Author: rangermaid PM
A series. Story Four Posted: Life, death and birthday parties. Business as usual.Rated: Fiction T - English - Chapters: 4 - Words: 22,559 - Reviews: 15 - Favs: 14 - Follows: 12 - Updated: 01-17-13 - Published: 12-01-11 - id: 7599437
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree. ~Roy L. Smith
Jason sighed and ran a hand through his hair as he stared at the last problem of his test. Who in their right mind assigned a test right before Christmas break? That was just…wrong. Heck, school in general was wrong on so many levels. Tapping his fingers on the desk he glared at the final question and groaned.
What is the importance of Javert's speech on the second paragraph of the chapter?
Who freaking cared?
He absolutely hated this book; it was stupid…big words and waaay too much description. It wasn't the kind of thing Jason would ever pick up on his own. Thankfully it was one of Dick's favorites and the older teen was more than happy to help him with the homework involved. The bell rang and he was out the door while most of his class was still packing; he hated school and Christmas break was just what he-
Jason stood stalk still and stared in horror at the scene in front of him. Around him, kids stopped and whispered; finger pointing and gaping. It was hard to say if the cherry red convertible, that seemed to be the latest model, was getting the most stares or if it was the bomb-shell brunette leaning against it. Jason turned on his heel but had barely taken a few steps before…
Swearing under his breath, the boy turned to glare over his shoulder as the woman beamed and called out again. "I want to treat you to lunch!"
Undeterred by the boy's flat tone, the woman opened the passenger door. "Please? I need your help…"
Julie Madison sighed and batted her eyes. "Alfred isn't gonna pick you up today. I'm your only ride. So what's it gonna be? Walking home, or a free meal?"
Jason scowled. Like that was any choice…
Julie smiled over her burger as Jason wolfed down his meal. "Don't they feed you at home?"
"I'm always hungry. So what's up; why this elaborate kidnapping?"
Julie sighed and leaned back in her plastic chair, looking around the packed food court. With just over a week until Christmas the mall was bustling with last minute shopping and harried parents and excited children. She shrugged and smiled slightly.
"Okay…I need advice."
"Ahhh…" Jason nodded, recognition dawning. It was the annual challenge that everyone who knew Bruce faced; what do you get a millionaire? "Yeah, tough one…Damian and Tim are making him these frames, Alfred's idea; and who knows about Dick. He's super secretive about it; I mean, steal an idea one time and suddenly you're a threat…"
Julie chuckled. "And you?"
"I dunno." Jason shrugged. "I'm working on it. So…what's your deal exactly?"
"You mean where do I fit in the collage of Bruce's women?" A wistful look flashed across the pretty girl's face. "Well…I've known Bruce since high school. We hit it off junior year and both ended up at Yale for our freshmen year of college. Then Bruce fell off the map; I didn't hear from him for a few years and then when he did resurface…he was different. More intense and yet…I don't know, he didn't want to do anything with his life anymore. He had all these dreams in high school but now he seems fine with living off of his parents' money. We were engaged for about two years…but I broke it off."
"You broke it off?" Jason seemed stunned.
Julie grinned. "Weird, huh? Not all girls are completely under his spell, you know. I loved him but…I couldn't watch him do nothing with himself. So I walked out."
"What do you do for a living?"
"I'm an actress. Well, I'm an actress when I can be. Stage; but…I wouldn't say no to a movie role. Bit of a disappointment to my parents I'm afraid. They wanted a pretty debutante that would become a shrewd businesswoman and marry some nice, rich man. Instead, they got a single, struggling actress."
Jason chuckled. "I know how that goes. So, what about you and Dick? I was surprised; he normally distances himself from Bruce's girlfriends but he really likes you…"
The smile on the woman's face turned shrewd and amused. "Ah…that's what's been bothering you. Don't worry; I won't get in the way of your 'boy pact'. Dick was…gosh, I don't remember, but he was young when Bruce and I became engaged. And I've known him even longer; since Bruce took him in. I was pretty surprised to see him…he's really grown over the last few years…Look, I know you've had negative experiences with Bruce's girls but I promise not invade your privacy or relationships." She chuckled. "Now that was a good time…One year, Bruce was dating this reporter, total witch, very mean to poor Dick. Well, we got her good! Food fight; mashed potatoes all over her expensive dress."
Jason's jaw dropped. "Time out, I've heard this story; Dick always said he had a 'partner' but never said who. That was you? Nice!"
Julie grinned. "We thought so."
Suddenly Jason understood why Dick liked her so much. She wasn't some bubble brained chick or gold digger; she was funny and had a brain. Maybe he wouldn't mind having her around more. "So you trying to find a gift to win Bruce back?"
"No; just looking for the perfect gift for my best friend. I'm not sure getting back together would be such a good idea."
Jason gnawed on his lip. "Weeell…a train set…"
Julie laughed. "Oh really?"
"Yep. But if that doesn't work for ya, I got plenty of ideas. I'm a professional."
He leaned back and one of the back legs of his chair slipped in some melted snow tracked in by countless shoppers. The chair shot out from under him and he went sprawling as Julie laughed and stood to help him up.
"Right; looks like I'm in good hands."
Alfred smiled as he watched Tim carefully put each Christmas cookie on the tray, evenly spacing them and smoothing the edges. The middle-schooler was methodical to say the least and his serious nature had completely endured him to the butler.
