©December 2003
Rating: PG
Characters: Dick Grayson (Robin); Bruce Wayne (Batman)
Time Frame: Dick is 14
Disclaimer: Characters herein are owned by DC Comics/Time Warner/AOL. No profit is realized from creation of stories based on these trademarked characters. Not to be archived without permission.
Comments and feedback are welcome to SKHwrite@cranky-dog.com

Dark December

By SKH



Part One

It was Friday afternoon, and at the bell signaling the end of fifth period, Dick Grayson shoved his physical science book into his backpack. Instead of heading upstairs for his last class of the day, Dick made his way through the halls of the Gotham Academy to the school's auditorium.

"Hey, Dick! Wait up!"

Dick slowed and turned to see one of his classmates, Martin Van Eyke, hurrying to catch up with him. "C'mon, Marty," Dick called out. "We have Assembly in a couple of minutes."

Slender and pale blond, Marty was Dick's height, which was a little shorter than most of the boys in the eighth grade. Grinning, he caught up with Dick. "I know! It's about the class ski trip! I've had my skis packed for a week! I'm SO ready for winter break."

"Geez, Marty, show some enthusiasm," Dick deadpanned.

"Well, aren't you excited?" the other boy asked as they entered the auditorium.

It wasn't that Dick didn't enjoy skiing. His guardian, Bruce Wayne, had taken him on ski trips at least a couple of times a year since Dick had come to live at Wayne Manor five years earlier. Those trips had been more about instruction and gaining new athletic skills than fun. But to Dick, the choice between going on the class trip and swinging over the rooftops of Gotham City and battling criminals as the partner of Gotham's Dark Knight was a no-brainer.

At 14, Dick had been the Batman's partner, Robin for the past three years and had been training for the role from the age of nine. Every night on patrol brought thrill and adventure for the young teen. Problem was, Dick wasn't being given a choice about the trip.

"Marty, skiing and boarding during the day is fine, but it's gonna be pretty boring during the nights," said Dick as he gently pushed his companion toward a seat in the back row.

"Four nights away from our parents is NOT boring. It's going to be great, Dick," Marty argued.

Dick sat and slouched down into his seat. It was going to be *really* boring compared to what he'd rather be doing. But Alfred, Wayne Manor's major-domo and his and Bruce's caretaker, thought it was a good idea for Dick to socialize more with his schoolmates, and Bruce had already scheduled a business trip to Japan while Dick would be away.

Trying to keep an open mind, Dick listened to the Headmaster give the final details about the trip that was to begin the next day, including the announcement that Bruce Wayne was flying the boys to Vermont on a Wayne Corp jet. Dick slouched even lower as heads turned to look at him.


After school, Dick tried again to convince Alfred that he'd be a lot happier not going on the class trip. Alfred wouldn't budge, and Dick had sat sullen and quiet for the rest of the ride home from school. As soon as they arrived at Wayne Manor, Dick excused himself to go downstairs to the Batcave. He needed a good workout in the gym, if only to vent his frustration.

When Bruce Wayne entered the Batcave, he found his ward practicing punches and kicks on the heavy punching bag. Preparing for his own workout, Bruce taped his hands and watched the boy with the keen eye of teacher and trainer, pleased with Dick's growing strength and combat skills. Dick gave the heavy bag a final combination of kicks before pausing to face his mentor.

"Let me warm up for a few minutes and we'll spar," said Bruce.

With a nod and a smile, Dick stepped away and reached for a towel to wipe his sweaty face.

Before long, the partners were on the practice mats, engaged in a vigorous sparring match of combined forms of martial arts. Blocking a series of blows from his ward, Bruce spoke to the boy. "Alfred tells me you're still complaining about the trip." He dropped to the ground with a sweeping kick in an attempt to take Dick down.

Dick responded with a side spring and flip, and then bounced on the balls of his feet, prepared for another offensive rush from Bruce. "I just think it's a waste of time. I'd rather bust heads in Crime Alley than hang out with a bunch of spoiled rubes."

