"I'm all right," fell out of the boy's mouth the instant he saw Bruce hustling towards him, clearly fighting to keep his face calm. "It was a glancing hit at best. The guy wasn't even holding the knife right," he rolled his eyes as he shut off his motorcycle. A few drops of red splattered from his elbow to the floor.
"Your shoulder is soaked," the billionaire grimaced. …But there's no pumping, he noted gratefully, so it probably didn't nick anything important, vessel-wise. "Where else are you hurt?"
"Nowhere. Couple of bruises, maybe. It only bled as much as it did because it got worse once I started driving." His good shoulder rose and fell in a half-shrug. "I knew I'd be late getting back if I stopped and tried to deal with it, and I didn't want you to worry. I figured you'd freak out less this way." Not that my plan appears to be working, he sighed silently. Of all the nights to come in bloody, I had to pick this one… Flipping up the lenses in his mask, he reached out and gripped the man's forearm gently. "…Bruce," he forced him to tear his eyes from the injury, "I'm okay. Really. It's nothing."
He stared at him for a second, reading his face, then pulled him in a careful embrace. Thank god. If it had been worse…if you hadn't come back…if you… He shuddered, shaking off the thought and turning away from the hellish path through his own imagination that it wanted to lead him down. "Let's get you cleaned up," he said rather hoarsely.
"Sure." Swinging off of his bike easily, he didn't complain about the fingers that wrapped themselves around his good elbow and guided him into the medical section of the cave. "…Alfred's going to be ticked," his eyes widened as he took in the front of his guardian's previously snow-white shirt, now bearing several large red splotches from their short hug.
"What?" He looked down. "…Well, that's what bleach was invented for. Don't," he stopped the teen as he prepared to remove his tunic. "I'll cut it off. There's no point in aggravating the wound with extra movement." Preparing to roll up his sleeves, he carefully removed his cufflinks and glanced around for a safe place to set them where they wouldn't be forgotten. "…Hold on to these for me, would you?" he asked Dick after a second of unsuccessful searching.
"Sure," he accepted them with his good hand. They really are beautiful, he scrutinized them as surgical shears were retrieved. They must be worth a fortune, but they aren't ostentatious the way most stuff like that is.
Bruce interrupted his musing, wanting answers as he began to slice through soiled fabric. "Tell me what happened."
"Meh, everything was great until right before I had to head back," he started, closing his fingers around the links as his costume was peeled away. "Nothing big, just the usual. Drugs, theft, assault, rinse and repeat. I did overhear a dealer tell one of his clients that there's someone down off of Cannery Row who's setting up a giant meth lab, so that might lead somewhere. He said something about it being a big enough operation to drop the local prices through the floor."
"…So it's more than just a push to make money," the billionaire opined as he carefully cleaned out the four-inch-long gash where the edge of a blade had skated across his son's shoulder. A slightly different angle, and it might have gone into his throat, he gulped. …No. Stop it. Just…stop it.
"That's what I figured, too," he replied, wincing at the vigor with which the abused nerves at the top of his arm were being attacked. "What good is it to manufacture an illegal substance if you're making so much of it that it becomes cheap? Unless they're going to try and transport it out of Gotham, there's got to be an ulterior motive. Anyway, the scratch is from a guy who stuck up a convenience store. I think he was on PCP or something, because he was insane. I was on my way back here when that came over the scanner nearby. I pulled in and took care of it really quick, but he tagged me." He craned his neck to see where Bruce was working. "…How's it look?"
"Like you were cut open," he grimaced, chucking gauze into a garbage can.
"…Sorry," he looked away. I know this wasn't a good night for me to get hurt, but…it's minor. It barely even needs stitches, not that that will stop you…
"…It's okay, Dick. I just…" His hands stilled. I know you've come home in much, much worse shape, he moaned to himself, but no matter how many times I see you bleed, it never gets any easier.
"Hey, Bruce?" His voice, still child-high but balanced on the edge of puberty, drew the man's attention. "I'm right here. And I'm fine. It's not going to kill me. Especially considering the scrubbing you just gave it," he tried for a little levity. It failed, and his expression sobered. "…If it makes you feel better, I won't go out tomorrow night. Tonight," he frowned, remembering that it was technically morning. "Whatever. I'll stay in, is my point. That way…that way there's no chance of something happening to me the same day as them. Okay?"
