"Well?" Bruce asked, one eyebrow arched expectantly as he watched Leslie prod at the incision scar marking his ward's lower right side. "What's the verdict?"
"It healed well," she said finally, stepping away and stripping off her gloves. "There's remarkably little scar tissue, considering that Dr. Montoya had to go in a second time."
Thinking back on the events of roughly three months earlier, the billionaire grimaced. A lucky hit during a takedown of a credit card heist had burst Robin's appendix, which – unbeknownst to Batman – had already been inflamed. The boy hadn't said anything about his extreme discomfort until the next morning, when he'd been unable to hold the pain back any longer and had finally expressed it in a feverish fit that still slipped into Bruce's nightmares every few days. By the time they'd gotten him into emergency surgery at Gotham Memorial, he'd worked up a nasty case of peritonitis and the beginnings of sepsis. Once the infections were under control, he'd developed an abscess that had required another trip to the OR. The entire time, Bruce and Alfred had been forbidden from contacting him, restrained by a Gotham Child Protective Services agent with dastardly plans of his own for Dick that only failed due to the combined forces of Batman and Superman.
"So I'm completely healed?" the teen asked, sitting up and pulling his shirt on.
"More or less. Here, let me look at your mouth before I go." In his struggle to contain his cries during the agonized episode that had alerted Bruce and Alfred to his distress, he had bitten completely through his lower lip, requiring stitches. Peering at where the sutures had marked the inside of his mouth, Leslie frowned. "You chew on it frequently, don't you?"
"It's just a reflex," he shrugged.
"Try to stop. At the rate you're going you won't have any sensitivity left there in another ten or fifteen years. I'm amazed you didn't bite through it before, with as many scars as there are. Do you ever wake up with it bleeding?"
"Occasionally, if I have a really bad dream. Maybe like once or twice a month."
Bruce gave him a piercing look. Why did I not know about that?
"If I prescribed you a mouth guard, would you wear it?"
"Probably not. By the time I get home most nights I'm way too tired to deal with something like that."
She sighed. "Well, if you change your mind and want to try one, let me know. Even just putting it in on nights when you don't go out on patrol would help."
"There aren't many of those these days," Dick informed her. "I've been running rooftops almost every evening."
"I advised you to make him wait at least two weeks after the stitches came out before doing anything strenuous," she chastised Bruce, crossing her arms.
"He still didn't let me out for another week," the boy said quickly, trying to cover for his guardian. "Even then, all I got to do for two more weeks was hang around in the shadows and birdarang people."
"You shouldn't have been out at all."
"He was needed," Bruce said, his voice low. "The fall of the Pezzoli syndicate left a vacuum that a lot of different people were trying to fill. You know the action was higher than normal until a few weeks ago." It had been so much more intense, in fact, that he had seriously considered rescheduling their beach trip. Several days of stony looks from Alfred and the fact that things on the streets had finally started to settle were the only reasons he had not done so.
"I'm well aware of that, thank you. My clinic has been full of so many gangsters bearing stab wounds and baseball bat imprints that I was beginning to think for a while that you'd taken your vacation early." Seeing them both stiffen, she closed her eyes and shook her head. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I'm sure it would have been much worse had you not been out there, doing what you do. Batman and Robin," she conceded grudgingly.
"You know…" Dick said slowly, "technically he made me wait longer than you asked him to. To do anything strenuous, I mean."
"…I know, hon." Sighing, she gathered the few things she'd brought down to the cave with her. "Was there anything else? You're both out of town this weekend, right? I don't have to worry about any midnight calls from you?"
"No calls," Bruce confirmed.
"We're going to the beach," Dick grinned, obviously excited as he jumped down from the table. "Oh, hey, that reminds me! Do you think I'm in good enough condition to go deep sea fishing?"
His smile was infectious, and she couldn't help but give him one of her own. "Deep sea fishing?" It didn't sound like the sort of activity Bruce would go in for, but she knew there was no way he'd let the boy do something like that on his own. It would be good for him to step outside of his comfort zone, even if he had to be dragged kicking and screaming by his son. "I don't see why not," she said with a wink. "So long as you agree to hand the pole to Bruce if you hook anything that seems to be over 500 pounds."
