Author's Note: Welcome to the sequel to 'Of Friends and Foes'! This story can be read as a standalone, although some knowledge of the events in 'Of Friends and Foes' and 'The Princely Pardon' will help you get a bit more out of it. For timeline purposes, this story is set roughly nine-ten weeks after the end of 'Of Friends and Foes,' putting Gotham at the beginning of spring.
Before going any further, I want to take a moment to give credit where credit is very much due. The basic premise for this story came from a discussion between myself and fellow Dick Grayson lover Soul Music, who was kind enough to permit me to use the idea. I had not originally planned to write the story as a part of the 'Of Friends and Foes' universe, but after the way that story ended it fit so beautifully that I just had to. So, thank you so much, Soul Music!
On another, smaller note, I've decided that for the purposes of this universe Dick's birthday is March 21st. I love the idea of his having been born at the spring equinox, when the northern hemisphere, at least, returns to light, so I'm running with it. I don't recall stating anything different regarding his date of birth in either of the late stories, but please correct me if I'm wrong.
As always, happy reading.
It wasn't even six in the morning, and Bruce Wayne was already having a bad day.
It started when Dick crawled into bed with him. Normally he didn't mind that, regardless of the hour, and he assumed that the boy had simply had a nightmare and wanted comforting. "Hey, kiddo," he whispered into the dark as he felt small knees make their way across the mattress. "C'mere."
"…Bruce," came back, his voice uncharacteristically melancholic.
"Hush," he quieted him, pulling him close with one arm and gently running his fingertips up and down his spine. Dampness marked his shoulder as a few tears fell from the child's eyes. "It's okay." Under usual circumstances he would have asked what the bad dream had been about, prodding for details until he could figure out the right thing to say. After the events of the previous evening, however, he just didn't possess the energy, having spent it all putting Joker back behind bars. Thank god you weren't with me, chum, he thought gratefully as he held him. It's bad enough that he probably knows about your existence, from rumor if nothing else. I don't want you meeting him until it absolutely cannot be avoided.
Batman had gotten through the villain's goon squad with only a few scrapes and bruises, but Leslie, who had consented to watch Dick for a few hours so that the vigilante could deal with the escaped psychopath without endangering his young partner, had insisted on a full examination. Finally admitting that he would be sore in the morning but was fine otherwise, she'd left them to their own devices, giving the boy a quick kiss on the forehead that left him blushing bashfully. "Do not hesitate to call me if you have to go back out after someone else like that before Alfred gets back," she'd commanded as she stood at the front door.
"I won't," Bruce had promised, and he'd meant it. Alfred being out of the country for a family emergency over the last week had made things difficult, to say the least – the billionaire had been leaving work early every day in order to pick the boy up after school, and patrols had to be cut short to ensure he got enough sleep for class the next day – but he wasn't comfortable leaving the almost-ten year old home alone. Despite that, he absolutely refused to take him along on attempts to capture any of Gotham's truly nasty criminals. Joker was the last person he wanted his son to run across at this point, but there were plenty of others in line right behind him, and if it came down to it he would leave him behind by himself before he would knowingly throw him in front of one of them. Not yet. Not until I have to. No matter how well he did with Sawyer, I know what the others would do to him if they got the chance. Just…no. Not yet.
"Bruce…I don't feel good," a low murmur brought him out of his thoughts.
His eyes narrowed. "…You didn't have a nightmare?"
"What's the matter?"
"My stomach feels bad," he half-moaned, wrapping his arms around his midsection and trying to somehow snuggle closer. "And I'm cold. And my skin feels icky."
"Icky, huh? Have other kids at school been sick lately?"
"Yeah…Mark, he's my lab partner, he had to leave morning science yesterday cause he threw up in the garbage can."
"It sounds like maybe you picked something up." He paused. "…Do you feel like you might throw up?"
"…Trying not to," he said, determination evident despite the mewl in his voice.
Oh, kiddo. He let his hand still on the narrow back for a moment. Great. Your heart rate's up, your stomach's off, you're cold, you're miserable…why couldn't Alfred's mother have waited a few more weeks to break her hip? "All right," he sat up, pulling the boy with him. He leaned limply against his shoulder, making no effort to hold himself upright. "Come on," Bruce yawned, standing and picking him up. "Let's get you some medicine. I think there's some in my bathroom." I hope there is. I don't want to make you wait for me to go down to the cave for something.
Setting his son on the counter, he rifled through the cabinet and finally found what he was looking for. "Dosage information for children under age 12: consult a physician," he read aloud. Son of a bitch. Of course. He glanced at the wide, afflicted blue eyes that were fixed on him. "…Can you age a couple years real fast?" he teased softly, trying to draw out a smile.
"Noooo…" His pout deepened.