"We have to make sure Jay doesn't eat them all." Tim's brow was furrowed with concentration. "These are Bruce's favorite."
"Master Jason will not get any cookies before I say so, I assure you." Alfred swept up the last tray as Tim began to wash his hands again. "Have you done all your wrapping?"
"Yessir. One week to go. Oh no! Zoanne; I haven't gotten her anything!"
With that the boy was gone, running for his lap-top to scour for something, anything, to give his friend. Alfred chuckled; one week indeed. Well, time to get to work.
Dick shook of the light blanket of snow from his shoulders and knelt to brush the powder from Damian's coat. "Man…when Gotham wants a white Christmas, it really gets a white Christmas…"
Megan, Bruce's secretary, smiled at the boys. She loved when they visited, such sweet children; particularly Dick. After watching him grow up she felt the same attachment to him that she had for her own children. She gestured to a thin, freckled faced girl standing behind her. "Dick, this is Rose; she's interning here. She goes to Hudson, haven't you applied there?"
"Yes'm, got accepted too."
Megan beamed, "Well done!"
Dick smiled wanly as Damian pulled on his sleeve and pointed to a table where there was a selection of crayons and paper. The older boy ruffled his hair and winked at the two women. "We'll wait for Bruce, he almost done with this meeting?"
"Might be a while. Shall I send for cocoa?"
Megan chuckled and turned back to the younger woman who smiled.
"Yes, aren't they just?"
Dick's eyes widened as Damian showed him his drawing. "Wow, what a good fire truck, well done!"
The little boy turned back to his drawing. Although he seemed to have accepted Dick as a friend, he still refused to speak. It irritated the young man, as did everything about the child's position, especially the way everyone else seemed so hostile towards the child. Bruce had taken the boy in reluctantly; after all, better raised by him than by his psychopathic mother. But he hardly treated him like a son as much as another thing to handle. That was a feeling that Dick understood all too well. He absentmindedly stroked Damian's hair. It wasn't that he didn't feel loved; Alfred, Bruce and all the boys made sure of that; it was just he didn't know exactly where he fit in the family. Tim and Jason were adopted, Damian was biologically his son…but Dick was just a foster kid. And now that he was eighteen…
Damian's tugging on his arm snapped him out of his mood. He was about to ask what the tiny boy wanted but stopped at the look on his face. Damian pointed to a couple of men who were talking to Megan; they were probably in their mid forties and dressed in slightly shabby trench-coats. Damian's face was troubled and as Dick looked at them he felt a wave of uneasiness himself. Then one of the men pulled out a cell-phone from his pants pocket and Dick saw what looked a whole lot like the shape of a gun. Then teen's mind suddenly snapped into a strange, clear focus. His posture changed and his eyes hardened.
"Stay here Dami."
Damian watched with interest. Both his Father and Dick had this automatic response; when the moment arose, they changed. Their night-time personas were like different people and yet, they were one being at the same time. It was fascinating.
Dick walked up to the counter where Megan was patiently explaining to the men that, "Mr. Wayne is simply too busy to meet with anyone right now. If you would like to make an appointment…?"
"It's important that we see him today! Look, can't you let us in; we would be in and out very quickly…"
Dick stepped in. "Excuse me, is there any way I can be of service? Perhaps I can relay a message for you?"
Megan shook her head. "Dick, it's okay. Bruce is too busy, they need an appointment."
"No, I think you'll find we don't." Suddenly the man's weapon was out, pointed at Megan who stiffened. "Now about seeing—what are you doing?"
Dick had lunged over the counter and hit the security button. He tried to get away but one of the men caught him on the temple with the butt of his gun.
"You little-!" He looked about ready to finish the boy off but his partner stopped him.
"This has to be Wayne's brat. We can use him. We need a way out and besides; if we can't kill Wayne, we can at least drain him of some cash in exchange for his kid."
He hauled Dick up by the hair, making the teen cry out and then Damian was upon him, biting and scratching viciously. The man screamed and tried to dislodge the child, who clung on with a frightening strength. Before Dick could try to help, the man backhanded Damian, who fell hard and whimpered slightly. Eyes flashing dangerously, his brother started to stand but the man with the gun pointed it at Damian and Dick froze. Breathing heavily, the man smiled.
"Alright, here's how this is going to go: You-" He glared at Dick. "Are coming with us, quietly, or little brother is gonna get a bullet in the brain. You-" This time it was Megan. "Are going to wait a few minutes after we're gone and get Wayne. Tell him to talk to the police; we'll be in touch soon. And get that kid!"
Megan swept up Damian, who struggled, still growling and glaring at the men as they twisted Dick's arm and pressed the gun to his head. The teen looked pleadingly at Megan.
"Hold him still, please! Dami, it's okay, just stay with Miss Megan okay? I'll be alright!-Dami please!"
They were almost at the door when the girl, Rose, suddenly grabbed at the man. "No, you can't!"
Dick vaguely heard another scream over Megan's and realized much later that it had been his own. Rose fell to her knees, staring at the blood on her chest, and toppled over. Something snapped in the teen and he began fighting, oblivious of the danger he was in. The last thing he remembered was Damian yelling - "Grayson!" - a krack,and pain in his temple before blackness claimed his senses; his last thought being:
Did Damian just say my name?
