Dick listened closely through the door. He couldn't tell what Bruce was saying, but didn't care. All he needed to know was whether Bruce was still talking. He fumbled nervously with his envelope as he waited for Bruce to finish his conference call. He briefly imagined what it would be like if Artemis or Babs could see him. After all the time they joked about how "cartoonishly" bold and carefree he could be, here he was, afraid to get a field trip permission slip signed.
Then again, they didn't have to get it signed by the Batman. And it wasn't exactly a normal field trip either.
Finally Bruce hung up. Dick lightly knocked on the door and let himself in. "Hey, I've got a permission slip for you to sign. I need it for an A.P. Psychology field trip."
Dick slowly walked in and handed Bruce the envelope casually. He didn't think his attempts to make this seem insignificant we're working, but he had to try.
"Where are you going?" Bruce didn't even look at the envelope, instead staring into Dick's eyes.
"Arkham Asylum." Dick answered sheepishly. When Bruce raised an eyebrow, he quickly added, "It's for our chapter on treatment of severe disorders. The teacher said it's important to see advanced psychological care in person."
"I'm not sure I feel comfortable about this." Bruce shook his head, prompting Dick to frown.
"Oh, come on! It's safe. We won't be straying past the low security zones."
Bruce's gaze became distant. "It's not that. Arkham is...complicated. It has a way of getting into your head. Especially because you know so many of the people locked up there." Bruce sighed and put the letter down.
"You put more of them there then me, and you go all the time. You're even on the parole board." Dick immediately regretted his harsh tone, but refused to back down.
"It's more than that. I'm not sure you're ready for the kind of effect that place has on people," replied Bruce
"How do you expect me to get ready for it if you never expose me to it?"
Bruce cracked a slight smile. A very, very slight smile. "Okay, you win. I'll sign the form."
"Hey you guys excited for the field trip?" asked Carrie as the class walked towards the bus.
"Sure, but probably not as excited as you clearly are." Dick envied Carrie Kelly's upbeat attitude, something that was rare in Gotham. Although his cheerfulness was sometimes a front to hide how he really felt, Carrie's was genuine. He wished more of his classmates could be like her.
Especially Helena Bertinelli, who looked like she had just rolled out of her bed and landed on a sleeping jaguar. "Please. We're just going to some nuthouse. Whatever the media says, this place is just for creeps who want attention. The real monsters stay on the street."
"You would know." muttered a kid Dick didn't recognize as he passed them by. Helena stuck out her foot and tripped him, sending him face first into the mulch. She laughed and kept walking. Although Dick thought the front he hid behind was obvious, Helena's was even less subtle. Her family's mob connections clearly messed with her social skills.
They all shuffled onto the bus and scrambled to find seats with people they liked. To Dick's dismay, Babs and Artemis sat together, meaning he couldn't sit next to either. He briefly wondered if Artemis brought her suit and quiver. He knew Babs brought hers, and he could feel his utility belt through his backpack.
Dick found an unoccupied seat and sat down. For a moment it looked as if nobody would be sitting next to him. Then a gaunt, crooked boy walked up to him.
"Mind if I sit with you?" asked the boy, adjusting his purple eyeglasses as he did so.
"Not really," answered Dick, though he honestly would prefer if he didn't. Dick found Alberto Falcone to be somewhat unpleasant, but felt bad for him. Like Helena and many of the Academy's other students, his family had long been suspected of participating in organized crime. While this background caused Helena to act confrontational, it made Alberto reserved and a bit creepy.
"How was your weekend?" asked Dick, in the vain hope that Alberto would respond to small talk.
"It was pretty good. Dad was away again." Alberto muttered. "Hey, did you see the new episode of Dexter? It was so good. You'll never guess what this one guy did with the bodies…"
Dick shook his head and gave an insincere smile. He did not share the older boy's taste in entertainment, which tended to be bizarre and violent. Dick got enough bizarreness and violence in his life as Robin. He didn't want more. Alberto, on the other hand, couldn't get enough.
The bus ride was long and pretty painful. Dick listened to Alberto drone on about serial killers for much longer than he felt possible. He nodded and pretended to listen and shot glances back at Artemis and Babs every now and again. The two were talking enthusiastically and regularly burst out into laughter. He wished he was next to one of them, having a good time. Being with an attractive crime fighter had benefits too, especially during the intense hormonal state he was experiencing.
No matter what, it had to be better than listening to an underweight creep monologue about grisly murders.
Finally, the bus reached the infamous gates of the asylum. The main building sat on top of a hill. Dick remembered that the main building had been built around some rich lady's house. The place looked like the least appropriate environment to rehabilitate the mentally ill. That was probably part of why the patients never got better.
The class filed out of the bus. Mrs. McGillicuddy addressed the entire class one last time before they entered the building. "Please remember that security will be confiscating your belongings while we are inside the building. You will get them back after the trip is over."
Barbara raised her had. Before the teacher had time to acknowledge her, she asked, "How are we supposed to take notes?"
Mrs. McGillicuddy answered, "We'll review everything when we get back."
Dick walked up behind Bans and gave her a good-natured elbow nudge. "What are you worried about, you have a photographic memory?"
As he said it, his voice cracked noticeably. This had been happening more and more lately. Artemis and Barbara burst into tears.
"God, you're even worse than Wally was," said Artemis. "Puberty will not be kind to you."
Dick pouted. "It may be bad now, but just you wait and see. In a few years it will all pay off. I'll be an amazingly attractive, perfect human specimen. More than I already am, of course. And I'll be taller than Wally."
"He'll never be the same it you outgrow him." Artemis smiled at the thought. Wally had been teasing Dick about his height for so long that this had probably never occurred to him. "At least Zee won't have to kneel next to you when you take photos together." She deadpanned.
Dick decided not to dignify that with a response, and the whole class entered the asylum together. A hushed awe came over most of the students. Helena was completely undated, but Alberto looked like a kid in a candy shop. They passed through a lengthy security checkpoint and underwent all manners of scans. The white-clad guards took all of their backpacks. Dick felt a twang of worry as he found himself separated from his utility belt for the first time in months.
A white clad doctor approached them. A thin smile grew on her pale face. "Hello, I'm Doctor Quinzel. I'll be your guide today. Welcome to the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane."