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May. 16th, 2008 @ 06:50 am Only Words: One-Shot
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Only Words

 

The sun was just breaking free from the haze of a bleak afternoon storm. The occasional sound of remnant rainwater sliding along the curve of the oak leaves outside Bruce’s window broke the oppressive silence. It dripped down to the railing of the master suite’s balcony, forming a rhythmic puddle between its banisters. Bruce listened to it with a passing interest, wondering if it had worsened the throbbing just inside his ears.

“You barely touched your lunch, Master Bruce.”

The clear eyes drew to the side, searching for the owner of the seemingly disembodied voice. Bruce swallowed a few times, trying to soothe his scorched throat before he answered.

“Not hungry.”

Alfred, ever the genteel though exasperated butler, quelled the sigh that began to rise in his chest. He had been tending to his flu-stricken charge for nearly five days now, his stern reprimands and desperate pleadings battled at every turn. The fever seemed to amplify the brooding in the ever-awake mind, and Bruce had tried to escape to the cave more than once. It seemed that each cough, each pulse against his burning temple, each churn of his knotted stomach reminded the vigilante that he was stuck there while Gotham lay like a never-ending banquet for the criminals to feast upon. The older man cleared his throat before deftly scooping the teabag from the porcelain cup.

“Yes….well that is precisely why I fixed this broth instead of wasting my considerable talents on an unappreciated filet mignon and scalloped potatoes, sir.”

Bruce closed his eyes. “I just want the tea, Alfred.” He hoarsely replied. Even though he normally detested the rich liquid, he hoped its heat would soothe his prickling throat.

Alfred carefully unwrapped the string from around the teabag, having wrung every possible ounce of its fragrant flavor into the dark water. Small silver tongs were used to sneak in a couple of sugar cubes before the cup was handed to the sick billionaire.

“Anything else, Master Bruce?”

The man shook his head, wincing slightly at the sudden rush of pain searing against his temples. He took a sip of the warm tea, his chapped lips turning downward in a brief frown as the sweetness of the sugar hit his tongue.

“No.”

“Very well.” The concerned butler slipped one last pressed cube into the steaming cup. “I shall check on you later this evening.”

As the heavy lids slowly closed, trapping the clear irises beneath their darkness, Bruce felt the soft chenille blanket being tucked more tightly around his shoulders. He couldn’t help the quick smirk that escaped to play on his lips.

“I’m not eight anymore, Alfred.”

The loyal man wryly chuckled. “Of course not, sir.” The twinkle in his kind eyes revealed that at the moment, however, the butler believed otherwise.

Bruce sunk further back into the down pillows, feeling the soft feathers give way under the weight of his pounding head. He listened to the precise, fading footsteps as they receded down the hall, leaving him alone to wallow in his misery. Then he sighed. Heavily.

He was tired, but sleep cruelly eluded him. He wasn’t strong enough yet to get his fatigued body out of the bed, but he was well-enough to feel a deep restlessness because of it. Underneath the layers of beautifully woven sheets and supple blankets, his body flushed with heat. But then, just as quickly, a sudden wave of chills overtook him. They sent nearly imperceptible shivers down his spine and along his legs, amplifying along the battle-weary scars Batman had received.

For the next hour, the flu mercilessly dragged the young man in and out of consciousness. It plunged him deep into the abyss of groggy dreams, but then just as Bruce’s mind began to settle, it cruelly yanked him back to wakefulness with a coughing fit or an unavoidable sneeze. When he had the will to open his eyes, fighting to focus on the muted glow the setting sun cast across his room, he was aware of shadows playing under his door. They were hesitant shadows, faltering as they moved closer, then receding quickly back into the darkness. Once the shadows dared to very lightly knock on the door, but by the time the dozing man had found his voice, they had quickly disappeared. The next time they came, though, Bruce was ready.

“You can come in, Alfred.” He called, sounding as if he had swallowed a handful of broken glass. “I’m awake.”

But the shadows weren’t Alfred.

If Bruce had been more alert, more in tune with his darker persona, he would have realized that. These shadows were far too timid to belong to the wry butler. But the raging illness that ravaged his body had briefly stolen his usual deftness. Bruce realized the mistake when a small, dark head hesitantly made an appearance through the now open door.

Dick.

The guardian had nearly forgotten about his young charge. The ten-year-old had stayed away from the master suite, making sure to be quiet as he made his way to his own room to immerse himself in a book or curl up under his soft comforter. Although the boy had called the manor his home for nearly a year now, and although the man who was now graciously fumbling through the newness of parenthood had trusted him with his most coveted secret, Dick sometimes still felt wholly out of place.

