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Working Hands, Caring Hands
It was sitting there just like it always was, every night almost since he could remember, every morning. The bottle was sitting on the counter, Alfred expecting it to be used.
It wasn't anything special really, just a bottle of over the counter hand cream, though the good stuff, the kind you use if your hands are seriously chapped or painful, neither of which his hands were.
But he dutifully used it, unless he forgot.
It went on for years, just part of his daily routine like brushing his teeth or taking a shower. It was a habit now, something he never even thought about. He never asked about it, never questioned the reasoning or anything else about it, assuming that Bruce had a similar bottle sitting in his private bathroom and had also likely been raised using it twice a day.
It wasn't anything.
He'd started the thing with the hand cream the second week Dick had been staying with them, when he was still an eight year old, still overtly grieving about his loss and deeply in shock. Alfred had made sure that the child had a new toothbrush and toothpaste, clean towels, well-fitting clothes that would be appropriate for his new school, good and nutritious food to eat and all the basics.
On one of those first afternoons he'd asked the boy to wash his hands before he sat down for an afternoon snack. Placing the used dishes in the sink afterwards he saw a smudge of blood where Dick had boosted himself up on the kitchen counter to reach the faucet. Checking, he'd seen the calluses on the child's hands, both old and new, covering most of the palms and inner fingers. They were the marks of his former profession and caused by a young lifetime spent supporting his weight on bars and catching himself after flips and somersaults practiced and performed endlessly.
Saying nothing other than he'd get the boy some antibiotic cream and a bandaide for his newly split skin (the result of hanging on a convenient branch down by the river) he'd considered his options.
Clearly, forbidding the child from doing something he enjoyed, especially at this embryonic stage of his recovery, would be a mistake. Coddling would be rejected and unappreciated.
Sitting with a cup of Earl Grey he was at a loss about the life the boy had lived and which had been so violently taken from him. Performances almost nightly in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people. Tours, living in a small trailer, responsibility, expectations to be met and a dangerous career which, at the age when most children are in the protective cocoon of third grade had caused enough damage and stress to his young body. The condition of his hands being merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg—this was all beyond his experience.
Saying nothing to the Master, he'd called Dr. Thompkins, gotten a medicated hand cream and begun Dick on a life-long regiment of basic care for the abused skin. His hope was that it would alleviate, in some small part, his pain.
The thick pads of hardened skin slowly softened over the months but never disappeared as Dick continued his training both with the Master and as a tie to his past life, a connection to what he had been.
A few years later he happened upon the then adolescent youngster going through a high bar routine down in the cave, repeating the moves over and over without break or pause. Giant swing after giant swing, releases to catches one after the other again and again until, inevitably, blood started dripping from his exhausted hands. Calling Dick off the bar and taking him to task for allowing this to happen when he'd known he was at the limits of his body's endurance.
The boy explained, with some trepidation, that his hands hurt but it was the only way.
The only way?
The hand cream softened his calluses and he was in danger of them peeling off; he was afraid if that happened it would be twice as hard to get them back.
But, why on earth…?
They served as a permanent reminder of what he had been and would likely never be again. If they healed that part of him would be gone, perhaps forever.
The subject was never brought up after that day. Alfred moved the hand cream into the medicine cabinet above the sink in Dick's bathroom to use or not as he chose.