Bruce wasn’t sure what he was thinking.
Well, that was an absolute lie. He knew exactly what he was thinking. He just wasn’t sure how he was going to explain to Alfred and Jason what he’d been thinking, because he certainly couldn’t tell them the truth.
He’d been considering getting Jason a dog, but hadn’t anticipating doing it so soon. How did he tell the twelve-year-old he’d recently taken in that he saw a starving, skittish puppy out on the street and thought of him?
Jason was such a skittish child, and tended to take everything Bruce said or did the entirely wrong way. Sometimes, Bruce wondered if Jason were doing it on purpose.
But other times… other times he was starkly reminded of how truly awful Jason’s life had been.
Like when Jason had dropped a glass, three days prior, and immediately cut himself on the shards, trying to clean it up in his bare feet, with only his hands.
“I’m sorry,” Jason had been blubbering, tears streaming down his face, when Bruce had to physically pick him up and set him on the kitchen counter, just to get him to stop.
He’d gone so tense and rigid, Bruce just wanted a list of every person who had ever hurt Jason, who had ever caused him to think, even for a second, Bruce would beat him over a cheap four dollar glass.
Or over anything, ever.
But Bruce already knew the name of the person who had caused his reaction, and since Willis Todd was already dead, all Bruce could do was pull out the first aid kit and silently start picking the tiny pieces of glass out of his feet with the tweezers.
“Hey there,” Batman said, his voice soft and completely void of his normal gavel. The small, grey puppy was backed up into the corner of the dead end alley, his tail between his legs as he shook violently.
Batman knelt down, a few feet away from him, as far back as he could be without giving the puppy an escape route. He knew that was adding to his distress, but Bruce didn’t want to risk him getting away.
The poor thing was absolutely starved. Bruce could see his ribs, jutting out along his side, marred with scrapes and scratches and welts. The poor little thing had had it rough, and he couldn’t have been more than twelve-weeks-old.
“It’s okay,” he soothed, making himself as small as he could, trying to get down at the dogs level, “I’m not going to hurt you.”
When the puppy whimpered, instead of relax, Bruce considered just picking him up, just like he’d done with Jason. Sometimes, the only option was to force the contact and prove it would cause no harm.
But the puppy wasn’t actively hurting himself, so Bruce stayed still and quiet, as he reached into his belt for a piece of his snack jerky.
“Here,” he said, tearing off a small piece he was confident wouldn’t choke the dog and holding it out, “Come here, I know you’re hungry.”
That was another method he used with Jason quite frequently. Being patient and waiting for him to come to Bruce. It didn’t always work. Jason had yet to come to Bruce about his nightmares. Or to ask for help with his schoolwork, or training, whenever he got stuck and worked himself into frustrated tears. But Bruce could be patient as long as Jason needed.
One day, he knew, Jason would trust Bruce to never hurt him. But in the meantime, he’d keep offering, and waiting.
Just like he did with the puppy, holding out the jerky so he could smell it, and then placing it on the ground, half way between them.
Jerkily, the puppy skittered forward, trying to sniff the treat better, between his quick movements back into his corner. After doing that a few times, each time staying near the treat a little longer, he finally snapped it up and jumped back into his spot.
“See, it’s good, isn’t it?” Batman said, tearing off two more little pieces. He set one right where the first had been, and the other a few inches closer to himself, in hopes of slowly luring the dog to him.
Slowly, but surely, the dog came closer and closer, each time lingering just a little longer near Batman, before finally Batman held out the final piece of jerky, and didn’t set it down.
Warily, the puppy inched closer to him, sniffing at the air and eyeing Bruce, like he thought it was a trap, but wanted the food more than he wanted to not be hurt.
Bruce felt a little bad, because it was a trap, in a way. But not a bad one.
When the puppy put his nose right up near Batman’s hand, he slowly brought his second hand up to place on the puppy’s head, and gently started scratching it as the puppy ate the last piece of jerky.
“That’s a good boy,” Bruce said, continuing with his scratches, getting behind the ears in a way that made the dog tilt his head, “See, I’m not going to hurt you.”
Swiftly, before the dog could bolt, Bruce scooped his now empty hand right up under the puppy, and lifted him into the air.
The dog yelped, and struggled for a second, but stilled when Bruce pulled him close and kept scratching at his head. “That’s a good boy,” he murmured again, as he stood to his feet, “No reason to be afraid.”
He trembled the entire time, but Bruce kept with his rhythmic pets, careful to avoid any spot that looked tender, and tried his best to reassure the little guy that he was perfectly safe.
Perfectly safe and about to meet the little boy Bruce knew would love him unconditionally.
Jason loved dogs, Bruce had found out, two weeks prior when they were out for a walk in one of the parks in Gotham. They passed a woman playing fetch with a golden retriever, and Jason’s face had absolutely lit up at the sight. Bruce wanted to encourage him to ask if he could pet the dog, but Jason had seemed perfectly content to watch.
“I had a yellow lab when I was a kid,” he’d said, a bright smile on his face and his hands in his pockets.
“Yeah?” Bruce prompted.
Jason nodded enthusiastically and said, “Yeah. Well, he was a mix, but his name was Sparky.”
“Sparky,” Bruce had repeated, “That’s a good name for a yellow dog.”
“Yeah. But he bit Dad one day, so Dad ditched him in a park.”
The nonchalance with which Jason had said that was probably what broke Bruce’s heart the most. Jason just… said it. Without emotion. With a little shrug. To him, that was just how it was. Something that couldn’t be changed, and therefore shouldn’t be dwelled upon.
Bruce was glad Jason could be mature about things, but still. It killed him that his twelve-year-old had learned to be mature about it, long before the age of twelve.
He knew the puppy in his hands wouldn’t replace Sparky, or anything close to it. But maybe it would give Jason a little more feeling of stability.