"What is it with you and the fishing?" the man grumbled.
"I've never been deep sea fishing, and it looks really cool. Don't you want to see a fish bigger than the person who caught it?"
"If I do, I'll go down to the docks and watch them unload."
"That's not the same as if you actually catch it yourself. Plus, fish is good."
"And quite good for you, as well, Master Dick," Alfred tacked on as he reached the bottom of the stairs. "Hello, Dr. Thompkins."
"Hi, Alfred. How are you?"
"Quite looking forward to our little foray north this weekend, actually. It won't do us a bit of harm to get some fresh sea air," he directed at Bruce, who still looked disgruntled.
"The city is stifling this time of year," the doctor nodded. "I wish I could send all of my post-operative patients to the beach for a few days. Bathing in natural environments can work wonders for some people. It's very relaxing," she said, glancing pointedly at Bruce.
"It's the North Atlantic, Leslie, not Lourdes," the billionaire countered. "Cold and briny."
"It won't be cold in July," Dick argued. "I mean, not in the shallows, at least."
"Exactly. With that in mind, I highly recommend at least one swim per day. For each of you," she directed. "Just watch for sharks and undercurrents. Try to think of it as taking your vitamins, Bruce," she said, reaching over to pat his arm before allowing Alfred to escort her back upstairs and through the manor to her car. "Have fun!"
Once she was gone, Bruce turned to watch Dick, who had pulled himself onto the higher of the uneven bars and hung upside down by his knees, arms dangling. "What?" he asked when he realized he was the object of scrutiny.
"Why didn't I know that you wake up bleeding from nightmares?"
"I'm not eight any more, Bruce. I don't come crawl into bed with you every time I've had a bad dream like I used to. Besides, Alfred knows I bite my lip sometimes when I'm sleeping; I just figured he'd have told you."
"How does he know?"
"He cleans my pillowcases the same as he does yours. He thought I was having bloody noses until he suggested getting a humidifier for my room and I told him it wouldn't help. He probably didn't say anything to you because he didn't want you to worry more than you already do."
"Maybe. That's not really the point, though."
"Can't I have any secrets from you, Bruce? Is it that big of a deal?"
Until lately you never wanted to have secrets from me, the billionaire thought with a twinge of sadness. "I suppose so long as Alfred knows about the things you keep from me, it isn't."
"Well, that's better than what I expected you to say, at least." Dropping onto his hands, he sprung away from the bars and landed in a roll that brought him to his feet. "I missed that," he commented. "I hated lying around all day, not being allowed to move."
"Don't get hurt and you won't have to put up with it again." Sitting down in front of a computer, he began to review a file he'd been compiling for several days.
"…I could be upset about the obviousness of that statement, but I know you're just being overprotective, so I'll curb it."
"Good," he said, distracted.
"You're welcome. So, what are we taking with us?"
"The entire house, based on the boxes Alfred has stacked in the foyer. I swear he thinks we're moving instead of just going out of town for four days."
"I meant stuff from down here."
"…None of it," he answered, grimacing.
Bruce sighed. He'd asked Alfred to pack a few basics, just in case they were needed, but had met intense resistance. "This is a vacation, Master Wayne," the butler had reminded him. "At such times, the idea is that one releases everyday concerns and tries to live in the moment. The nearest population center to where we will be staying contains less than 1,000 persons and has a violent crime rate of next to nothing. It's also half an hour away from our lodgings. I don't imagine that you'll find much use for your costumes there, do you?" Bruce had tried to argue that they might need them if something happened in Gotham that they had to return to take care of, but there had been an answer to that, too. "You did inform Mr. Kent of this pending absence, correct? I'm sure that if anything of magnitude occurs, he will dispatch members of the JLA to handle it. Goodness knows you've covered your share of other heroes' much-deserved breaks."
Knowing that the Englishman wasn't going to budge, he'd dropped the issue. Maybe he's right, he'd considered. Clark said Gotham would be taken care of in the event of anything major. Even if something happens in the town we're going to be near, we don't really know enough about the area to be much help, except maybe in a real crisis situation. He had to admit, the odds of there being anything Batman and Robin could do for a quiet little place like the one they were going to were very low.
