Author's Note: Here's a little aftermath to Dick's first day of school. Thanks to anglex for the request for a follow-up. Happy reading!
"Well aren't you just as cute as a bug in a rug!"
Dick had his eyes fixed on the double doors to Bruce's office as he exited the elevator. Hearing Cynthia's squeal, however, he looked over at her. "Hi," he greeted with a wan smile.
"First day of school today, honey?"
"...Yes." He ducked his head. "It was." He was being a little rude, he knew, but he didn't want her to see the bewilderment that filled him every time he thought about the strange place he'd spent the last seven hours at.
"And I'll bet you've already made dozens of friends," she prompted, "and probably won over your teacher, too."
"There are some nice people in my class," he agreed. It wasn't technically a lie – he had seen several of his peers be pleasant to one another – but it wasn't quite a full answer, either. The truth would only hurt her feelings, and since there was nothing she could do about it there was no point in making her feel bad for having asked about his day. "It's okay, I guess."
"Well I'm glad," Cynthia beamed down at him. "But I'll quit holding you up. I know Mr. Wayne will want to hear all about everything. You can go straight in; he said it was all right."
"I'll wait for you here, young sir," Alfred spoke up. "Take your time. There's no rush."
Nodding, he half-ran to the massive portal that shielded Bruce from the lobby. Cynthia's amused chuckle was cut off behind him as he slipped around the heavy slab. It clicked shut, and he slumped against it. His eyes closed gratefully as he soaked in the ensuing silence. Here there were no unknown faces, no unexpected voices. Strange eyes couldn't peer at him from across the room or through the windows. It was just him, Bruce, and a clear view of Gotham. For the first time since that morning, he felt safe.
He would have sworn that only a second had passed since he'd put his back to the outside world. When he raised his head, though, he found that his guardian had had enough time to slip around the desk and kneel before him, his forehead lined with curious worry. "Hi," he whispered.
"Hey, chum. That was quite an entrance you just made."
"I'm good at making entrances," he replied. "Well...usually." Not so much today. Today was...it was...it was crap.
Two fingers levered his chin upwards, gently forcing him to meet the billionaire's gaze. "How did your surveillance go?"
Dick glanced around, uncertain. Can we talk about that here?! "Um..."
"It's okay. Just don't drop any names if you can avoid it. The room's soundproofed, but better safe than sorry."
"Oh. Well...I learned a lot," he shrugged.
"That's good. You're supposed to learn in school."
"...I didn't learn much from the teacher other than that they get really mad if you don't walk in line right. I didn't know it was such a big deal. I just wanted to only step on the blue tiles, not the white ones." His insistence of innocence receded under Bruce's patient stare. "Anyway, I sort of got yelled at for that. Well, not yelled at, but...in trouble a little. I don't know." He hung his head again. "School is hard."
The air stirred, and Dick looked up to find that the man had risen to his full height. "Come on," he offered his hand. "Let's have a seat and talk."
"Okay," he agreed, allowing his fingers to be enclosed in a warm palm. To his surprise they went not to the desk chair but to one of those designated for visitors. Bruce sat and made him an offer.
"Do you want to have your own seat, or do you want to share with me?"
There was no question in his mind as to which option he preferred, and he demonstrated his choice by clambering onto his lap without letting go of his hand. After a minute of adjusting he was able to lean his head against a steady shoulder. A sigh escaped him as he curled up, not quite clinging to his protector but loathe to loosen his grip. "...I'm no good at school, Bruce," he confessed.
"What makes you think that? The teacher telling you to get back in line?"
"No. Maybe. That, and...there's so many rules. And nobody talked to me other than the teacher, and then all she did was call my name for roll and tell me to stop skipping the white tiles. She said what we'd be going over this year, too, and..." He was on a roll, the trials of the day pouring forth now that he was surrounded by the warmth he'd come to rely on over the past six months. "And I already know everything she's gonna teach us this year, Bruce! What's the point of going to school if I already know what they're going to teach and no one wants to talk to me?!"
"Hush. Calm down." Circles were rubbed on his back as he sniffled and hovered on the edge of tears. "Let's talk about this. Do you remember what I said this morning?"