Jason seemed to think his welcome in the manor was sitting on a razor thin edge. One little misstep, and Bruce would kick him out on his rear, send him back to the street to fend for himself and fight for his keep. No matter how many times Bruce said it, Jason just could not trust his ‘I will never kick you out” statement.
Apparently Jason’s own father had ‘kicked him out’ when he was a mere eight years old. It might have just been for one night, a night Jason spent sleeping on the fire escape, but one night was enough to destroy all trust in a little boy.
Sure, Bruce had only had him for three months, but that didn’t mean Bruce was willing to part with the sweet little boy he’d come to adore.
Bruce would never, never even think about kicking Jason out. Or moving him to another home. Or anything of the sort.
Jason was his, and that was that. It didn’t matter what Jason did, that would never change.
Maybe having a puppy. Maybe giving Jason a puppy would show him how permanent he was. How could Bruce kick him out, if he had a puppy to take care of? Jason seemed quick to believe in Bruce’s kindness to others, just not to himself. Hopefully he’d trust Bruce would never kick the puppy out, and therefore couldn’t kick Jason out, because he was Jason’s puppy.
And one day, when the puppy grew larger, as large as his little paws, proportionally massive compared to the rest of him, suggested he’d be, maybe he could also offer Jason a little security, too. Bruce had no doubt the puppy would bite anyone who dared touch Jason, just as Sparky had done, all those years ago.
“It’s okay,” Bruce repeated, as he approached the Batmobile, the quaking puppy whimpering in his arms, “We’re going home. We’ll get you cleaned up and fed, does that sound good?”
Batman opened the trunk to the car, first, and with one hand dumped out one of the crates he used to organized all his supplies. He couldn’t think of a better way to transport the puppy, without someone else there to just hold him. The last thing he wanted was for the dog to crawl around the car and cause trouble while he was driving. After he lined the crate with one of the blankets he kept on hand, just in case, he gentled settled the puppy inside.
He seemed to calm, slightly, once he was set down, and when Bruce folded on edge of the blanket over his body, so only his head was exposed, he snuggled down a little more and looked far more relaxed than Bruce had seen yet. Bruce scratched the top of his head as he carried the crate up to the front, and settled him down into the footwell of the passenger side.
It must have been cozy in the box, because in the twenty minute drive back to the Manor, the puppy fell asleep, the sweet sound of little puppy snores filling up the car.
Bruce might have wanted a dog for a long time, as well, he had to admit. Just could never justify getting one, with how little time he spent at home, and how inconsistent his schedule was. Alfred, also, always balked at the idea of pets in the house, so Bruce had never explored it much.
Even now, he was a tad worried about how to care for the dog, how to ensure the puppy received the care he needed. He hadn’t intended on getting Jason a dog so quickly, so suddenly.
He’d been doing the research, reading articles and studies about dogs and their effects on child abuse victims. Trying to decide what kind of dog he’d get, how they’d get one, and how they’d share the responsibilities. Jason, Bruce thought, would be the dog’s primary owner. The one responsible for walking him and feeding him and playing with him the most. But Bruce or Alfred would have to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
Jason was just a child, after all, and he had school. He hadn’t started school yet, they were still homeschooling him in order to catch him up to where he should be, but one day he would have school. And Bruce would likely have to take the dog out multiple times. Alfred did not even know Bruce was considering a dog, so it was unlikely he’d be very thrilled or eager to do any of the work.
Alfred had been quite clear, multiple times when Dick was a boy, that there would be no filthy animals in his house…
Then, of course, there was the issue of caring for the dog’s health, which would likely fall upon Bruce’s shoulders, not Jason.
As Bruce pulled into the Batcave, he tried to set all his planning aside, and just focus on the moment. He had quite a bit he needed to do with the puppy, to ensure he could be brought up into the house.
First and foremost, removing the fleas from his fur and getting him nice and clean.
Did they even have flea treatments in the cave? They definitely had some sprays for them, but Bruce was hesitant to spray down the puppy with them. It might require a quick trip to the store, to purchase pet specific supplies.
Jason was in the cave. That was the first thing Bruce noticed, when he pulled the car to the parking spot. Because the batcomputer was on, and the computer chair spun around to reveal the tiny twelve-year-old curled up in it, looking like he’d just been startled awake.
Bruce resisted the urge to sigh as he got out of the car. Jason was supposed to be in bed. His bedtime was midnight, and he knew it. Especially with Alfred not feeling well, and taking the night off, Jason was really pushing his luck spending the night in the cave, by himself, past his bedtime. Bruce had threatened punishment if he defied the rule, and thus far just the threat of punishment had been enough to deter him from misbehavior.
All Bruce would do was ban him from TV for the next day, and he’d told Jason as much, but sometimes just the thought of being punished made Jason a little antsy and nervous. Even though the punishment itself would hardly even faze Jason, since the boy rarely watched TV anyway.
But Jason being awake could be beneficial, Bruce thought idly, as Jason slowly stood up and smiled a touch nervously at him. He kind of wanted to surprise Jason in the morning, waking him up with the puppy, but Jason could help him a lot with settling the dog.
“Hi, Bruce,” Jason said, when Bruce shut his door and looked over at him, where he was standing about ten yards away. He put his arms behind his back, and smiled a little tighter when Bruce pulled down his cowl shot him a ‘you know what you did’ look.
“Aren’t you up a little late?” he asked. It was 3am.
“I was reading case files,” Jason said, as if that were a valid excuse, “I wanted to finish all the ones related to the Riddler tonight.”
“Hrn,” Bruce grunted, “And did you?”
Even if it was frustrating, Bruce couldn’t help but be proud, every time Jason defied him. He knew testing the limits and pushing the boundaries was going to happen eventually, and probably cause Bruce to gray prematurely, but he was so damned relieved it was happening. That finally Jason was starting to test to see just how far the rules went, and if the consequences were what Bruce said they were.
