Robin picked up the basics of piloting quickly, but Batman still insisted on taking over for landing. "Aw," the boy protested as his yoke folded itself back into the dash. "Bummer."
"We'll work on take off and landing with simulators before you do it in real life. It's too dangerous to do without practice unless you absolutely have to."
"Okay. Ow!" The boy reached for his ear. "What the heck?!"
"Pressure changes. Do you see the latch directly in front of your knees?"
"Open it." Held back as he was by his safety harness, Robin had to stretch to reach, but he managed it. "There's gum in there somewhere. Chew a piece while we descend; it will help."
"Gum? Sweet!" It appeared in an instant, and the air was soon heavy with the odor of mint. "Mmm...that's tingly. D'you want a piece?"
"No." He had long ago mastered the technique of leveling his internal and external pressures without props, and could do so without giving away his discomfort. No one needed to see his mouth working on a wad of pseudo-rubber, and more importantly no one needed to encounter a pleasantly fresh-breathed Batman in the dark alleys of Gotham. "...Make sure you spit it out before you leave the plane. You know how you-know-who is about sugar."
"Yeah. It's weird, though, huh? I mean, he doesn't like gum, or candy, or soda, but he gives us chocolate chip cookies every day."
Batman smirked. "He knows exactly what's going into the cookies. He can't vouch for pre-packaged foods, though, so he avoids them."
"...Oh. Why, is he afraid of someone poisoning us or something? Who would poison you? Civilian you, I mean."
"You'd be surprised." Realizing that such a statement was likely to make the child wary of eating – something he could hardly afford to be, even after a year-plus of Alfred's finest cooking – if not to give him outright nightmares, he went on. "No one's really likely to try that, though. Poison is too easy to trace. Suffice it to say that some habits die hard, and a wariness about pre-packaged foods is one of his."
"Oh. Okay. That makes sense."
A short while later their craft settled gently down into its underground hangar. Robin disposed of his gum, proclaiming as he did that it had, in fact, helped, and then followed him out of the plane. The sliding doors that let the plane in and out of its hiding spot closed on the last sliver of the newly dark sky as their boots connected with earth, and Batman sighed to himself. It had been a good weekend of training, to be sure, but he was glad to be home.
Robin scampered ahead, eager to see Alfred and tell him the highlights of the trip. Both Bruce and Batman watched him go, pleased with the skip that was present in his step despite the hard work he'd done over the last two days. ...If you're done, I'd like my body back, Bruce half-joked. I've been wanting to give that boy a huge hug almost since we left.
Momentarily. At least let me get to the end of the tunnel. You can't embrace him very well with the cowl in one hand, in any case.
...Seriously, Batman. Don't make me get grabby.
I thought Robin was the child here. I see I was wrong.
Go ahead, he rolled hiseyes. We're almost there, and being shoved out of the way isn't a pleasant sensation.
You're telling me. Relax, you need a break before patrol anyway. There was no argument, just a slow receding of his alter ego, and as he stepped into the main room of the cave Bruce yanked off his headgear. "Heh," he laughed as he spotted the mild wince that Alfred gave when he glanced down and spotted the dried mud that the boy's tackling embrace had left on his clothes. Attack hugs. Robin's special move. Really, he thought, the butler should have seen it coming.
"Master Wayne," a pained-looking nod greeted him. "...Good heavens, you're nearly as coated as the young sir is. What on earth happened?"
"Kiddo smacked me in the face with a ball of mud."
One eyebrow reached perilous heights. "I beg your pardon?"
"It was part of the training, Alfred!" the child chirped. "KF and I had to hunt Batman. Well...we were supposed to evade him, and Flash too, but we decided to hunt them instead. And it worked!"
"...Hunting humans. How delightful," Alfred rendered his opinion in a tone so dry that any still-wet mud they might have carried in would have hardened under it.
"I'll give you the finer details later," Bruce promised. "It wasn't as bad as it sounds. In fact," he tugged his son back against him and into a half-hug, "the kids did phenomenally."