Bruce hated meetings; he really did. The guise of Bruce Wayne, empty-headed playboy was a hard one to keep up but it was meetings like this where it got a bit easier. After all, it wasn't playacting as he tuned them out and tried to think of something, anything, else. Gifts…he had Jason's…Tim's should be coming in soon…needed to get Damian one…Dick, well, it had been easy enough to think of but whether he would like it was another story…Julie…
Bruce smiled happily. He was glad the young woman had returned; it surprised him how much he had missed her. His grin turned wry; it wasn't often he met women who were so openly immune to his persona. It was both refreshing and relaxing. Then there was the way she connected with the boys…
He was absent-mindedly thinking of what to get Alfred when there was a commotion at the door and one of the security guards poked his head through.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please stay calm but someone has set off the alarm downstairs. Please remain in here until the police arrive; you are in no danger, please just follow directions."
Bruce frowned. Great, it would be when he had no way of investigating on his own.
It was one of the longest two hours of his life. Finally there was a knock at the door and the guard entered, followed by a police officer who looked vaguely familiar…
Detective Renee Montoya looked around and spotted Bruce, coming forward. "Mr. Wayne?"
"Renee isn't it? You were part of the detail at my party last year when it was crashed by…oh, what was that man's name…thing about birds…"
"Penguin, sir." Renee looked nervous. "I'm sorry, but could you come with me?"
Bruce stiffened. "Is something…"
"Yes sir…one of your employees was sent to Gotham Central in critical condition…she was shot point blank in the chest…but there's more…if you'll follow me?"
"What happened?" Bruce was angry but kept his face a scared mask. If only he could have been there…
"A couple of men…we don't know what they wanted yet but…" They entered the hallway and Bruce stopped cold; staring at Megan who was hugging Damian to her and shaking badly.
"Meg? What happened? Damian…" A sudden thought hit him. "Wait, Dick was supposed to bring him. Where…"
Cold dread filled him as Meg looked at him with pity and no one spoke.
James Gordon sighed as he watched Bruce pace back and forth in the cramped office. He wished that he could say something to calm the man down. No words, he knew however, would be able to stop the fear that seemed to be eating the man from the inside. Still, he ought to say something; he knew that if Barbara, his niece, went missing like that he would be worried sick himself and he needed to try to calm the man down or something…Finally, the police commissioner decided on, "You do know you're wearing down the carpet, right?"
Bruce blinked guiltily and managed to force himself into a chair. Then the finger tapping started. Gordon sighed. "Bruce…"
"I'm sorry…I just…I feel helpless."
That was the truth. Bruce wanted nothing but to go out and hunt down those men and make them pay. But he couldn't; he had to stay and be the worried guardian…
His phone vibrated and he looked down to read the text that popped on the screen:
Al told me. On it. Will be careful. Call if anything happens.
There was that at least; Bruce just hoped that Jason would really be careful…he shot a look at Tim, who was seated in the corner. When Alfred had arrived to pick up Damian the other boy had insisted on staying; wanting to be of help. Tim looked wretched; he was a relationship based person and Bruce knew that he was close to Dick in a way that left Bruce in awe. They all looked up sharply at the knocking at Gordon's door. The man opened it and Renee sighed heavily as she looked at them.
"They've made contact."
Bruce stared at the screen at his boy and tried to reign in his fury. There was a nasty looking wound on his temple and a small stream of blood came from his lip, near some bruising. But that was all. The man let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. Those had no doubt happened during the struggle, which meant he wasn't being mistreated.
The screen shifted slightly as one of the men stepped forward, grinning. "Skype…now there's an idea. Once upon a time we would have been doing this through letters made of newspaper clippings. The internet is a wonderful thing…"
"What. Do. You. Want?"
The man chuckled. "My, my…Do you know who I am Mr. Wayne?"
Bruce frowned…there was something…
"But I suppose that your employees all look the same-"
"You're Chris John. I fired you after you stole over a thousand dollars from our research department…"
"Impressive…very impressive. Well, I suppose that we can move on in that case."
What was Dick doing? A slight movement had caught Bruce's eye during the exchange and he tried to watch the teen while talking to the man. He was…blinking?
Tim caught his eye and nodded slightly; telling Bruce he'd try to figure out what Dick was saying if Bruce kept the man busy. Bruce turned his attention back on the kidnapper.
"Like I said earlier, what do you want?"
"Originally we wanted your head…but buddy boy there stopped that plan from working so we opted for a little K and R. Kidnapping and ransom. You do want your kid back, right?"
"Look, don't hurt him. Just give me your demands, I don't care how much, I'll pay."
The man grinned. "Indeed."
The screen went blank and Bruce sagged into a chair. Tim growled under his breath at the unexpected stop and Bruce smiled slightly, squeezing his hand. The millionaire looked at Gordon.
"We wait, and we investigate. We'll contact you if anything comes up…and you must tell us if they contact you."
"We'll find him." Bruce looked at Tim as they drove up the street toward Wayne Manor. "I promise."
The boy had been silent during the ride but now looked at Bruce. "Dick said there were about ten of them and he didn't know where they were. He said to be careful…"
Bruce had to smile at that. Of course he had…
As they entered the house through the kitchen entrance they stopped short at the sight of Julie sitting at the counter, arm in a sling. She smiled weakly.
"I was coming to visit you…" Julie rubbed her arm. "I'd gotten to the door and was about to go into the building when those men came out with Dick…I ran after them and tried to get the number on their plates but…they saw me and tried to run me down…I fell and, well…" She looked down at the cast.