All he wanted was for Jason to feel safe. He’d put up with the frustration if that was what it took.
“I’m almost done,” Jason said, a little sheepishly. Bruce’s guess was he fell asleep not longer after midnight, and hadn’t actually got anything further accomplished.
Bruce hummed as he started to round the car. Jason took half a step backward, before he seemed to catch himself, and started warring on his lip instead. When Bruce stopped at the passenger door, however, and didn’t keep walking toward Jason, he stopped.
“Come here,” Bruce said, as he opened the door, “I need your help with something.”
“What?” Jason asked, a touch curiously, as Bruce gently picked up the crate.
Despite his best effort, the puppy startled awake at the inevitable jostling. The dog stood, and tried to shake the blanket off of him, so Bruce got a good grip on the crate with one arm so he could use the other to move the blanket.
Jason skipped over, then, but froze when Bruce held the crate low enough for him to look inside.
“Is that?” he whispered, a touch of awe in his voice. Carefully, he walked the last few yards to Bruce, and lifted a hand to set on the dog. Just before he touched him, however, he looked up at Bruce and asked, “He’s not, like, radioactive or anything, is he?”
“No,” Bruce said, a smile tugging on his lips. Although radioactive dogs wasn’t something entirely out of the possibility. Not in Gotham.
He hoped he never came across radioactive dogs…
The puppy shrank back at Jason’s hand, and gave him the most pitiful little whimper Bruce had heard yet.
“Just scared and hungry,” Bruce murmured.
“Oh.” Jason slowly finished his approach, holding two fingers out right in front of the puppy’s nose, letting him sniff for a long few seconds, before he started scratching the top of his head. “Why are you scared, little guy?” he whispered, moving so he was scratching behind the dog’s ears.
The dog highly appreciated that, because he tilted his head, pressing himself into Jason’s fingers more as he shut his eyes.
Bruce couldn’t help his smile. He always knew Jason was a sweet kid, but seeing it in action might be one of Bruce’s new favorite things.
Jason looked up, and his cheeks reddened a little when he did. “Where, uh,” he stammered, “where’d you find him?”
“That dead-end alley on Broad. I didn’t see any other puppies or a mother anywhere nearby, and based on his appearance I’m fairly confident he’s a stray.”
“Aw, poor little guy,” Jason murmured, looking back down at the puppy.
The dog backed away from Jason, the best he could inside the crate, but pushed his head forward for Jason to scratch a second later.
Bruce could already tell, they were going to be best friends.
“Can you watch him while I run out and grab some supplies?” Bruce asked, once Jason had pet the dog for a minute or so, and looked completely in love already, “We need to give him a flea bath before we bring him upstairs, or Alfred will kill me.”
Jason looked up sharply, his eyes a little wide as he asked, “What am I supposed to do?”
“You don’t have to do anything,” Bruce said quickly, “just keep him company and let him know he’s safe. We can put you in the locker room with the door closed, so he can’t run off.”
“Oh,” Jason said, nodding, “yeah, okay.”
“Okay,” Bruce repeated, “Here, let’s get you settled.”
He carried the crate into the locker room, and set it down on the ground, where Jason sat down right next to it. Carefully, Bruce picked the puppy up and set him down, semi close to Jason, in hopes of not scaring him too bad.
It didn’t work, because immediately the puppy backed up, his little tail between his legs and his whole head lowered, his piercing gray eyes darting between Bruce and Jason. When Bruce moved, with the intention of standing up, the puppy bolted, finding a bench up against the wall to cower under while letting out his pitiful little whimper.
“Aww,” Jason said, softly as he crawled a little closer, then laid on his stomach, “don’t be like that. We ain’t gonna hurt ya.”
“I’ll grab him something to eat, first,” Bruce murmured, as he stood and walked toward the door, away from the terrified little puppy, “you might get him to come out for some food.”
Jason merely nodded, as he rested his chin on his hands and kept his attention on the puppy.
“Are you hungry, buddy,” Jason said, softly, as Bruce was leaving the room, “I bet you’re starving. The food here is way better than street food, trust me.”
Bruce tried his best to ignore the twinge in his chest, as he went upstairs.
In the kitchen, Bruce looked through the fridge in hopes of finding something for the dog. If push came to shove, he could scramble an egg. He knew he was capable of that, but he’d rather not mess up a pan and hear it from Alfred in the morning about how he wasn’t ‘allowed’ to use his own damn kitchen.
Thankfully, though, he found what remained of a rotisserie chicken Alfred had made for dinner, two nights before. The left overs hadn’t been turned into anything else, yet, so it was basically plain chicken. Absolutely perfect for a dog.
Bruce made short work of peeling off the skin and cutting up about half a cup of it, into small, puppy sized bites. He really wasn’t sure if it was too much or not enough for the little dog. He’d find a good vet to explain all that to them, within the next few days.
Or he’d spend the morning researching.
He brought the plastic bowl of chicken he prepared, along with another bowl and a bottle of water, down to the cave where he found Jason in basically the same position, the puppy still pressed up into the corner, deep under the bench.
“Here, you can give it to him,” Bruce said, only walking in far enough he could hand the bowls and water to Jason, “I’ll be back in half an hour, 45 minutes tops. I’m just running to the Walmart up the street.”
“Okay,” Jason said. He sat up and took the bowls and water, and sat them on the bench above the puppy, before he opened the water and poured a little into the bowl.
“Call me if you need anything,” he added, pulling a still unused burner phone from his belt and handing it over. He needed to get Jason a real phone, eventually. But for the moment, a burner phone worked fine. “You have my number memorized, correct?”
Jason rolled his eyes dramatically and rattled off Bruce’s number.