"Hey, it's okay," he quieted. Okay, so humor doesn't work. Maybe I can distract him. "We'll just do a little math. You're nine, almost ten," he smiled, hoping the reminder that his birthday was in less than a week would cheer him, at least, "but we'll go with nine to be on the safe side. So nine is three-quarters of twelve, right?"
"Uh-huh," he nodded, hands still clutching his sides as he turned slightly green.
"And this says the dosage for twelve year olds is two tablespoons. So how much do you think I should give you?"
"One and a half," he answered immediately. "Bruce…"
"Hold on, I'm pouring it."
There wasn't time for him to hold on any longer, though. He slid down to the floor with far less grace than he normally possessed, rushed the two steps to the toilet, and emptied his stomach. A moment later there was a strong arm around his waist, supporting him as he continued to heave and sob. "…'M sorry," he pled.
"Hush. Just hush, it's all right. Do you feel a little better now?" When his only reply was a series of tiny, upset gasps, he pulled him away from the mess and held him close, leaning back against the tub. "It's okay," he snagged a towel from the rack and wiped his face clean. "You're sick, it's not your fault. I know you tried not to, but sometimes it's better to just let it out."
"I still don't feel good."
"Yeah, I know. Let's get some medicine in you." Flushing the toilet and setting the boy back on the counter, he handed him the dosing cup. "Here. Drink it fast, it doesn't taste very good."
"…Why is it pink?" he wrinkled his nose.
"I hate that, too. But take it anyway, it will make you feel better."
Still making a face, Dick tipped it back, nearly gagging as the thick liquid slid down his throat. "Eeww…"
"Here, give me the cup back." Bruce rinsed it and poured out a little mouthwash. "Swish this around for a minute. Don't swallow it." He watched as he obeyed, spitting it out into the sink when he was done. "Better?"
"…Yeah. It's all tingly."
"Let's get you back in bed," he swept him up again and returned to the other room. Once he'd bundled the boy in blankets, he pulled the trash can close. "This is right here in case you feel sick again, okay?" he showed him, holding it up.
"Where're you going?"
"I'm getting you some water and crackers. I'll be right back, I promise. Stay in bed, understand?"
"Good." Dropping a kiss on his temple, he left the room and hurried down the stairs towards the kitchen. Might as well call into the office while I'm here, he sighed to himself. I sure as hell can't send him to school in this condition. He was just reaching for the phone when it rang. "Who the hell is calling me at five in the morning?" he asked the shadowy kitchen. "What?" he snatched up the receiver. "It's early and I'm busy. Talk."
"Good morning to you too, Bruce," Lucius' exhausted-sounding voice hit his ear.
"…Lucius? What's going on?"
"Is Alfred still out of town? You don't normally answer."
"He is. Listen, I can't make our meeting this afternoon. Dick woke up with a bad flu, there's no way I can leave him today."
There was a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line. "…Bruce, that just makes what I have to tell you even harder."
"…What?" he leaned against the counter, his unoccupied hand rising to massage his forehead. Oh, yeah, let's just see how much worse this day can get…
"I had a bit of an accident last night. Nothing too serious," he added quickly, "but I slipped on a patch of ice in the driveway and broke my arm pretty badly. They aren't sure yet if they're going to need to operate. It wouldn't be such a big deal if-"
"-If it wasn't for Bruges," he nodded. The final documents signing between Wayne Enterprises and a major Belgian banking and accounting firm was scheduled to take place in two days, and due to strict regulations regarding money control for foreign corporations doing business in the EU the contracts had to be completed on time. Lucius had insisted that they search out a company that could handle all of their current European accounts as well as absorb any new investments they chose to make in the near future, and while both he and Bruce were pleased with the group they'd chosen, the search had taken so long that they were in danger of committing several legal violations if they tried to reschedule. "Well, send Hawkins, then, he knows what going on," the billionaire suggested one of the other man's protégés.
"I can't. They're insisting on either a CEO or a CFO. So…you or I. They said their company regulations require it."
"…You have got to be kidding me."
"I'm sorry, Bruce. Even if they weren't talking about surgery, there's no way I could manage a trans-Atlantic flight with this arm. It's going to have to be you."
"Lucius, he's sick. It would be bad enough if Alfred were here, but what am I supposed to do, leave him home alone? Don't we have any wiggle room on the timeline? A couple of days, even?"
"It's Thursday morning. The documents are due at 8am on Monday, the signing is scheduled for tomorrow, and none of the people we need work on weekends. There's no way. If we miss that deadline…"
"All right, all right," he closed his eyes tightly. "I get it. There's no other option. What time does the flight leave?"
"Four this afternoon. I'll take care of getting the ticket changed, don't worry about that."
"…Are you sure?"
"Just take care of your boy, Bruce."
