Summary: It's almost Christmas, and feeling very lonely in his new home, Dicky runs away. Santa to the rescue!

Disclaimer: All the characters are owned by DC Comics and Time/Warner; this is an original story that does not intend to infringe on their copyright. Feedback is welcome!

Copyright: December 2003

A Visit from Santa

By Syl Francis

First, let me tell you that I absolutely did not believe in Santa. When I was still living in the circus, Mom and Dad would have Pop Haly dress up as Santa and have him come into our trailer. Pop would come in, Ho-ho-ho'ing and being all jolly and stuff. He'd even jiggle his big ol' belly--you know what I mean--and take a few puffs out of his corncob pipe. It'd be really funny when his eyes would tear up on account of he didn't smoke.

Pop would go over to my mom and right there in front of my dad and me give her a big hug and kiss her on the cheek. Mom would blush real pretty and Dad would step up and shake Santa's hand. Santa would then take me on his knee and ask me if I'd been a good boy all year.

To test him, I'd counter with my own questions, like 'If you're really Santa, you'd know that already. Don't you have a naughty and nice book with the names of the all kids in the world on it?' But Pop Haly was really good. I guess he'd been up against too many worldly circus kids to let a little question like that throw him for a loop.

I still remember one Christmas in particular. He let out a big 'ho-ho-ho!' and said something like, 'A book? Why Dicky, these are the 1980s! My elves are much more efficient than that!' Still chuckling, he took out a long computer printout, and making a big production out of it, he squinted at it through his glasses for a few minutes.

Finally, he cried out, 'Ah-ha!' and triumphantly pointed at my name--Richard John Grayson. It was listed under the 'nice' column, of course, for practicing my quadruple spin on a daily basis, cleaning out Elinore's stall without complaining, and best of all, for helping make other children's lives happy every year by volunteering for the annual Gotham Children's Hospital Charity Show.

Of course, I'd play along and hug Pop--I mean--Santa, and tell him that the best gift I had were my mom and dad. Maybe for just a little bit then, I'd really believe in Santa Claus.

And then, well, you know what happened, and I stopped believing. I came to live here in Wayne Manor, but the guy who took me didn't do much to help me believe. I didn't know what his problem was at first. He never smiled or laughed or anything. Just sort of brooded in his study whenever he was home, staring at a picture of a man and woman that hangs over the fireplace.

And he was gone a lot. He wasn't home for Thanksgiving, so I had to sit alone at this big table and eat by myself. It was my first Thanksgiving dinner without Mom and Dad and my Haly Circus family. And it was so quiet, the sound of my silverware striking the dinner plate echoed in the huge, empty dining room. I couldn't finish my dinner and excused myself to my room.

Alfred, the butler, was kind of nice, but he's looked sad all of the time, too. He told me that Mr. Wayne--the guy who took me--also lost his parents when he was a little boy, and that's why he always seemed so sad and serious. The picture over the mantle is that of his parents.

I guess that no one here believed in Santa, either. And I really missed my mom and dad more than ever.

Before I knew it, it was almost Christmas, and I had nothing left to believe in. Mom and Dad were gone. Zucco, the guy who murdered them, hadn't been caught yet. And Jack Ryder, the GNN news anchor, said that Captain Gordon of the GCPD believed Zucco had basically skipped town and was long gone. The news seemed to upset Mr. Wayne, and he became even darker and angrier than ever.

By this time, I didn't think he liked me much. He never talked to me, or stayed in the same room with me for long. I didn't think that I could stay there at Wayne Manor for much longer. I knew that the Haly Circus would be wintered in Florida by then. If I left that night, I figured that might get there by Christmas Day.

Of course, things have a way of working out that we usually don't anticipate. I planned my escape very carefully. Mr. Wayne was gone as usual. He'd disappeared soon after the newscast. I shrugged. He'd never miss me anyway. The guy didn't know I existed. On the other hand, Alfred had a nose for mischief like a basset hound. He could sniff out trouble before I'd even finished planning it out...

'The stairs are used for descending, Master Dick, not the banister.'

'The chandeliers' primary purpose is to provide illumination to the grand ballroom, young sir...not for you to practice your trapeze act.'

'The main hallway is for walking to and from one room to the next, and under no circumstances is it to be used for handsprings and cartwheels.'

...The guy had no sense of fun and adventure, which made him the perfect butler for Mr. Dark and Dismal. But I didn't care, 'cause I was leaving that night. I hoped they'd be very depressed together.

So I waited for Alfred to call it a night, and as soon as I heard his door close, I opened my own French doors that led out into a small balcony. It had been snowing all day, and the ground was covered in a sheet of ice and snow. Shrugging, I climbed up on the railing and leaped out. I easily caught an overhanging branch from the giant oak that grew outside my room and quickly climbed down.

