Hi all! So here we are, months after I was supposed to post something and I'm only now posting. But better late than never, right? ;) Anyway, this is just a little three-shot about the freezer kidnapping mentioned in No Good Deed. I'd actually intended posting something else first but it's not finished yet and this one is nearly finished so I said, 'let's go with this.' Mostly because I want to announce/remind everyone that ARL15 and I are running a Young Justice fanfiction competition (see my profile for prizes and the link to the competition website which has a list of rules as well as the story criteria). The closing date for entry is January 31st for anyone who's interested!
Oh and also, I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and have a happy new year! :)
"As long as greed is stronger than compassion, there will always be suffering." Rusty Eric.
Dick noticed the van seconds before it made a move.
He was sitting at the back of the bus yawning and staring out the window when a flash of black at the corner of his eye caught his attention. Craning his neck, he spotted a van with tinted windows tailgating the bus. Dick sat up straighter – it was way too close.
Mr. Hegarty, the school's bus driver, must have noticed it too, because the bus slowed and moved into the hard shoulder, allowing the van to swing out and overtake them. Dick frowned when the van drove dangerously close alongside the bus.
What the…? he barely had time to wonder before the van cut in front of the bus, forcing Mr. Hegarty to pull a hard right in order to avoid a collision.
The bus careened off the road, screams and panicked cries rolling in Dick's ears as he was flung into Barbara. A loud bang shuddered through the bus, followed by the harsh screeching of metal as it scraped along the barrier. Fortunately, the bus' reduced speed allowed the driver to regain control pretty quickly and the vehicle rolled to a halt after several yards.
"Is anyone hurt?" called Ms. McKay's shaky voice after several seconds.
Heart pounding, Dick looked up to see the teacher clamber to her feet, white-faced and trembling.
"Is anyone hurt?" she asked again.
A few heads shook in the negative, but most students seemed too dazed to respond. Dick watched Ms. McKay stand up and begin moving down the aisle, checking on the students, until a loud banging from the front made her turn.
Dick sucked in a breath at what he could see through the windshield: the black van had stopped in front of them and three masked gunmen were standing just outside the bus. One of them was banging on the door, clearly demanding entry, which Mr. Hegerty was refusing.
Suddenly, a gunshot rang out, and Dick jerked when the driver and students at the front were sprayed with glass.
"OPEN THE FUCK UP!" the gunman yelled, pointing his gun threateningly at Mr. Hegerty. The bus driver had no choice but to oblige.
A few whimpers echoed around the bus as two of the gunmen climbed on, and Dick immediately pulled out his cell phone to send an emergency text.
Except he had no service.
Dick stared at his phone, baffled. Why the heck was there no service? Beside him, Barbara also had her cell phone out and appeared to be experiencing the same problem. She shot him a frightened look and shook her head.
"Wh-what do you want?" Ms. McKay asked the men weakly.
The tallest gunman raised his gun. "Sit down and shut up."
"SIT!" the man roared, pointing his gun at the head of the nearest student, who whimpered and covered her face with trembling hands. Dick recognized Alicia Bixton and clenched his fists in anger. Alicia was a special needs student; a gentle, quiet girl who struggled socially. That jerk didn't need to scare her like that!
"Okay," said Ms. McKay, holding her hands up and sliding into the nearest seat. "I'll do what you say. We all will. Please don't hurt anyone."
"Nobody will get hurt so long as you all just sit down and shut up," he told her, then nodded to the other gunman, who started moving down the aisle, scanning the occupants of each seat.
He's looking for someone, Dick realized.
Barbara had obviously come to the same conclusion because she nudged Dick and mouthed, 'who are they looking for?'
Dick shrugged, his mind going a mile a minute. This was an isolated stretch of road outside the city…the ambush had clearly been planned. But why? And how did they know where the school bus would be?
The bus was mostly silent as the gunman moved down the aisle, the only noise an occasional soft sob. Dick could feel Barbara tense beside him when the gunman approached the back of the bus. He too was stiff with nerves – he'd taken down many gunmen as Robin, but he'd never before encountered one as Dick Grayson and it was more unsettling than he'd expected. He didn't like the helpless feeling that came with being a civilian in this situation.
The gunman reached them and cast his gaze over the students in the back seat. Dick saw his eyes narrow through the balaclava once they fell on him, and his gut lurched when the man pointed his gun at him.
"You. On your feet."
Heart starting to pound, Dick slowly stood up and slipped past a terrified-looking Barbara.
"Move," the man ordered, pushing Dick in front of him. Uncomfortably aware of the wide-eyed stares of his classmates, Dick complied.