Yes. Stay in. All day. Don't even go down the stairs, sat at the tip of his tongue. He bit it back."It's Saturday tonight," he reminded him. In order to lessen the odds that his school performance would be affected by night work, Robin was still only allowed out on weekends. Exceptions were made when Batman needed his assistance on a case and over school holidays, but only extreme injury had thus far proven capable of keeping the Boy Wonder off the streets on Friday and Saturday nights. I know you don't want to stay in, and I love that fact, but…tell me you don't mind. I want you to be here, at home, safe, but I don't want to force you.
"I…I can take a night off if you want me to," he shifted slightly. He wasn't happy about the idea, especially since he knew his mentor would be more violent than usual if he went out the following evening without someone to help temper him. Plus, that means no patrol for a week, he added to himself. Still, though…if it makes him feel that much better… He couldn't stand the haunted look that had been in Bruce's eyes since the instant he'd realized he was injured. It had to go away, and if promising to veg out for an evening was what it took to do that, then it was worth it.
"I know you want to go out again tonight," the billionaire said. "But if you're willing to stay in…I really would prefer that, Dick. I know it's foolish and superstitious, but-"
"It's not foolish," the teen cut him off sincerely. "It's how you feel. I couldn't hold it against you if I wanted to. I mean, I don't like it when you go out on the night my parents were killed, especially when I'm not with you, so…I get it. It's…it's okay. Honest."
"…Thank you," he breathed, relief sweeping through him. "…I'm going to put a few stitches in the deeper end of this."
"How did I know you were going to say that?"
"Too much experience needing patched up," came back sadly.
Good move, Grayson, he kicked himself as his guardian moved to get a suture kit. There was a sharp, unexpected prick at the back of his shoulder. "Gaaah. You could have warned me."
"I know you hate needles. It's easier to surprise you. You don't make such an awful face this way," Bruce replied as he injected the local anesthetic. Neither spoke as the wound was sewn shut, doused in antibacterial agents, and bandaged. "…You're sure there was nothing else?"
"Just bruises. I promise."
"…Okay. I'll bring you your clothes. Alfred wants to see you in the kitchen before bed."
"He can't have actually thought I'd skip post-patrol snack time," Dick laughed.
"I tried to tell him," the man almost smiled.
Upstairs, the butler insisted that an extra cookie would help his younger charge 'keep his strength up' following his bout of blood loss. Warm, ache-free thanks to the painkillers in his system, and with the pleasant tastes of chocolate chips and vanilla lingering on his tongue, the teen eventually dragged himself towards his room. He didn't comment when Bruce followed him, not surprised in the least at having a tail during his ascent to the second floor. Just inside his door, he remembered that he had tucked the cufflinks into the pocket of his pajama pants. "Oh. Here," he held them out to their owner on his open palm. "Those would not have been comfortable to sleep on."
The billionaire considered him for a moment, then gently pushed his son's fingers up until they covered the heirlooms. "…I asked you to hold onto them for me, didn't I?" he asked, one corner of his mouth twitching upward as he watched the boy's face change from confusion to shock.
"…Bruce…but…they were your father's," his tongue fumbled.
"Yes. They were. And he passed them down to me, albeit," he said slowly, "not in the way I'm sure he would have preferred. Now it's my turn to hand them off, and I want to make sure that you don't come to possess them in the same atmosphere that I did. Besides," he whispered, still holding Dick's loose fist closed over the sapphires, "they match your eyes better than they do mine."
"I…wow," he sputtered, his eyes hot. "Are…are you sure?"
"I've rarely been more certain about anything in my life. Take them. They're yours." And you're mine.
Their gazes met in the semi-darkness. "…Thanks, dad."
Wanting to hide the tears threatening to escape following that infrequently-used moniker, he pulled him in for a second, mindful of his damaged shoulder. "Don't thank me yet," he grinned suddenly, scraping the back of his hand across his eyes as they split apart. "You'll have reason to wear them weekend after next."