Bruce crossed the room in two long strides and wrapped his arms around her. "What a stupid thing to do…"
"Oh, like you wouldn't have? Is…has there…"
"We know who has him but…the demands haven't been made yet…"
Julie nodded, biting her lip. "Alfred's putting Damian to bed. He's been impossible all day, like a wild animal. I think he's really worried…"
"Damian? Worried?" Tim shook his head and dashed off. Bruce sighed and stroked the woman's hair. After a while he murmured,
Julie nodded again and buried her head on his shoulder.
It was the only way to describe the expanse underneath Wayne Manor. The Batcave was a massive structure, a natural cave that Bruce had adapted into one of the most high-tech lairs in the world. Computer consuls gleamed and cast strange shadows and hues on trophy cases containing outlandish memorabilia; acid squirting flowers, booby-trapped umbrellas, weapons and every type of unique trap or utensil under the sun. Red Hood kicked the computers bad-temperedly and stared at the screen angrily.
"Jay, did you get the video?"
Red Hood looked over his shoulder, glowering under his blood red domino mask. "No-ooo, I've been standing here doing nothing!"
Red Robin, pulling on his cowl, frowned. "Don't have to snap."
"Sorry Timmy…I hate this sort of thing."
"Dick can take care of himself."
"Doesn't mean I'm not worried…"
"Did you catch his message?"
"Well, run it again, maybe we missed something."
"Whatever, fifth time's a charm…"
Red Hood sighed and shifted on his perch overlooking John's house. "He's not gonna be there…he's been on the run for three months…why would he…?"
"Criminals sometimes get careless, you know that. He hasn't seen his children in three months; he might decide to drop in."
Red Hood sighed and leaned up against the gargoyle he was hiding in the shadow of. He knew he shouldn't talk to Bruce like that…he always had an answer.
"…What if they don't contact you again?"
In his seat before the computers in the Batcave, Bruce closed his eyes and tried not to think about it. "Jay, I swear we're going to find him." A slight smile twitched around his face. "It's not the first time he's gotten into a situation like this…"
"Some day you are telling me that story. Red Hood out."
Bruce sighed. Leaning back in his chair he stared blankly at the screen in front of him and tried to piece together something that might help… There was a sound behind him and he turned to see Damian standing nearby, staring at Bruce with the level of intensity that both unnerved him and sort of reminded him of himself…
"Damian, you need something?"
The boy looked at Bruce and then turned away, wandering over to the trophy room. Bruce was suddenly struck with how small the boy was; he was so young. The man stood and walked over to join his son, looking him over for the first time. Damian was definitely his son. Same jaw, same piercing blue eyes and coal black hair. Same little frown…Bruce chuckled. He hadn't even known he made that face until a ten-year old Dick had pointed it out. He watched Damian's face and was surprised at the amount of worry that the boy was radiating. He hesitantly put a strong hand on Damian's small shoulder and although the boy stiffened, he didn't move away.
Dick sighed and rested his head against the wall. His temple was aching but besides that and a dry throat he was feeling pretty good. He shifted his weight and grimaced; he hated being tied up. The feeling of ropes biting into his wrists…messed with his head. He sighed again and settled down to wait.
He hated getting kidnapped; it was so boring.
One of the men, the one in charge…Chris or something, came forward and grinned at him. Dick was immediately weary; when the bad guy smiled at you, it never meant anything good. Chris John looked down at his captive and mulled over what to do next. He was enjoying the thought of how worried Bruce probably was but this could only be dragged on for so long before it became dangerous…He looked curiously at Dick.
"How old are you?"
Chris nodded. "I see…" He frowned thoughtfully. "How old where you when Wayne took you in?"
"So…you've known him for nine years…" The man whistled. "Long time…do you trust him?"
"With my life." Dick thought a split-second later how ironic that was but kept his face neutral. He wasn't sure why the man was asking so many questions but it couldn't be good.
"Will he deliver the money?"
Dick hesitated and thought about it. "Ye-eees…I think so."
The man nodded and then grinned again. "You scared?"
Which was a half-lie. He was sure Bruce was doing as much as possible to get to him but the fact that none of the men where wearing masks made him uneasy. They weren't worried about him knowing their faces…
He really hated getting kidnapped.
Chris squatted in front of the teen and locked eyes with him. Oh, the kid was good…there was barely any sign of a flinch as the man got close. He smiled wolfishly. "I think you're more scared than you'll admit…"
Dick's eyes screwed shut as he felt the man's hot breath on his neck. Chris leaned in and began to hiss into the teen's ear.
"I hate your daddy…he ruined my life. You know I have a boy who's a little younger than you? I haven't seen him in months…all because Wayne put the cops on my tail. I'm a fugitive thanks to him. All I wanted was for him to pay. But you stopped me from killing him…I should be thanking you really. Where would the fun be in just ending him? Now I can mess with him a little longer. So thanks kid."
The man stood up and walked away, leaving the shaken teen alone. Dick slumped against the wall and stared after his captor; the man was a little insane, that was for sure. But he hadn't proven too violent yet…
He really, really hated getting kidnapped.
"What do you mean you've got nothing?"
Red Robin winced and sighed as his brother let loose with a barrage of colorful names and phrases. "'Hood, all I'm saying is…we just haven't heard anything…we'll find some kind of clue."
"Red, I want this loser's head…I just…"
Tim sighed and pulled off his cowl as he sank deeper into his computer chair. "Jay, come on, calm down."