"Wait! What are you doing?" Ms. McKay protested, standing up again. Mr. Johnson, the other teacher who had been travelling with them, also got to his feet, a thin trickle of blood visible on his temple.
"Both of you sit down, now!" snapped the man at the front of the bus, swinging his gun from Alicia to point at the two teachers. "Or I swear to Christ, I will splatter your fucking brains all over these kids!"
Both teachers obeyed, their frightened stares going between the gunmen and Dick.
"Please," Ms. McKay began, "whatever you're doing, he's just a child and–"
The gunman pistol-whipped her and several students screamed. "Lady, shut up or I will put a hole between your fucking eyes!"
Holding her now-bleeding cheek, Ms. McKay closed her mouth.
"That's more like it." The man turned his attention to Dick, giving him a shark-like leer. "You'll be coming with us, rich boy. And I'm warning you, you'd better behave or I'll shoot out your kneecaps, understand?"
Mouth a little dry, Dick nodded.
The gunman turned back to Ms. McKay. "You're going to pass on a message to Wayne. Tell him we want forty million in cash or we'll mail his kid back to him in pieces. Tell him we'll call tomorrow to make the exchange. Understand?"
Wide-eyed, Ms. McKay nodded.
"Good. Let's go," he barked at the other gunman, before grabbing Dick's arm and hustling him off the bus.
"Any problems?" asked the gunman who'd waited outside.
The man holding Dick's arm shook his head. "No. You let the air out of the tires?"
"Yeah. They're not going anywhere."
"Then let's get out of here."
The third gunman grabbed Dick's other arm, and between them they practically dragged him towards the black van. He could hear the second gunman following behind and briefly debated fighting back – surely he shouldn't let himself be taken this easily? But what if the men started shooting and someone on the bus got hurt? And what was considered an appropriate level of fighting for a twelve-year-old boy? Maybe an ordinary twelve-year-old wouldn't even fight back! Besides, what if Dick fought back too well and revealed himself as Robin? Bruce would be so mad…
They reached the van. The man who'd been doing most of the talking opened the side door and climbed in, dragging Dick with him. The other two men got in after them and the door slammed shut.
"What are you waiting for?" one of the men snapped. "Drive!"
The van's engine roared to life and Dick looked to the front, where a fourth masked man was sitting. It was the last thing he saw before a hood was dropped over his head and someone pushed him forcefully down onto the floor, smashing his chin as they did so.
"Hey!" he cried, startled.
"Shut up!" a voice snapped.
Rough hands grabbed Dick's arms and forced them behind his back, before winding some rope around his wrists. The rumble beneath his stomach told him the van was moving out and Dick felt a little frisson of fear shiver through him. This was really happening. He was being kidnapped. For ransom.
They finished restraining him and Dick felt something hard press against his shoulder blade just as the gunman who'd been doing most of the talking spoke again. "We don't have to hurt you. But if you move, we will. So just lie there and stay quiet, understand?"
Dick realized the something hard was a gun and swallowed before nodding.
"Smart boy. Do you have a cell phone?"
Dick nodded again.
"Where is it?"
"In my right pocket," Dick replied, and immediately felt a hand root in that pocket and extract his cell phone.
"Alright, toss it," the gunman who seemed to be in charge said.
There was a brief whirring noise, followed by the sound of rushing air and then more whirring. Dick guessed a window had been opened and his phone thrown out. He sighed. There went any hope of tracking him using his phone's GPS.
The van turned off onto a bumpy road and a tense silence fell. As he slipped and slid around the floor with the van's jerky movements, Dick was tempted to make a smart remark to break the tension. Snark was one of his most comforting defences as Robin.
Except he wasn't Robin right now. He had no defences: no weapons to help him fight back, no Kevlar to protect him from bullets, and no Batman to back him up. He was completely alone in this and it was a little scary.
Fifteen minutes passed before the van stopped and Dick – sore and bruised from being thrown around on the floor – was dragged out and hefted across someone's shoulder. There was a crunching noise and he caught a glimpse of gravel as the hood began to slip from his head. After a moment, the crunching stopped and Dick was thrust back on his feet so quickly it made his head spin. Hands steadied him and the hood was whipped off.
Dick blinked in the harsh glare of the afternoon sun until what looked like an abandoned quarry came into view. The masked men were clustered around him, three of them still holding guns. The fourth was standing directly in front of Dick with a bottle of water, his cold gray eyes staring down at him.
"You need to take these," he said, holding up two white pills.
"What! Why?" Dick asked, jerking back when the pills moved towards his mouth.
A hard slap was delivered to his face, making his ears ring. "Because I said so," the man growled. "Now swallow."
