Tile: Sleep Tight
Author: DC Luder
Rating: K (or A for Awwwww)
Summary: Dick has never asked much of Bruce… until now.
Disclaimer: Recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
Author's Note: In response to Bludhaven's Slumber Party Challenge. I didn't clean my apartment or go grocery shopping as this seemed to be a far more appealing way to spend my evening.
Some folks say 'twas a dream they dreamed of sailing that misty I shall name you the fisherman three - Wynkin', Blynkin', and Nod.
"You know, popcorn fight, board games, root beer burp contests…"
"I know what a sleepover is, Dick… it's just… an unusual request."
Disheartened, the boy's eyes fell to the plate of waffles before him. It was a rare occasion that I joined him for breakfast before school considering I preferred to spend the few hours between returning from patrols and departing for Wayne Enterprises asleep. That morning, however, Alfred had roused me from my bed, chased me down the stairs and ushered me into the kitchen nook for a surprise.
Despite going to bed late himself, Dick had risen at six-thirty, dressed for the day and helped Alfred prepare a full breakfast of banana nut waffles, fruit salad, Canadian bacon and even hand squeezed pineapple-orange juice. Given my suspicious nature, I had been unable to appreciate the gesture, instead immediately asking him what was going on.
Without skipping a beat, he had smirked, "Most important meal of the day, right? Might as well make it a good one."
No doubt a vast majority of children would have gone about setting up a proposal in a similar fashion, or by performing tasks such as shoveling the sidewalk or putting out the garbage without being asked. A nice gesture in order to butter up the parent or guardian for a favorable response to an impending question.
From Dick, I had expected him to ask permission to drive one of the Bat-cycles or stay out for full patrols all weekend long. What I hadn't expected was for him to inquire, "I know it's kind of last second but… Can I have a sleepover tonight?"
Where I had been taken aback, Alfred had not, pouring my coffee as he responded, "Master Dick, I think that is a splendid idea, wouldn't you agree, sir?"
Knowing if I responded in the negative Alfred would most likely pour the hot contents of the carafe on my lap, I simply stated, "Certainly is."
The expression on Dick's face soared from uncertainty to pure exuberance, "Really?"
I nodded, "Of course… it's always good to take time off… to have fun."
Dick stabbed a hunk of waffle and devoured it before responding, although not before he opened his mouth to speak before swallowing. Alfred cleared his throat quietly before returning to his post in the kitchen, quickly reminding his young charge of proper table etiquette.
"It's only two of my friends so it's not like it'll be too bad… and they're pretty well-behaved… and we can just stay up and play games and watch movies, sleep in until Saturday morning cartoons…"
As Dick feverishly continued on, I wondered if he was still talking to me or if he was just planning his first slumber party out loud. I interrupted him just as he began listing off what kinds of snacks he intended on having, "Dick?"
Energetic blue eyes shot up, "Yeah, Bruce?"
"You know this means you won't be allowed to go on patrols, seeing how you will be responsible for your guests."
He grinned, "I know, but I figure you can leave me a few bad guys for tomorrow night."
I nodded and finally reached for the steaming mug Alfred had prepared.
Dick finished his breakfast in record time before racing upstairs to fetch his winter jacket, hat, gloves and book bag. Although spring was less that two weeks away, Gotham was still trapped in a wintry wonderland with seemingly daily snowfalls and temperatures barely breaking the freezing point.
Customarily, Alfred rove Dick to and from school, and on the rare occasion I would make it home from a day at WE early enough to pick him up in the Jaguar on a Friday afternoon. I knew he had made fast friends in the last year and a half at the Bristol Middle School, but couldn't recall a single one of their names. Where Alfred always questioned him about his acquaintances and school life, I had been infatuated in directing conversations with him to our work, our war on crime.
I looked up from the empty coffee cup before me and found Alfred standing in the center of the nook's arched entrance.
"Master Dick and I are leaving… I shall return shortly."
Rather then about face, Alfred stepped forward and continued, "Sir, I will be more than willing to offer my supervision to this preadolescent gathering but if I may inquire to your schedule this evening?"
I shrugged slightly, "Friday night… Bruce Wayne is invited to three fundraisers that I know of---."
"Yes, I've already sent out the donations and words of regret of your unfortunate absence."
"There's also the new exhibit at Neerman Science Center… puzzles of classical Greeze… might capture the interest of Nygma---."
"Who is securely contained in a cell at Arkham Asylum, if I'm not mistaken."
"I should make an appearance somewhere at least once tonight---."
"Might I make a suggestion, however bold, sir?"
"What? Dick's sleepover? I'm sure he would much rather spend an evening as a carefree child with his best friends than with me."
Alfred nodded, defeated, "Surely you are correct, sir… I shall prepare a number of social ventures for you to make your selection…"
I finally began working on my breakfast.