"We kicked butt, right?"
"You bet you did. Dropped me right on mine, at least."
"Well," the butler's ruffled feathers seemed to smooth, "I'm pleased to hear that you performed well this weekend, young sir, but I must insist that you both get yourselves cleaned up and to the dining room. I've held dinner for you, and you must be hungry, hmm?"
"Yup! But don't worry, we ate lots of good stuff on our trip," Robin swore. "We caught our own fish, and picked our own berries, and roasted our own hot d-" He broke off, smacking his gloves over his mouth. "Uhhh..."
"Trying to hit me with a metaphorical mud ball now, chum?" Bruce groaned. Didn't we just talk about his pre-packaged foods phobia?
But Alfred simply shook his head as if he'd expected as much. "Go on, now, Master Dick," he waved the child away. "Get ready for dinner, and then you can regale me with all of your training tales."
"...Okay. Sorry, Bruce," he apologized. "I didn't mean it, honest."
"It's okay. I know it was an accident. Go get cleaned up; I'll be in in a second."
"'Kay." With that he started towards the changing area, peeking back over his shoulder with every other step.
"Hot dogs," the Englishman bemoaned once the youth was gone. "I knew I ought to have insisted on packing your food supplies. Although I suppose if nothing else has come out of this, I shan't fall for your little mistruth about Mister Allen purchasing the comestibles a second time."
"Will you burn my breakfast even a little less tomorrow if I tell you I bought organic hot dogs and whole grain buns?" Bruce tried without much hope. He knew hot dogs had been a gamble, but it seemed like such an innocent thing at the time...
"Hmm..." Alfred appeared to consider the offer. Then he chuckled, and the storm clouds lifted from his face. "Oh, I don't see why I should burn your breakfast. I sincerely hope that you did feed him the healthiest alternatives you could find, but the more I think about how he must have lit up when he saw what you were going to be eating the less angry I become. You were camping, after all, and I don't see how an organic hot dog or two could overwhelm the generally wholesome diet you both follow at home."
Not thinking it prudent at this juncture to mention how many of the hated sausages the speedsters had downed, the billionaire just smiled. "...Thanks. I've been looking forward to eggs and bacon all weekend."
"Of course. I'll lay you out a Sunday-style spread in the morning, shall I?"
"Sure. That sounds good."
"Very well. But tell me..." The older man's gaze traveled to the wall blocking off the changing area, then met his again. "...They did well, the boys? Truly?"
"If you'll forgive my language, Alfred," he felt his shoulders straighten of their own accord, "they really did kick our asses. Robin kicked our asses. I'm not saying Kid Flash didn't help, but I know who came up with the plan that got Flash and I surprise mud facials, and that's enough for me."
"...Excellent, sir. That's quite excellent, indeed." For a second Bruce saw his own parental joy reflected in the butler's expression. "I daresay it calls for ice cream after dinner, at least. Don't you?"
"He's earned it." And it won't hurt him a bit if he lost any weight with all the running around we did, he added to himself.
"I'll make the necessary preparations, then." A pleased smile slipped across Alfred's lips. "I'll see you upstairs shortly, sir."
"You bet," he nodded. "See you in a few."
Several hours later Bruce leaned over and brushed his hand through his sleeping son's hair one more time. "You did so well this weekend, Dicky," he breathed. "...So well. We'll go see Gobblehead tomorrow, okay?" Bending closer, he pressed a soft kiss against the boy's temple. "Sleep tight, chum. No nightmares, okay? Just good dreams."
Finally he rose and backed towards the doorway. There he paused, his body blocking enough of the light that Dick didn't stir but not so much that he couldn't still see him. He might have stood there all night, just watching the slumbering lump under the blankets and letting his pride build up and up until he exploded, had Alfred not spoken from behind him.
"Huh? Oh..." With one last glance into the room, he turned away and shut the portal behind himself. "What's up, Alfred?"