One of the guns jabbed hard into his side and the pills were pushed into his mouth, followed by the lip of the water bottle. Dick had no choice. He drank and the water washed the pills down, leaving behind a chalky aftertaste. A little panic edged in…what had he just taken?
"Open your mouth," the man ordered.
Dick complied when the gun jabbed again. This wasn't the guy who'd been doing all the talking on the bus; it was the one who'd waited outside. Before Dick had time to wonder at the chain of command, fingers were thrust into his mouth, making him gag. But the man ignored him, running his fingers along Dick's teeth and under his tongue, checking to make sure he'd swallowed the pills.
As soon as the man removed his fingers, Dick spat onto the ground. He felt sick. That was disgusting! For all he knew, that guy could be someone who never washed his hands!
Still feeling sick, he spat again and the man shook him. "Stop that!"
"What do you expect? You put your fingers in my mouth!" Dick snapped, before he could stop himself.
The man hit him so hard that Dick literally saw stars. Grabbing Dick's shoulder, the man lowered his face until they were nose to nose. "I hear any more of that rich-brat crap out of you and I will break your arm, understand?"
Biting back a smart remark, Dick nodded.
"Put him in the car," the man ordered, and the guy to Dick's right immediately dragged him towards a silver range rover parked behind them.
Dick's apprehension rose at the realization that they were changing vehicles. This was something else that would make it harder to track him.
He was forced into the back of the jeep and froze when he caught sight of the backseat. It was propped up, revealing a storage compartment beneath. Dick guessed they planned to put him in there and felt his stomach drop. What if he suffocated?
He tried to back up, but the man had now gotten in with him and started shoving him down towards the compartment.
"But what if–" Dick stopped when the gun muzzle pressed into his cheek.
"Get. In," the man spat.
Dick swallowed. The man had a tight grip on his arm and was pressed so close against his back that his doubled over form was nearly squashing Dick against the seat. Even if he was Robin, he had no room to manoeuvre safely with a gun so close. Reluctantly, he climbed in to the little compartment and sat down. The man pushed hard on his shoulder, forcing Dick to scrunch into the cramped space, then slammed the seat down, leaving him in darkness.
Heart pounding, Dick tried to get his hands in front of him, but there was no room to move in the tiny space and he seemed to be missing his usual coordination. After several attempts, Dick gave up and tried to get at the knots instead. He could feel the rope twisting and scraping painfully around his wrists as he wriggled his fingers towards the knots, but it was useless. His hands were too shaky and clumsy to get a proper grip.
Finally, Dick slumped against the side of the storage compartment, confused by his poor coordination. What was wrong with him? Why couldn't he do it? He'd done it plenty of times before.
His thoughts started to drift. It was only when the jeep braked suddenly and Dick smacked his forehead that he realized they were moving. How had he missed the car starting up? Voices sounded directly above him where the men were obviously now sitting, confusing him further. He hadn't heard them get in either.
Dick was shuffling awkwardly into a position where he wouldn't get a concussion if they braked again, when he inexplicably found himself slumped in a loose ball, his head drooping onto his chest. Bewildered, he tried to get more upright but found it a struggle – his limbs were heavy and his head was starting to spin.
Those pills, he realized, an insidious sleepiness creeping over him.
Dick tried to fight the encroaching unconsciousness, to force himself into a more upright position, because the idea of being completely unconscious in this situation unnerved him. Without meaning to, he slid further down, then twitched violently. Can't pass out…
His eyes were closed. When had he closed them? Dick pried them open – it was dark. Very dark. And the sound of the engine was kinda soothing…
His eyes had closed again. Dick tried to open them but wasn't sure if he actually managed it. There was a lot of dark…
Don't…can't sleep. But he was tired and no longer sure why he was fighting it. Everything felt heavy…
It seemed easier to give in, so Dick let the weight press him into nothing.
As Dick slowly came back to awareness, the first thing he felt was the uncomfortable strain of his arms pulled back around something large, its sharp corners digging into him. He tried to move, but the tug on his wrists told him they were restrained.
"Ngghhhh?" he mumbled, opening his eyes. But all he saw was darkness. It took Dick several seconds to realize there was a hood over his head. "Wha…?"
Then he remembered. The school bus, the gunmen, being kidnapped… Instinctively, Dick tested his bonds. His hands were numb and there was a weird tingling sensation in his fingers from being restrained, but it was nothing he couldn't work with.
He listened for a moment. There was a faint murmur of voices, as if from another room. It didn't sound like his kidnappers were watching him. Wriggling his fingers, he started feeling for the knots and did his best to ignore the painful pinching of the ropes on his skin. The effects of the drugs were wearing off and despite how numb they were, his fingers still felt less clumsy than they had in the jeep. After several minutes, he could feel himself starting to make some headway on the rope.
"WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?" a voice yelled suddenly, making Dick jerk and causing pain to shoot through his shoulders from the awkward position they were pulled into.
"You little shit!" the voice shouted at him, and a hand smacked down on his fingers.
"What's going on?" called a second voice, and Dick recognized it as the gunman who had shoved his fingers in his mouth back at the quarry. His voice was deeper than the others.
"The kid was untying himself! Look!"
Footsteps came closer and then stopped. "How the fuck did he manage that?!"
"Hell if I know!" A hand grabbed the front of Dick's shirt. "Where'd you learn to do that?"
Hours and hours of training with Batman. But he couldn't exactly tell them that.
"Answer me!" the man snapped, backhanding him.
"I…uh…" How was he going to explain this?
Another hard backhand made Dick feel like he was tilting, before a hand grabbed his jaw through the hood. "I asked you a question," the man growled, low and dangerous.
"I…I learned at the circus." Dick used the first lie that came to mind and, to his relief, the hand released him.
"Kid was a circus brat before Wayne took him in," the second man commented.
"Shit," said the first man. "How're we supposed to keep him from escaping without constantly having to watch him? We can't drug him again."
"I have an idea. Keep an eye on him."
Dick heard the second man walk away and the frustrated exhale of the first. "Little shit," he mumbled, pushing Dick's head down in one rough, forward shove. Dick wisely stayed quiet.
Several long minutes passed before footsteps sounded, and Dick realized they carried a weird echo, almost as if the room was very big or very empty. Maybe both.
"So, the brat thinks he's fucking Harry Houdini?" a voice said, and Dick immediately placed it as that of the gunman from the bus. "Well, we won't be long changing that."
A pair of hands gripped his lower arms while someone else untied the rope around his wrists.
"What is that?" asked the man who had discovered Dick trying to untie himself.
"Piano wire," came the deep voice of the gunman who'd stuck his fingers in Dick's mouth. "He won't find it so easy to get out of this."
Something was looped around each of Dick's wrists, then pulled tight. "Ah!" he gasped, as wire cut into his skin.
"Hurts, huh?" commented Deep Voice, as the wire was wound around Dick's wrists. "Good. That should keep you from wriggling out of it – it'll tear your skin off every time you try."
"Restraining him with wire?" said a new voice suddenly, and Dick tensed. That voice… "C'mon, isn't that a bit much? He's just a kid."
"Shut up!" snapped the gunman from the bus, as the wire was tied up. "Can't have our meal ticket pulling a Houdini on us, can we?"
Dick waited breathlessly for the new guy's response. There was something awfully familiar about his voice.
However, the man didn't speak again. Instead, the bus gunman laughed and patted Dick's chest, while the other hands released his lower arms. "Better get comfortable, kid – we won't be calling your old man till tomorrow afternoon."
They moved away, the bus gunman talking about how he was going to spend his share of the ransom money as their footsteps faded.
Cautiously, Dick tried to move his hands, but hissed in pain when the wire gouged into his skin. The kidnapper was right – there was no way he would be able to get out of this without serious damage to his hands and wrists.
He sighed and slumped against whatever he was tied to. He couldn't believe a bunch of jerks had kidnapped him for freaking ransom! Even with Bruce cautioning him about it, Dick had always thought stuff like that only happened on TV. But this was real. Scarily so. He wondered how much time had passed since he'd been taken. Did Bruce know by now? He hoped so. Maybe Batman would find him before he had to spend too long with these morons.
But what if Batman didn't find him? Dick swallowed nervously. Forty million was a lot of money and he wasn't exactly Bruce's real son – what if Bruce decided not to pay the ransom? Dick immediately shook that thought out of his head. Money wasn't important to Bruce, just a means to fund his crusade as Batman. He would never place wealth above a person's life, especially not someone he knew. Dick was old enough to understand this, to understand Bruce.
But the nagging thought persisted; what if Bruce thought forty million was too much? What if he decided not to give in to men like this? Bruce was always saying that negotiating with terrorists only encouraged other terrorist actions.
Despite his best efforts to rationalize with himself, to scold himself that he was doing Bruce an injustice to even think this way, Dick couldn't shake the uncertainty, the slight fear that Bruce might not pay the ransom.
The hours passed, miserable and excruciatingly long, until cabin fever had Dick grinding his teeth almost to the point of cracking. He'd never been one for staying still and this forced confinement was a form of torture to him. He had tried to stand and stretch a few times, just to ease the unbearable stiffness, but the wire around his wrists tightened and tore into his flesh, forcing him back to immobility.
