Characters: Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson
Timeframe: This story follows my earlier stories "Jealousy" and "A Christmas of Beginnings" in continuity.
Disclaimer: Characters herein are owned by DC Comics/Time Warner/AOL. No profit is realized from creation of stories based on these trademarked characters. Not to be archived without permission.
Comments and feedback are welcome to SKHwrite@cranky-dog.com
Dick Grayson walked briskly down a hallway in the central classroom building of the Gotham Academy. With his backpack slung over one shoulder and his winter coat bundled under one arm, Dick rounded a corner into the main corridor.
As Dick passed other students, one boy deliberately bumped shoulders with him, breaking his preoccupied stride. "Hey, newbie... your *chauffeur's* heeerrre," the other boy taunted.
"An' he just came from a date with *your* Mom, lame-o!" Dick retorted without a backwards glance. Several other boys in the hallway laughed at the come-back as Dick kept walking. Dick looked up to see Alfred Pennyworth waiting for him. To Dick, Alfred was his and Bruce's caretaker. Alfred had worked for Bruce Wayne's family for ages, and now that Bruce had become Dick's guardian, he cared for Dick, too.
"Good afternoon, Master Dick," Alfred crisply greeted his small charge. Alfred was nattily dressed in his long driving coat and cap.
"Awfta-noon, Alfred," Dick parroted back as he reached the older man. Dick put down his backpack and slipped into his coat. Buttoned to Alfred's satisfaction, Dick picked up the backpack and followed Alfred out of the main doors and into the bitter February cold.
Nine-year-old Dick had been coming to school at the Academy for several weeks now, his first real experience in a formal classroom setting. Before he came to live with Bruce and Alfred, Dick received his schooling from his mother, who tutored him while the family traveled as aerialist performers, "The Flying Graysons," with a small circus.
Once inside the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, Alfred and Dick headed home to Wayne Manor. "And how was your day, Master Dick, other than the altercation I witnessed in the hallway just now?" Alfred asked from the front seat.
In the backseat, Dick unsnapped his safety belt and leaned forward, the better to talk with Alfred. He was quickly, but gently, reprimanded, then grudgingly sat back and refastened his belt.
"That was Brendan Houser. He sits behind me in class. He's a rube. They're all rubes, Alfred. They don't know nuthin' about nuthin'."
Alfred eyed the youngster through the rear-view mirror. The lad seemed relatively unfazed as he delivered his worldly opinion about his schoolmates.
"And yet, I expect they may strive to use more correct grammar, Master Dick, as should you."
Dick scrunched his features into a disgusted grimace. "You know what I mean, Alfred. They're little mama's-boy rubes. They think they can get a rise outta me because I'm new at school, and because you pick me up, and they take a bus, or their moms come get them."
"I see," Alfred acknowledged. "And would you rather take the schoolbus?"
Dick shook his head. "Nah. Not 'specially. I get home faster with you." Dick looked out the window at the passing landscape. "Some of the kids ain't--"
"--*aren't* so bad. They like that I climb the rope in gym class really fast. Other kids, though... they try to make out that they're better'n me 'cause I'm circus. They don't know nuthin'... uh, anything."
"You don't seem terribly upset by that, Master Dick," Alfred noted encouragingly.
Dick looked back at the older man. "Nope. They can't do what I do. Their parents got... um *have* lots of money, but I did my quad before a real King -- in Europe! My dad said our family always played before royalty."
"That is a legacy to be proud of, Master Dick."
"And Bruce probably has more money than all of 'em put together. But Bruce's money didn't make me the youngest flyer in the whole world to hit the quad!" Dick leaned forward, loosening his seat belt until he could almost rest his elbows on the back of the seat in front of him. "Will Bruce be home soon, Alfred?"
"Master Bruce should leave his office at 3:30, as per his new schedule."
Some weeks before, Bruce Wayne had taken definite steps toward reducing the amount of time he spent at Wayne Enterprises by hiring a new Chief Operating Officer. Since then, Bruce had been coming home earlier in order to spend more time with Dick.
Arriving at Wayne Manor several minutes later, the major-domo repeated his daily instructions to Dick to go upstairs, change out of his school uniform, and do his homework.
"Aww, Alfred," Dick protested, "can I just go outside for a little while?"
"'May' I just go out..." Alfred corrected his charge, hanging up the boy's coat in the foyer's closet.