As soon as my feet touched the ground, I felt the freezing slush begin to worm its way through my sneakers. Common sense almost won out. I wasn't exactly dressed for an outing on a cold, winter's night. I'd refused to wear any of the clothing that they'd bought me when I first arrived. In fact, I only took what I'd arrived with.

'Real smart move, Grayson,' I muttered. Then, holding my light jacket a little tighter against the collar, I put my shoulder to the wind and started trudging. I figured that the sooner I left this mausoleum behind me, the happier I'd be...

A few hours later, I was half frozen and shivering my stupid backside off. So far, there hadn't been too many cars on the deserted highway, and those that did pass by, totally ignored me. I don't know. Maybe they thought I was some kind of dangerous felon. You hear some real weird stuff about Gotham criminals. And it had started to snow again, real, honest-to-goodness blizzard conditions. Or so it seemed to me.

By then, I knew I was trouble. I'd lost all feeling in my fingers and toes, and I think that I had icy stalactites beginning to form on my head. I don't know when it happened, but sometime later I found myself curling up by the side of the road. I had the strangest urge to go to sleep. But you know the funniest thing of all? I suddenly felt warm all over. And safe...

Somewhere in the distance, I heard what sounded like sleigh bells. I smiled. Pop Haly pretending to be Santa again. When would Mom and Dad figure out that I was too old for that cornball act? And then, there he was, kneeling next to me. Jolly ol' St. Nick--Pop Haly all dressed up in his silly red suit. He had sleigh bells around his wrists and every time he moved his hands, he jingled.

He picked up easily and spoke to me in that deep voice of his. "Dicky, little boys like you should be tucked in safe in your beds. You've worried a lot of people tonight, son."

"Guess I made the 'naughty' list, huh?" My voice was little more than a croak.

"I think we can overlook it just this once," he said softly. "But you'll have to promise me never to do this again. I know Bruce seems a little, well, cold sometimes. But believe me, son...he really does care about you. In fact, he's out looking for you right now."

"Bruce...?" I felt confused. Bruce was out looking for me? What about Mom and Dad? Didn't they send Santa to find me? I mean...Pop Haly?

"Don't worry, son." Santa's deep voice resonated with warmth and kindness. "Ill have you home, safe in bed in two shakes, like my Pa used to say." And then with an, "Up, up, and away--!" we were airborne, flying over the snow-covered Bristol hills.

"Where's your sleigh?" I asked. "Where are your reindeer?"

Smiling, he said, "It's the 1980s, Dicky. You don't think that Santa needs reindeer anymore in this day and age?" Of course, I thought. He probably has on an anti-gravity belt or something.

Looking down, I gazed in awe at the winter wonderland spread far below me. From high above I could see the many, brightly lit houses tucked inside the heavily forested hills. In the distance, I could hear the bells of Gotham Cathedral ringing the hour.

"Twelve..." I whispered sleepily. "That means--"

"--Midnight! That means that it's Christmas, Dicky." Santa smiled down at me. "Merry Christmas, son."

"Santa...?" I was beginning to believe. However, sleep was beginning to overwhelm me, and I knew that I had to speak up before I dropped off entirely. "I'm awful sorry for keeping you from making your rounds tonight." At my words, Santa smiled suddenly.

"Oh, don't ever worry about Santa, son. Just remember, the spirit of Christmas works in mysterious ways." As I dropped off to sleep, I felt us begin to descend...

As if in a dream, I heard soft voices talking in urgent tones.

'How is he?' Bruce.

'Half-frozen, but he'll be all right.' Santa?

'Where did you find him?' Alfred.

'By the side of the road, under a layer of snow.' Santa. 'A few more minutes, and who knows?'

'My word...' Alfred.

'The important thing is you found him. He's safe--' Bruce.

'Yes, he is, Bruce.' Santa. 'For the moment, at least. But what about tomorrow?'

'Let me worry about that, Clark.' Bruce...Who's Clark, I wondered?

'Bruce, there's more to taking care of a child than providing for his physical needs.' Santa. 'Tonight, he believed that there really is a Santa Claus.'

'Yeah, well, that silly costume you're wearing is enough to confuse any child.' Bruce.

'You know that when you called me for help, I was playing Santa for the children at the Metropolis Children's Hospital.' At these words, I felt an overwhelming sense of loss. Then he really wasn't Santa? But how could he fly? Was it a trick? There was no hope left in me. Sadly, I buried my face in my pillow and cried for my mom and dad...

Voices broke through...

'Leslie, what is it?'