No one could ever consider kidnapping a comfortable experience, but neither had Dick ever imagined just how uncomfortable it was. His body was stiff and twitchy, his wrists throbbed from the wire, and his shoulders ached from the position his arms had been restrained in for so long. He was also horribly thirsty.
But by far the worst, embarrassingly so, was the need to use the bathroom. Dick had done his best to keep track of how much time had passed since he'd woken up here, estimating it to be somewhere between seventeen and eighteen hours. The men had kept a careful eye on him throughout, but refused to untie him. One of them even laughed when Dick had finally asked if he could use the restroom. And now here he was, squirming, bursting, from the need to go, almost trembling with mortification at the thought of having an accident. It was the most humiliating situation he'd ever been in.
Bet Batman could get out of this, Dick thought, testing the wires for the umpteenth time and gasping when they rubbed against his raw, torn skin. Oh god, I need to pee…
He was so intent on his discomfort that he didn't hear the footsteps until they were practically beside him. "I have some water if you want it," someone said.
It was the familiar voice, but Dick couldn't concentrate on it right now. "Please, I really need the restroom!" he said, almost desperately.
There was silence. Then, "I'll see what I can do."
There was the sound of retreating footsteps, followed by voices from another room. Dick gritted his teeth and shifted miserably, clenching his lower body. Oh god, oh god, oh god…
The voices in the other room were getting louder, and despite his wretched predicament, Dick's training had him instinctively trying to hear what they were saying. He barely caught the "let's help him out" before several sets of footsteps entered the room and pattered towards him.
"So, the little rich boy needs to go," the mocking voice of the bus gunman sounded. "And here I thought you rich folk didn't shit like the rest of us mere mortals!"
Loud, raucous laughter erupted and Dick cringed with embarrassment.
"So tell us, rich boy, do you need to go tinkle?" jeered Deep Voice in a high-pitched, baby tone. "Or you gonna show us that rich people poop gold?"
More laughter sounded and Dick swallowed back his anger and humiliation. "Please can I use the restroom?" he asked with as much dignity as he could muster because screw these hyena-jerks!
"Ooooooh, listen to Mr. Hoity-Toity!" sneered the bus gunman. "Think you're above us, do you? I'll show you that you're just like the rest of us."
A hand was placed over Dick's stomach and pushed into his already full bladder. He tried to jerk away, only for the hand to press down even harder. Unable to help it, Dick whined and the men howled with laughter.
"Whassa matter, rich boy?" leered the bus gunman, pushing harder into Dick's stomach. The pressure was unbearable and Dick groaned, trying desperately not to lose control. "Afraid to piss like the rest of us?"
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" an angry voice yelled and the pressure disappeared. "Jesus Christ, what's the matter with you? He's just a kid!"
There was silence. Dick might not have been able to see, but he could sense the immediate change in atmosphere. The air practically crackled with hostility.
"Do you remember why you're here?" asked the bus gunman in a low, dangerous tone.
"I know why I'm here!" snapped the angry voice, and Dick realized it was also the familiar one. "But you need to lay off before you hurt him. You said it yourself – he's our meal ticket. We need him in one piece to get our payout."
"Fine!" snapped the bus gunman. "We're due to call Wayne soon anyway. You two! Take him to the john."
Someone cut the wire off his wrists and unravelled it, making Dick hiss in pain as it was pulled out from his skin. He could only imagine what his wrists looked like. It was a relief to bring his arms in front of him, but he didn't get the chance to stretch before two sets of hands – one on either arm – hefted him to his feet. His legs buckled a little but the hands kept him upright.
Dick's mind was whirling while the men performed a weird mix of carrying, dragging and leading him towards wherever the restroom was. He knew that voice. He knew that voice…but where did he know it from? It scratched from somewhere in his memory, but he just couldn't place it. And it was too hard to think clearly with his bladder literally at the point of exploding, while painful pins and needles prickled through his numb limbs.
Then one of the men let go of his arm while the other dragged Dick into a room. "Can's right in front of you," announced Deep Voice. "Keep the hood on."
Dick's face burned when he realized the man wouldn't leave him alone. Like this situation wasn't embarrassing enough. He used his feet to feel for the toilet bowl, before undoing his pants and using the toilet. Despite how humiliating this was, Dick couldn't help but feel relief at having that discomfort removed. He'd barely managed to close his pants before Deep Voice was yanking him out of the room. Dick felt like punching him – would it have killed him to give Dick a few minutes to stretch and wash his hands?
"Guess you didn't find out if the rich poop gold, huh?" laughed the guy outside.
Deep Voice made some sort of grunt in response before they hustled Dick back to the room he'd been in before. He could hear the bus gunman and Familiar Voice arguing as they approached.
"…to stop the police from arresting us once we tell Wayne where his kid is?"
