Author's Note: This is a short in my Spark in the Dark (yes, the universe has a name now!) series. It is set just a few weeks before 'Princely Pardon,' so very shortly after Robin has begun going out and about. Happy reading!
It was what had recently become a typical weeknight in the Batcave. Dick spun slowly around in a computer chair, eyes wandering between the textbook on his knees and the corner where Bruce was strapping on the last of his armor. I wish I could go out tonight, too, the young vigilante sighed to himself, trying not to pout. I mean, how old is he going to make me wait to be before he lets me patrol during the week?
"Hey," Bruce approached, crossing his arms even as his lips quirked upwards. "We talked about the funny faces, didn't we?"
"Yes," he nodded. They had just had a conversation a few days before about the fact that he always looked miserable when Batman headed out without him, and he'd been strictly forbidden to use puppy-dog eyes and unduly sad expressions when downstairs. Neither of them really expected that injunction to last for long, but it was a new enough rule still that breaking it would be grounds for a talking-to. "…But I wasn't pouting," he pointed out.
It was technically true, the billionaire had to admit. In fact, the way the boy had been moving his mouth wasn't something he could recall ever seeing him do before. There it is again, he frowned as the left side of his upper lip twitched outward slightly, fell back in, and then bulged again. "What are you doing?" he queried.
"Studying like you told me to," the child peered up at him, confused.
"No, I mean with your mouth," he gestured.
"…Oh. One of my teeth is kind of loose. I was just…you know…playing with it."
The man was immediately on high alert. "Loose? Let me see," he bent close as Dick pulled his lip back. "Demonstrate." A pink tongue flashed, and the upper left canine tilted out at nearly a forty-five degree angle. "Kind of loose, kiddo?" he sighed, straightening. "When did this start? You didn't get hit and not say anything, did you?" I don't remember you having any facial bruising lately, but I suppose it's possible you took a blow with your mouth open…
"No," he shook his head vehemently. "I would have told you."
"Good." He was still worried, however. Shouldn't all of his baby teeth have fallen out by now? "Quit playing with it for a minute," he ordered, moving over to the intercom. "…Alfred?" he called up to the kitchen.
"…Yes, Master Wayne?" came back a short minute later.
"Do you have a second?"
"Of course, sir. I'll be down momentarily."
"…What?" Dick asked.
"Nothing," Bruce shook his head, pulling up a chair across from his son. "What are you studying?" Might as well catch up a little while we wait. I haven't seen him much lately, and I'm not leaving until I know this loose tooth isn't a problem.
"It's this story we have to read for English," he shrugged. "The plot's okay, but the language is kind of basic. I wish they'd give us something more challenging. I asked if I could do my book report on 'Fahrenheit 451,' and my teacher looked at me funny."
"Mm. He might have thought it was a little advanced for you."
"I didn't have any trouble understanding it," the boy frowned, looking a bit hurt.
"That's not what I meant," he shook his head. "I meant your teacher might have thought the subject matter was a bit too…intense…for a nine-year-old."
"The Mechanical Hound was kind of scary," he considered. "I mean, I wouldn't want someone to actually build one or anything. But it was just a story."
"True." Turning as Alfred appeared at the base of the stairs, Bruce waved him over. "…Show me your tooth again." The child obliged him. "…Well?" he looked up at the butler.
"…While it is lovely that the young master has a loose cuspid, sir, I'm not certain it was worthy of calling me away from the beans," he arched an eyebrow.
"Is it normal? I didn't think he'd have any baby teeth left to lose."
"…Am I not supposed to have?" Dick asked, now beginning to look concerned himself.
"On the contrary," Alfred soothed them both. "It is perfectly regular for children of your age to still have a few primary teeth. Now, if you haven't lost the last of them by twelve or thirteen, we'll begin to worry, but you're well within the proper range to be shedding that particular tooth." He turned to Bruce. "Don't you recall, Master Wayne? You didn't lose your last one until age eleven."
"…I don't remember that," he shook his head, disturbed by his lapse in memory.
"Well, I'm rather surprised that you don't, considering how generous our tooth fairy at the time was. Hopefully she still makes the rounds in Gotham," he glanced towards his younger charge.
"Umm…I already know there's no such thing as a tooth fairy. Sorry," the blushing boy directed at Bruce, who couldn't quite hide his look of disappointment.