"Is the young master asleep already? Only I thought I might wipe his ear down again..." Dick hadn't been in the dining room more than thirty seconds before the butler had noted the nick in his freshly-scrubbed skin. A dire chastisement about failing to report mask injuries had followed, and had only slackened off when Bruce had entered and explained that he had been monitoring the injury since it had occurred. The boy had been allowed to eat his dinner without further hassling, but he had been required to have the tiny wound thoroughly rinsed and coated with antibacterial cream before he could enjoy dessert.
Given that, the billionaire wasn't surprised in the least that Alfred was carrying a clean rag and a bottle of peroxide. "He went out like a light," he told him. "Sorry. It should be fine, though. It really wasn't that deep, and it was more cartilage than anything that got caught."
"That doesn't preclude an infection, Master Wayne. I do hate to wake him when he's worked hard for the last two days and had to take his rest on the ground in the bargain, though...well, I'll just have to catch him in the morning. It won't be a terribly kind wake-up call, but I imagine he'll resent it less after a good night's sleep in his own bed than he would right now." A beat passed. "And you, sir? Will you take the evening off? You must be just as tired as he is."
"Tired, yes. Taking the night off, no." He didn't dare, not when the whole weekend had passed without his shadow falling across Gotham's lowlifes so much as once. "But if you have a few minutes, there are a couple of things that happened that you should know about before I go." He hadn't dared bring up Dick's night terror and other upsetting moments while the child might overhear, but he didn't want to leave the house without passing on the information to the only person who would be present were those demons to raise their heads again tonight.
Alfred's gaze sharpened. "Nightmares?" he guessed.
"Damn. Pardon me," he went on, raising one hand apologetically. "It's just that I had so hoped he might escape them with a change of scenery."
"Me, too, but...well, there were triggers that I couldn't control. I think he's worked past them – we talked, and he had a good chat with Wally, too – but just in case..."
"Of course, of course. Why don't we adjourn to the kitchen? A bit of coffee might help you through your patrol without affecting your sleep if you drink it now."
"Yeah, that sounds good." He began to follow the butler towards the stairs. Then he stopped and turned back, letting his eyes linger on the door he'd closed.
"It's funny, Alfred," he mused out loud. "I'm glad to be home, and I'm glad that he's safe in bed, but...there's something special about going on adventures with him. You know I'm not a fan of being in the middle of nowhere, but this weekend...I'd repeat this weekend in a heartbeat, so long as I knew he'd be by my side."
"I wouldn't fret about it, Master Wayne," Alfred advised warmly. "I have every reason to believe that you and the young sir will be off on your next adventure very soon."
"Yeah..." He nodded, a faint grin arching his lips as he recalled the boy's reaction to the news about Alaska. He might as well bring that up once they were downstairs, too; it was only three months away, after all. Besides, they were likely to get into some sort of shenanigans before September, and the more he thought about it the more he couldn't wait. "...Very soon."
Author's Note: Well, dear readers, that's a wrap! I hope you enjoyed this little romp; I certainly enjoyed bringing it to you.
Now, a little housekeeping. My plan is to just do short pieces, most likely 'Summer Shorts' chapters, for the rest of this week. I will not be posting this coming Saturday or Sunday, as I'll be out on the track 24 hours straight for Relay for Life. However, on either Monday or Tuesday you will see the first chapter of 'Tectonic Doom,' which is the Dick/Tim hiking-and-saving-the-world story I mentioned a while back.
Other stories you can look forward to this summer include 'The Silent Treatment,' the premise of which I'm keeping a secret for now, and of course 'Death on High,' which will be the boys' training mission to Alaska.
Once fall hits we'll do a little sneaking around with Dick and Wally in a haunted house in an as-yet-untitled story, and we'll also see Robin tackle his first big-name villain in 'Fear Factor.' I hope to have both of those wrapped up on or around Halloween.
As always, thanks for taking this journey with me, and happy reading!