself from coming to a complete standstill and outright gawking at the fine things everywhere in the house.

He watched from the hallway as the three older men entered a room with what appeared to be a large tub in the centre. The butler started to fiddle with a pair of handles located at one end of the bath and to Jay's surprise water began to flow out of them.

 Clean water, and by the steam rising it was even hot. How it worked he had no idea but he thought it must be something only the richest people had, he had never seen the like of it anywhere else anyway.

He stood quietly in the doorway as the men fussed around his brother, peeling away the sacking and his coats until they got to his last layer of clothing an old fraying shirt that had been third hand at least when Jay had worn it himself and trousers that had been patched so many times you couldn't tell which material was the patch and witch was the original.

 As the doctor went to unbutton Timmy's trousers Jay leapt forward with a shout.

"Oi! what the bloody hell d'you think you're doin'? you said you was gonna help him! You tricked me." He tired to wrestle his brother away from the men having the element of surprise on his side as the men seemed to have forgotten he was there.

The two gentlemen exchanged a strange look before Bruce held his hands up in a placating gesture to the boy, his butler, Pennyworth was standing ready to step in should the boy become violent.

"Now, now boy there is no need for such behaviour. We have to undress Timothy so we can put him in the bath, he is filthy which will not help his health nor mine if my Pennyworth sees me put him in a clean bed in such a state. We are not going to harm him in any way and I'll thank you not to make such disgusting allusions to our character, we promised to help him and that is all we are doing, I assure you."

The boy seemed to calm at his words even looking slightly abashed at his outburst. His face still held a fraction of distrust however as he spoke again.

"You're gonna put 'im in there? Fully? With no clothes on? He's already sick as it is getting 'im all wet won't help!"

Bruce couldn't quite believe his ears. The boy's words made him quite certain that he didn't seem to know what a proper bath was, he supposed, having seen their accommodations, where would the boys have HAD access to a bath?

The thought of how long either boy had been without washing properly made him cringe. Now he thought about it there was a distinct odour coming off both children, Jay more so as he seemed to also carry a scent similar to that of a wet dog.

No doubt due to his wet clothes, once they had seen to Timothy and had him tucked up in a warm bed, the older boy would find himself experiencing a real bath.

"Don't worry, the bath is fine he is supposed to get wet all over that's how he will get clean and how you shall too, once your brother has been attended to young man. Now stand there and try to be quiet or you shall wake the whole house."

The boy seemed too stunned to argue and merely gave Bruce a look that clearly said, well if you say so but don't come crying to me if we all die of taking a bath.

Bruce was somewhat worried that Timothy still hadn't roused himself despite being undressed but he had mumbled a little in the cab and seemed to respond to his brothers voice when he had told him it would be ok during the drive.

 After the commotion made by said brother Timothy seemed to awake a little bit, slitting his eyes open and drowsily asking where he was while Dr Elliot and Pennyworth saw to washing him, Thomas taking the chance to examine the boy more thoroughly.

He could see for himself that he was clearly undernourished, one could count the child's ribs clearly. Other than that though, he seemed fairly well taken care of considering the circumstances, the boy bore no scars or bruises.

 It had also not escaped the gentleman's notice that while Jay was barefoot and coatless, Timothy had been wrapped in two blankets - if one could call them that - and two, if threadbare and thin, serviceable coats and shod in boots slightly too big for the small child.

 It was obvious who took care of this child and though the boy still scowled form the doorway and seemed to try and put up a tough front he obviously loved his brother dearly and constantly sacrificed his own needs for that of the youngster.

Once Timothy was clean and Thomas had listened to his chest and determined that that boy had a mild fever which would hopefully clear up in a few days with care, rest and medication. The small boy was dressed in a clean nightshirt - once belonging to one of his own sons - provided by Pennyworth and as Thomas bid him goodnight and showed himself out, Bruce and Pennyworth took Timothy to what had been the nursery. 

Nothing had been changed since his Richard had outgrown it and Damien had left for school, two beds still faced each other in the centre of the room.

Jay had trailed them to the room but stayed in the hallway as they placed the younger boy in the bed. Bruce pulled the covers up over the child and tucked him in.

When he turned he caught sight of the expression on the older boy's face. It was a look of wonder and something else, he had an edge of the uncomfortable around him. And it was no wonder thought Bruce with a slight pang of shame, how far removed was this child's nursery with its books, games, toys and comfortable beds piled with pristine white covers from the hovel where they were living, the place where even their mean bed wasn't truly theirs but rented by the hour.

 This boy had probably never seen anywhere like this in his life, let alone slept in there. He noticed the boy didn't step into the room or even lean against the wall, as many boys do. As he really looked at the boy he realised with a pang that he was probably scared of dirtying anything, probably ashamed that two strangers to him had just had to scrub years worth of grime off of his brother.

Bruce dismissed Pennyworth assuring him that he could see to Jay himself, asking the man to prepare a tray for the boy before he turned in for the night.

Before leading the now silent boy back to the bathroom Bruce found another nightshirt for him to wear after his bath. After some coaxing Bruce managed to convince the boy to remove his clothes and immerse himself in the warm water of the tub.