Despite all of that, he still didn't like the thought of being so far from his cowl. It felt like he was leaving a limb at home.
"…Bruuuuuce," Dick drew out, waving a hand in front of his face. He'd clearly been trying to get his attention for several seconds. "Hey. We're really not taking anything? I don't know if I like that. I mean, what if something happens?"
"I've hashed it all over with Alfred. We're not taking anything with us. We'd need another whole suitcase just for my gear, let alone yours, and the car's already going to be packed with his idea of the 'bare essentials.'"
"…Masks? We could fake costumes if we had to." He shuffled his feet. "It seems wrong not to at least have masks with us, Bruce."
He considered it, proud of the fact that Dick was so adamant about being able to fight crime if the need arose. He glanced towards the stairs to make sure they were still alone in the cave, then dropped his voice. "Tuck it in your backpack. He might insist on unpacking your clothes, but he won't go through your personal bag without permission."
The teen drew closer. "Do you want me to pack a cowl, too? I can take out a couple of books to make room."
"No," he shook his head. "It would be too bulky. Plus, how would you explain if someone other than us saw it?"
"I'm fourteen. Anyone on the planet would believe I'm a Batman fanboy in an instant. It would be weird if it was found in your bag, but in mine, no one would look twice. You're rich enough to afford to buy me the really good imitation models, so that would explain why it doesn't look or feel like the crappy plastic ones they put out in stores."
It was a tempting offer, but still too risky. "…Just pack a spare mask of yours. I can make do with that if I have to."
"Okay. You're the boss," he shrugged, picking up a training staff and beginning to spin it.
"Don't forget the spirit gum. Those masks will be completely useless if we can't keep them on our faces."
"I've already got some upstairs in an old cologne bottle."
"In case I ever want to sneak out of the house in disguise but you or Alfred is down here."
"That means you have a costume upstairs, too," Bruce growled, turning his chair around and facing the boy, who was enacting a complicated litany of steps behind the blur of his weapon. "You know better than that."
"I do not have a Robin costume upstairs. Nor a Batman one," he added, leaping and ducking. "I'm not stupid, you know. Keeping all possible physical evidence of Batman and Robin out of the house was practically the first thing you taught me, remember? All I have is a plain mask and a set of clothes that I've never worn outside but that I could easily fight in. I've never actually snuck out," he insisted, glancing over and seeing the look the man still wore. "I just keep it around in case I ever need to. I figured you'd like that. You're the one who always says I should be prepared for anything."
"Dick…" he started, then trailed off. He really couldn't be upset with him, not for that. He probably would have done the same thing, had their situations been reversed. "Only use it in emergencies, all right?"
A lightning grin flashed. "Sure. I mean, that's why I keep it. For emergencies."
"Emergencies like sneaking out past Alfred and I."
"You could be replaced by pod people. Or be put under mind control. Or it could be an impostor, just acting like you or Alfred."
"…You have spent far too much time thinking of reasons why you might have a legitimate excuse to sneak out of your bedroom window in a makeshift costume."
"What can I say? Class gets boring sometimes."
"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that. Did you pack yet?"
"Nope. Thought I'd do it after dinner." He spun in a full circle and thrust the staff out in front of himself at chin level, a move that would have cold-cocked anyone who got in the way of it. "What about you?"
His forehead knit as he turned to the screen again. "No. I'll have Alfred take care of it."
"Cheater," he accused, hoping it would draw a reaction. Bruce had been in a less than wonderful mood all afternoon, and he knew it would carry over into their last patrol for the week – and, potentially, into their vacation - if it wasn't counteracted by something soon. He'd found in the past that a good sparring match usually did the trick, and goading the man into one was generally pretty easy when there wasn't a hot case open.
"Excuse me?" Having heard the challenge in the boy's tone, he whipped back around.
"I called you a cheater." Dick leaned against the pole in his hands and shot Bruce a taunting look, his eyes dancing. "You want to do something about it?"
The billionaire glanced back at the file appraisingly, then stood up. What the hell, I can't focus on it right now anyway. Stalking to the stand, he selected a staff of his own and took up a position opposite his son. "Okay, little bird. You asked for it."
"Bring it on."