Author's Note: Here we go, dear readers; 'Camp Batman'! For those of you keeping track, this is a 'Spark in the Dark' story (see my profile if you don't know what that is or need a chronology) set a few weeks after 'Turkey Song.' I'm not going to make a guess as to how long it will be because my muse has shown me up so often when it comes to that that it's embarrassing.
The Dick and Tim story I promised (now entitled 'Tectonic Doom') is still a go, but I haven't decided whether I will write it simultaneously with this story or wait until I finish up here to start in on that project. I'm leaning towards the latter option, but feel free to put in your two cents.
As always, happy reading!
The billionaire sighed without opening his eyes. Flinging the blanket back, he invited the boy into the bed without speaking. A small form materialized beside him almost instantly, and he pulled it in close. "Go back to sleep," he whispered.
"...I had the Gobblehead dream again," a soft moan announced. "It's scary. I don't want to think about him that way."
Oh, kiddo... A few days after the turkey's passing Dick had begun experiencing awful night visions in which the Montgomery Project had succeeded, but with a twist. Instead of serving as docile signboards for the advancement of veganism, he saw the intelligent animals turning violently on their keepers and anyone else who got in their way. They ripped through innocent people in a terrifying reversal of the food chain, showing no mercy for age or infirmity. That would have bad enough on its own, the child had disclosed after the third or fourth iteration of his dark dream, but Gobblehead was always the ringleader of the modified creatures. No longer the loving bird that they had known, he seemed to be the mastermind behind the attacks on humans, and gave no quarter even to those who had cared for him in another reality.
"Okay," Bruce cooed now that he knew the problem. "Tell me about it." All he really wanted was to drift back into the vague unconsciousness he'd been flirting with when his door had opened, but he couldn't sleep when his boy was hurting.
"It was like the other ones – you know, Gobbles was in charge – only...only this time you were there."
He frowned. "...I was there?" That was new; the turkey had only gone after Dick on previous nights. "What was I doing?"
"Well...you're not going to like it."
"Tell me anyway."
"Um...so, you were down in the big barn, you know, at the Project? And you were Batman. And...and you were killing all the babies, like...like you did. Like you had to," was tacked on swiftly. "Then...then Gobbles saw you, and he got mad because you were killing his brothers and sisters. He called all the other animals, and they...they k-...they..."
"Ooookay," Bruce crooned. They killed me. Got it. It was no wonder that Dick had come running in to him at four in the morning. A hiccup sounded against his shoulder. "Don't cry, chum. I'm right here. It's okay."
"I kn-know, but...but Gobbles shouldn't be like that! Why is he like that?!"
"He's not, Dicky. He's not, and he never was. You know that," he soothed, rubbing circles on the child's hitching back. "It's all over. It's okay."
"Then w-why c-c-can't I stop making him b-bad in my dr-dr-dreams?!"
"I...I don't know." He'd have given a great deal at that moment in exchange for any better of an answer. I should never have told him the details of the Project, he grimaced at the ceiling. It had been unavoidable given the circumstances, but he cursed his lack of foresight anyway. Why had he gone into such excruciating detail? He should have just said that they cleared out the animals and left it at that, he mused. The idea occurred to him that his guilt over the specific role he'd played in the long-past proceedings might have been what had driven him to confess in full, but he pushed it away. He was supposed to help carry Dick's burdens, not throw his own on top of the boy's already-laden shoulders, and he didn't dare entertain the notion that he'd done something so selfish.
"I don't know, kiddo, but he wasn't bad, remember?" he tried finally. "He wasn't bad, and if you just keep reminding yourself of that eventually the dreams will stop." I hope, he added in his head. They had to, because he didn't know what else to do.
Slowly, the sniffles faded. "...Bruce?"
"What is it, chum?"
"I...I really miss Gobbles."
"...I know, kiddo. I know." The longing in his son's voice highlighted something that Alfred had said a few days before. School had let out some three weeks before, and the butler had noticed an uncharacteristic quietness about his younger charge of late. While Dick had made no real friends in his classes at Gotham Academy, he got along with the other children there well enough to take the edge off of the alienation he'd felt at his previous school. Between the loss of that daily socialization, Gobblehead's passing, and Wally being several hundred miles away, loneliness seemed to be setting in.
Bruce couldn't stand it. He'd come home from the office a couple of afternoons ago only to be informed that his son had gone for a solitary walk in the woods. He went after him with a vague fear churning in the pit of his stomach, tortured by all of the different ways the child could be hurt whilst out on his own. His relief at finding him safe and sound at the pond had been short-lived, however, as the ten-year-old's hunched posture had evinced an angst that was far too advanced for his young age. The sad haze had vanished as soon as Bruce announced himself, but it made its mark on the man and left him determined to find some remedy for his son's isolation.
With the child cowering against him, a victim of both involuntary estrangement and horrid nightmares, it seemed like as good a time as any to give him a surprise. "...I was going to wait until Friday to tell you this," he began hesitantly, "but..."
"But you'll tell me now?" The question was curious, going so far as to border on excited, and Bruce smiled in the dark. "Please?"
"I'll tell you now, but," he added a caveat, "you have to promise to go to sleep afterwards. Deal?"
"I promise! What's the secret?"