"*May* I just go outside for a little while? We didn't have P.E. today because they were doing something to the gym floor, and that kid Brendan coughed and hacked all over the back of my neck all day in class. I just gotta go outside and *move*!"
Alfred looked at Dick's upturned, expectant face. "Very well," he conceded. "One hour outside. Dress warmly, and wear your jacket, gloves, and hat."
"Thanks, Alfred!" Dick shouted as he raced up the grand staircase, bound for his room.
The boy's departing voice echoed through the halls, competing with an impatiently ringing telephone. Alfred sighed lightly and walked to the antique lowboy wall table. "Wayne Manor," he curtly answered. "Yes, this is he..." Alfred's face took on a concerned expression. He listened seriously, then closed his eyes and brought his hand to his temple.
Alfred Pennyworth, who seldom took the time to sit down on the job, slowly sank onto the chair next to the table.
Dick met Bruce at the estate's front gate, smiling broadly as he popped a wheelie on his bike.
"Race ya!" Dick called out as Bruce rolled down the Jag's window.
"I don't think so, chum," Bruce contradicted with a barely suppressed half smile. "Did you finish your homework?"
Dick made a sour face. "Not yet. Alfred let me come outside 'cause I was stuck in my stuffy, crummy classroom all day."
"Sounds fair to me," Bruce agreed. Dick was adjusting surprisingly well to the confinement of a regimented school schedule as well as to his responsibilities outside of class. Bruce could afford him a little break from his routine. "I'll drive slowly, and we can ride back to the house together."
"You kidding? Eat my dust!" Dick laughed, and he took off on the bike, leaving his mentor behind.
Bruce pulled the Jaguar into its space in the Wayne Manor garage as Dick was putting his bicycle away. Bruce noted the bright flush on Dick's cheeks as he helped the boy out of his jacket. "Let's see if Alfred has some hot chocolate ready, and then you need to finish your school work before dinner."
Indeed, they found a thermos of hot chocolate in the kitchen, but no Alfred. A foil-covered baking dish was on the counter, with a note to put it into the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
"I guess Alfred must have plans or something, chum," Bruce commented as he poured the boy a mug of the hot drink. "Here you go."
"Thanks, Bruce," said Dick, reaching for his mug.
Bruce pressed a button on the intercom panel on the kitchen wall. "Alfred? Dick and I are in the kitchen. Are you forcing us to "bach" it alone tonight?" Bruce returned Dick's smile at the helpless tone he projected. The smile faded at Alfred's reply.
"I'm in my room, Master Bruce. May I have a word with you?"
"I'm on my way." Bruce left the kitchen immediately. Dick craned to watch him leave.
When Bruce reached Alfred's room, he saw the older man zipping up a garment bag. Another suitcase sat on the floor next to the door.
"Going somewhere?" Bruce asked cautiously.
Alfred straightened up and turned to his employer. "I am, Bruce. I received word this afternoon that my cousin Lettie... my favorite cousin... passed away this morning. Her family in Devonshire would like for me to come as soon as possible."
Bruce crossed the short span of space between them and placed a hand on Alfred's arm. "I'm... I'm so sorry, Alfred. I'll have a corporate jet readied."
Alfred patted Bruce's hand. "I anticipated you would say that, sir, and took the liberty of arranging for a flight... to save time. A car will be here shortly to take me to the Wayne airstrip." He walked to his closet, took out a suit, and laid it across the bed. "I'm afraid I must leave immediately, so I need you to listen carefully while I familiarize you with details as to Master Dick's care. If you'll look in that side table there, you'll find a notepad and pen."
Over the next 15 minutes, while Alfred changed into a traveling suit, he dictated instructions to Bruce about meals, routines, and Dick's school schedule. Seating himself in a chair, Bruce wrote everything down. When he was finished, he leaned back in the chair, concern etching his face.
"Alfred... what do I do about the boy when I--"
Alfred looked pointedly at Bruce. "I would hope that you could postpone your 'crusade' until my return, Bruce. There wasn't time for me to arrange for a suitable... sitter... so *you* will have to be Master Dick's caretaker."
"But if an emergency comes up..." Bruce countered.
"You accepted the responsibility of guardianship, Master Bruce. You will have to live up to that responsibility to its fullest extent. You could always have your executive assistant locate a sitter, but then, there *is* the issue of bringing an outsider into the Manor, not to mention your unorthodox hours, to consider."
