The door opened, and Jimmy looked away from the TV. He'd seen this episode before a few times. It was okay... not much homework today, anyway, and he wasn't in much of an artistic mood at the moment.

"Hi, Mom," he said.

"Hello, dear..." not yet looking at him, as she was still taking off her coat and hanging it up in the closet. And then, she turned and walked into the living room and looked down at Jimmy sitting on one of the couches, watching television, and gasped. "Did you get into another fight? What was it this time?" She wanted to go to him and take a good look at the bruises on his face and comfort him and... but, she knew from far too much past experience not to do that. He didn't like being fussed over.

"Same as ever: no particular reason." He never told his parents about what some kids thought of his first name, because he didn't want them to feel any guilt over having given him that name. Of course, they knew because teachers had mentioned it at conferences. But his parents never mentioned it to Jimmy, either, and if they ever felt any guilt, they did their best to hide it, for his sake. "I don't start these things. It woulda been worse, but this new kid at school who just moved here from Metropolis, Jay Costello, he came over and broke up the fight."

"Well, that's nice. I do wish your other friends went to the same school, so you could look out for one another. I'm glad to hear you've made a new friend, someone who actually goes to P.S. 101. When do I get to meet him?"

"Maybe tonight... I was thinking of taking him out to meet the gang, maybe take him Bat-hunting. Do you mind? He'd come over here first for a few minutes..."

She really didn't like to think of him going out at night, especially when she saw him looking like this. But Jimmy himself was long past the point of caring much. He barely even noticed. Still, she noticed. It seemed to her that the bullies would allow him just enough time for his face to start looking good again before messing it up again. It was a vicious cycle, she thought. And she sighed: at least he didn't ever seem to get into trouble when he was out with his friends at night. All the trouble was at school. There was something not right about that. ...Did he say his new friend was from Metropolis? God, she'd give anything to move the family there. Or anywhere, just about, as long as it was out of Gotham. When Jimmy had been born, it had been such a nice place... which was why... but never mind that. The past was the past. And as for the future... well, they just didn't have enough money to think about any future other than the one Gotham laid out for them.

Snapping out of her reverie, she could see her son looking at her as if to say, C'mon, Mom, stop looking at me like that and answer... Y'know I know what you're thinking when you look at me like that, and I don't like thinking about you thinking like that... She knew he wasn't just a genius, he was also wise beyond his years... She sighed again and said, "Of course you can go out. I expect you're anxious to introduce your new friend to your old ones. But try not to be out too too late. You know your father will want to talk to you before he goes to bed." Because, she thought, I'm damn well going to tell him how you looked, as soon as he gets home. "Will you stay long enough for supper, or will you want a few dollars for burgers or something?"

"We'll see... I have to call everyone first and make plans."



As it happened, every one of the kids stayed at their respective homes for their respective suppers. Jimmy's dad got a chance to talk to him before Jimmy left. And then Jay showed up at Jimmy's house.

Jimmy's mom answered the knock at the door. "Who is it?"

"Jay Costello. Jimmy's friend."

She looked out the peep-hole, and the boy she saw matched Jimmy's description of him. She opened the door. "Come in." He did, and she closed the door and redid the chain lock. The main lock would be done after the boys left. She led him to the living room and had him sit on the couch. She called, "Jimmy, your friend is here."

Jimmy called out, "I'll be right there." But his dad was out of his and Jimmy's mother's room before Jimmy was out of his.

"So you're Jason Costello."

Jay stood up and said, "Yes, sir."

Jimmy's father extended his hand and said, "Pleased to meet you." Jay took his hand and shook it briefly. He always felt somewhat awkward about shaking hands, and about meeting adults for the first time. "Jimmy says you helped him out in a fight today. I want to thank you, son."

And as he noticed the boy was looking slightly uncomfortable, he backed away and went to sit on the far couch. "Please, sit back down," he said. And so Jay sat down again on the near couch, and got slightly more comfortable.

"Thank you, sir."

"So, going to meet the others tonight, are you? They're a good bunch of kids, I think you'll like them." He wished there were more kids like them in this town, actually.

"I'm looking forward to it. It's nice to be making new friends so quickly. My first day of school here, and all."

"That new, eh? Yes... that is lucky, I guess. And I'm sure they're lucky to be meeting you."

They need all the friends they can get, he thought. He too wished they could afford to move out of Gotham. He wouldn't tell his family, but he'd been working on arranging a deal that would get them a quick, one-time influx of cash. Actually, he'd been running errands for someone, for a little extra cash now and then, for a few months now. But sometime soon the arrangement would be coming to a close, and he'd be getting a much more sizable payment when it did. Nothing huge, but enough to finally move his family to a better, safer city. He was rather sorry that if all went as planned, Jimmy would be leaving his old friends and this new one behind very soon. ...It wasn't a deal he was proud of, either... but it was worth anything to get his family out of a place where his son so often came home looking like he did tonight. He wasn't sure where they'd move... maybe Metropolis... and, wasn't that-?"

"Did Jimmy say you were from Metropolis?"

"Yes, I-"

"Sorry," said Jimmy, stepping into the room. "I was finishing up applying my face paint. Hi, Jay." He looked at his father, who didn't happen to like his son dressing up like a psychotic criminal- but he knew it was all in fun, and his son and his friends didn't really idolize Gotham's criminals. Jimmy's mother, meanwhile, was discreetly wincing at the thought of Jimmy having applied his makeup over fresh bruises. "Oh, sorry," said Jimmy again. "Did I interrupt something?"

"Jay was just going to tell us about Metropolis," said Jimmy's mom.

"Actually, I was going to say... um..." and he grinned sheepishly. "I don't remember. It's gone out of my head."

"That's okay," said Jimmy's mom. "So, what do your parents do?"

"Mom's a scientist, she works for STAR Labs... I mean, she did work for them. Now she works for WayneTech.

"Oh?" asked Jimmy's father. "What kind of scientist?"

"Oh, I don't know, really. Theoretical stuff. I don't really understand it." He looked at his new friend. "But I bet Jimmy would."

Jimmy's parents beamed. Jimmy fought off a blush, not unsuccessfully. He glared at Jay, and hoped his parents wouldn't comment. Their thoughts of pride were boring into his skull as it was.

His mother noticed this, and mercifully changed the subject. "And your father?" she said, looking at Jay.

"He's... looking for work. He worked in construction back home, but the company hadn't been getting as many jobs recently, so they had to lay some people off."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I hope he has luck here. Although I don't know how often they build new things here. They like to keep things looking pretty old-fashioned."

"Oh, I don't know," said Jimmy's dad. "It must take some work keeping things looking like they do, in the better parts of town. Then again, I should think there'd be lots of work in construction in Metropolis... The newspapers are always talking about some supervillain or other smashing everything to rubble," he said with a grin.

The others grinned too.

"Well, anyway," said Jimmy, "we'd better get going. The others'll be expecting us."

And so they all stood. Jimmy's mom said, "Okay, you kids have fun, now. Don't stay out too late."

"Yes. Again, good to meet you, young man," said Jimmy's dad. "I hope to see you again."

"I'm sure you will, sir."

And then they left the apartment. Jimmy's mother locked the door behind them, knowing her son would never forget his key. When they got outside the building and started down the front steps, Jay said, "Hey, nice costume, Joker," with a snicker.

"Ah, shut up, or we'll make you be Catwoman. Or worse yet, the Bird Wonder."

And they headed off down the sidewalk, Jimmy barely out in front, leading the way; both of them cracking jokes and laughing. It was going to be a fun night.

part 3