"Oh, no. Do I have to?" he whined, already sensing where the conversation was heading as Bruce steered him towards the bed. "It's that stupid mid-summer cotillion, isn't it?"
"Yes. And you have to go; these girls aren't much older than you are, you'll have to interact with them in society for the rest of your life."
"…I've decided to take up life as a hermit after high school. I'll come out only at night, and then only to fight crime. No one will even know it's me."
"I tried that for a while. People become uncomfortably suspicious. It won't work. Sorry, chum," he patted his good arm.
"…Could I get out of it if I promise not to even suggest that we take part in any activities at the corporate picnic?" he countered slyly, setting his recent inheritance down carefully on the nightstand. I'll find a better place for them first thing in the morning, he swore silently.
Bruce paused, considering the offer. I've trained you too well. "…Alfred will kill us both," he shook his head finally. "Sorry."
"Crap. You're right," he sighed. Laying back, he tried to come up with an alternative trade as the blankets were pulled up and tucked around him. He was definitely interested in a deal involving his not having to run a sack race, he pondered. He hates going two nights in a row off-duty, but…he really shouldn't be out there by himself, not on this day, even if he'd never admit it. He never leaves me alone on the day I lost my parents, at least not unless he knows that's what I need, so why shouldn't I do the same for him? "Well if I can't get out of that, what about this: no picnic activities," he baited the hook, "if Batman stays home and watches movies with Robin tonight."
"…That would be two patrols running that I'll have missed, and no one in the city at all," he shook his head. I know what you're trying to do, kiddo. And I have to admit, it is tempting, but…there's something about punching criminals when I'm in a bad mood.
"Except, you know, the entire GCPD," Dick rolled his eyes. "Fine. You drive a hard bargain, but…hang out with me instead of going on patrol tomorrow night, and I won't try to make up for this year's lack of picnic participation at next year's." The billionaire started, apparently not having considered that he might be guilted into double the 'fun' next summer, and the boy knew he was close to swinging the deal in his favor. "…Agreed?" he smirked from his pillow.
"And people say I'm a tough negotiator," Bruce muttered. Part of me enjoys the rage and the darkness, much more so than it should, he mulled. And I could embrace it for a few hours if I went out without you. This is always my blackest night. And yet… And yet the past four anniversaries had ended with a bright dawn when he'd returned to the cave and seen Robin's costume, hanging as a reminder that justice could be meted out with a smile as well as – and perhaps better than – with a scowl. The uniform acted as a talisman on those early mornings; its mere presence in his line of sight was enough to burn through the seemingly impermeable fog that always clouded his soul after one of Batman's cold, towering fits of vengeance. It might be nice to spend this day in the light, for once. "Agreed," he nodded. "No activities will even be suggested for the next two picnics, and in return I will stay home from patrol tonight."
"And watch bad movies with me. And throw popcorn during the sappy love scenes," he specified.
"Adding terms after the deal's been agreed to is bad form," he arched an eyebrow.
"We haven't shaken yet. The deal isn't official until we shake." He stuck out his hand. "So shake quick, or I'm adding more terms," he threatened cheerfully. Bruce's finger swallowed his. "There. Now there's no escaping me for the rest of the day."
"Good thing it's bedtime, then, isn't it?"
"Looking for contract loopholes already? Now that's bad form."
The billionaire laughed, then gazed at the boy for a long moment. I wish I knew how I can ever repay you for constantly reminding me that there is still good in the world worth fighting for, he thought, swallowing hard. "…Goodnight, kiddo."
Dick smiled happily under the look he could only half-see on his guardian's face. He didn't need better lighting to know exactly what it looked like; he had to search for it sometimes, especially when they were in company or costume, but he had slowly memorized it in exacting detail. Still, though, he was always seeking it out, refreshing the picture in his mind. There might come a day when he isn't around to give it to me anymore, he knew far too well, and if that day comes, I don't want to lose it. I want that expression, or at least the memory of it, to be the last thing I see in this world. As nice as the words would have been, he didn't have to have them. He was more than literate enough in the realm of human emotions to read the unspeakable sentiments in the billionaire's eyes for himself. So long as he looks at me like that, I know I'm safe. I know I'm on the right path. "G'night, Bruce," he wished him finally, turning away. "…I love you, too."