Bruce might have made Jason repeat it dozens of times, until he didn’t have to think about it and could simply recite it without hesitation. And Jason was still not over how ‘cruel’ the method of memorization was.
“Okay, good,” he said, smiling a touch, “I’ll be right back.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jason mumbled, as he turned back toward the cowering puppy and picked up the bowl of water, “here, buddy. Are you thirsty?”
Content, Bruce turned to leave, but paused when Jason called out a little urgently.
“Wait,” he said, “What’s his name?”
“He doesn’t have one yet. Why don’t you start thinking about that.” Bruce had some ideas of what he’d name the puppy, but if it was going to be Jason’s dog, Jason should get to name him.
It ended up taking Bruce fifty minutes to get back home. Between having to shower and change, then actually find the pet section at the maze that was Walmart, it took way longer than he wanted. Once he was in the pet section, he got a little lost trying to round up all the things he thought they’d need to survive the night.
A crate was a good idea. A real one, meant for dogs. A bag of food, too, but then he got distracted by all the options. He had no idea there was so many kinds of dog foods, all claiming to do something different. He ended up with a bag of the stuff meant for large breed puppies, and a box of canned wet food, as well. Just to have on hand. Then he bought a jar of treats, a couple toys, the flea shampoo and some other grooming supplies, and a collar and leash.
It was way too much stuff, he felt, but not nearly enough at the same time.
Once Alfred was awake, he’d probably have a much better idea of what they needed.
In the meantime, it was good enough.
Bruce felt bad, leaving Jason alone for as long as he did, but then again Jason had spent hours in the cave already, even though he wasn’t supposed to, so it wasn’t like it’d hurt him. Especially not when he spent the whole time watching over the puppy.
When he finally made it back down to the cave, with the grooming supplies and treats, it’d been nearly an hour. Bruce would be a giant liar if he said he wasn’t anxious about having left Jason alone so long.
But when he got to the locker room door and opened it slowly, he breathed a sigh of relief.
Jason jumped, of course, when the door opened. Bruce wished the boy didn’t have such strong reflexes, sometimes, because based on how he was curled up against the wall, the blanket wrapped around himself, he had been fast asleep. Bruce would have loved to snap a picture, if only to show Alfred, because not only had Jason been asleep, but the little puppy was curled up in Jason’s arms, sleeping against his chest.
Now that Bruce had entered the room, however, the dog’s ears lowered and he sank further into Jason’s hold.
“Shh, it’s okay,” Jason whispered through a yawn, as he sat up, his hands holding the dog close, “It’s just Bruce. We like Bruce.”
Bruce couldn’t hide his smile as he shut the door behind him and crossed the room. “Everything okay?” he asked, as he knelt down and slowly ran his hand down the dog’s head, trying to reassure him a little.
“Yeah,” Jason said, his shoulders dropping a little, “You were right, he came right to me when I offered the food.”
“That’s good,” Bruce said, looking over at the half empty bowl of chicken, sitting up on the bench, “He only wanted half of it?”
Jason grimaced, a touch, and asked, “Remember when I first got here, I got sick cause I ate too much?”
With a nod, Bruce said, “Yes.” He remembered that clearly.
It had absolutely broke his heart to know three pancakes, a few pieces of bacon, and a scrambled egg had been enough to make Jason sick. Had been too much food.
They had to slow him down and put him on a rigid meal plan for the first couple weeks, just to get his tolerance back up. Three months later and he still was underweight, but at least he could eat a full meal and not get sick.
“I didn’t want the same thing to happen to him,” Jason said, turning his attention back down to the puppy, who looked up at him with big eyes, “so I was feeding him one piece at a time, and he started acting pretty full.” When Jason ran his hand down the dog’s back, he tried to stand up, and Bruce could see his tail twitch from under the blanket still wrapped around him. When he couldn’t stand up, he started licking at Jason’s arm, making Jason grin for a second.
“You’re a good kid,” Bruce said, setting a hand in Jason’s hair and ruffling it, a touch. A compassionate kid. Just when Bruce thought he couldn’t like Jason any more.
Jason hid his smile in the puppy’s fur.
“Come on,” Bruce said, standing back up and motioning with his head toward the bathroom, “Let’s get him a bath.”
Bruce led Jason to the large sink they mostly used for soaking things or washing things like their grapples, when necessary. But it was the perfect bathtub for a puppy, so Bruce scrubbed it down quickly, then plugged it up and filled it with a couple inches of warm water.
“Okay, set him down,” Bruce said, as he went through the various bottles of soap he’d purchased.
The puppy whined when his paws touched the water, and tried his best to stay in Jason’s arms.
“It’s okay,” Jason soothed, running his hands down the dog’s back, when he tried to climb out of the sink, “you’ll feel way better clean.”
Despite Jason’s reassurances, the puppy continued to whimper and try to escape the bath, so Bruce worked as quickly and as gently as he could, first washing him off with the regular shampoo, then with the flea shampoo, working it into his short, slightly matted fur carefully, sure to avoid his scrapes and cuts. All the while Jason kept murmuring at him and offering gentle scratches to his head, between his eyes, and his snout. The puppy’s ears remained down, and his tail tucked between his legs, but he did quit whimpering and trying to escape Bruce’s hands.
“Have you thought of a name?” Bruce asked, while he was gently pouring clean water over the puppy’s back, to rinse away the rest of the flea shampoo.
Jason merely shrugged, not even taking his eyes off the puppy, who was looking back at him pitifully.
“That’s okay,” Bruce said, “Take your time.” Bruce wouldn’t be able to name a dog on the spot, either.
Once Bruce was content the puppy was as clean as could be, he picked him up and placed him on a towel Jason spread out on the counter. Jason wrapped the towel around him, and rubbed him down, drying him off and petting him at the same time.
The puppy barked, the first not whimper sound Bruce had heard from him, when Jason flipped the towel over his face.