“Alfred is at the store, sir.” The bright eyes dared a few glances around the massive bedroom. Dick had only been in it a couple of times and was awed by the sheer size of it. He was also awed by how little Bruce it showed. No pictures of frozen smiles in glittering frames. No touches of the reserved but generous soul that occupied the daunting room. Just very expensive looking furniture that Dick suspected had been in the house much longer than his guardian.

“Store?” Bruce asked, struggling to prop his frame against the malleable pillows. “This late?”

A raven lock slipped into the cool forehead as the boy nodded. “He said he needed more tea.”

Bruce unconsciously grimaced, eliciting a sudden giggle from the small figure still huddled by the door. The clear eyes softened as they inspected the lithe frame, clad in dark blue flannel pajamas. With the crystal blue eyes and dark locks, Bruce realized how the boy mirrored him at that age.

The devastation in those eyes echoed his, too.

A sudden shift in the shadows revealed that his ward was holding something behind his back.

“What have you got?”

Dick shrugged as he shuffled his foot against the floor, feigning interest in the contrast of his white sock against the polished hardwood planks. Then he shifted his arms and held the object out for the man to see.

“I thought you might be bored.”

Bruce bit his tongue to stop a low groan from escaping. Scrabble. Of all the things he was most definitely not in the mood for….

“I’m a little tired, Dick.”

The boy was not as experienced in masking his emotions.

Yet.

“Oh.” He quietly replied, lowering his eyes. The disappointment that briefly flooded them was overwhelming. “I-I’ll go see if Alfred’s back yet.”

Bruce drew in a deep, raspy breath watching as the small figure turned. He closed his eyes for a moment, pressing his fingers against them in a vain effort to relieve the hollow ache.

“Dick?”

The boy stopped in mid-motion, his back halfway to his guardian. “Yes, sir?”

“You haven’t hidden any letters up your sleeves, have you?”

A hint of the lopsided grin escaped. “Uh-uh.”

Bruce smiled. “Alright.” He answered, gesturing towards the bed. “Come here, then.”

Dick padded across the room, carefully settling on the edge of the bed. Bruce watched with a mild interest as small hands meticulously unfolded the familiar board, its blue and pink squares taunting the man in his sickness. He cocked his head to the side and examined the lowered eyes.

“Alfred might kill me if he knew you were in here.” Bruce quietly observed. “If you catch this….”

Dick shrugged, unfazed. “I don’t get sick very much.” He simply replied. “Probably because I’ve always been around big crowds my whole life.”

But not anymore. Those were the three unspoken words of the child’s answer. Bruce sighed as he reached for the bag.

“How many….?”

It had been a long time since he had played. And for good reason. Scrabble wasn’t exactly the Dark Knight’s favorite pastime.

“Seven.” The clear eyes suddenly raised, flashing brightly for a moment. “And none up your sleeve.”

The sick guardian chuckled as he nodded. “None up my sleeve.” He leaned over and tossed the bag towards his ward before tugging on the dark flannel cuff. “You either.”

The boy nodded firmly before settling each letter on the small wooden tray. Bruce watched with a raised eyebrow as he switched the positions of the letters a few times before apparently being satisfied.

“You first.”

Dick bit his lip as he drew his eyes back and forth from the board to his letters, debating on his first word. Bruce cleared his throat a few times to prod the boy, but to no avail. After what seemed like an eternity, the older one let out an exasperated sigh.

“I’ll be fully cured by the time—“

Dick cut him off by finally setting six tiles down along the center row of boxes.

B TMAN

Bruce instantly knew what the blank tile was supposed to be.

“That’s fourteen points, since it’s double word score.”

Dick looked very proud of himself.

“That’s a proper noun.” The man pointed out.

The soft lips turned down into a frown and the dark brows furrowed for a moment. The look of delight disappeared from the child’s face as he drew back.

“Oh.”

Bruce began to regret the realization as another seemingly eternal five minutes passed before Dick scooted two of the letters away and added one more.

MAN C.

The older one drew back. Ah, so the blank is an ‘i’ this time.

“Twelve.”

“Manic?”

“Uh-huh.”

The clear eyes narrowed. “Hm.” Certainly the boy wasn’t describing him? Batman was one thing, but manic? He was hardly manic. Just because he obsessively stalked the streets of Gotham on his compulsive quest didn’t mean—

“Are you going?”

Bruce drew back, eyeing the boy carefully. He finally nodded and placed his letters above the N.

URCHIN.

“Ten.”

