It's just a simple little story, but I had a good time writing it. I love bitty Dick.
Enjoy, guys! :D
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Characters: Alfred Pennyworth, Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne.
Word Count: ~1200
Summary: No one had heard from Bruce in almost twenty-one days.
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The Manor was dark and quiet, the only light a dull glow emanating from the kitchen where Alfred was washing dishes. He hummed to himself as he worked, a mindless little ditty to accompany the sounds of running water and pans clanging together.
It was late. Dick was in bed, and Bruce… well. Bruce was gone.
Alfred stopped humming and raised his eyes to the calendar on the wall. Three whole weeks were blocked out and labeled with Bruce’s slanted handwriting, declaring him to be “Out of town.” He had disappeared on a Sunday morning, leaving only the marked calendar and a small slip of paper to let Alfred know he would be gone. It was a Friday now. Actually – Alfred glanced at the clock on the other side of the room – it was Saturday already, and had been for almost two hours.
Which meant that Alfred had not heard from Bruce in almost twenty-one days.
Alfred drew a deep breath and forced his hands to unclench from their vice grip on the edge of the sink. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to relax. This was not, after all, the worst or longest of Bruce’s absences. Alfred was still haunted by memories of the time he was forced to worry nonstop for two whole years while his charge trained, with only a post card every few months or so serving as evidence that Bruce was still alive.
So yes, Alfred could handle a few weeks of separation. But he was still worried for Dick.
Bruce’s absence was hard on the boy. Dick had gotten barely any sleep in the three weeks since Bruce had left. His smiles were becoming rare, his laughter even more so, and he spent most of his days half-listening for the distant roar of a returning plane or car. The boy’s parents had died only a year earlier, and Alfred feared that if Bruce failed to return soon Dick would assume he never would. The boy’s biggest fear was being left alone.
Alfred paused and turned, lifting his soapy hands from the sink. The sound had come from the front hall. He wiped his hands on a towel and stepped out of the kitchen to the rapid thump-thump-thump of small feet hurrying down the main stairway. Dick took the last few steps in a leap and his bare feet slid slightly on the hardwood floors, but he grabbed the railing to steady himself and swung around to sprint into the front room. Frowning, Alfred draped the towel over his shoulder and followed at a more sedate pace.
Dick hurried over to the front window and pressed his face and fingers to the glass, eagerly looking out over the darkened grounds. His breath came in fluttering gasps and Alfred could see his blue eyes in the window’s reflection, wide with hope and ringed with dark circles from too many sleepless nights.
“Master Richard?” Alfred called quietly. “Why are you out of bed?” Dick glanced back at him, eyes gleaming in the dim light.
“Alfie!” he said, breathless with excitement. “I thought I heard…” He trailed off, his hopeful expression slowly fading when he caught a glimpse of Alfred’s somber face. “You… don’t think he’s back, do you?”
“Not yet, I’m afraid,” Alfred said. He held out a hand. “Why don’t you join me in the kitchen for a bit? I believe there is some ice cream in the freezer that –”
And there it was. The softest noise, just the whisper of a door swinging shut, and Alfred could not believe that Dick had heard something so faint from all the way upstairs.
Dick’s entire face lit up and he bolted from the room, dashing past Alfred’s legs and into the hallway. Alfred turned, his heart beating perhaps a bit too hard, and watched as Dick launched himself into Bruce’s waiting arms and buried his face in the man’s broad shoulder. Bruce caught him and lifted him clear off the ground, and Dick’s pajama-clad legs wrapped around his waist. The boy clutched at Bruce like nothing else in the world mattered, like he was terrified that the man would vanish again if he did not hold on tight enough. His little shoulders shook as he drew in a tremulous breath and his fingers clenched in the fabric of Bruce’s sweater.
“I missed you,” Dick murmured, his voice muffled and choked with barely restrained tears, and Bruce tightened his arms around the boy, one hand settling in dark rumpled hair, the other firm around his back.
“Missed you too, kiddo,” Bruce said. He met Alfred’s eyes over Dick’s shoulder. There was stubble on his jaw and his eyes were sunken with fatigue, but when he smiled he somehow managed to look both weary and radiant. “Hey, Alfred.”
“Welcome back, sir,” Alfred said, then cleared his throat; his voice sounded choked, as well. “I trust your travels went well?”
“Yes,” Bruce said, but he was distracted. The time had passed when Dick would normally leap away from the hug, all bouncing energy and excited retellings of what Bruce had missed while he was gone, but the boy was still clinging to Bruce with all of his strength and seemed quite content to never let go. Bruce slowly, carefully, maneuvered them both into the darkened living room and settled onto the sofa. Dick barely seemed to notice the change. He curled into a ball in Bruce’s lap, arms still clasped around Bruce’s neck.
“Please don’t leave like that again,” Dick said with a little sniffle.
Bruce flashed Alfred a helpless look. “Dick, I can’t promise –”
“Or at least next time –” Dick broke off with a yawn and settled his head contentedly against Bruce’s shoulder, his eyes closing. “– say goodbye first.”
Bruce rubbed a hand over Dick’s arm. “I can do that.”
Dick bobbed his head in a tired little nod, then nestled slightly closer to Bruce, let out a sigh, and fell asleep.
“It’s about time,” Alfred said, resting a hand on Dick’s tousled head. “He has not been sleeping well recently.” Bruce looked up at him sharply.
“Why not? Has he been sick?” he asked.
“Not at all, sir. He simply missed you,” Alfred said. Bruce blinked at him, then looked at the boy in his lap. His arms tightened a bit.
“And he was not the only one,” Alfred said, patting Bruce’s shoulder. “It’s good to have you back, Master Wayne. Now if you’ll excuse me, I left some dishes in the sink.”
The remaining dishes went much faster, and Alfred was actually whistling by the time they were done. He turned out the lights in the kitchen, dousing the house in shadow, and headed for the living room.
Bruce and Dick were right where he left them, both limp with sleep. Bruce was hugging Dick close to his chest, and Dick had one little hand curled possessively in the front of Bruce’s sweater. Alfred smiled at his boys and quietly unfolded an afghan from the basket near the door. He draped it over them, careful not to disturb their rest, and headed to his bedroom for the first night of good sleep in three weeks.
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