"…Thanks, Lucius. I'll see you when I get back." Hanging up, he groaned. "Why does the shit always hit the fan all at once?"
Back upstairs, a glass of water and a sleeve of crackers in one hand and his mobile in the other, he nudged the bedroom door open with his foot. "…Dicky? You still awake, chum?" Hearing no answer, he set everything down on the dresser and moved silently to the lump under the covers. "Hey," he breathed, sitting beside the boy and stroking his hair. "You didn't answer me. I thought you were asleep."
"…I threw up again," he confessed, eyes partially closed.
"In the garbage can?" Please say yes, I don't have changing the entire bed in me right now.
"That's okay." So you lost all the medicine you took. Great. "How about you drink some water for me, and maybe eat a couple crackers? Can you manage that, do you think?"
He nodded pathetically. "I can try." Having Bruce's arm wrap around him securely once he was sitting helped him concentrate a little, as did the first few slow sips of water he took. "…You were gone a long time," he commented as the world steadied.
"I…got a call from Lucius," the billionaire sighed, knowing it wouldn't do any good to keep it from him. "I have to fly to Belgium this afternoon."
"…You're leaving me all alone?" He sounded so heartbroken that Bruce's eyes pricked with tears.
"No, of course not. I'll find someone to watch you. I'm sorry, kiddo, I'm so sorry, but there's literally nothing I can do about it. Lucius broke his arm and can't go, the company I'm meeting with won't let anyone but him or I sign, and if we don't get everything wrapped up tomorrow we'll get into trouble and have to pay a lot of really nasty fines."
"Can't I go with you? Belgium's not that far from England, maybe we could see Alfred. He could watch me, I know his mom's sick but it would only be for a few hours, right?"
"You're sick," he shook his head. "Otherwise I'd say yes and just take you with me, but you can't fly like this. Besides, I think you might be old enough to need a passport."
"I have a passport."
"…You do?" he frowned down at him.
"Uh-huh. We used to do shows in Canada in the summer, and we had to have passports to get back into the US."
"Huh. Well, I still have no idea where Alfred put it. Plus, you're sick."
"I'll be so good, though, Bruce, I promise, I'll just throw up in the little airplane bags, and I won't cry or anything, and please don't leave me here…" One of his hands clutched at his guardian's fingers, begging.
"Dicky, no," he told him gently but firmly. "You need to stay here and get well. I hate it too – the last thing on earth I want to do right now is leave you – but I don't have a choice."
"Can't you just pay the fines?" his lip trembled. "I mean, how much are they?"
"They're…a lot. And yes, technically I could just pay them and stay here, but there's more at stake than just some money. You know if it was as simple as just writing a check I wouldn't even consider going. But there's also Wayne Enterprises' reputation, and our relationship with the people who are going to be handling our European accounts. Technically some of our overseas operations could be forced to close until the paperwork is complete if we don't meet the deadline, and that means the workers won't get paid. If they don't get paid, they can't pay their bills, and…well, you understand, right?"
"I do, but…" he bowed his head, "I still don't want you to go."
Taking his glass and setting it aside, Bruce pulled him closer. "I wish there was another way, chum. I'm sorry. But I'll be back as soon as I sign the paperwork, okay? I promise, it'll just be for a day or two."
"…Who's going to watch me while you're gone?" he asked sadly, resigning himself to the fact that the man was going. It's not that I don't understand why, I just…I just don't want you to go…
"I don't know yet. I still have to figure that out." He squeezed him. "Why don't you lie down and try to sleep while I work on it?"
"I can sleep when you're gone. I want to stay awake with you."
…What else could possibly happen to make this more difficult? the billionaire moaned internally. "Well, do you want to at least lie down and listen while I start calling people? I won't leave, I just want you to be comfortable."
"No," he shifted until he was curled entirely in his guardian's lap. "I'm comfy here."
"I, uh…I left my phone on the other side of the room."
"Take me with you?"
Sighing, he lifted him, retrieved the phone, and returned to the bed. "You're sure you don't want to lie down?" This process is going to be a lot easier if I'm not trying to hold you and dial at the same time.
"I wanna stay awake with you," he whined. I'm not gonna get to see you for two whole days…you'll be so far away…
"Okay, okay!" he conceded. "But tell me if you change your mind, okay?"
"I'm not going to change my mind." He craned his neck. "If I fall asleep, will you please wake me up?"
"No, I will not. If you fall asleep, it's because you need to rest."
"…Fine. I'll just stay awake on my own, then," he said stubbornly.
Loathing himself entirely, Bruce flipped open his phone and began to pore through his contacts list. Alfred's going to kill me for this, but what the hell else am I supposed to do? he lamented as the first number rang hollowly. Pick up, Leslie. I have the world's biggest favor to ask you…