Dick swallowed the final bite of caramel apple as he tagged alongside Bruce across the snow and up to the temporary outbuilding that had been brought to the manor specifically to house the turkey. As they approached, the smell of animal bedding hit their noses. He closed his eyes, inhaling deeply and smiling.
"Ugh, that's awful," Bruce commented.
"I think it's nice," the boy at his side rebutted. Glancing down at him, he found him wearing an almost meditative expression. Huh. Well, they had animals with the circus. That must be it.
"Well, enjoy it now, then. This will all go away the day after Thanksgiving."
"…After Alfred kills the turkey." It was a statement, not a question, and the billionaire wondered for the umpteenth time if bringing him to meet the animal had been a mistake.
"Yes. Is that going to be a problem?"
"…No." It can't be. I promised it wouldn't be. I can't break a promise, at least…not to you. Or to Alfred. "It's okay." Maybe if he said it enough it would make it okay.
A sharp gobble greeted them as they entered the small structure, repeating as the creature rushed towards them. It thrust its head forward at Bruce with a strange hiss, pecking at him. "Hey!" he snapped, hoping the noise would get the thing to back off. Instead, it merely seemed to aggravate it further, and he pushed Dick behind him, not wanting the sharp beak to have a chance to catch him.
The boy, though, had a different idea of how to deal with the flustered game bird. He slipped out of his guardian's grasp and walked straight up to it, holding out his hand and speaking to it in a low voice.
"Dick, it's not a dog!" Bruce warned him sharply. To his displeasure, the animal managed to get between them, bobbing its head and moving towards the child. He sucked in a breath when it went for his palm, seeming to nibble on it.
"It's okay," the boy assured him. "It doesn't hurt, it just feels kind of weird." Reaching out with his other arm, he touched the closest feathers. "Yup, feels like a bird. Ow," he said mildly as the turkey scraped its head across his hand. "Your beak is kind of sharp, gobblehead. Good thing I have trapeze callouses."
"Yeah. Cause the way he was coming towards me a second ago kind of made him look like one of those bobble-head dolls, you know? And, well…he gobbles."
I knew this was a bad idea. "If you name him, it's going to be really tough for you to eat him next week."
"I'm not naming him Gobblehead. That's just what he is. A gobblehead." As he spoke the bird lowered itself it to the ground, then nudged him in the stomach with its head. "Hey, turkey hugs!"
'Turkey hugs?' Seriously? He shook his head, watching the creature suspiciously.
"Did you know Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be America's national bird?" Dick mentioned as he knelt down to pet the animal more thoroughly.
"I did, but how did you know that?" He knew immediately that he'd stepped onto shaky ground when his hands stilled.
"…Pop Haly used to talk about it every Thanksgiving." He stared at his guardian's feet, remembering. "Wherever we were, we'd set up the big top and put up one big, long table. There'd be another huge table for everybody to put what they brought to eat on, cause we did the meal like a potluck. Anyway, when everybody had their food he'd stand up at the head of the table and give a little speech about how thankful he was to…to have such a big, wonderful family, and that we could all be together. And if we'd had a good season, he'd talk about that, and if we didn't have a good season he'd talk about how next year was sure to be better. And he'd always say something about the turkey, and Ben Franklin wanting it to be the national bird instead of the bald eagle."
Bruce shifted slightly, wanting to rush over and comfort him but sensing that he wasn't done talking.
"…Last year, somebody – I think it was Goro, he was one of the roustabouts – asked him why he always said that same part about Ben Franklin, year after year. We were all eating, and everybody was having their own conversations all around, but I could hear them because Pop Haly was leaning over right next to me. He put on this funny little smile, and he said it was because the battle to pick the bird interested him. Some people liked the eagle because it was beautiful and strong, but Franklin wanted the turkey because he thought it was more noble and courageous. He told Goro that when he looked down the table every year he saw the qualities of both birds in the members of his circus, and that that was what kept us going year after year. He said that was what he was the most thankful for – that he got to spend his life surrounded by people who were beautiful, noble, courageous, and strong." He sniffed as quietly as he could, pretending to examine the feathers of the turkey so that Bruce wouldn't see the wet trails on his cheeks.
