Title: No Capes
Author: DC Luder
Summary: Dick confronts Bruce about a troubling issue.
Infringements: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
Author's Note: I love Dick Grayson. And The Incredibles. And cherry floats.
"What was silent in the father speaks in the son, and often I found in the son the unveialed secret of the father."
Once in a blue moon.
Back in the day of pixie boots, I can remember patrolling with Bruce hearing him mutter to himself, "Once in a blue moon…".
We had just happened across a group of thugs who had promptly dropped their weapons, fallen to their knees and proceeded to beg for mercy. Naturally, he had seen to it that they didn't require too many stitches or casts, being the considerate vigilante that he was.
After we had bound the men, still begging through tears and whimpers, I had made a comment about how it was nice to hear him say something without it being an order. He had been quick to tell me that he had commented on the fact that it was a blue moon that night, simply stating fact as opposed to a light hearted remark.
Naturally, I had looked up at the sky and shrugged, "Looks like a white moon to me."
Enter the ten minute lecture on how a blue moon was once defined as being the third full moon of each season, with each season accounting for three of the twelve annual full moons, not including the rare thirteenth full moon. As we moved to wrap up patrols in the Village, I had tried to ignore him as he continued on about how modern experts proclaimed that a true blue moon was in fact the second blue moon in a single month as opposed to the time definitions of a particular season, of which occurs roughly every two and a half years.
Needless to say, it had been a long ride home…
The commute from NYC to Gotham made me actually miss battling lunatics on the freeway from Bludhaven to its big sister city. Given that it was the middle of February, I had opted on taking the train. Thanks to Tim Reynolds and his glorious guitar playing, I spent the trip in a mini-coma, waking just as we arrived at Central. After grabbing my overnight bag and taking out one of my ear buds, I stepped off of one train, navigated the station and then boarded the commuter rail heading right back out of the city.
Busy architecture quickly gave way to snow covered suburbia and then to quiet, uninhabited countryside. My train car was occupied by eighteen young men and women, their stylish business wardrobes easily combining to a total in the six-digits. I suddenly felt under dressed in stone-washed jeans, a fitted rugby shirt and a leather jacket that had been to the cleaners… never.
After we arrived at the station, I let my finer garbed friends out first, each far too occupied with their iPhones and BlackBerries to thank me. While they made their way through the slick parking lot to their respected imported vehicles, I took to standing beside the pick up/drop off sign, half tempted to roll up a few snowballs to see if I could nail a Beemer.
When a black Lincoln town car pulled up, I opted not to.
Alfred would most likely make me walk to the Manor if he'd seen such behavior.
Leaping over a small snow pile, I jumped to the passenger side and hopped in before Alfred could get out and open one of the back doors for me. As I tossed my bag in the backseat, Alfred shook his head, "Master Dick, I must insist---."
"Insist all you want, Al, I can't play with the radio from back there," I threw him a trademark smirk.
He stared at me for a solid minute before putting the car back in drive, mumbling to himself.
"What's that, Al?"
"I was just remarking at to how your presence has been sorely missed… or rather your antics."
We chatted the full length of the nine minute car ride about what I had been up to of late. Regrettably, I didn't have much to offer aside from a few fun cases I had wrapped up in addition to a few dates I had gone on with my favorite bakery's proprietor.
"And what is the young lady's name?"
"Mel… her scones are almost as good as yours."
Hs left brow rose slightly as he made the turn up the drive, "I do hope you fancy this young lady aside from her…scones."
I let out a laugh, mostly because Alfred's face had remained deadpan, "She also makes fantastic raisin brioche."
Joking aside, there wasn't even much to say about Mel. Nothing serious, simple as could be in fact and all the free breakfast goodies I could stomach. She was a twenty-five year old divorcée who thought I belonged on a Calvin Klein billboard rather than stuffing my face in her bakery. After the complicated, demanding and even violent relationships I had endured in the past, this was a… piece of coffee cake.
"Hey… can you… I mean, if you could keep it under wraps, it's just that… I haven't told Babs and I don't want her to hear it second or third hand, you know," I stammered as we pulled into the garage.
He parked, killed the ignition and unbuckled his seat belt before responding, "I feel you and Ms. Barbara at both at an age that you can tend to your own affairs unsupervised."
"But Bruce can't?" I chided.