"Y-yes. And I did! I paid tons of attention to everything. I know the names of everyone in my class, I've got the Pledge of Allegiance half-memorized even though I'd never even heard it before, and I know how to get from my classroom to the office, the gym, the music room, the art room, and the cafeteria."
"Okay. So it sounds like you worked hard at your assignment. That's good." Dick sniffed again as he was squeezed. "But do you remember the other thing I said this morning?"
He thought hard. "...You mean about not fighting? I'm confused..."
"No, not what I said about fighting, although I'm glad you remember that. I'm talking about how it might take a little while for the other kids to get used to you."
"...Oh." He remembered now, but remembering didn't make things any easier. "That's so hard though, Bruce! I don't want to wait; I just want someone to be my friend. They all have friends, I saw that today, so I know they can make friends with people. Why can't..." He struggled with a concept for a moment, feeling it take shape in his mind. "Why can't I just click with one of them like I did with you? I just want one friend at school. Just one." His lip pooched out. "Is that so much to ask for?"
"No, chum, it's not," a sad murmur fell on him. "And it will happen, Dicky. I know it's hard to wait, but you'll have friends soon. You just have to give it time. But," he went on before Dick could do more than sigh impatiently, "tell me more about what you're going to learn this year."
"Nothing, from the sound of things," he grumbled back. He could have put up with having no friends if there had been a promise of interesting things to be learned. With both of those things out of reach, however, he was looking at an interminable school year.
"Can you be more specific? Give me some examples."
"We're doing graphing," he shared. "And decimals, and fractions. Booooring. In science we're going to talk about photosynthesis, the water cycle, stuff like that. I saw some of the books we're supposed to do for English. They're so thin! I could read them in, like, one Saturday and still have tons of time left. I know they might still be really good stories, but..."
"But you read half the library this summer, so they don't look challenging," the man filled in for him, his voice teasing.
"...I didn't read half the library."
"Maybe just a third, then?"
Dick smiled. "...Maybe. But you're right; they don't look challenging at all."
"Mm...well, chum, I know this isn't going to be what you want to hear, but-"
"-'Give it time'?" he asked.
"Right. If your schoolwork doesn't start becoming more of a challenge in a few weeks, we'll talk to the principal again, okay?"
"...Okay." He didn't think talking to Mr. Geertz was going to do much good after how adamant the man had been about putting him only as high as the fifth grade when Bruce had first requested that he be placed ahead of his age group, but he let it go. If more could be done, the man beside him would do it. He trusted in that. "I guess that means I have to go back tomorrow, huh?"
"I'm afraid so. But who knows, maybe tomorrow will be the day you make a friend."
"...I doubt it." The words slipped through his lips before he realized it, making him blush. "Sorry. I just...that's just how it feels, that's all."
The hand on his shoulder rose and pressed against the side of his head. "I know, kiddo. I know. I'm sorry I can't make it better."
"...It's funny, you know," he thought out loud.
"How many things can't be fixed with money. I mean...you have a ton of money, and I know if you could make things better just with that you would. But school, and...and CPS," he gulped, "and bad guys in the night...they don't just go away when you throw a bunch of money at them. That's kind of interesting."
"It is," Bruce nodded against his scalp. "And no, I can't fix those things with money. But I'll tell you a secret; money can be a big help, even with those problems. Private schools listen to parents much more than public schools do, because private schools need parents to pay to send their kids there. CPS would be much more of a threat if we didn't have such good lawyers, and those lawyers come at a premium. Bad guys...well, suffice it to say that the cave is not a cheap headquarters to keep operational. Do you see what I mean?"
"Money can't solve some problems, but it can still make a super huge difference?"
"Exactly. That's part of why we go out at night but also give to charity. Money might not be able to buy everything, but it can smooth a lot of rough roads."
"...I wish we could just buy some friends."
"No you don't. Friends who can be bought aren't the sort of friends you want, chum. The sort of people you can buy as friends are the same people I go to dinner parties and museum fundraisers with."