Standing on a rooftop across the city, Red Hood took a deep breath and tried to ignore the fury bubbling under the surface. He didn't make friends easily; in fact, he had one: Dick. And now he couldn't help him.
And Tim wanted him to calm down…
"Have…you ever been kidnapped?"
Jason made a face, remembering the incident with The Penguin. "Um…yeah."
"…is it scary?"
Tim's voice was so soft that it was almost lost in the transmission. Jason stood in surprise, and then sighed. "A little. But look, Dick's tough, he'll be fine."
Red Hood looked out at the city and tried to believe his own words…
Bruce frowned at the screen, trying to tell if Dick had been abused. He looked fine…Chris came forward and grinned at the man.
"Ready to hear my demands?"
"Let me talk to Dick."
The man sighed and waved a few of his men forward. They half supported, half dragged, Dick to him and he pointed the boy at the computer. "Say hi to Daddy."
"Dick, are you alright?" Bruce couldn't keep the concern out of his voice. Dick looked at him and smiled. It one was one of those looks that carried a whole conversation in it.
Wow. You're worried, I'm touched. Come on, these guys are nobodies.
Do NOT underestimate them, how many times have I told you…
Wow, a lecture, how surprisingly you…
"I'm fine Bruce." Dick shifted and glared at his captors. "A little uncomfortable but okay. How's Dami?"
Bruce let out a sigh of relief. If Dick had the energy to be worried about other people… "He's fine."
"The girl…the one they shot…"
"Critical condition at Gotham Central. Are you sure you-"
Chris stepped forward and Dick suddenly cried out as the man wrapped an arm around his shoulders; stilling at the feeling of cold steel against his neck. Heart skipping a beat, Bruce moved closer to the screen; it was a pointless movement but he needed to do something!
Laughing at his captive's desperate squirming, Chris pressed the knife harder against the boy's throat and smiled at Bruce. "That's enough; let's get back on track, shall we?"
"Don't!" Bruce's head was spinning. "I will pay, I swear, just don't…"
Then man's eyes flashed and he lowered the knife to slide it over the teen's collarbone, slicing through his t-shirt and drawing a thin line of red over his skin. Dick's soft gasp of pain made Bruce's blood freeze. Chris chuckled.
"Does that bother you? I'm sorry…Get together five-thousand dollars and be ready for our next chat. I'll give you the drop off point then. And Gordon, are you there?"
The man's fist suddenly lashed out and caught Dick's face. The teen stumbled, biting back a cry and then the man had him against the wall and slammed his fist into the boy's stomach. The breath caught in Dick's chest and as he gasped for air Chris aimed five more punches at him, making the boy curl up as he tried desperately to breath. The man threw him to the floor and looked at the screen.
"I see any cops there, and he will get a lot worse."
Julie looked up from her seat and blinked in surprise. "Bruce?"
The man walked through the waiting room like one in a daze and fell into a seat next to the young woman. After a long silence he cleared his throat. "How is she?"
Julie sighed. "She's fighting. I can't believe how brave she was…and she didn't even know Dick…she got herself shot for a complete stranger."
Bruce nodded numbly. He knew well what it was like to risk everything for someone you didn't know…but he felt it was his duty. He was trained to do so. This girl…
"Bruce…did something happen?"
The man froze and looked at her. Julie's eyes were sad; he knew that look, she had given it to him many times…
"They hurt him…and all I could do was watch."
Julie's eyes shut tightly and she tried to keep her voice calm. "How bad..?"
"…Pretty bad." It wasn't completely true. Dick had laughed off a lot worse but that was as Robin. And the sight never really lost its initial sting. Seeing Dick and the other boys hurt would always tear him apart.
"It'll be okay." Julie put her hand on his arm. "It'll all be okay."
He needed something to punch…
Batman stood in front of the group of thugs and tried to reign in his fury. This was getting more and more difficult.
A young man came at him from the side with what looked like a lead pipe and Batman effortlessly dodged and used the man's momentum to throw him into one of his friends. Another tried to sneak up on him from behind with a knife but he whirled and threw a batarang that knocked the weapon from his hands and delivered a devastating right hook to the man's jaw.
Then remaining men took one look at the towering vigilante and ran. Batman turned to cuff the unconscious thugs and didn't notice one of them pulling out a gun. The man's attempt was short lived as a batarang disarmed him and a well placed rock hit his temple, knocking him out.
Batman looked up as Red Robin and Red Hood dropped down from a roof and came forward. Red looked at the man for a moment before shrugging and kneeling to cuff him.
"Normally, a guy like this would never be able to get the drop on you. But under the circumstances…"
'Hood locked eyes with their mentor. "You didn't even come home."
"I had to visit the girl. Then I decided to patrol." Batman turned away as Red Robin turned his attention to the other fallen thugs. "Shouldn't you two-"
"Be working on how to get him back?" 'Hood looked murderous. "Yeah, about that. Why haven't you been doing more? It feels like we've been a lot more concerned than you about finding this creep."
Batman froze and for a second Red Hood regretted his words. Then the man's shoulders sagged and he nodded. "I know…I…"
"Boss?" Red Robin looked at him sympathetically. "We recorded the transmission, like you asked…but there wasn't much there…we still can't break through his security…but, I've narrowed down the field a little bit. It's from somewhere in the east side."