He sighed, shaking his head as he opened the driver's side door, "Master Bruce, I am afraid, will never be granted such a liberty."
I laughed out loud, but only because I knew the subject of my amusement wasn't home from work yet.
Where I had beat Alfred at the station, he had bested me in retrieving my luggage. My overnight bag was the perfect size for two sets of casual clothes, toiletries and of course my black and blue, Kevlar lined pajamas. I had intended on staying the weekend, as long as everything went according to plan. If that evening fell short, it might be another long ride home.
Although I had spent a majority of my life in the Manor, walking through it never ceased to amaze me. Gigantic, enormous, ginormous. I followed Alfred upstairs to my old bedroom, of which was always prepared for my rare visits, expected or otherwise. As I he automatically unpacked the civilian attire, I perused the expanse of the oak credenza on the far wall.
A quartertet of crystal circus figurines sat amongst the silver framed photos. I picked up the elephant, standing on three feet while offering the fourth and his trunk to the sky. Bruce, or rather, Alfred had gotten them for me on my eleventh birthday. There had been a fifth, a clown, but after a particularly unsavory encounter with the Joker, I had thrown it away, claiming I had accidentally broken it.
"Might one inquire as to what your plan entails?"
Upon setting the elephant back down, I shrugged, turning to face him as he flattened an imaginary rumple in the comforter, "Well, that depends… what was he like this morning."
He took a moment to formulate his reply, "Fairly good natured, considering there was a board meeting this afternoon."
"Woe is the billionaire life… I meant… how is his other half?"
From the imaginary rumple, he moved to brush an invisible speck of dust off of the bedside table, "I would have to say the same, Master Dick… Late nights as opposed to early mornings… Not to put a hex on matters, but I can not recall the last time we have used the medical bay."
Given that one of my best friends was the cyber connection to the superheroes, I was well aware that Bruce's activity log had been light of late. Rough, icy winters had a habit of putting a dent in criminal activity, even in Gotham.
An ice age would put caped crusaders everywhere out of business.
"That's good to hear… that things are quiet."
"An optimist…" he hesitated before moving towards the door, "Master Bruce sees it as the calm before the storm."
I hit the lights and followed him into the hall him, "He's such a party pooper."
Upon returning to the ground floor, Alfred announced that Bruce was expected home around six which gave us a little over an hour to prepare. Most of the work to be done was in the kitchen and would be fairly easy. The matter of figuring out how to ask Bruce something I hadn't in a decade… less easy.
Since hot dogs, of any size, shape or level of Kosher-ness were not allowed in Alfred's kitchen, I reluctantly helped him make Aspargus in a Blanket. He prepared small triangles of bread dough while I took on the task of cutting up the oddly tasty green stalks, bits of cheese and slices of tomato. Aside from fifteen minutes in one of the ovens, they were ready to go.
"Add bacon to these and I bet you could make anyone smile," I commented. When Alfred only nodded while arranging the bundles on a cookie sheet, I found myself asking, "Do you think he's happy, I mean… never mind, I don't know what I mean."
"You question whether or not his life is satisfying."
"Exactly… I know I'm clueless about what I want out of life, but eventually… I want the normal road… wife, kids… the picket fence life sounds cliché for someone in my line of work but it shouldn't be out of the question. For me… for him."
After he wiped down the island's marble countertop, Alfred began retrieving ingredients and supplies for the next step: seared beef tenderloin mini sandwiches dressed with Alfred's infamous mustard-horseradish sauce. Divine.
"I believe, in a way, that Master Bruce derives some sort of… happiness from his life… whether it be ridding the city of a mugger or taking down a criminal mastermind… as you said, the challenges of a picket fence life may be insignificant in regards to life he leads."
Leaning against the counter, I offered, "Yeah… Hard to compare battling the Joker with battling bad cholesterol."
"I was thinking more towards his other roles… a philanthropist, businessman… and as a father."
My smirk faded as I glanced up to catch Alfred's eyes looking at me, a sadness in them that I rarely saw.
Having garnered my full attention, he concluded, "Which is why your visit will be a pleasant surprise."
The growl of a Mercedes approached the garage at precisely six, early, but thankfully Alfred and I had managed to accomplish all of the preparations, save for one final task. Rather than play my presence up by hiding in the pantry or even calling out, "Surprise!", I had opted to go the mature route and simply act nonchalant by standing at the counter.
