Author's Note: Okay, readers, I'm going out on a limb here and trying to write two stories at once. For those of you reading 'To Catch A Predator,' you will continue to get daily chapters. This story will be much shorter, and my goal is to have it completely up on or before Thanksgiving.
Fair warning, this is going to be fluffier than a freshly washed and dried (unsheared) sheep sitting on a pile of Egyptian cotton bath towels. Enjoy!
The butler straightened, turned around, and smiled softly as an energetic shock of raven hair bounded across the back lawn towards him. "Good morning, Master Dick," he greeted as the nine year old slid to a stop in front of him. "You must have rather serious news, to be outside in this cold in your pajamas, and without a jacket." His eyes traveled lower, and he frowned, clucking his tongue. "And in slippers, no less."
"They cancelled school, today and tomorrow!" the boy informed him, so excited that Alfred's words barely registered. "I just heard it on the radio! You know what that means? Two weeks straight with only three school days! And it's supposed to snow a ton more!"
"Exciting happenings indeed, young sir. However, I rather doubt that you want to spend your unanticipated days of freedom sick in bed."
"Well, no. I want to spend them outside, playing." His expression suggested that he would have expected Alfred to know as much but that he was too polite to say so.
"In that case, I would advise that we move indoors and get you properly attired before you catch your death of cold." He stepped forward, intending to carry the child back to the manor to keep his feet from getting wetter, but before he could bend down a raucous noise erupted from the small shed behind him.
"…Was that a turkey?!" Dick asked, peeking around.
"Yes," the butler admitted, taking advantage of the fact that the boy had stopped his perpetual bouncing out of momentary shock to lift him into his arms.
"Can I see it?" he wriggled around, looking back over Alfred's shoulder in an attempt to get a glimpse of the creature. "I like birds."
"You can see it later, once you've breakfasted and dressed for the weather."
"Why do we even have a turkey? Bruce isn't an animal person."
"No, Master Wayne has never been one for pets. However, he is a proponent of having a fresh main course for Thanksgiving dinner."
"…You mean you…you're going to kill it?"
His voice had shifted so swiftly from curious elation to insightful mourning that the Englishman came to a halt halfway up the steps and looked at him closely. "Does that bother you, Master Dick?" he queried gently. I wouldn't be surprised if it does; eight months is hardly enough time for a child to adjust to the stark realities of death, especially when those truths have been thrust upon them with unfair swiftness.
"…I dunno," he answered hesitantly. "Kind of, I guess. But…how else could we eat them?" he reasoned. "I don't think I'd be a very good vegetarian, Alfred," he added thoughtfully. "I like hot dogs and chicken wings too much."
The butler's mouth quirked upwards even as he shuddered at the thought of hot dogs. The things this child has been allowed to ingest, he bemoaned, remembering his surprise when he'd learned several weeks before that not only had the young master partaken of foods as diverse as pig's trotters, spicy curry, and raw fish, he'd enjoyed almost all of it. "When, pray tell, have you ever eaten a chicken's wing?" he queried, continuing up the stairs.
"Bruce ordered them with our pizza last weekend when you were out of to-" he stopped, clapping both hands over his mouth. "…I wasn't supposed to say anything," he moaned through his fingers. "Please don't get mad, if you yell at Bruce he'll never let me stay up late and watch vio-"
If his eyes opened any wider, the butler was sure they would fall out. And wouldn't that be a joy to explain to Child Protective Services.
"I mean, if you yell Bruce will be angry with me and won't let me to go to bed just a few minutes after I'm supposed to. And he won't let me have any…um…milk." I am so busted, he thought.
"Well, Master Dick," the Englishman replied gravely, "I assure you that in the event that Master Wayne ever does cut you off from…milk, was it, that you were so concerned about?...I will be happy to act as your illicit supplier." He set him down inside the foyer and knelt to brush flakes of snow from the boy's hair, running his hand along the silken tresses a few more times than was strictly necessary.
"…You're not going to yell at him?" he asked hopefully.
"Perhaps just once. Briefly."
From the look in the man's eyes, Dick knew he was being teased. "Thanks, Alfred!" he squealed, throwing his arms around his neck for an instant before scampering up the stairs to change out of his pajamas.
