Okay, third time's the charm. Hopefully. I don't know what's up with my laptop at the moment - if this doesn't work, I'll try to figure something out on my phone, I guess. Check out my profile for more info on summer updates!

Disclaimer: If I owned DC, Dick Grayson wouldn't have died in five different canons and he'd still have his fingerstripes.

CHAPTER TWELVE

NJ

The Home

Several weeks passed without Natalia learning much of anything about Rose. Though still worried about the older woman, she'd spent most of her time helping Jeffrey around the kitchen, doing what she could to help out and avoid Amelia. She'd succeeded for the most part, but her inability to spend time at the studio had caused trouble, the lack of activity bringing Natalia boredom and the lack of money pissing Amelia off.

"Jordyn!" Amelia barked from the kitchen doorway. Natalia and Jeffrey both jumped, the latter nearly dropping a stack of glass pans on his foot. "Visitor. My office. Now." She stomped out without another word, to the teens' surprise.

"You've got dinner covered, right?" Natalia asked, wiping off her hands on an old blue towel.

"Oh, uh, yeah," Jeffrey confirmed, "just have to grab the dishes. Soup made with love from leftovers made with a sizeable amount of contempt." He smirked. "Don't worry, everything's fine. Go on, go see your visitor."

She rolled her eyes, tossing the towel back at him as she left the kitchen. Amelia was standing by the door to her office, arms crossed over her chest as she glared at Natalia.

"Don't mess this up," Amelia hissed, shooting a particularly venomous glance at the girl before pushing open the door and striding in, Natalia right behind her. She immediately noticed the elderly man standing just beyond the doorway, but wasn't able to place him. Who was he, and why was he visiting her?

Amelia settled herself behind her desk, letting the man take a seat across from her as Natalia shut the door, moving to stand by the edge of the desk. She tried to discreetly examine the old man, but the fleeting glances she could steal only told her what she'd already figured out - he was old, and he was likely pretty rich.

"Mr. Pennyworth just arrived here and asked to see you," Amelia explained, her voice taking an unusually friendly tone. The woman's smile, for once, hardly seem to be faked at all.

Okay, very rich.

"Hello, Miss Jordyn," Mr. Pennyworth said amiably, the corners of the man's eyes crinkling as he smiled at her, extending his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

Mr. Pennyworth had a pleasant accent, and a kind smile. Natalia took his hand and shook it firmly, slightly surprised at his strong grip. "Pleasure to meet you too, Mr. Pennyworth." He seemed like a nice enough man.

"Mr. Pennyworth is here on behalf of Bruce Wayne," Amelia broke in, saying the billionaire's name almost reverently. "You're his… assistant, I believe? Mr. Pennyworth?"

"Butler, actually," the man responded, his smile growing a shade tighter around the corners when he turned his gaze on the woman. "I've been helping the Waynes for quite some time, since before Master Bruce was born - which reminds me, it was he who asked me to come here."

"Oh?" Natalia responded. Keep it pleasant. Polite. Cordial. Not too friendly. Not too eager. Not too disinterested either. Amelia's warnings of how to 'behave,' driven into her head after years and years of hearing them, always in the same tight, slightly threatening tone, resounded in her head. Meet their eyes. Don't hold eye contact for too long. Always hold your hands in your lap or in front of your body. Don't cross your arms. Don't fidget. Don't ask questions. Always respond verbally. Don't talk about yourself.

Keep up the good name. Be the ideal child. Be adoptable.

Be perfect.

Hell knows no one's going to want you otherwise.

"Why did he ask you to come? I-I mean, why did he ask about me? I mean… uh..." Natalia trailed off, stupid, idiot, screwup. She could feel Amelia's eyes burning a hole into her, could already feel the punishment and the reprimanding to come. "I apologize..."

"It's quite alright," Mr. Pennyworth assured her, the genuine smile back, his eyes now showing a bit of concern. "You see, Master Bruce has been thinking lately, and he has come to the conclusion that Master Dick is in need of a companion his own age. I understand that you met them both at a performance recently, a ballet you performed in. I believe you played Robin?"

"Y-Yes," Natalia stuttered, wishing Amelia wasn't in the room. She could already see the confusion on the woman's face shifting to barely-concealed anger.

"Yes, well, they informed me you put on a rather impressive show - I wish I had been able to attend myself."

She'd managed to make it, what, almost eight years, without Amelia figuring her out. She'd finally almost gotten enough to leave and never come back, and it was all about to come crashing down on her.

"Thank you very much, Mr. Pennyworth. I'm glad they were able to come."

She'd never be allowed near the studio again, and that was assuming Amelia was in a particularly forgiving mood.

"Ah, yes," Amelia broke in. "Natalia is one of my very… dedicated residents. She's rather… gifted." Natalia could practically see the vein pulsing in her temple as she forced out the praise.

Amelia was going to give her even more reason to consider this place hell on Earth.

"Miss Jordyn," Mr. Pennyworth continued, forcing her attention away from Amelia and her imminent doom and back to his face. "I know this is rather sudden, but, would you like to come live at Wayne Manor?"

Silence.

"Of course, Master Wayne won't adopt you if you don't want him to, but you're welcome to be a sort of ward, as Master Dick is."

Absolute silence.

"I understand that this is rather out of the blue, but Master Bruce holds the opinion that-"

"I-I'm sorry, Mr. Pennyworth, but did you say Bruce Wayne is asking if he can… can take me in? Adopt me?"