"Trust me, the police won't be anywhere near Wayne when he hands over the ransom," came the smug voice of the bus gunman. "I've got a plan."
"What's that supposed to mean?" demanded Familiar Voice. "What plan? This is supposed to be a straight swap, remember?"
"Just shut up and get your shit ready. And put your mask on."
"My mask? Why–"
"We have to take the hood off the kid so he can talk to Wayne," answered Deep Voice as they re-entered the room. "Now organize your crap so we can do this thing."
"Alright, fine," snapped Familiar Voice, an edge to his tone.
It didn't sound like they were letting him in on the whole plan. Dick wondered if it had anything to do with the fact that he was so different to the rest of them: he clearly didn't delight in violence like they did. More importantly, who the heck was he? Because it was really bugging Dick – he knew that voice!
"Kid finished? We good to go?" the bus gunman asked.
"All set," Deep Voice replied.
"Still don't know if rich pricks poop gold though!" laughed the other guy and Dick scowled. He was rapidly coming to think of him as the hyena because of that obnoxious laugh.
"We'll all be rich pricks soon enough," said the bus gunman. "Maybe we'll find out then." There was a round of braying laughter before he added, "Better get your masks on."
The men holding Dick's arms let go and he immediately took the chance to stretch his numb, prickling arms. He wondered if maybe he should make a move…before the unmistakeable feel of guns pressed into him from each side.
"Here's how it's gonna go," the bus gunman told Dick. "We're gonna call daddy and make sure he has the cash before we let you talk to him. You tell him what I tell you to say. Try to give him any clue about where you are and we'll shoot you. Understood?"
Rolling his eyes, Dick resisted the urge to point out that he had no clue where he was. "Yes."
The hood was pulled off and Dick had to squint against the sudden brightness. He blinked several times until his vision cleared and the room came into view. They were in some kind of industrial kitchen, probably a restaurant kitchen. It was such a mob cliché that Dick almost wanted to laugh.
Glancing around the room, he spied several spools of wire discarded beside a nearby pillar, and guessed that was what he'd spent the last eighteen or so hours tied to. The kitchen was windowless, with a set of double doors at one end and a single door at the other. The room itself consisted of long, stainless steel counters, two large stoves, a washing up station, a walk-in freezer and a freezer chest. There was nothing remarkable about it.
Dick turned his attention to the kidnappers, all in balaclavas once more. The two on either side of him still had their guns digging into him. The third man was leaning against a nearby counter with his arms crossed, while the fourth was working on a laptop in the corner, his fingers flying over the keys.
Looking down at himself, Dick could see that his school uniform was dishevelled and dirty, with a few spots of blood on his white shirt. He glanced at his wrists and grimaced at the raw, torn gashes that had been gouged by the wire. Lovely. They were going to be a real pain to heal. Literally.
"Okay, I'm set up," said the guy at the computer, and Dick realized it was the man with the familiar voice.
"Then let's do this," said the guy leaning against the counter, taking out a cell phone. He strode over to Dick and handed him the phone. "Key in daddy's cell number."
Dick did as ordered. As soon as he entered the last digit, the man snatched the phone back and pressed call. Holding the phone to his ear, he narrowed his eyes at Dick. "Just remember, tell him only what I tell you to say."
Dick nodded, recognizing the voice of the bus gunman.
"Bruce," said the bus gunman suddenly with a smirk, "what a pleasure it is to talk to you." The gunmen on either side of Dick laughed. "Patience, Bruce, patience," the bus gunman continued. "I'll let you talk to him in a minute. But first, do you have the money? Forty million in cash?"
This time, Dick could kind of hear Bruce's voice, although he couldn't hear what he was saying.
"Sure thing, Bruce," said the bus gunman, sauntering over to the freezer chest, "just hold on and I'll get him for you. Oh, Dick!" he called in a sing-song voice.
The two men on either side of Dick pushed him over to the bus gunman, who held out the phone and said with a smug smile, "It's for you."
Dick took the phone. "Bruce?"
"Dick, thank god!" came the relieved voice of his guardian. It was louder than it should have been and Dick realized the kidnapper had put the phone on speaker. "Are you alright? Have they hurt you?"
The bus gunman shook his head at Dick.
"No," said Dick, frowning at the bus gunman. The jerk really did intend to control this entire conversation!
"I suppose that's something," Bruce muttered. "Listen, kiddo, I have the money and I'll get you home as quick as I can, okay? Just hang in there."
"Tell him what you see," said the bus gunman suddenly, pointing to the freezer chest. "Tell him about the freezer."
"Dick?" said Bruce, concern colouring his tone.
"Um…I'm supposed to tell you what I see," he replied, confused. "There's a freezer…"
"A freezer chest," the bus gunman corrected.