The ringing of the telephone interrupted their discussion. Alfred answered, spoke briefly, then hung up. "That was the front gate. My transportation is here, Master Bruce. I must go. Please be sensitive when you explain the reason for my sudden departure to Master Dick."
"You goin' some place, Alfred?" Dick asked from just outside the door.
The two men turned to look at the boy. Alfred smiled and went to Dick, taking his hand and leading him to a padded bench in the hall. He sat for a moment while Bruce took the luggage downstairs. "Yes, I am, Master Dick. I must go to England for a few days. I need you to take care of Master Bruce for me. Can you do that? He's quite helpless in the kitchen, and I don't believe he even knows where the laundry room is."
"Can we call out for pizza?" Dick asked, his eyes lighting up hopefully.
"Yes, you may, but please do not drink an overabundance of cola," Alfred smiled. Dick grinned triumphantly, and then Alfred pulled the boy into a quick embrace. "Be a responsible young gentleman while I'm gone," he said.
"Piece of cake, Alfred!" Dick chirped. The boy fairly skipped down the stairs beside the major-domo.
Bruce and Dick stood on the portico steps and watched the car carrying their "parent" drive off down the long lane, away from Wayne Manor. Dick waved until the tail lights vanished into the growing darkness. Bruce ushered his ward inside the house and closed the door.
"I guess we should heat up that dish he left on the kitchen counter for us," Bruce said, feeling just a bit unsure about the predicament he and Dick had been left in.
"Un-uh. We can call for pizza. Alfred said!" Dick countered, pulling a telephone book out of a drawer in a side table in the foyer. "I want sausage and double cheese!" He thumbed through the yellow pages like a veteran.
"Chum, I think Alfred wanted us to have what he set out..." Bruce repeated.
"And breadsticks with marinara sauce. Those are good! Should we get some chicken wings, too, Bruce?" Dick asked as he dialed the telephone, ignoring his mentor's reluctance to obtain more preferential sustenance.
Without waiting for Bruce's answer, Dick rattled off his order to the clerk at the pizzeria and held out the phone to Bruce. "He wants to talk to a grown up. Tell 'em to hurry. Give 'em a big tip or something."
"Give me that thing," Bruce mock-growled, taking the receiver from Dick's hand.
Twenty minutes later, guardian and ward sat in front of the television eating their gooey, cheesy pie.
At six o'clock the next morning, Bruce knocked on Dick's bedroom door. Dick had a morning workout scheduled before getting ready for school, and since Bruce had dismissed the boy from their evening workout the night before in lieu of their pizza party, he would insist on Dick getting a good session in this morning. Bruce felt the need for one himself, given the several slices of pizza he'd consumed, compounded by Batman's not having patrolled Gotham City.
"Come on, chum, time to wake up," Bruce called out. Failing to hear a response, he walked into Dick's room. The boy was still sleeping, seemingly dead to the world and buried beneath the bedcovers, with just the top part of his dark, disheveled head visible. Bruce crossed the room to the bed. He jostled Dick's shoulder. "Dick. Time to get up. Let's go, now."
With a slight squirm and a whine, Dick moaned unintelligibly.
Bruce wondered if the boy was this difficult to get out of bed every morning. "Dick, it's time to go work out now. Come on, get out of bed, get dressed, and let's get downstairs to the gym."
Dick repeated the whining groan and disappeared beneath the covers completely, leaving Bruce perplexed and a little impatient. The boy usually ran laps around him in the morning and definitely did not whine.
"Downstairs in ten minutes, Dick," Bruce called out more sternly. That got a muffled grunt, which he took for acknowledgement. He left Dick's room and headed for Wayne Manor's gym.
When Dick had not shown up after 15 minutes, Bruce mentally cancelled the workout and concentrated on getting the boy ready for breakfast and school. Taking the stairs two at a time, he returned to Dick's room to find the boy still in bed. Giving two sharp claps, Bruce loudly said, "Time to get UP, Dick! Let's GO!" He yanked the covers back, leaving the boy curled up in the middle of the bed. With another cracking clap, he repeated his order. "Up! Now!"
Dick jerked, startled by the sharp noise and the sudden cold. Groaning, he rolled over and sat up, sitting Indian-style and rubbing his eyes.
"We'll have double workout after school, since you missed this morning's," Bruce explained. "Now, up and at 'em, chum. Get washed up and dressed for school. I want you in the kitchen in fifteen minutes."