And there goes another childhood moment that I'll never get with him, the billionaire sighed internally. Damn it.
"…There is a different thing we could do," Dick suggested quietly, reading his guardian's sorrow. You might think it's weird, though, he didn't add."I mean, if you want to. We don't have to."
"What is it?" the man asked, intrigued. What do people normally do with kid teeth, anyway? I mean…you can't just throw them away, but…surely they don't keep them around… His nose wrinkled slightly. No. Don't think about it. We're not keeping his teeth in a jar as they fall out. I don't care if everyone else in the world does that, I refuse. Although…it would be a good source of DNA, just in case the profile I've already got were to be destroyed…
"Well," he began, staring at his knees with a hard frown on his face, "…mom used to take me to find a tree after I lost a tooth. She always said it had to be the biggest, strongest one in the forest, because that would help the tooth that was coming in be healthy and last a long time. Then we'd bury it right at the base. That's…That's all it was. We don't have to do it, I just thought…you know. It's something to do."
"…Dick," Bruce said helplessly. It would have been a beautiful solution to both his desire to commemorate the occasion and his question of what to do with the cast-off tooth, except for one problem. "It's November. The ground's frozen."
"Oh. I didn't think about that," he whispered, his shoulders slumping.
"What did you mother used to do in such cases? Surely all of your previous teeth didn't wait for summer to fall out," Alfred questioned.
"We always went south in the winter, because of the trailers. The ground wasn't really frozen much where we were."
"…Ah. I see." Stymied, he fell silent.
"…I guess we can just throw it away when it comes out," Dick said finally. "It's not like it's useful for anything."
Uh, no, Bruce thought with a vehemence that surprised him. We're not keeping his teeth on top of the fridge, but we're sure as hell not chucking them in the garbage can, either. "…Alfred, we have a pickaxe, right?"
"Of course, sir," the butler confirmed, eyebrows knitting together. Surely you aren't thinking what that question would seem to suggest. It's madness.
"Well, then, there's no problem. We'll bury your tooth when it falls out," he nodded to the child.
"…But…the ground's frozen, you just said," the boy said confusedly. "So how…?"
"That's what the pickaxe is for. There's not that much snow, so it shouldn't be too difficult to get through the top layer of dirt, at least. We'll just bundle up, find a tree, and do it."
"…Wouldn't it make more sense to simply wait until the ground thaws?" Alfred queried. You'll both catch pneumonia wandering around chopping at the bases of trees, he fretted silently.
"We can't do that, the new tooth will already have grown in," Bruce shot the Englishman a look, beginning to take the ritual to heart. …I wonder how many teeth he has left to lose? "The tree won't be any help by that point."
"He's right," Dick nodded. "You…you really want to do it, though?"
"You bet I do, chum. I think it's a great idea." Suddenly, there was a warm weight on his lap and arms around his neck, drawing a smile despite the fact that the billionaire was a cowl away from Batman. He squeezed back for a moment, then released him and stood. "I need to get going. Aah, watch the pout," he directed as he saw the telltale signs appear. "Go upstairs and change into your pajamas. It's past your bedtime. And Dick?" Bright blue eyes turned back to him. "…Make sure you don't lose that tooth if it comes out at school, okay?" Please don't lose it. Not this one. Not the first one. "It's hard to bury what you don't have." With that, he dropped the last piece of his costume into place.
"'Kay," the boy nodded eagerly. "Have a good patrol!" he called over his shoulder as he bounced up the stairs.
Once they were alone, Alfred addressed the dark figure already moving to the car. "Sir."
"…Yeah?" he asked, pausing without turning around.
"Very well done."
Several hours later, having showered, changed, and closed out a couple of minor case files, Bruce entered the kitchen to find the butler putting the final touches on a large casserole. "…You didn't come downstairs when I got in," he commented a bit peevishly.
"No, sir. You aren't injured?" his stirring halted momentarily as his gaze examined the younger man from head to toe.
"No. I didn't necessarily need you downstairs, it was just…odd."
"My apologies. I was safeguarding a small treasure and didn't want to risk losing track of it." As he spoke he handed over an envelope that had been propped upright on the counter beside his project.