Dick complied. "It's a chest. A freezer chest."
The bus gunman tapped at the locks on the freezer, looking pointedly at Dick.
"Ah…there's two locks on it," Dick interrupted, a knot of apprehension growing in his stomach. Why were they making him tell Bruce about this?
Clearly, Bruce was thinking the same thing because he asked warily, "Dick, why are you telling me this?"
"I…" Dick paused, distracted, as the bus gunman opened the freezer and pointed into it.
"Tell him what's in there."
Dick looked into the freezer. Bags of frozen peas filled just over half of it.
"Dick?" Bruce's voice sounded again and this time there was an edge to it.
"Uh…it's filled with bags of frozen peas," Dick said, glancing back at the bus gunman with a sick feeling in his gut. There was something off about this…
The man smiled and took the phone from him. "Time's up. Here's how it's going to go, Bruce – you're going to get in your car and drive into Gotham. No cops, just you. You have fifteen minutes to get into the city before I call you again and tell you where to meet us with the money. And just to make sure there's no cops; your kid will be waiting in the freezer he told you about."
Dick's eyes widened. What?!
Before he could react, the gunmen on either side of him had grabbed his arms and legs, lifting him up. "NO!" he shouted, struggling and trying to kick out. But the men were stronger and Dick was tipped into the freezer, landing face-down on the bags of frozen peas.
Panicking, he twisted around just in time to see the lid come down, trapping him in icy darkness.
Immediately, he scrambled up, hitting his head as he did so. There wasn't enough space for him to sit upright. Dick hammered on the lid but it didn't budge – the men had locked it from the outside. Heart pounding wildly, he lay on his back and used his legs to kick at the lid. It still didn't move.
Someone was shouting outside the freezer. Trying really hard not to freak out as the cold seeped through him, Dick rolled up onto his elbow and listened to what they were saying.
"…not part of the plan!" Familiar Voice was yelling. "Get him out of there now!"
"No way," Deep Voice snapped back. "As long as Wayne and the cops know he's trapped in that freezer, they're not gonna follow us."
"You could kill him!" Familiar Voice cried.
"He won't die so long as Wayne does as he's told," the bus gunman replied. "Now stop wasting time and pack up your shit. We need to get to the drop point."
But Familiar Voice continued to argue. "Look, just take him out of the freezer and tie him up. You can pretend to Wayne that he's still in the freezer."
"No way. Not when the kid can Houdini his ass out of the ropes," retorted Deep Voice. "Now get moving."
"ENOUGH!" roared the bus gunman. "The longer you argue, the more time that kid spends in the freezer. And you'd want to remember why you're here in the first place…unless you want us to forget our end of the deal."
There was silence. Dick strained to hear more, but after a minute of nothing he realized the men had stopped arguing and were probably packing up.
Oh god, they were really going to leave him in here.
Lying on his back again, Dick kicked at the lid as hard as he was capable of. "C'mon…c'mon…c'mon!" he grunted, punctuating each word with a kick. After several minutes of kicking, he let his legs drop. Breathless from exertion and feeling the cold of the frozen peas soaking into him, Dick lost the tenuous grip on his panic and hammered on the lid with his hands.
"LET ME OUT!" he yelled. "LET. ME. OUT!"
There was no response, not a single sound. The kidnappers had probably left. Gulping, Dick tried to get his panic under control. He'd been trained by Batman for crying out loud, and the number one rule that had been drummed into him from the start was to never, ever panic. Panicking got you killed.
So easy to say that when you weren't trapped in a freezer.
Closing his eyes, Dick took a deep, shaky breath, wincing at how the icy air pinched the inside of lungs. He needed to be rational. He needed to think about this rationally.
The men weren't trying to kill him or they'd have done it as soon as they ended the ransom call. They just wanted to make a clean get away with the money…so once Bruce handed the money over, they would send him here. They'd told Bruce fifteen minutes to get into the city on the phone, right? That meant it must take them fifteen minutes to get to the meeting spot. Add in another ten to fifteen minutes to exchange the money – because Dick knew Bruce wouldn't waste time – and another fifteen for Bruce to get here, and he'd probably be out of this icebox in about forty-five minutes. Give or take.
Dick exhaled and opened his eyes. He was pretty sure people had survived for longer in colder circumstances. He could do this. Some mild hypothermia maybe, but nothing Alfred's hot chocolate wouldn't fix.
Yeah, so not the time to be thinking about hot chocolate.
He was starting to shake – the cold had now leached every ounce of warmth from his body. He wouldn't be able to avoid hypothermia after forty-five minutes in here, but that didn't mean he couldn't do something to minimize the damage caused by the cold.