"Yuck," he wrinkled his nose. "No, I don't want them as friends. I meant real friends."
"You can't buy real friends. Life would be a lot simpler if you could, though."
"Yeah..." He sighed again. "Oh well. I guess there's nothing we can do about it, huh?"
"Not a thing. There is something you can do for me, though."
"You don't even know what it is yet," the billionaire chuckled.
"Doesn't matter. You and Alfred are the only friends I have." He paused. "Well, other than the circus, but they're not here. Anyway, I'd do anything for you."
"Thanks." There was another squeeze. "This has to do with Alfred, actually."
"It does? Is it his birthday or something? We could throw him a party!"
"It's not his birthday yet. I'm just wondering if you told him any of what you told me."
"Oh..." A mild guilt flooded him. "No. I didn't."
"Any reason why? I don't mind you saving it all for me, but I'm a little sad that you had to drive all the way across town with everything you were feeling bottled up."
"It wasn't his fault or anything. It was just...the windows." His explanation sounded dumb now that he'd spoken it aloud, and even though it was Bruce he'd said it to he was embarrassed.
"Um...yeah. The car windows? There were some paparazzi across the street when he picked me up. I don't think they got any pictures, but I could see them trying to look through the glass with their cameras. I hate that," he shuddered. "I hate it so much."
"Damn it," an angry mutter came from overhead. "Fucking vultures. Don't repeat that."
"I won't. But...Bruce?"
"Do you think...I know you're busy, but..."
"But you want me to come home now instead of in another hour?"
"Hmm...you know what? Okay. We both worked hard today, we've earned it."
"Yay!" His mood immediately rose. There was only one thing that still bothered him other than the necessity of returning to school on the following morning, and he broached it before Bruce could hustle him out of his lap. "...Can I tell you a secret?"
"Only if I get to tell you one afterwards."
"You have a secret for me?!"
"I do. But you go first."
"Um...well..." He hung his head. Bruce was going to be upset, but he didn't want to wait any longer to say something. He felt guilty enough as it was. "I had a dream last night. A bad dream."
The arms around him stiffened. "You did? You stayed in your room all night, though."
There was a note of betrayal in the comment that made Dick wince. "I know. It wasn't like a nightmare-nightmare," he explained. "Just a bad dream. I would have gone to you if it was worse, but...it was about school. About today. About...about how awful it would be. I knew you wanted me to be brave, though, so I didn't say anything." His eyes grew hot again as he made his confession, and he buried his face back against Bruce's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
"Hush. It's okay. I wish you'd told me, but...it's okay. I was surprised that you hadn't had one, so..." There was a sigh. "This makes sense."
"You're not mad?" He looked up desperately. Please don't be mad.
"No, chum." Dick felt a thumb brush a bit of dampness from his cheek. "I'm not mad. Just tell me the next time, huh?"
"I will. I promise." He lay against him for a moment, letting himself calm down. "...What's your secret?" he asked eventually.
"My secret is," Bruce announced, "that Alfred didn't drive me to work yesterday. But he did pick me up after you went and got your school supplies, remember?"
"Yeeeeah. So what?"
"So there's a Bentley down in the parking garage that you've never been in before. You want to ride home with me and check it out?"
"Can I? Can I really?!"
"You bet. We'll have to grab your seat from Alfred, but that's easy enough."
"Hooray!" Cheering, he leaped to his feet. "...Bruce?" he asked as the man rose as well.
"I have another secret to tell you."
The billionaire knelt before him for the second time that afternoon. "What is it?"
"It's just...you're really, really good at making me feel better about stuff. I guess that's not really a secret," he considered, "but...it's the truth." He smiled, and was pleased to see a similar expression cross his guardian's face. A moment later he was returning the tight hug he'd been pulled into.
"You're pretty damn good at making me feel better, too, Dicky-bird. The best, in fact."
The endorsement thrilled through him, washing away a little more of the latent pain he'd accumulated that day. So long as he had Bruce, he mused as they turned to walk out of the office hand-in-hand, things wouldn't be as bad as they seemed.
So long as he had Bruce, he thought he could manage to wait until another real friend came along.