“What?” Jason asked, when he moved the towel, a big grin on his face, “You don’t like being blinded? How unreasonable.”
In response, the puppy barked again, and jumped up on Jason, putting his front paws on Jason’s shoulders while he started licking at Jason’s face, his tail wagging slightly behind him.
Leave it to Jason to win the puppy’s adoration in less than two hours. He’d basically done the same thing to both him and Alfred, after all.
Jason laughed, loud and clear, and tried to catch the puppy’s face with his hands and get him to stop licking at his face. “Stop it,” he said, through his laughter, “Buddy come on, that’s so gross.”
“All right, how about we take him outside first,” Bruce said, after he’d drained the sink and put away the supplies. Maybe if they took him outside first, Alfred’s introduction to the puppy wouldn't be cleaning up an accident on one of the carpets.
Alfred… Alfred would not appreciate that at all. And would likely begin demanding Bruce find a better home for him.
They’d also have to figure out where to keep him. Jason needed sleep, Bruce knew. And the puppy likely did as well. He just wasn’t sure where to do that. It was probably a terrible idea to trust the puppy in any room before they’ve had a chance to go through and make sure it was ‘puppy proof.’ And Bruce felt like all of them going to sleep was trusting the puppy alone, even if he was with one of them. Likely Jason.
Perhaps they should set up his crate, and get him acquainted to it. Establish it as a safe place that was all his.
“Hey, Bruce?” Jason asked, as they were taking the elevator up to the manor.
Bruce didn’t like taking the elevator, when not absolutely necessary. It was a good workout to climb the stairs, but Jason insisted on carrying the puppy, since he still cowered away from Bruce, and Bruce did not trust him on the stone stairs quite yet. There was no telling what would happen if they set the dog down free. Bruce had no faith he’d actually follow them, and if he did, that he’d be able to climb the stairs without falling.
And with Jason carrying the dog, he did not trust Jason on the stairs, either. Not that Bruce couldn’t easily catch him or the dog if the dog started squirming and Jason lost his balance or grip, but taking the elevator took away all the anxiety, so that was what they did.
“Yeah?” Bruce asked, when simply looking down at Jason hadn’t prompted him to continue.
Jason shifted from one foot to the other, his attention down on the puppy. He had a solid grip on the dog, with one arm under him and the other arm on top, holding him still. Not that he needed to hold the puppy still, since he had snuggled down into Jason’s arms and seemed content, just looking around at the elevator around them.
“Are, uh,” he finally started, but he paused to clear his throat, and asked a little more confidently, “Are we keeping him? Or just watching him until the shelters open?”
The elevator dinged, and the doors opened to the landing between the actual entrance to the house.
“Do you want to keep him?”
If Jason didn’t want to keep him, Bruce could certainly find him a loving home somewhere else, but he’d be a little shocked if, after how quickly Jason clearly has fallen for the puppy, he didn’t want him.
But Jason looked up at him, and Bruce could tell that Jason didn’t dare ask.
Another one of Jason’s little habits. Hide away the things he truly loved, play them down as ‘no big deal,’ all out of fear Bruce or Alfred would take them away from him. Why? Bruce didn’t know. And he was afraid to find out from where such a fear came.
All he and Alfred wanted was to give Jason the world. He’d spent far too much of his life without even the basic necessities. For once he deserved the things he wanted.
Bruce took a step to the side and wrapped his arm around Jason’s shoulders, trying to ignore how the puppy’s ears lowered and he tried to bury himself further into Jason’s hold. “If you want to keep him,” he said, pulling Jason to his side for a second, “We’ll keep him.”
“Really?” Jason asked, shifting in Bruce’s hold just a touch, but not pulling away, “You’re sure?”
“I wouldn’t have brought him home, if I wasn’t sure,” Bruce said, squeezing Jason a little tighter, “I’m ready to keep him forever.”
“Oh,” Jason whispered, as he looked back down at his puppy. When he didn’t say anything further, Bruce led him out of the elevator and into the manor.
Getting a collar on the puppy was quite the task. Every time Bruce tried to put it on him, he pulled away and tried to run. In the end, Bruce had to hold him still while Jason put it on him, whispering his reassurances the entire time. Just based on how the puppy kept flinching away, cowering from Bruce’s hands, he would have said fuck it, and let the dog be without a collar.
But he was terrified if they let the dog outside without a leash, he’d bolt and they’d never see him again. The coyotes or foxes or something would kill him. They did not have a fence, except for around Alfred’s garden, and Bruce knew letting the dog run free within the garden would not win any points with Alfred.
Finally, though, they got the collar secure and hooked the leash to it.
“If we’re keeping him, we really ought to have a harness for him instead,” Jason said, as he tried to lead the puppy out the door. He kept pulling on the leash, trying to run off, but would stop when the leash went taught and started pulling on his neck.
“I see what you mean,” Bruce said. It probably would be much safer and more comfortable for the puppy, in a harness rather than a collar. He hadn’t even considered that, when shopping. “How about I stay up here, so he stops trying to get away from me. You can take him out.”
Jason hesitated, but leaned over and ran a hand down the puppy’s back. The little dog looked up at him, then back at Bruce, and started to follow when Jason took a step down the patio stairs, toward the yard.
When Jason paused again, and looked back at Bruce, he said, “I’ll be right here watching, okay?” Being outside, alone, was not something Jason enjoyed much, completely understandably. Doing it while it was dark out hadn’t come up, yet, but Bruce could understand him being a little nervous about it. Even if the sky was starting to light up, with the twilight of the coming sunrise in an hour or so, Bruce wouldn’t go anywhere. He’d stay right on the patio, and wait for Jason and the puppy to get back.
“Okay,” Jason said, nodding a little, as he turned to lead the puppy out into the yard to do his business.
It took some coaxing, and about fifteen minutes, but finally the puppy relieved himself, and Jason rewarded him with one of the treats he’d tucked into his pocket, from the jar Bruce purchased. They’d both taken a few, just to start in on the training.
He had a lot of research to do come morning, on training.
Once Jason finished praising him and petting him, he started to lead him back up to the patio. It wasn’t until they reached the stairs did the puppy notice him, and start to pull on the leash to get away.
It killed Bruce, just a little, to think what other large men had done to the poor dog to make him so afraid. He’d warmed right up to Jason, but even with Bruce being gentle and kind and feeding him, he was still wary.
Just like Jason could be, at times.
“It’s just Bruce, buddy,” Jason said, kneeling down and running a hand down the puppy’s back, “I know he’s big but you don’t gotta be scared of him.”
“That’s right,” Bruce said, trying not to smile warmly and embarrass Jason. He took a few steps to the top of the stairs and knelt down, holding out a treat for the puppy. “Come here, bud.”
The puppy openly warred with himself, taking half steps forward and back, as he sniffed at the air in the direction of the treat. Bruce stayed still, and waited, until finally the puppy gave in and hopped up the four stairs, so he could sniff the treat more directly and snatch it from Bruce’s fingers.
“That’s a good boy,” Bruce said, pulling another treat out and holding it out with one hand, so he could scratch behind his ears with the other.
“See,” Jason said, smiling brightly, “Bruce is nice.”
Once inside, Bruce reluctantly let Jason take the leash off, and watched with a sigh as the puppy immediately found a bench to hide under in the mud room.
It was going to be a long process.
“Why don’t you work on getting him to the kitchen,” Bruce said, as he hung the leash up on the coat rack, “I’ll go prepare him another bowl of water.”
Jason nodded, and sat down on the floor, a good ten feet away from the puppy, so Bruce let him be and left, shutting the door behind him.
In the kitchen, he did as promised and filled a shallow bowl with water, and set it on the counter for when it was needed. Then he pulled out the crate he’d bought, one that was likely going to be too small once the puppy grew. It was meant for medium sized dogs, and Bruce had a feeling the dog would be squarely in the large category. It would work for the moment, though, so he opened it and started putting it together. They could figure out a good spot for it, later. When it was time for Jason to get some sleep.
He wasn’t quite sure what the dog’s breed was. Looking at his eyes, he looked a little like a pitt bull. His nose had some pitt qualities, as well, but the rest of his body looked more like a lab to Bruce. But he was gray, a solid gray, with light gray eyes.
Honestly, Bruce didn’t know a ton about dog breeds, so that was likely another thing he’d be researching, once Jason and the puppy finally went to bed.
Alfred was going to kill him, letting Jason basically stay up all night with only a couple short naps in strange spots.
Jason finally came into the kitchen a good fifteen minutes later, the little puppy trotting along, right by Jason’s side.
He didn’t startle, much, when he saw Bruce, but instead pushed to be right between Jason’s feet, and started looking around the kitchen.
“Impressive, son. Looks like he trusts you already,” Bruce said, as he continued opening all the toys he’d purchased. There were only a few, but each of them had zip ties and cardboard to remove before they could be given to the puppy.
With a bright smile, Jason took the bowl of water and knelt down, offering the dish to the puppy who eagerly started lapping it up, his little tail wagging happily as he did.
“Are you sure you don’t wanna name him?” Jason asked, sitting next to the bowl and watching as his puppy continued drinking, “He is your dog.”
Bruce paused from where he was freeing a little hotdog toy from its packaging and looked over at Jason. But Jason wasn’t looking at him, he was still staring at the dog, almost like he was pointedly not looking at Bruce.
“No, Jason,” he said slowly, frowning at himself that he obviously hadn’t been clear enough, “He’s your puppy. I brought him home for you.”
Jason didn’t say anything, just pulled his knees up to his chest, so Bruce ventured, “Unless you don’t want a dog?”
“No,” Jason said quickly, shaking his head, “I want him.”
With the hotdog freed, Bruce crossed the room and took a seat next to Jason, who didn’t look over at him still. The puppy did, however, and took a few steps to the side, but warily hopped back over to his bowl after a second, pausing every few sips of water to look at Bruce.
Jason absently placed a hand on the puppy’s head, then withdrew it, and hugged his knees a little tighter.
“Are you okay, lad?” Bruce asked.
“Yeah,” Jason said, dully, nodding a little as he did. Clearly not okay.
Jason and his moods were so unpredictable. The strangest things set him off, sometimes, and Bruce often felt like he were navigating the woods in the dark, without a flashlight, trying to talk to Jason when his moods hit.
Sometimes placing a hand on his back was welcomed, but other times, it was very not. And only set Jason off further.
So Bruce kept his hands to himself, and looked down at the stupid little hotdog in his hands.
He held it out to Jason, tapping him gently on legs with it to get his attention. It was a pretty dumb looking toy, in all honesty. A stuffed hotdog with a little smiling face on the front of the weiner. He’d known the second he saw it that Jason would get a kick out of it, so he couldn’t not buy it.
As expected, Jason smiled when he looked at the hotdog, and shifted into sitting crisscross as he took it from Bruce. “That is so cute,” he said, inspecting the whole thing, before turning his attention to the puppy, “Have you ever had a hotdog?”
The dog, of course, didn’t answer, but did look up when Jason squeezed the stuffed toy and found the squeaker inside. His little tail started wagging slowly when Jason squeaked it a few more times, then held it out for the puppy.
Clearly the dog had no idea what to do with a toy, at first. Because when Jason offered it to him, he trotted up closer and started sniffing at it rather intently.
“Bite it,” Jason said, pushing the toy at him a little more, “It’s yours buddy, you can play with it.”