It was difficult to manoeuvre in the cramped space, but Dick managed to shuffle until he was crouched at one end of the freezer. Pulling the sleeves of his blazer over his hands, he started to stack the bags of frozen peas to one side. It was slow going in the dark, not to mention he kept dropping the bags because it was difficult to keep a grip on them through the blazer. Dick knew it would have been quicker to do it with his bare hands, but he also knew the extremities were the first things to lose heat – maintaining core temperature was the body's priority in severe cold, making extremities more susceptible to frostbite. And frostbite could set in after thirty minutes in these temperatures.
When he had finally cleared a small space to one side of the freezer where he wouldn't be sitting on bags of frozen peas, Dick immediately set about limiting his skin's exposure to the cold. He tucked his pants into his socks, then struggled with numb fingers to position his tie around his head to protect his ears. When he'd finally managed to do that he turned up the collars of his shirt and blazer, before pulling his legs up to his chest and hunching into a ball where he tucked his hands beneath his armpits and pressed his face into his thighs, leaving a small gap to breathe through. Movement would probably have been a better option to preserve core temperature, but this was a small freezer and Dick couldn't be sure of how much air it contained.
Settling down to wait, he was dismayed to realize that he was now shaking violently. Shivering was one of the first stages of hypothermia…surely it couldn't be setting in already? He'd only been in here for about ten minutes – he thought he'd have at least twenty before the hypothermia set in. The freezer must be colder than he'd calculated for.
Or else his size was letting him down. Dick groaned as he remembered a titbit of information from his training: children succumb to the effects of hypothermia more quickly than adults because less body mass under the skin means they cool down more quickly. Freaking wonderful.
In order to ride out the slow, uncomfortable wait for Bruce, Dick tried to access some of the meditation techniques that Bruce had taught him in order to conserve energy and keep from flipping out. But it was difficult, the bone-jarring cold making it impossible to concentrate on anything else.
Gradually, the cold moved from unpleasant to painful, and Dick pulled his limbs even more tightly against himself. His teeth chattered loudly, while his sporadic gasps echoed around the dark of the freezer. Bruce was coming. He just needed to keep telling himself that. It didn't matter how much this hurt because Bruce was coming.
But it was a struggle to remain calm when his brain kept wondering if Bruce didn't get here, would he suffocate or freeze first?
Curled up in his icy corner, shivering and gasping, Dick counted time in an effort to keep it together. But when he reached forty-five minutes with no sign of Bruce, he started to get a little scared. His fingers, ears, and toes were itching and stinging madly with what he guessed was the beginnings of frostbite, and it was an effort to keep his limbs tucked against him – fatigue had kicked in. Not to mention he could feel the air getting thinner. At first, Dick had thought it was the sharp cold which stung his airways that was making breathing so hard, before realizing that the freezer was slowly filling with carbon dioxide.
Too bad the frozen peas weren't trees he could convert into oxygen. Heh. Wait! That didn't make sense…
Get a grip! He shook himself. He couldn't afford to drift into confusion. Confused people with hypothermia sometimes made poor decisions, like removing their clothes. Dick had never quite understood how that was possible, but he had no intention of trying to understand it now. His clothes were staying on, thank-you-very-much.
He returned to counting time in an effort to stay focused. But his concentration was wavering by the time he reached seventy-three minutes, his eyes drooping with the heavy pull of exhaustion. The violent shivering had also tapered into small shudders and Dick knew that was a bad thing, although he couldn't quite remember why.
Bruce was late. Bruce was never late. Why wasn't he here? Dick was so tired. He really just wanted to lie down. In his warm bed. With Alfred's hot chocolate. Hot chocolate sounded so awesome right now…wait, wasn't he supposed to be doing something?
"C-c-count," Dick reminded himself. One…two…three…four…five…six…seven… He could feel his eyes slipping closed. They felt so very heavy. Surely it would be okay to close them for a minute or two?
"N-n-n-n-o!" he gasped, wrenching his eyes open. Bad sleep. Bad. This was one of those poor decisions he wasn't supposed to make. One…two…three…four…five…
But…his mind felt fuzzy…Dick wasn't sure what he was supposed to be doing…he'd been counting…didn't you count sheep to fall asleep? And he was lying down…in the dark…that meant sleep…so why wasn't he supposed to sleep? Something about cold…he was definitely cold…
Cold and counting. They made sense. He didn't know why, but they made sense…didn't they? No, wait…it was something about Bruce…Bruce and counting…
No…Bruce wasn't counting…he wasn't here…Dick was here…Dick was counting…counting sheep…
Dick eyes slid closed and he let them. Wasn't that what he was counting sheep for?