"Natalia!" came Amelia's sharp voice, quite possibly out of instinct. Instantly Natalia flinched back, her cheeks reddening. She cast her eyes down, muttered an "I'm sorry."

"It's perfectly fine," Mr. Penny worth reassured her, and she looked up at him just in time to see the quick glare he shot at Amelia. "But I do hope you'll consider Master Bruce's offer. We wouldn't have to fill out all of the adoption forms immediately, only sign a few here and there. If you want to think more about it, I can give you a number to call."

"Actually, Mr. Pennyworth, I, um, I think I've already considered it, and I, um… I would love to." Natalia trailed off, her voice losing volume until it wasn't much more substantial than a whisper, but still, she was sure. She was pretty sure she was sure, anyway. Maybe this was her golden opportunity, something that could change her life, something that wasn't likely to happen again.

Yes, she was sure.

"Wonderful!" Mr. Pennyworth said with a large smile. "And please, call me Alfred. If you would like, I shall stay down here and fill out the forms with Ms. Jenkins - that way you may take the time to get your things together and talk to your friends."

Natalia nodded, still not quite sure how to respond to this sudden twist in fate. Not wanting to stay a moment longer in the extremely tense environment, she turned and left the room at once, scaling the stairs to the third floor. She was still moving as if in a daze when she turned the doorknob to the girls' dormitory, barely aware of the buzz of conversation coming from the other side.

Weaving her way through the girls milling about the room, all chatting loudly and enjoying their afternoon "free" time, Natalia reached her bed, pulled out her duffel, and began folding clothes and packing them in. She didn't have much, but it still took her long enough for someone to notice.

"Natalia?" Brooke called, snapping her a bit out of her daze. "What's the occasion? Why are you packing?" Brooke's voice, loud and clear, made a few others glance Natalia's way as well - within a moment or two, the din had quieted to just a few low murmurs.

"Well, I..." she started, not sure what to say, "I… got adopted."

The room went completely still for a second or so - no one was ever adopted once they hit ten or eleven. Certainly not when they were nearly sixteen, on their way out anyway. It was one of the girls who had been there only a few years - a petite, bubbly teen by the name of Hanne - broke the silence with a shriek.

"Holy shit!" she cried, making everyone jump and a few of the younger girls clap their hands over their ears. "I mean, oh my god! How? Who? Tell us!"

Natalia smiled, the excitement finally hitting her. "You'll never guess."

The girls' voices rose up again, all yelling some variation of "Tell us!" or screaming out guesses - ordinarily Natalia would laugh at how ridiculous some of them were (the Mayor of Gotham, various movie stars, and even the President among them), but to be fair, reality was pretty ridiculous as well.

"Give up yet?" Natalia asked, starting to grin. "Well..." She trailed off and the room went quiet again.

"Bruce Wayne."

The shrieks were much more immediate this time around, and Natalia could swear that she saw at least one of the more starstuck girls faint. For the next several minutes she was surrounded by girls chattering on all sides, all of them now helping her pack up and bringing her her things that had managed to migrate to other girls' beds (although admittedly, they were more focused on getting her attention and asking her questions than helping her pack).

Once Natalia was nearly finished packing, the chatter subsided and the other girls grew solemn. As she placed the photograph of her family at the top of her bag, careful that it wouldn't be ripped or crumpled on the journey, she felt a hand tap her on her lower back. Turning around, she saw Reilly - at five years old, the little girl was one of the youngest at the Home. No one really knew what had happened to her family, but the girls as a whole had taken it upon themselves to look over her - Natalia especially.

"Please don't go," Reilly whispered, tears welling up in her eyes.

Natalia smiled, tears pricking at her eyes as well, and bent down to hug the girl.

"Reilly," she said, hugging her tightly, "I will miss you very, very much. You know Miss Amelia doesn't like me, but I promise I'll visit as soon as I can. Until then, everyone here is going to take real good care of you - they all love you just as much as I do. Okay?"

Several girls around the room called out "I love you"s to the little girl, and after another few moments Reilly stopped sniffling. She let go of Natalia and looked up at her, nodding her agreement.

"I have to go now, but I promise you'll be alright," Natalia said. Brooke walked over and swung Reilly up onto her shoulders, tickling the bottoms of the child's feet and getting a very happy giggle out of her. She would be happy with the other girls there.

Natalia made one last trip around the room, hugging everyone for the thousandth time and promising that yes, she would try to come back and say hello as soon as she could possibly do so. With one final goodbye wave, she pulled the strap of her bag over her shoulder, tucked her dance bag under her arms, and left the girls dorm for the last time as a resident of the orphanage.

She walked down the hall, down the stairs, passing room after room, memory after memory - she had spent, at this point, the majority of her life within the four walls of the orphanage, but she had few reasons to stay any more. Yes, she was nervous to drop everything and leave out of the blue, but the last thing she wanted was to be forced to live there for three more years.

As she reached the entryway, Natalia took one last look around her, glancing back for just a moment. She could see into Amelia's office from where she stood, could see Amelia standing at her desk, and the small woman took notice of her too. She could see the hate in Amelia's eyes - hate she'd grown used to seeing over the past eight years - and she felt a smile coming to her face as she turned away for hopefully the last time. Waiting for her by the front door, papers in hand, was Mr. Pennyworth - Alfred.

"Are you ready to go, Miss?" he asked. Natalia felt a surge of happiness when she saw the smile on his face - this was real. She was leaving. She was starting a new life.

"I think so."

And with that, the pair of them turned and left, a weight lifting off Natalia's shoulders as she left the Home far, far behind her.

...I swear to god if this doesn't work I might cry