It took another minute of experimenting, but the dog eventually took it from Jason, biting at it several times until he had a good grip on it. He jumped backward, and leaped around a couple times with it, as he kept working on his grip.
Finally, he seemed to be satisfied with how he was holding it, because he started shaking it aggressively, his tail wagging a mile a minute while he growled, a cute, very non-threatening little growl.
“You got it,” Jason said, grinning wide, “Good boy.”
Bruce draped one arm across Jason’s shoulders, hoping that with his upturned mood, he wouldn’t be too jumpy at the action.
He wasn’t, but he did look up at Bruce before relaxing into the arm.
“I’m glad you two are getting along already,” Bruce said, running his hand up and down Jason’s arm for a second before letting go, content to just sit there with Jason for a bit, watching the puppy fight with his new toy hotdog.
If the dog was going to be as big as Bruce imagined, it was unlikely the hotdog would survive very long.
Not if he kept playing with his toys that violently.
They lapsed into silence for a few minutes, just watching the dog as he trotted around the kitchen, flinging his hotdog around and going to ‘catch’ it, just so he could shake it around again and send it flying.
Eventually, Jason shifted again, pulling away from Bruce’s arm, so he removed it with one pat to his back. He placed his hands on his own knees, while Jason started hugging his again.
Bruce didn’t bother telling Jason he was right there, ready to listen to whatever Jason had going on inside his head. If he did, Jason would roll his eyes and make some joke, or completely brush Bruce aside and try and forget about whatever it was.
So instead he waited.
The puppy bounced over to Jason after a few minutes, and set the hotdog down next to him. But when Jason reached out to pick it up, he changed his mind and quickly grabbed it, trying to pull it away before Jason could take it.
“Why this puppy?” Jason finally asked, while he taunted the dog by tugging at the toy. He acted like he was letting the puppy have it, then pulled it, pulling the entire dog with him.
The little growls he got in response were cute, though Bruce knew it wasn’t a behavior they’d be able to tolerate long. Growling at them, even while in play, probably wasn’t a good behavior to encourage in a dog.
Bruce shrugged and said, “He’s the puppy I found.” There hadn’t been anything special about him, he supposed.
Except that he’d found the dog in Crime Alley. And had been starkly reminded of Jason.
Which still was not something he was going to tell Jason.
Because Jason was not a dog, and Bruce did not think of Jason as a dog in the least bit.
Even if he had found Jason starving and alone in Crime Alley, too…
“But,” Jason said, when the puppy had ‘won’ the hotdog and carried it five feet away to keep playing with, “What if he turns out to be bad behaved and, like, pees on all the old rugs.”
Why was that even something Jason was worrying about? Of course the dog was going to pee on the rugs. He was pretty sure it was part and parcel to owning a dog. They’d be damned lucky if that was the worst thing the dog did.
“Then I guess we’ll buy some new rugs,” he said with a shrug.
“But,” Jason said, looking up at Bruce with slightly wide eyes, “what if he tears up all the sofas. And eats your shoes. And bites you. And, and—”
“Jay,” Bruce interrupted. wrapping his arm back around Jason’s shoulders. He saw the problem, now.
Willis had ditched Sparky at some park, all because he bit him. Likely protecting Jason, if Bruce’s suspicions were correct. Why would Jason believe Bruce would be any different?
Even though Bruce had been trying his hardest to be absolutely nothing like Willis Todd.
He’d rather die than be anything like that sorry excuse for a man. Jason deserved so much better than him. And while Bruce didn’t think he lived up to everything Jason deserved in a parent… he at least hoped he was better than Willis.
But Willis was Jason’s example of a father, so Bruce could not blame him for expecting Bruce to act like him.
How did one convince a little boy that unconditional love existed, when he had never experienced it before?
“He’s part of the family now,” Bruce eventually said, pulling Jason into his side when Jason didn’t shy away from his hold, “He might do things to make me upset sometimes, but that’s okay. I’ll still love him, and I’ll never hurt him or kick him out, because I’d never do that to my family. No matter what they did or how mad I got.”
Jason’s lip twitched, slightly, as he sank into Bruce’s hug. He took a moment, but finally sat up and asked, a smirk on his face, “What if I peed on the carpet?”
“Would it be on purpose?” Bruce asked, seriously. Because it did matter, even if Jason thought it was just a funny joke.
All Jason did was snicker, and say, “Yeah.”
“Well then,” he said, “You would clean it up and then we would have a very long, very serious conversation about what the hell you were thinking.” He jostled Jason a little, playfully, and offered him a smile when he looked up. “And then you would apologize to Alfred profusely.”
“That’s it?” Jason asked, but he was outright grinning, so Bruce figured it was all landing the right way.
“That’s it,” Bruce confirmed, “Although Alfred might make you do a bunch of chores after.”
“Yeah, that’s fair.”
“I think we can forgive the puppy, though, if he does it on accident while being house trained.”
“Good,” Jason said. He pulled away from Bruce’s arm, again, so Bruce let go once more, “he’s just a baby.”
“That’s right. He doesn’t know any better.”
The puppy had laid down across the kitchen, his head resting on top of the toy hotdog while he just looked at them, his eyelids drooping more and more with each blink.
It was just about bedtime for all of them.
“I,” Jason started, before Bruce could open his mouth and voice that thought, “I was thinking ‘Gable.’ For his name.”
“Gable?” Bruce said, turning the name over in his head, “From Anne of Green Gables?” He knew that had become one of Jason’s favorite books, after he’d read it his second week in the manor.
“Yeah, because he’s gray, and Anne had gray eyes.”
“Ah.” It was a good name, he thought. “I like it. It suits him.”
Jason smiled, one of his sweet, shy smiles, and held a hand out to Gable. “Come here, Gable,” he said, “are you tired?”
“Yes, I think we should take him outside one more time, and then both of you need to get some sleep.”