Batman closed his eyes and thought desperately…there had to be a way…
Dick shivered as he snuggled against the wall. He was freezing in his t-shirt and jeans and wanted nothing more than to go home. He laughed bitterly; unlikely…
Everyone seemed to think that Dick was an optimist to the point of hopeless stupidity but if living with Bruce had taught him anything it was not to underestimate how bad things could truly get. The trick was to find the silver lining; and then exploit it as much as possible. So, while he was fully aware that he probably wasn't going to get out of this alive he was sure as heck not going to go down without a fight.
"All right you freaks, face cel mai rau…" Dick grinned and set about blocking out the cold as Chris walked toward him. He ignored the man's approach and stared ahead, watching a couple of men enter from a side room.
A freezer? Dick blinked and thought hard. There was the slight smell of meat and blood…Then this was probably some type of butchery…he had heard something during the ride…
Water! They'd gone over the bridge…wasn't there a butchery near the river? He closed his eyes and focused. His heart leaped; that was the rumble of a train! They were near the overpass!
The man looked down at him thoughtfully. He kicked at Dick's middle and the boy hissed but refused to react the way the man wanted. Chris shrugged.
"You know, it kind of surprises me how much Wayne has been cooperating…And I was concerned that I had taken the wrong kid."
Dick glared up at him. "What does that mean?"
"Well, I figured earlier that maybe grabbing the other one would have been better. He is the biological son, heck; even the other two are adopted right? So maybe they would have been better bait."
Dick snorted. "Bruce doesn't play favorites, smucitură."
That earned him another kick but the man continued. "Well, after all, why else would he not adopt you too? You're nothing but the poor foster kid…gotta suck huh?"
There was a moment's silence, and then Dick laughed. It hurt his stomach like crazy but it was worth it. "So…is this where I'm supposed to be all insecure about my relationship with Bruce and let you totally bad-mouth him until I start hating him too? I ASKED him not to adopt me; I didn't want him to. But that doesn't mean I'm not family; he still loves me as much as the others!"
And it was true, Dick realized. Just because he wasn't officially Bruce's child didn't mean that he wasn't every bit as much a part of the family. Even now that he didn't technically need a guardian, he was still Bruce's child. Warmth crept inside him and he smiled. So all it took to convince him of that was being kidnapped; and people said he was stubborn…
Chris gritted his teeth and turned away. It didn't matter.
The kid would be dead soon anyway.
Bruce watched as Chris smiled at him. "Ready?"
The millionaire's eyes were hard. "Is. He. Alright?"
The man flinched; Bruce's voice was cold and ruthless. "He's fine." He jerked his head over his shoulder. "Now listen…"
As the man rattled off the location, Bruce's eyes locked on the boy. Dick was blinking again:
Butchery. Near. River. Train. Overhead.
Bruce wasn't a religious man but right then he was praying like crazy. Thank you…
He glared at the man. "I'll be there."
Dick was shivering. He looked up blearily at the men guarding him and tried to will up the energy to attack but could barely keep his eyes open. One of the men jerked as his phone went off and flipped it open.
"Yeah boss?...Yeah?...What do we do with the kid? Drop him somewhere?...Oh…Naw, that's fine." He snapped the phone closed and looked at Dick in a way that made the teen's heart drop. "Sorry kid."
Dick struggled as the man and his friend grabbed him and began dragging him towards the freezer. He landed hard on the icy ground and bit back a yelp as the ice rubbed against his exposed arms. The door slammed shut as he struggled upright.
"Don't panic, don't panic, nu intraţi în panică…" Dick looked around and jammed one of the metal hooks used to hold meat between his wrists and snapped the ropes. He ran to the door and tried to pull it open but it was locked. He banged on the door and yelled but there was no response. He ran back and forth across the room, trying to keep warm; minutes passed and his arms began to feel numb. Somehow he ended up on his knees, then his side.
Batman dodged behind some crates as bullets sent sparks flying as they ricocheted off metal beams. Narrowing his eyes under his cowl, he sent several batarangs out in the direction the shooting had come from. He was rewarded with several grunts of pain and smiled thinly before leaping at his opponents. They went down hard and Batman rushed into the building, his eyes scanning the rooms for signs of life. After handing over the money, it had been easy to change into Batman gear and take a pre-arranged short-cut to the butchery.
As he looked around he spotted one of the people he was searching for.
Chris froze and for a second his mind went blank with fear at the voice that seemed to be made of shadows and darkness. He ran, his heart pounding wildly, making for the backdoor and the truck beyond. If he could just make it there, he could head for Metropolis; get lost and blend into the background of the criminal element. He could start over if only…
But he wasn't meant to make the door. Batman finished his last few steps with an inhuman leap and tackled the man who went down hard. Chris managed a quick uppercut but then the masked hero's fist slammed into his chest and he fell, gasping for air. Batman let loose with a volley of punches, not stopping until a small voice in the back of his head made him freeze.
You have to find him. You don't have time.
Ignoring the metallic smell of the crimson covering Chris's face, the caped crusader hauled him up and glared at him; his gaze held the man captive by its intensity like a cobra with its prey. Here was the look that could practically bore through walls; that left hardened men like jabbering messes; that could speak volumes of unknown anger and the promise of violence with not a sound.
"Where is the boy?"
Ice hung from ledges and shelves, frozen streams that glittered slightly in the dim light. Frost danced gently over the icy ground, propelled by the fans that churned the biting cold air and made the meat hooks sway rhythmically. Dick was loosing the fight.