A few seconds later the man knelt beside him, a gentle finger turning his chin upwards. "Oh, Dicky," his voice soothed as he spied tears. "I'm sorry."
"I-it's okay," he whispered as he was pulled into his arms. "It's a good memory. It just makes me kind of sad."
"I know," he breathed against his hair, holding him tightly and rocking. I know, baby. It hurts to remember, but it's so much worse to forget. I know. The turkey, displeased, turned its head and began to peck at the intruding billionaire. He ignored it, focused on the child clinging to him needily. After the fifth or sixth attack on his coat sleeve, however, he grimaced and stood up.
"…It kind of smells like the big top in here. That's probably not helping," he heard a small voice disclose as he rose.
Yeah, that wouldn't make it any easier, he considered sadly. "Why don't we take a little walk, huh? See what we can see? Maybe there will be some deer along one of the paths." Get some fresh air that doesn't remind you of anything. As he spoke he pulled the end of his scarf out and wiped his son's face dry. Cashmere, he winced. Well, at least it won't hurt his skin. He can't go outside wet, he'll freeze.
"Okay." Dropping back down to the ground, Dick, with eyes still swimming, gave him a brave little smile. Then he turned to say goodbye to the bird, which stopped molesting Bruce as soon as the two humans were no longer touching. "Bye, Gobblehead."
Bruce almost said something about naming it again, but bit his tongue. Leave it be, he could practically hear Alfred telling him. He's worked up enough as it is without being reminded that the creature has to be killed in a few days. "Ready?" he asked.
"Yeah. Let's go."
They pushed their way through the snow, which was falling faster and thicker than it had been that morning. Venturing into the trees, they quickly came upon a doe and her yearling standing in a small clearing and stopped to watch. Bruce dropped down to one knee so as not to startle her. "Can you see them?" he whispered to the boy, wrapping one arm around his waist.
"Yeah. They're really pretty. I wonder…"
"The baby looks kind of thin. What's it going to eat all winter?"
"I don't know, kiddo. I'll bet its mother knows, though. That's probably why she brought it here."
"Why, does Alfred put out deer food or something?"
"No, but there's plenty of trees to hide in, and we're close enough to town that a lot of predators will stay away."
"Oh." He paused. "We could put out deer food," he suggested.
"No, we'd have way too many of them."
"It's a nice thought, though."
Eventually the doe leapt away, her offspring bounding after her. "That was cool," Dick sighed. "I wish I could jump like that."
"…You do jump like that. All the time. Not on four legs, of course."
He shrugged. "I dunno. There was just something special about it." He looked around, then down at the snow that stopped halfway to his knees. "I guess we could call this cross country endurance training," he observed. "Since we have to walk back home."
It made Bruce's heart swell to hear him refer to the manor as 'home;' until very recently the boy had consistently called it just 'the house' or, worse yet, 'your house.' "Are you tired? We've done a lot today."
"I'm okay," he said stubbornly. "I can walk."
Looking back at him a while later, the billionaire was pleased to see the child diligently stepping in his footprints, using them to lessen the amount of effort that had to be expended in pushing the snow aside. I don't know that hopping from one to the next is much of an energy saver, though. It struck him that Dick was probably only doing so because the prints were so much further apart than his own legs could manage, and with that in mind he curtailed his stride. Just because we're having 'cross country endurance training' doesn't mean I want him completely exhausted at the end of it. After all, we're going sledding later. As they reached the bottom of the low hill on which the manor was perched, he stopped, bent down, and swung him up onto his shoulders.
"Thanks," came a grateful acknowledgement. "Everything looks so different from up here," he commented, his eyes falling on the turkey shed. A tiny pang went through him. "…I mean, you kind of see things from up high on a trapeze, but you're too busy doing your moves to really look at it. Plus, it's not like you can just stop."
At the word, Bruce came to a halt.
"What…Oh," the boy laughed, tearing his attention from the temporary building. "I get it. Cause I said stop."
"Right," he agreed, patting his knee.
Resting his cheek on the top of his guardian's head, Dick stared pensively towards where Gobblehead could be heard faintly making his eponymous sound. I can't break my promise. I just can't.