Gable stood, at Jason’s continued prodding, and started to walk over to them, but then the kitchen door opened and Alfred walked in, carrying an empty breakfast tray, likely so he could begin preparing breakfast for them.
“Dear heavens,” he swore, dropping the tray to the ground as Gable ran past him, right toward Jason. But when the tray hit the ground in a loud crash, he jumped, and changed trajectory toward a small table up against the wall, that had a shelf under it and about eight inches of clearance between it and the ground. Gable squeezed himself in there, and turned around so he was looking out at all of them, but was as far under the shelf as he could be.
“Gable,” Jason said, scrambling to his feet to get across the room to where Gable was cowering, “it’s okay, shhh. It’s just Alfred.”
“Sorry, Alfred,” Bruce said, as he got to his feet and picked up the tray for Alfred, “I was going to warn you.” He did feel bad for startling Alfred so hard. He, too, would be a bit startled, he hated to admit, if he saw a dog he wasn’t expecting in the kitchen at 6am.
“What in heavens is that doing in this house,” Alfred asked, directing all his ire at Bruce.
Bruce shrank back, a little, but then looked over at Jason. Jason had laid out on his stomach, the same as earlier, and was completely ignoring them while he gently spoke to Gable, offering him a treat and promising him everything was perfectly okay.
“No one here’s going to hurt you,” he was whispering, “I promise.”
“We kind of adopted a dog last night,” Bruce said, rubbing the back of his neck.
Alfred opened his mouth, like he was about to dispel a whole pile of vitriol at that, and likely demand Bruce return the puppy immediately.
He had been quite clear, on a number of occasions, that there would be no animals in his house… Or, more specifically, no filthy animals in his house, causing him more work.
But they were interrupted by a little bark, followed by some laughter.
Looking over at Jason, Bruce found him still on his stomach, but the puppy now out from his hiding place. He had one of his paws in the air, and was batting at Jason’s hair as he jumped around, Jason with his face hiding in the crook of an arm, the other hand trying to catch Gable’s paw as he giggled. “Stop, stop, you’re pulling my hair.”
Alfred visibly softened, so Bruce whispered to him, quiet enough that Jason likely couldn’t hear them, even if he were paying attention, “I found him in an alley, starving and alone.”
With a sigh, Alfred ran a hand over his face, and finally murmured back, “I suppose this is the more… traditional stray you’ve brought back.”
Jason rolled on his back, and Gable bounced over to where he was, and started climbing up onto his chest to get a better angle to lick his face, only eliciting more giggles from Jason.
“They’ll be good for each other,” Bruce whispered.
Alfred sighed one last time, and turned toward the counters, where he dug out a pan. “I hope you know I will never hear the end of this from Master Dick. The number of times he begged for a puppy.”
“I know,” Bruce said, grimacing. Dick was going to throw a fit about it, because even Bruce had told him ‘no’ about a dog. But then he’d fall immediately in love with Gable, and likely get over it.
He’d understand, too. If he took the time to listen to Bruce’s explanation of why a puppy was good for an abused, anxious kid.
“Rule number one,” Alfred said, much louder for Jason to hear, “dogs are not allowed in the kitchen or dining room.”
“Aw, Alfred,” Jason started whining, picking Gable up so he could sit up with him, “But—“
“No buts, Master Jason,” Alfred asserted, “This manor is plenty big enough, it will not harm him to ban him from these two rooms. It is simply unsanitary to have a dog slobbering all over my kitchen while I’m cooking, therefore he is not allowed under any circumstances in these rooms, please train him accordingly.”
Jason frowned, for half a second, before absolutely lighting up. “Wait,” he said, hopping to his feet, Gable struggling in his arms to be let down, “So we’re keeping him? For real, for real?”
“Jay I told you—“ Bruce started, but Jason cut him off.
“Yeah, but we all know Alfred’s the real boss around here.”
“Hey,” Bruce protested, but there was no heat behind it.
It was true.
Jason set Gable down on the ground, and watched in amusement as he ran over to his hotdog and picked it up, then pushed his way back between Jason’s feet.
“Yes,” Alfred said, clearly trying, but failing, to keep the smile off his face, “If you can take care of him, you may keep him. He is your responsibility, not mine. I expect you do do the research necessary for training puppies up into well behaved dogs.” Half way through his spiel, he turned toward Bruce and raised an eyebrow at him, so Bruce nodded right along with Jason.
“All right,” Jason cheered, kneeling down to jostle Gable’s ears, while Gable licked at his face again.
“How about you take him outside again, Jay,” Bruce said, before Jason and the puppy lost the little bout of energy they’d both found, “I want both of you to at least take a nap this morning, and he should probably go before that happens.”
“Sure,” Jason said, hopping up to his feet, “come on, Gable. Let’s go outside. You’ll like it more now that it’s lighter outside.”
“Don’t forget his leash,” Bruce called after him, as Jason skipped out of the room, Gable following close behind.
“I know,” Jason shouted back.
Alfred huffed a short laugh, as he pulled out some breakfast sausage, and got to work preparing them a breakfast.
“Thanks for that, Alf,” Bruce said, once he’d heard Jason make it into the mudroom, “I think it’s really going to help him.”
“Of course my boy,” Alfred said, smiling fondly as he placed sausage on the skillet to cook. His expression shifted, and he turned to Bruce, pointing his spatula at him, “But I was serious. I will not be cleaning pee out of my carpets, do you understand? If that dog—“
“Got it,” Bruce said, holding his hands up, “We’ll handle it, don’t worry.”
Bruce was confident in his ability to clean a rug.
And if he couldn’t, well…
He was certainly capable of hauling it away to the dump and ordering a new one online.
If that was the price he paid for giving Jason the joy he’d already experienced that morning, then Bruce was willing to pay it a hundred times over.
Because for Jason, Bruce would do anything. He deserved nothing less.