He proceeded to take his leave, but not before quipping, "Perhaps I shall arrange for your very own sleep over, Master Bruce… I do believe there is message on the machine from a Ms. Vale…"
I went to take the first bite of the fruit salad before Dick ran back into the nook, armored head to toe for the brisk, cold air that was waiting for him outside, "So… you're sure? Once I get things rolling, there's no stopping."
A wink and then, "Thanks, Bruce," before racing through the kitchen towards the service entrance, back pack bouncing on his shoulders.
With the Manor to myself, I was physically capable of simply going back to the third floor master bedroom and getting in at least another two hours of sleep, making a fashionably late, mid-morning appearance at the office. Over the remainder of my breakfast, I did my best to focus my mind on the previous night, replaying the highlights of our patrols.
My mind kept drifting to Dick's excitement and it didn't take a second thought to realize why.
Despite the fact that we had both been orphaned by crime, witnessing the deaths of our parents right before our very eyes, Dick was the complete opposite of the boy I had been. Surely the first few months he had come to live with us at Wayne Manor had been difficult and gloomy but once I had brought him into my life as Batman, everything had seemed to brighten. He had started telling jokes, sneaking up on Alfred and walking the many corridors on his hands. He smiled nearly every moment and when he wasn't, he was biting his lips to keep from doing so.
Alfred had raised me as his own, doing whatever he could to bring normalcy into my life.
I had brought Dick into a life of masked crime fighting, one that defied normalcy.
Alfred had never received inquiries on slumber parties.
And now, I had.
Opting out of sleep, I made my way to the Cave's entrance in the main study, choosing a couple of hours in the training bay before wasting the day in a stuffed leather chair. Although the responsibilities of my family's company would be overwhelming to any normal human being, I never found myself stressing over the trials and tribulations of the corporate world.
Shareholder's meetings were nothing compared to facing off with the Joker.
My intended two hours of exercise somehow turned into three, followed by a shower, a second visit to the kitchen and a call into my secretary Melinda informing her that, "I'm still can't walk into a room with the lights on, Mel… Guess that second bottle of Grey Goose was a bit much…"
She laughed and wished me a speedy recovery.
After hanging up the phone in the kitchen, I heard, "Playing hooky, are we, sir?"
Turning to face Alfred, I responded, "Busted."
He set the two paper grocery bags he was carrying down before countering, "Fear not, Master Bruce, there is only one authority higher than you and I feel no need to bother him with such a trivial matter."
"And who is this higher authority?" I asked as he began unpacking fresh produce.
Alfred set down a fresh baguette before answering, "Why… me, of course."
The remainder of the day was shared between reading in the study to preparing for a long night of solitary patrols. The last time I had gone into the darkness of the city alone had been during Dick's brief hiatus the year before following a savage beating by Two-Face.
Hiatus… I had flat out fired him and he had run away.
I was in the middle of marking rumored caches of weapons for a branch of the former Falcone crime family when Alfred appeared with my fifth cup of coffee for the day and a plate of turkey club sandwiches. "Sir, I will be leaving shortly to pick up Master Dick, is there anything else you require?"
Third of a cup and a bite of a sandwich later, I shook my head, "Thank you, Alfred."
"Very good, sir. No doubt I will also be bringing home the two young gentlemen he has invited over for the evening…"
"Nothing of consequence, Master Bruce, just a forewarning… Oh, and I have managed to secure three events for the evening. Benefit concert at Babylon Tower, the opening of the new V.I.P. room at the Berks Lounge and a private screening of Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco."
I didn't dignify his jest with a response but his reflection on the monitors bore a smile just the same.
Remaining in the Cave until quarter of seven, I went about focusing more intently on the work that lay ahead. Normally, after spending the hours leading up to my departure in the Cave, I would don most of the suit before restocking my utility belt rather than head upstairs one final time.
Saving the files on the crays, I grabbed the empty mug and plate before heading towards the granite steps. It was polite to sulk in a cavern instead of facing guests and friends of my ward. That and it would be wise to pick up a tuxedo in order to make a quick appearance at some social event as the Fop. The Society pages loved obsessing over Bruce Wayne almost as much as the front page loved questioning Batman and Robin.
Detouring to the kitchen first, I was surprised to see the island counter already filled with various platters of snacks but no giggling children or smirking butler. After placing my empty dishes in the sink, I followed soft voices down the corridor towards the entertainment den. As I neared the double doors, I was still put off at the evident lack of laughter and adolescent fun.
Not that I knew what it sounded like…
I rapped softly on the left side door before pushing it inward. The den was already outfitted with extra blankets and pillows on three of the four couches, bowls of popcorn and a glass champagne ice bucket filled with glass bottles of root beer. On the coffee table before middle pair of leather sofas sat a stack of board games that appeared to be brand new.
"You made it."
I turned around abruptly to see Dick dressed in dark blue sweat pants and a white and blue tee shirt. Confusion washed over me momentarily before I asked, "Are your friends changing into pajamas as well?"
Dick smirked, "No, not yet."
After looking around the room again and then out into the corridor, I asked, "Well, where are they?"
"One just went to the kitchen and the other… is right here."