Their earlier conversation having been pushed from the front of his mind by the demands of patrol, the billionaire took the offering with a strange look on his face. Once he opened the flap and peered inside to find a small, gleaming baby tooth, however, everything came rushing back. His mouth curved upwards happily. "…When?"
"While he was brushing his teeth for bed. It can't have been more than ten minutes after you departed." Now Alfred, too, was smiling. "You should have heard him try to convince me that he needed to stay up to show it to you."
"I can imagine," Bruce laughed. Tipping the contents of the envelope into his hand, he examined it. "It's hard to believe that something so small is strong enough to survive under conditions that rot almost everything else away," he mused out loud.
"Yes," the Englishman agreed. "The tooth is rather impressive, as well." Neither spoke for a short while as each considered the child slumbering over their heads. "…Have you small enough change for under his pillow, sir?" Alfred broke the silence eventually.
"I think so," he nodded, tucking the folded envelope and its precious cargo carefully into his pocket as he turned to the door. Just before he exited the room, he stopped. "…Alfred?"
"Yes, Master Wayne?"
"What happened to my baby teeth?"
The butler knew his elder charge too well to think he was asking because he wanted them back for nostalgic purposes. "They're quite safe, sir, I assure you."
So you did save them, he shuddered. "They're not…you know…in the house, are they?"
"…No," he lied smoothly, not surprised that the other man seemed to find the idea distasteful. Of course they are. It's not as if I would have rented out a safety deposit box specifically for that purpose. Remote storage makes it far too difficult to reminisce over them when the mood strikes. "Whatever made you think that?"
"Just checking," Bruce replied, not entirely certain that he was being told the truth but too happy with the answer he'd gotten to question it. "See you in the morning, Alfred."
…Yeah, he thought, the paper in his pants crackling gently as he climbed the stairs. It has been a pretty good one.
It was roughly four in the morning when Dick shuffled into his guardian's room, crawled up into the bed, and sat cross-legged in front of its occupant. "…Hi," he said quietly when Bruce's eyes opened.
"Hey, kiddo," the billionaire yawned back. "…Bad dream?"
"Huh-uh. I found something under my pillow, though."
"Oh, yeah?" he held back a smile.
"Yup." He held up a slightly squished origami bat.
"…I guess maybe the Tooth Fairy's real after all."
"No," he shook his head. "I think someone else left this."
"Really?" he asked, looking intrigued. "Any leads?"
"Well," Dick answered with a straight face, "considering the way the bill is folded and the fact that it had to be someone who either knows how to get past all of Alfred's defenses on the house, was already inside when he set the alarm, or came in through the cave…I'm making the Bat Fairy my prime suspect." A little smirk made it past his defenses once he'd finished speaking, and he giggled.
Bruce grinned at the sound. "So what, you want me to beat up this creep for sneaking into your room in the middle of the night?"
The boy seemed to ponder the idea for a minute. "…Nah. It's only fair; I sneak into his room all the time, after all. Besides, you'd look pretty funny hitting yourself."
That earned him a chuckle. "Come here, toothless wonder," the man beckoned.
Dick's mouth dropped open, the gap where a canine was freshly missing visible even in the low light. "Toothless wonder?" he protested.
"You don't like it?" he asked innocently.
"It makes me sound old. Like I need dentures or something," he wrinkled his nose.
"You won't need dentures for a long time," Bruce promised, "because after I get home from work later today we're going to go out and find the biggest tree on the property. Then we're going to bury your tooth under it so that your new one will be extra strong."
"…Yes," he said grudgingly. I swear sometimes you bring him up just to irk me. His urge to kick something – preferably a certain Kryptonian's shins – bled away as his boy curled against him, still holding the folded-up twenty. "…What do you think you'll spend your tooth money on?" he asked, draping an arm over him.
"I don't know. I almost don't want to spend it. I'd have to unfold it to do that," he frowned slightly.
"…How about after we bury your tooth tomorrow I show you how to make one out of regular paper? Then you can unfold this one," he took it from his loosening hands and stretched to set it on the nightstand, "and have one to replace it."
"Yes, please," came whispered back.
"Sounds like a plan," he smiled down at the closing eyelids. "Night, kiddo. Sleep tight." Just as he settled his own head on the pillow, he heard a vague response:
"…Don't let the bed bats bite."