"Whoa!" Bruce stopped a few risers down from the top as the child barreled towards him going full speed. Dick, ever agile, darted expertly past, but his guardian spun and managed to snag him, lifting him the short distance to the upstairs hallway and holding him in place with two heavy hands. "Watch where you're going. You'll break your neck doing that. Or mine," he added wryly. "…Why are your clothes wet?" he asked a heartbeat later, dampness seeping into his palms where they rested on the boy's shoulders.
"I was outside. It's snowing," he shrugged.
"Why were you outside in your pajamas?"
"I had to tell Alfred that school's cancelled. Alfred was outside."
"…Go get changed." After watching his ward run down the hall and around the corner, he continued his descent, sighing. "He'll be the death of us both, I swear," he shook his head as he reached the foyer.
"Or our salvation," the butler muttered as he moved to the closet to retrieve Bruce's winter coat. The change in you since his arrival has been remarkable, after all. I can only imagine what a little more time with him will do. As for myself…well. I have no doubt my outlook has also brightened considerably since spring.
"Just the morning mumblings of an old man, Master Wayne," he waved the question away. "Not worth concerning yourself with, I assure you."
"…What was he thanking you for a minute ago?" the billionaire asked as he slid his arms into his coat sleeves and felt Alfred settle the collar into place.
"Oh, that. There's a very simple explanation, sir. You see, I promised that when I addressed you regarding the nutritionally unviable meal you served him in my absence last weekend I would raise my voice for a shorter period of time than you likely deserve."
"Di-ick," the businessman groaned, covering his eyes with one hand. "That was a secret."
"I didn't mean to tell!" a young voice proclaimed from the top of the stairs. Both men looked up to find him peering down at them from between the banister's posts. "It just slipped out when I was talking about how I couldn't ever be a vegetarian!"
"…How did you change clothes that fast?" Bruce asked, noticing that the boy was now clad in jeans and a sweater. "There's no way you took your bath. You were gone a whole two minutes."
"I took one last night and laid my clothes out for today," he explained eagerly. "Every morning when I come downstairs Alfred says you left just a few minutes before, so I thought that if I get ready a little sooner from now on I can wish you a good day before you have to go to work."
The billionaire gaped for a moment. "Well," he recovered, crossing his arms, "are you going to do it, or are you going to stand there and stare at me?"
"Be right there!" He rushed halfway, then tucked into himself and rolled forward. The edges of the risers pressed into his back and legs as he tumbled down, but the pressure wasn't painful. He'd done the trick right, as he'd known he would, and as soon as he felt the pull of gravity return to normal he flipped to his feet, grinning triumphantly. Taking in the horrified looks on Bruce and Alfred's faces during the split second before both rushed to him, however, he felt his stomach drop. Uh oh. I messed up. Maybe it looked sloppy?
Part of Bruce registered that the boy had tucked and rolled down the stairs spectacularly well, but the rest of his brain saw nothing but the connection of steps with soft flesh and immediately predicted broken limbs and disaster. Falling to his knees in front of him, he gave him a once over and then yanked him into an embrace. "Don't ever do that again!" he barked, the roughness in his voice not matching the tender desperation in his clutching hands. "You could have killed yourself! What if you'd landed on your neck?"
"I've been practicing," the boy said, his voice shaking uncertainly. "You…you said you wanted me to come up with evasion tactics…" Bruce shoved him away at those words, holding him at arm's length, and Dick felt tears threatening to escape. "I thought that was what you m-meant…"
The billionaire didn't have to look up to know that he was being given a world-class Look by Alfred. "I know I told you to practice evading," he explained slowly, "but I only want you to work on it in the cave, and then only when someone's there to spot you."
"You're both here," he pointed out, lip quivering.
"We didn't know what you were doing. We thought you were falling, not trying to show us a new move." His voice softened. "I'm not mad at you, Dicky. You just…you just scared me. And Alfred, too."
"'M sorry," he whispered. "I didn't mean to."