While Alfred arranged the warm Aspargus wraps, mini sandwiches and our culinary crown jewel of skewers loaded with chilled cheese tortellini and cherry tomatoes, I listened as the engine quieted. The service entrance that lead into a small area between the kitchen and the massive pantry allowed access from both the adjacent garage and a small parking area for deliveries. Aside from infrequent visitors, everyone used the service entrance.
The door opened and closed quietly before the jingle of keys and scuff of Italian shoes on tile sounded. A low sigh, then precise foot falls, followed by Bruce calling out, "Were we expecting company, Alfred?"
I replied before he was able to enter the kitchen, "I qualify as 'company' now? I'm honored."
The foot falls quieted as he reached the entranceway. Fresh from Wayne Enterprises, he looked like the crowd from the train car, tailored suit, spotless camel hair coat and glossy leather briefcase. But where my travel companions had been slaves to their electronic devices, Bruce was preoccupied with an actual person.
"Dick… I… What are you doing here?" he recovered.
"Good to see you, too," I nodded at him before motioning to the spread of snacks, "Figured there's not a single dive in the city that can compete with Alfred… Hard to convince him to come to me, so really I had no other choice but to come home."
Bruce nearly contained the slight look of surprise at my terming Wayne Manor as being home. Further thought might of have resulted in the revelation that even he didn't call it home, it was always the Manor or the house. Or upstairs.
Before he could set his briefcase down, Alfred stepped forward and offered to take it as well as his coat. Once free, Bruce finally approached me, offering an awkward handshake before, "It's good to see you."
"You too. Think of it as an early birthday gift." When he didn't attempt to control his brow's reaction, I added, "It's next week, you know."
He shook his head before responding, "I know when my birthday is, Dick… Just… it's a nice gesture."
I watched as he surveyed the goods, wondering if he was going to sneak one before Alfred returned. He commented, "No crab stuffed mushrooms."
"They're my favorite, not yours."
Bruce smirked at that and replied, "I see. And what would my favorite be?"
I stepped aside, revealing three glasses that had been hiding behind me, each filled three-quarters of the way with bubbling Cherry Coke. Beside them, a small carton of vanilla ice cream and metal scoop sat waiting.
"Remember, when I was really little… Every Wednesday I'd get my homework done, you'd come home from work early and we'd all watch a movie, pig out and have cherry floats."
Bruce nodded, this time attempting to conceal a smile rather than shock.
"I thought… maybe it would be nice to do that again… maybe not every Wednesday but… certainly not once in a blue moon."
"It's a decent proposal," he quipped.
I picked up the scoop and offered it to him, "That and… it would be nice to see you when the world isn't coming to an end."
The smile broke through, if only for a second.
I pushed on, "I've been thinking a lot lately, about how much has changed since I was that boy who spilled soda on the couch cushion, of which you promptly flipped over to hide it from Alfred… Even back then we didn't get to spend much time together if we weren't clobbering bad guys… It was nice, getting to talk to one another instead of just exchanging monosyllabic replies and grunts."
By the time Alfred returned, each glass yielded two perfect scoops of softened ice cream and the appetizers were distributed evenly amongst three plates. We had even managed to wash, dry and put away the platters and cooking dishware. Not wanting to admit defeat, Alfred announced, "Master Dick, the film you suggested was in the entertainment den, it is cued and ready to play."
"What film?" Bruce asked as he selected his plate and cherry float.
I did the same and headed towards the hallway with Bruce a stride behind me, leaving Alfred last to give him a private moment to make sure we put things away properly. As we turned left towards the front of the house, I answered, "Only the single best CGI animated film of all time."
"Thought you would have surpassed the need to watch cartoons."
"Au contraire, this is no mere cartoon. We're talking supreme depictions of some of the greatest heroes of all time, not to mention riveting plot, a plausible antagonist, abundant one-liners and---."
"It's not that super hero movie is it?" he asked lowly.
"…Party pooper. And The Incredibles is more than just a superhero movie, Bruce," I paused at the door of the dimly lit room, illuminated only by the plasma screen, "It's about family.
He shook his head and replied curtly before walking by me and taking a seat, "Now you're pushing your luck."
I countered, "Hey, you just wait to see what happens to people with capes… then we'll see who's pushing their luck… No capes!