Dick crawled out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom, closing the door behind him. Satisfied, Bruce left the room.
Bruce followed Alfred's directions and set out a bowl of cereal with banana slices at the kitchen table. "Milk, juice... that's everything," he murmured, pouring himself a glass of orange juice. Bruce checked his watch. Late. With a sigh, he left the kitchen to track down his errant ward. He found Dick sitting on the staircase, tying his shoes.
"I can help you with your necktie, chum," Bruce offered, inspecting Dick's school uniform according to Alfred's suggested scrutiny. Dick stood up and tucked in his shirt while Bruce managed with almost too-large hands a reasonable Windsor knot in the small necktie. He finished up with an affectionate pat on the boy's shoulder.
"Let's go have breakfast," Bruce suggested, and he led the way back to the kitchen. After pouring milk into Dick's cereal bowl, Bruce left the kitchen for his den, where he made a phone call to the office. A few minutes later, he returned to find Dick's cereal uneaten, and the boy sitting with his head resting on his folded arms on the table.
"Hey, you need to eat, Dick. We have to leave soon," Bruce prodded. He went to the counter and poured a cup of coffee from the urn, took a sip, and made a sour face. "Ugh, I guess I make really bad coffee," he grumbled. Bruce poured the contents of the cup and urn down the sink. He turned back to the boy, who had not moved. Bruce had no idea Dick was so sluggish to get started in the morning. How did Alfred manage this so efficiently?
"Dick. Eat breakfast."
Dick slowly sat up and rubbed his eyes. He looked at the cereal, milk-sodden and unappealing now, and frowned. "I'm not hungry," he softly complained, turning his face to Bruce's.
Bruce looked at Dick. With sorrowful blue eyes and flushed cheeks, Bruce deemed his ward's expression as a little bit pitiful. Was it a ploy to keep them both at home, now that he was out from under Alfred's watchful eye? Determined not to be bullied as he had been the night before with the pizza issue, Bruce gathered his parental resolve together.
"It's no wonder, considering how much you ate last night. I guess you're stuck with a granola bar, then, chum. C'mon, let's go. I have a meeting at 9:00."
Bruce ushered the boy into the foyer where he retrieved their coats and Dick's backpack, which had been left on the bottom step of the staircase. Minutes later, Bruce dropped Dick off in front of the school.
"I'll see you this afternoon, Dick. Have a good day at school." Bruce waved as Dick trudged off to the main school building. Heaving a sigh of relief, the billionaire once again marveled at how Alfred managed their world so effortlessly. Turning on the public radio station, Bruce cheerfully drove away from the school, bound for Gotham City.
At 10:35, Bruce's executive assistant, Margaret, interrupted his meeting with Lucius Fox. "Mr. Wayne, I'm sorry to break in, but you have a call from Dick's school."
With a slight frown of concern, Bruce said, "I'll take it, Margaret. Transfer the call."
"Bruce Wayne here..."
"Mr. Wayne, this is Mrs. Evans, the school secretary at Gotham Academy. Your little boy, Dick Grayson, is in the nurse's office. It seems we've got a flu epidemic making its run through the student body. Dick was one of three children from his class who became ill. He vomited twice and has a fever of 101 degrees. I called your home, but... Mr. Pennyworth, the primary contact listed in Dick's records, did not answer."
"No, Mr. Pennyworth had to leave town last night to attend to a family emergency. Tell Dick to hold tight, Mrs. Evans. I'll be there as soon as I can to pick him up."
Bruce terminated that call, then dialed Leslie Thompkins, the Wayne family physician and Bruce's longtime friend. After a brief wait, he got Leslie on the line. "Leslie, Dick has come down with the flu, and Alfred left for England last night."
"I'm not surprised," the harried free-clinic physician replied, "half the city is coming down with this new strain of flu. I've got a waiting room filled with sick children. I'll phone in a couple of prescriptions to Merrill's Pharmacy at the Brentwood Marketplace. You can pick them up on your way to the school. Call me back in a few hours, and give me an update. I have to run."
Bruce stared at the phone.
Lucius Fox stood up to go back to his own office. "Looks like you have your hands full, Bruce," he smiled. "Don't worry about the office. You just go take care of that boy of yours."
Moments later, Bruce sped out of Gotham City.
[ End Part One ]