'His fever is too high, Bruce. We need to bring it down. Here, take this cold compress and...'

The voices faded out again...

'Master Bruce, I'll sit with him for a while.'

'No, it's okay, Alfred. I'll stay with him. Get some sleep.'

'Are you sure, sir?'

A cool hand pressed against my forehead. Gentle fingers lightly brushed my hair back.

'Look at him, Alfred. He's so small. I didn't know kids were so small.'

'I believe that's why they need us, sir. To protect them, until they're big enough to protect themselves.'

'What'll I do, Alfred? What if--?'

'I believe, Master Bruce, that all one can do now is pray. It is certainly the season for prayer, is it not...?'

The voices faded away again.

Much later, I awoke to the sun streaming through the window and the sound of a soft murmur next to me.

"Please, Father...take care of my little boy. We've both lost so much already in our lives. He needs me, and I need him. Please, don't take him from me..."

"Bruce...?" My voice was still barely a croak, but I felt stronger. "Santa, doesn't need reindeer...did you know that?" Weakly, I smiled up at him. After a moment, he smiled back--a funny half-smile, there one moment, gone the next. Awkwardly, he gently brushed back my hair. My dad used to do that all time, I thought.

"I know that, Dicky." His voice didn't sound much better than mine had. "But I need you." Bruce's eyes were suddenly bright as if he was fighting back tears. "I want you to know that, son. I need you more than anything in the world, and I want you to live here with Alfred and me for always." He looked away for a moment. "Will you give me another chance?"

I held his eyes for a moment, wondering if he really meant it. "Are you sure you want me?" I finally asked.

"I've never been surer of anything more in my entire life."

Grinning happily from ear to ear, I nodded vigorously in response. "You bet I'll stay," I said. "By the way...who's Clark?" Not answering directly, Bruce gently wrapped me up in my blankets and carefully lifted me off the bed. "Where are we going?" I asked curiously. Still not answering, he carried me downstairs, where we made our way along the main hall to the study. Alfred met us by the grandfather clock, and at a nod from Bruce, moved the clock's hands. Immediately, the grandfather clock swung open, revealing a door hidden behind it.

"Whoa," I whispered in awe. Bruce then carried me through the threshold and down another mysterious flight of steps. "Where are we going?" I asked.

"You'll see," he said. Although it was as black as pitch, I felt warm and safe in my guardian's arms. I hadn't felt this safe since my parents' deaths. Abruptly, we stopped descending. I sensed that we stood in the midst of a large open space, but couldn't see anything. "Alfred?" At Bruce's words, I felt myself being transferred from his strong, protective arms into Alfred's.

"Bruce, where are we? Where are you going? Alfred--?" I felt the panic begin to rise in my chest. But Alfred's soothing voice was immediately next to my ear.

"There, there, lad," he murmured. "Everything will be all right. You'll see."

The next moment, the lights came on. Simultaneoulsy, hundreds of bats fluttered and shrieked as if in a panic and flew out into a darkened tunnel in a flash of black. A cave! We were in a cave! My eyes slowly took in the details--a giant monitor covered one entire area, muted lighting revealed a beautiful, powerful car with a giant bat insignia, other strange and unfamiliar instruments flashed here and there.

"Where are we?" I repeated. As I spoke, a vault that I hadn't noticed before, slowly opened. Deliberately, a very dark, very frightening figure stepped out from it. I gasped. "Who are you?" Abruptly, the strange, bat-like creature broke out in a vaguely familiar half-smile. And before I could say, "Bruce?" he pulled back the bat cowl and revealed my guardian's face.

"If you're staying, then it's time you knew everything," he explained.

Much later, back up in the family room, cradling a hot cup of cocoa, and tucked in safely in my blankets on the sofa, I gazed up at the treetop angel. Maybe I hadn't believed in Santa before, but now I had something new to believe in--the spirit of Christmas.

Bruce was the famous Batman, the guardian of Gotham City. And he promised that when I was feeling better, he was going to train me to be his new partner. It was almost too much to take in all at once. But there it was. My new guardian--no, my new father--was a real super-hero. And he was going to make me his partner. At that moment, Bruce walked in and gave me that funny half-smile of his.

"Hey, partner, Leslie told me that your fever is completely gone now," he said. "She even gave her okay for you have a little company today. What do say, chum? Are you up to meeting someone?"

Not really in the mood, I nodded for Bruce's sake. I knew that he was trying to make this Christmas special, so I played along. "Sure, Bruce. Who is it?"

"Well, Dick, I thought it was time I introduced you to some of my friends." Stepping aside, Bruce made room for two very familiar, very brightly clad individuals. "Clark, Diana...I'd like you to meet my son."

The End