"Well...do you remember last summer, when we camped out on the back lawn?"
"Uh-huh. That was so much fun. Are we going to do it again? Do you think I could invite Wally this time? And maybe-"
"Hold your horses, kiddo," the billionaire chuckled at the way Dick's mood had rebounded at the prospect of a shared secret. "Just slow down a second and let me finish."
"Oh. Oops. Sorry."
"It's okay. Now," he went on, "I seem to recall you commenting that while 'Camp Bruce,' as you called it, was fun, you'd really like to go to Camp Batman. Am I right?"
There was tiny gasp followed by a moment of absolute silence, and he knew that Dick was holding his breath in anticipation. "Do...are we gonna have Camp Batman?" came a tiny whisper. "Oh my gosh, Bruce, are...are we really?"
He wished he could see the boy's face better, but he brushed the loss off with the thought that there would be a thousand happy expressions to snapshot this weekend. "We really are, if you want to." A joyful squeal sounded, making him reach for his ear. "Gaah...but we can't go if I'm deaf."
"'M sorry! I'm just...this is so...eep!" Dick rolled into a kneel, bouncing on the mattress as if he'd had new batteries put in. "But...can we invite KF and Flash? Pretty, pretty please can we invite them? And...and where are we going to do it? We can't do it here, right? And-"
"That's all taken care of," Bruce hushed him. "I've arranged a secret location – no, I won't tell you, it's a secret – where we'll be met on Friday afternoon by Flash and-"
"Yaaaay!" the boy cheered.
"-and Kid Flash," he finished, laughing outright. "I'll leave work early so we can be sure we have plenty of time to set up camp before dark. Sound good?"
"That sounds amazing! But...how are we getting there? We can't drive around in the Batmobile during the day, can we?"
"Well, we could, but we're not going to." The mode of transport to and from the campsite was, he thought, the best part of his plan. Suddenly eager to reveal that last detail, he almost felt like sitting up and bouncing right along with the boy.
"So...how, then? Are we going as civilians?"
"No. This is going to be Camp Batman from start to finish. The way we're getting there," he slowed the pace of his words, wanting to make the moment last, "is in the Batplane."
The agitation of the mattress ceased. "We're...we're gonna fly?" a disbelieving inquiry cut through the darkness.
"Yup. We're going to fly. What do you think? Oof," he puffed as Dick tackled him in a massive hug. "...I take it you like the plan, huh?"
"You're the best guardian in the whole universe, Bruce."
He let the praise wash over him, almost feeling as if he deserved it for once. "We're going to have a great weekend, chum," he swore. "But keep in mind, this is Camp Batman; the point is to train, not to have fun." They would have fun – he'd make sure of it – but there was also a lot they needed to cover while they had the chance.
"Training with you is fun. Training with you, Wally, and Barry...that's..."
"No. That's fun to the power of three. I wanted to use exponents in my description."
"Fun to the power of three," Bruce shook his head, amused.
"More than triple fun."
"Is it? 'Fun' is singular," he teased, "so no matter how many times you multiply it by itself it's still just fun."
A pensive moment passed. "...'Fun' isn't a number," Dick ruled. "So I think it follows different rules even though it's singular. Instead of just fun, you end up with, like, FUN!" He squeaked the last word, throwing all of his limbs out expansively before letting them drop back to the bed with a thump. "Yeah. I like that."
"Okay, Dicky-bird, you win. Now," Bruce yawned, "we had a deal. I gave you your surprise early, so you have to hold up your end of the agreement and go to sleep."
"But I'm so excited! Can we just, like, skip the rest of the week and go straight to Friday?"
"Heh. I wish we could do that every week, but I'm pretty sure that messing with time falls squarely under the category of villainous activities."
"What about for Superman? He messes with time, and he's not whatchacallit. Villainous."
"He did that once, and he was a fool for doing so. He'd be an utter dumbass if he tried it again." He paused. "Don't repeat that word."
"You know I won't. Alfred would melt me with one look."
"Probably. He'd at least wash your mouth out with soap."
"Eeewwww...gross. Anyway, Superman did it once, and he's not a villain, so...we could maybe do it once? Just this one time?"
"Even if I could, kiddo, I wouldn't."
"Because the anticipation of something like this is half the fun. Also, because it won't hurt either of us any to get a little practice being patient. Thirdly," he rolled so that the child wasn't using him as a pillow anymore, "because if I fast-forward the week I won't get any sleep, and you'll have a very cranky Batman to deal with at camp."
"...I don't want that."
"No, no you don't." He's cranky enough on eight hours of shut-eye, let alone none.
"Okay. I guess I'll try to go to sleep, then." Dick gave a happy little hum and snuggled in closer. "Maybe now I'll dream about camping instead of about Gobbles doing bad things..."
"There you go," Bruce murmured back, his eyelids slipping south now that he'd helped put a smile back in its rightful place on his son's lips. "Think about that."
"Mmkay." For all his purported wakefulness, the boy's voice had grown sleepily distant. "...G'night..."
"Night, Dicky," he answered. "Sweet dreams." Look forward, not back, he thought fervently. Don't make my mistake and become mired in the past. You can be so much more than your history…you will be so much more…I'll make sure of it…