It certainly wasn't the first time he had left me speechless and no doubt it wouldn't be the last.
The look on my face must have broadcasted the question that was running through my mind, What is going on?
"Well, this morning, when I asked you if I could have a sleepover, I meant to invite my friends Derek and Joshua but when you said it was okay… that it was good to take time off, to have fun, I realized you never get that chance… and from what Alfred's always says… you never have. Having two kids over that I always get to have fun with didn't seem that important, at least not compared to having fun with you… and of course Al."
"But of course," Alfred appeared, the serving platters balancing on his arms, including one yielding a plate of crab stuffed mushrooms. He nodded to Dick and myself before walking into the den, unwilling to deviate from his task.
Battling to keep his self-control, Dick held his ground rather than following the aroma of his favorite hors d'oeuvre, "I told Alfred on the way to school… that I changed my mind… he said that my new plan was much better."
"He said that, did he?" I replied impassively before looking over my shoulder at Alfred as he rearranged the items on the table. For no reason.
Dick nodded before proceeding, "If you don't want to stay… I understand. We can just hit the streets instead… or I can call Derek and Josh…"
His eyes had fallen to his feet, just as they had this morning. More often than not, his inquiries were met with negative replies, whether it's his desire to crash through a window for dramatic effect or wanting to staying home from school after a particularly long night.
Letting him down had been my unintentional and yet primary parenting tactic.
I set a hand on his narrow shoulder, "So, Homeward Bound, hunh?"
His eyes lit up suddenly, "Homeward Bound II… Alfred borrowed the reel from the theatre in Bristol… has to be back by nine but we'll be the first ones to see it."
Allowing my hand fall to my side, I stepped back letting him lead the way into the room, "Sounds great."
"Not gunfire great, though…" he countered.
In one stride, I caught up with him, "No… but… it might be nice to spend time together, without getting shot at."
Alfred cleared his throat, "Yes, and it would be nice to spend the wee hours asleep as opposed to sewing the both you and your costumes…"
Dick laughed, "Come on, Al, I haven't needed as much as a Superman Band-Aid in months… knock on wood!" he dove forward and rapped on the wooden trim on the arms of the couch. He then looked to Alfred before asking, "Is it ready?"
"It is, young sir."
"Then lights, camera, action!" Dick promptly flipped backwards, using he back of the sofa as a vault in order to toss himself in the air before tucking and rolling, landing in a somersault ten feet away. Laughing the entire time.
For an hour and a half, Dick, myself and even Alfred sat in the darkened room, watching the antics of Shadow, Chance and Sassy as they navigated the dangers of San Francisco. Although we did not partake in popcorn fights, board games and root beer burping contests, Dick juggled cheese stuffed olives into his mouth, cheered on the canine stars and snuck in a single, monstrous belch when Alfred excused himself briefly.
"Excuse me," he managed through embarrassed snickers.
Much better than dodging bullets.
As the trio of pets finally bounded home, I commented, "What are the odds of---."
"Shhh," came a hushed whisper from behind me. I glanced back to see Alfred before he directed my focus down to Dick's sleeping form.
While Alfred went about tending to the film, I debated between rousing the boy and offering a few hours of patrols or simply carrying him upstairs and putting him to bed. I chose the latter, knowing that he deserved a good night's sleep. After pulling back the afghan he had draped over himself, I carefully slipped an arm under his knees and behind his shoulders.
Heading towards the doorway, I paused briefly to whisper to Alfred, "When you return the movie… see what they have coming next weekend."
"Very good, sir."
"Good night, Alfred."
He nodded curtly, "Good night, Master Bruce." Alfred then looked upon Dick's motionless face, "And good night to you, young sir."
To keep from waking him, I opted for the elevator rather than climbing the staircase. Initially, Dick's room had been in the North wing, my futile attempts to offer him space and privacy. After a few weeks, I had come home from a Wayne Foundation function to find Dick and Alfred moving his belongings into the third floor's West wing, just four doors down from me.
"The distance you put between yourself and this boy now will only grow further over the years… if you shorten the distance from the beginning, he will be closer to you… longer."
Thirty years and he had yet to steer me wrong.
Nudging Dick's bedroom door open with my foot, I left the light off and proceeded towards his bed in the dark. With the blankets already turned down, I carefully placed him in the center of the queen -sized bed before pulling up the comforter.
A considerable portion of my mind told me to turn around, jog down the stairs, suit up in the Cave and head into the city to hunt done gun-toting scum.
A smaller segment said I should leave, but not yet.
"Thank you, Dick… it was a great slumber party…" I paused, adjusting the blankets around him once more. When my mother had tucked me in as a child, she would bury me in blankets, leaving only my face exposed. She would always kiss my brow and utter the same four words: Good night, my love.
My father practiced the same routine, except he only said two words…
Leaning over the bed, I kissed Dick's brow before whispering, "Sleep tight."
I was in the hall when I heard his soft reply, "Don't let the bed bugs bite."