Dick looked up, his jaw dropping slightly at the noun. He studied the man’s face, his eyes drawn to the slight smirk that graced his pursed lips. He wondered if his guardian had caught on to the true game yet.

“Urchin?”

“Well, I didn’t have the right letters for brat.”

Oh, yeah. He had.

Dick eyed his letters with a deep concentration, listening as Bruce plucked his new tiles from the soft velvet-like bag. He was sitting cross-legged now, his elbows resting on his knees, his chin on his palms. He listened to the raspy breaths of his guardian before he finally decided to use the last letter of his previous word.

CRANKY.

“Twelve.”

Bruce had to hand it to the boy—he was good. Two turns and already at twenty-four points. He cocked his head to the side before tossing the bag into the small lap.

“I am sick.”

Dick grinned innocently as if he had no idea what the sentiment was in response to. “Uh-huh.” He infuriatingly ignored the underlying reason for the remark. “That’s why Alfred’s been making so much tea for you.”

Bruce bit his tongue to stop the smile that threatened to emerge. Then he added two letters to the last one of Dick’s, his eyes fiercely focused on the boy’s as he waited for the response.

SHY.

“I am not.”

“Not sick?” Bruce mused, a dark eyebrow quirked slightly. “I know. You already said that you don’t catch things often.”

But Dick was too far into his own mind to answer. He wasn’t shy….not entirely. He was a performer, an acrobatic phenom who had performed night after night in front of crowds large enough to fill even the manor itself. But that had been before. That had been when he was innocent. When he didn’t have to talk to policemen and social workers and listen to the sympathetic words of people who didn’t understand, who would never understand. That was before he had retreated into himself.

“Thirteen. Double letter score.” Bruce suddenly said, noticing the sudden solemnity that had shadowed the boy’s eyes. “We’re almost tied, kid.”

Dick nodded, finally jarred free of his buried grief. He leaned over and gingerly set his next tiles out, using the n of his second word. His guardian’s lips pursed together as he watched the boy draw back, at last revealing his choice.

LONELY.

Bruce’s eyes found a hint of sadness that time. He cleared his throat and tapped the top of his wooden tray.

“Maybe before.” He quietly replied, raising his eyes to study the child’s reaction. He was rewarded with the flash of a grin. “So…..that’s eight. You’re at thirty-two.”

Dick nodded and tried to act disinterested as the man began to pluck a few tiles from his ledged tray, finally setting them on the board. He used the C from his first word as the starting point.

“That should put me ahead.”

Dick’s eyes brightened with a joy his guardian had not seen before. One that brought a twinge of guilt to the man, telling him that he was sorely lacking in praising the ten-year-old. He realized then how truly different the child’s life was now. From the spotlight to the shadows in an instant. Bruce’s smile fell.

CLEVER.

“That’s only eight.” Dick finally protested.

Bruce’s eyes found a gentleness as he reached over and pushed the V aside revealing the pink square beneath it. Dick’s jaw tensed before he nodded. He didn’t realize the scrutiny he was now under, too focused on the small tiles that were staring back at him from his narrow tray. The minutes slowly ticked by, but this time Bruce didn’t mind.

He was learning a lot from its silence. A lot just by watching the boy.

It was an opportunity he rarely got. One he realized he needed more often. Just with this simple game, he had learned more about the guarded child than he knew in the year he had been there.

He had learned that this boy, this sorrowful but bright soul, knew him very well. Those few well-chosen words had proven that.

He had also learned that he was starting to know Dick, too.

The boy finally placed three tiles on the board.

“Master Dick, come along now.” Alfred’s voice startled them both. Two sets of clear eyes fixed on the figure now standing at the door, its thin fingers wrapped around a cream-colored mug. Bruce’s stomach lurched at the thought of what was inside. Dick nodded before he hopped off the bed. He began carefully put the bag of dwindling tiles back in the box before impulsively leaning close to his guardian’s ear.

“Sixteen.”

Bruce looked down at the word, seeing the blue square peeking from behind one of the letters.

KIND.

That earned the boy a genuine smile.

“We can finish later.” Bruce promised, a smile now in his voice. Dick nodded and hopped off the bed before he carefully placed both of their trays on the board. It wasn’t until the boy was back in his room that he stole a quick look at his opponent’s tray. That’s when he saw the man’s remaining letters. Four had been separated from the rest, pushed to the end of the wooden ledge. Four simple letters.

MINE.

XXXXX

Fandom: Batman

Genre: Angst/Fluff

Rating: PG

Series: Stand alone

A flu stricken Bat learns a lot about his young ward through a simple game of Scrabble. A slightly fluffy tale to balance out my usual angst driven ones.

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