"It's okay." Pulling him close again, he felt a small face press against his neck and heard a sniffle. Well, so much for this shirt. Sighing at the thought of changing before he left – he was already running late - he had an idea. "…Did you say earlier that they cancelled school for today?"
"And t-tomorrow," he felt him nod. "Cause there's a bunch of snow coming."
"Sounds like the roads could be pretty dangerous." As he spoke he ran one hand up and down the boy's spine comfortingly, feeling it stretch and relax.
"Yeah," Dick agreed, sensing where this could go. "Everyone who possibly can should stay home, they said on the radio. It could be really, really dangerous." Upping the ante, he wrapped his arms around Bruce's neck and held tight. A laugh rumbled through the man's throat, and he knew he'd won.
"All right, snow day it is," the billionaire grinned, standing with his son in his arms. "Alfred, call me out of the office on account of the roads, would you?"
"Shall I make the excuse for tomorrow as well, sir?" the butler asked, pleased.
Bruce glanced out the window and saw thick, heavy flakes beginning to fall. More importantly, as he turned back to answer he caught the pleading look in the nine year old's eyes. "You know, I just have this strange feeling that it's not going to stop. Call it a hunch, but I think driving will be treacherous for the next couple of days."
"Very good, Master Wayne," Alfred nodded, disappearing towards the kitchen.
"Yay!" the child practically shrieked, his fist nearly connecting with the jaw of the man holding him as he threw his arms into the air. His face changed suddenly as he realized that not everyone had the luxury of calling out of work whenever they felt like it. "Oh. Wait. Bad weather isn't a good thing for most people." He frowned slightly.
"It is for you, though," his guardian pointed out. "Because it means that you get skating practice. The pond should be frozen enough, it's been cold for weeks."
"…Can we have…" he wrinkled his nose, trying to think of a Batman-esque term. "…Projectile avoidance training?"
"I could be convinced to chuck snowballs at you, sure."
"Bruuuce, you have to practice dodging them, too!"
"It's cute how you think you can even get close with one," the billionaire teased, carrying him into the dining room and setting him in his chair. Circling the table to take his own seat as Alfred appeared bearing two plates, he smiled at the way he was bouncing on his knees across from him.
"…What?" he asked as he prepared to dig into his breakfast.
"You're funny when you wiggle around like that, that's all."
"I'm excited!" he exclaimed. "I get to see you for a whole breakfast, and we're gonna play in the snow! Of course I can't sit still!"
A pang went through his chest as he realized that the mere prospect of eating a meal and spending a few hours together had been enough to make the boy absolutely ecstatic. I need to call into work more often, he berated himself. And stop scheduling meetings after three, because they always run late and make me miss dinner… Shaking himself, he picked up his fork. "What else do you want to do today?"
"…Sledding?" he begged. "And Alfred said I could meet the turkey!"
He blinked. "…The turkey?" Then it hit him. "Oh, right, the Thanksgiving turkey. Are…are you sure you want to meet it?"
"I like animals. Turkeys are neat." He chewed a bite of scrambled egg, swallowed, and then went on when Bruce didn't say anything. "…Why don't you want me to meet it, Bruce?"
"You know Alfred has to kill it to make our dinner next week, right?" he said softly.
"I know. That's how we got to talking about vegetarians. And hot dogs."
He didn't ask for clarification, not wanting to get off topic. "It might be more difficult for you if you get attached to it."
"I won't," he promised. "I know we have to eat him."
Bruce was still hesitant. It's easier than you would think to fall completely in love with silly little creatures, he mused as he stared into the boy's startling eyes. So very, very easy. "If you're sure," he said finally.
"No getting attached," he instructed, pointing at him with his fork.
"Okay, then. That's a promise you just made," he reinforced. "Remember that."
"I will," he nodded eagerly.
"Well, hurry up and eat, then. Your food's getting cold, and we can't go meet the turkey until you've finished eating."
"In a civil manner, Master Dick," Alfred cajoled, coming back in to refill Bruce's coffee just as the boy prepared to take a massive bite.
He blushed, emptying his fork and trying again. "Sorry, Alfred," he murmured. As soon as the butler had exited again, Bruce shot him a wink.
It was going to be a good weekend.