He struggled to raise himself to a seated position but his numb arms refused to move. He curled up and retreated into his own private world, trying to block out the cold and fear. Shivering, he began to sing softly under his breath, needing something to focus on.
"Hark! how the bells
Sweet silver bells
All seem to say,
"Throw cares away."
Christmas is here
Bringing good cheer
To young and old
Meek and the bold…"
Meek and the bold…
He bit back a cry as he levered himself to his knees. There was no way he was just going to die! Noises began to invade his mind and for a moment he wondered if he was going mad, but then the noises became louder and more familiar. A fight…
He fell against the door and tried to yell for help. The door swung open and as he began to fall, he saw the familiar and comforting black on yellow that meant so much to him. He looked up from where Batman had him in his arms and grinned crookedly.
"H-hey…what took you so long?"
Then he finally fell into the black.
Julie looked up from her perch on the plush couch of the penthouse and for the first real time in days, smiled. Bruce glared at her over Dick's head, trying to maneuver the doorway without disrupting the sleeping teen. "It's not funny; he's way too heavy to be carried."
"Then why are you carrying him?"
She came forward and fingered the sleeping boy's hair fondly. She knew why; what she didn't know, however, was that Bruce had sat in the car for almost ten minutes, just watching Dick sleep. He couldn't bring himself to pull him from his well earned, and slightly medicated, rest. So he cradled him in his arms and stood with Julie, watching him doze.
"He looks…" Julie sounded thoughtful. "He's an adult now but when he sleeps he looks thirteen again…" Bruce nodded as she kissed the boy on the forehead and they began down the hall. "It's like all the hardships in his life just vanish from his face and make him look like a child…"
"It helps that he hasn't had a growth spurt for years…"
The laughter in her voice seemed to wake Dick as they put him down and he looked blearily up. Then he seemed to panic for a moment and the older man had to grab at his shoulders and gently force him down.
Bruce smoothed back the young man's hair and smiled. "It's okay, I'm here. Go back to sleep."
"The Penthouse. It was a quicker drive here than to the manor and you need rest."
"Hey sweetie." Julie smiled at him. "You okay?"
'Doesn't hurt anymore. 'm cold though…"
Her footsteps hardly heard on the smooth linoleum floor, Julie ran off to find more blankets as Bruce sat on the side of the bed and rubbed Dick's shoulder soothingly. The young man looked up at him and smiled lop-sidedly. "Question."
Bruce allowed his mouth to twitch. "Ask."
"Why does this stuff always happen to me?"
"I ask myself that often." Bruce grinned at him and adjusted the blankets around his partner. "Trust me; I'm curious about why they seem to target you over your younger, more vulnerable looking, brothers. Maybe you just annoy more people."
Dick groaned and smiled. It felt good, laying there; warm, finally relaxed and talking to Bruce like this…It was good. He yawned and looked up at Bruce. "Hey, thanks…for finding me."
"No problem, you would have been fine."
Dick snorted and looked away. After a moment's silence his hesitant voice drifted from where he had buried his head in the pillow. "I…I think you should train Damian more. What if they had taken him? I know his mother taught him but he's still so young, and he needs to learn how to defend himself without the unnecessary violence that the Assassins would have taught him."
"You've been thinking on this for a while, haven't you?"
"Wasn't much else to do but think." Dick bit his lip. "And…I think I'll take that internship we were talking about…if it's still open…I guess learning about the company isn't…such a bad idea…"
Bruce stared at him. Dick rolled over and looked up at him. His face was serious and now he looked everyone one of his eighteen years and more. It hit Bruce hard; he wasn't a child anymore. Of course he knew that but…it was just now sinking in…He wasn't prepared for this; during the long wait he had finally realized that Dick meant something much more to him than anyone else in the world. He didn't want to pick favorites but remembering the way he used to cling to Dick, when he was young and just starting out and so, so lonely, he felt that same pang of animalistic urge to protect. But Dick didn't need that anymore and it made Bruce sort of sad.
"You'll always be welcome at the company…and with me."
Dick was more asleep than awake and Bruce finished tucking him in, thinking of when the teen was younger, and suddenly placed an impulsive kiss on his forehead. The teen stirred. "Bruce?"
"…they got me 'fore I could get your gift…'m sorry…"
Bruce stared in shock at the young man and then pressed his forehead to Dick's and tried to bite back tears. "Having you back safely is all I'll ever need from you."
Unsettled by all this emotion, something he was never truly comfortable with, he fled to the hallway and almost ran smack into Julie. She clutched the quilt tighter and looked at him with wet eyes. He sighed and then wrapped his arms around her as she cried into his shoulder. Finally she pulled away and looked at him.
"I'm sorry…it's just been so long since I've seen that look on your face. You used to be better about your emotions…you have no idea how much it means to me that the man I used to love is still in there under that façade."
Bruce leaned against the wall and grinned. "And you still just speak whatever is on your mind, don't you?"
"It's just been a long time since you've been unconcerned about telling people that sort of stuff."
"He's on pain killers and antibiotics. There's no way he'll remember any of that."
Julie threw her hands in the air and the quilt flapped open, almost hitting Bruce in the face as he chuckled.
"I should have known! Mr. Insensitivity strikes again!"
Laughing now, Bruce lunged at her and she squealed, dodging to the side. He managed to catch her and spun the giggling girl in a circle. They stopped and, breathing heavily, stood staring at one another. Julie's dark eyes were shining and her face was flushed as she lowered her eyes and smiled shyly; the man suddenly lost the battle and moved forward, trapping her between his body and the wall. Pressing up against her, his lips crashed against hers and kissed her aggressively. She kissed back, her hands twisting as fists into his shirt and pressing against him with just as much desperation. His arms snaked around her waist and pulled her even closer as she whimpered into his mouth. His lips transitioned to her neck and he began kissing the exposed skin; her mouth now free, she gasped,
The word had the effect of a bullet. He pulled away as if burned and stared at her in horror. "Julie, I…"
"I know…I know…It was my fault too…"
They stood, eyes locked, and an open door in between them, one that had remained closed for so many years but now taunted them with what could be.
Could be, but would most likely not.
Julie picked up the discarded quilt and brushed past him. "I'd better get this to Dick."
Bruce looked blankly at the wall and tried to regain his breath. His chest was strangely tight…
Christmas Day, December 25th
Dick leapt out of the car so fast that he slipped on the snowy ground and had to grab at the open door to keep from falling. Chuckling, Julie levered herself out of the back-seat and put a hand under his elbow.
"You okay, sweetie?"
Dick giggled. "I'm fine. I just can't wait…"
"Great, he's still feeling the drugs…" Bruce sighed but Dick just laughed and began to run.
Stately butler routine shunned for a moment, the elderly man embraced the young man tightly and smiled. "Mater Dick, I am so glad you are well. The others are still in bed but I'm sure it's about time they woke up…"
Dick's feet pounded on the hard wood flooring of the stairs as he ran; he had reached the top of the stair well when a hard object barreled into him and almost sent him flying. Wrapping his arms around Tim, Dick slid to the ground and rocked the younger teen back and forth, blinking back tears as the kid clung to him.
"Hey, Tim…Hush, I'm fine. See, I'm fine…"
He pulled them both upright and opened an arm in order to allow Jason into the hug. The normally stoic teen hugged his brother and felt a knot leave his stomach as relief filled him.
"Man, it's good to see you…Bruce made us stay home but, trust me, if we could have helped…"
"I know; come on guys, it's not that big a deal…"
Bruce and Julie chuckled as all three boys came tumbling down the stairs, the younger two beating on their brother as he squealed in protest. Julie rolled her eyes. "Well, one big happy family…"
Before Bruce could respond there was a soft sound from behind them and Damian took another step into the room; his wide eyes fixed on Dick. The teen was up and across the room in a heartbeat; sweeping up the child and hugging him tightly. "Dami, are you okay?"
Bruce was about to answer when,
"I am fine…"
The man froze, staring at his youngest; unable to believe that the boy had spoken.
"Yes…are you alright?"
"I'm fine Dai. Man, I was worried about you…" Dick's eyes widened and he turned to his guardian. "Bruce…Rose, the girl who got shot…is she okay?"
Bruce was silent and Julie suddenly grasped Jason and Tim's shoulders, steering them to the kitchen. "Come on, let's help Alfred with the table setting…"
Dick sagged onto a couch, Damian clinging to him with a worried face. Bruce came over and sat next to him. "I'm sorry. I don't think she was in much pain in the…end."
"Thanks Bruce…Can…can I have a minute?"
Julie looked up as Bruce entered the dinning room, ushering Damian in front of him. "Is he..?"
The man sighed. "He'll be okay. Why don't we do presents?"
At that, the boys barreled out of the room toward the living room, Tim pulling along Julie, who laughed happily. Alfred came over to stand with Bruce. "Now?"
Dick sighed and wiped at his eyes. He hated this; loosing people like that…it felt so horrible. He looked up as Bruce and Alfred slipped into the study. "Hey, they need me?"
"In a minute." Bruce sat next to Dick. "First…I need to give you your gift."
Jason looked up as they entered and rolled his eyes. "Take all day will ya? Come on, let's get the show on the road!"
Watching his family, Alfred smiled happily. Julie was sprawled out on the floor in between Tim and Jason; Bruce fell onto the couch with Dick next to him, still slightly red around the eyes, and Damian on Dick's lap. Watching Dick and Bruce whispering to each other he felt the same rush of pride that he had felt only moments before. He knew he would remember the look of wonder and comprehension on Dick's face as Bruce explained forever. The way the teen had flung himself into Bruce's arms and laughed and cried; and the surprised and ecstatic look on the man's face as he hugged the boy. With a contented sigh, he finished folding the adoption papers and slipped them into his pocket as he turned to go get refreshments.
All in all, a satisfactory Christmas.
Thanks to my one reviewer, this is for you!
For anyone who didn't figure it out: Dick-18, Jason-15, Tim-12, Damian-6
What are they?
I know, I know, if I'm going to do holiday fics I should post them close to the holiday. Okay, lesson learned, I'll do better. In order to continue this, I NEED feedback; comments on what you liked, what you didn't like, what you want to see, who you want to see…those are all very, very much appreciated! I'll take any suggestions seriously, so please give me ideas on plots and bad-guys and stuff!
On that note, how am I doing thus far? Please let me know if it needs more action; I swear, this isn't going to turn into a hurt/comfort spree, I just needed to get it out of my system. Did I overdo anything; please let me know!
Batman and all related characters, places and themes created by Bob Kane, © DC Comics
Carol of the Bells created by Mykola Leontovych with English lyrics © Peter J. Wilhousky
face cel mai rau-Do your worst
nu intraţi în panică-Do not panic