On the offensive, Bruce advanced on his able student with a combination of kicks and punches. Dick leaped up, twisting in the air above Bruce's head. Not to be outdone, Bruce leaped a split second later, hooking an arm around the boy's waist and rolling him over his hip as he spun and landed. He followed through, throwing Dick to the mat with a thud.

"Not bad aerial work, Bruce," Dick praised. As he hopped to his feet, Dick's smile faded. "Why can't I stay here? Or better yet, why can't I go work with the Teen Titans?" he asked.

"No Teen Titans while I'm out of town, Dick," Bruce said, pointing authoritatively at Dick. He walked to a bench at the end of the sparring floor and grabbed two towels, tossing one at Dick. "I'm out-voted on this one, chum," he said, wiping the perspiration from his face. "Alfred and Dr. Thompkins think it's a good idea, and I'm afraid I have to go along with their recommendation. Just go, and when you come back, we'll all have a nice Christmas." At Dick's disappointed expression, Bruce added, "If it makes you feel any better, they used to gang up on me when I was your age."

"And look how *you* turned out," Dick shot back, walking past his mentor on the way to the stairs.

Bruce's big hand clamped down on Dick's shoulder. "Do I have to *order* you to have fun at something *normal*?" he scolded affectionately. "Get cleaned up for dinner. And if you hurry up and pack tonight, we can go on a short patrol."


By late-afternoon on Saturday, the 8th grade class from Gotham Academy was nearing the end of a two-hour bus ride from Burlington, Vermont to the Slopes Resort at Jay Peak. They'd flown from Gotham City to Burlington on one of Bruce Wayne's most spacious corporate jets before boarding the bus to the resort.

Dick closed his eyes and tried to recall his days of traveling with the Haly Brothers Circus with his aerialist parents. Even the animal train cars were quieter than the bus.

"Hey, wake up! We're here!" Marty shook Dick's shoulder vigorously. Dick opened his eyes and leaned forward, peering around his seatmate to look out the bus window at the snowy landscape. The bus made its way up a long drive to the front of a picturesque, grand lodge made of timber and stone.

Under the direction of ten Gotham Academy teacher-chaperones, the avalanche of boys poured out of the bus and into the check-in foyer. Dick pulled his carry-on bag out from under the seat in front of him and followed everyone off the bus.

The teachers gave out the room assignments, getting a head-count of their charges. With key cards and lodge maps in hand, the troupe of students was dismissed with their instructions on when and where to meet for dinner. For the next couple of hours they were free to wander about the lodge and grounds, but because of the late hour of the day and the waning sunlight, they were to wait until the next morning to hit the slopes.

Dick walked into the main lobby, admiring the immensity of the room, with its vaulted ceilings and carved timber beams. There was a huge stone fireplace at the end of the room surrounded by comfortable chairs and sofas. A tall, elaborately decorated Christmas tree sparkled in one corner. Floor-to-ceiling picture windows displayed a breathtaking vista of the snow-covered mountains. Jay Peak was the second highest mountain in Vermont, Dick had read, and got more snow than just about anyplace in the country.

Dick sought out his room on the second floor of the three-floor wing of the lodge reserved just for the Academy students. Keying his way into the room, Dick tossed his carry-on bag into a chair and looked around. The room was nice, cozy, and had its own small gas fireplace that ignited with a flip of a wall switch. He checked out the junk food in the mini-bar. Taking a cola from the little refrigerator, Dick sat on the bed and picked up the cordless telephone receiver. Dutifully, he dialed Wayne Manor to report his arrival to Alfred.

"Very timely of you, Master Dick," said Alfred. "I just received word from a representative of your school that the Academy entourage had safely arrived. I hope your spirits are higher than they were this morning, now that you have seen the resort."

"I haven't seen much, Alfred, but it's a nice place. At least we have our own rooms." Dick paused for just a moment. "Is Bruce there, Alfred?" he asked hopefully.

"I'm afraid not, lad," said Alfred. "He left a few hours ago, not long after you departed. Do you need to speak with him? I can give you his in-flight telephone number."

"Nah, that's okay. Just tell him I got here in one piece when if he calls in." Dick's head turned at a knock at the door. "Hey, I hafta go. Somebody's at the door."

"Have a wonderful time, Master Dick," Alfred said.

"Bye, Alfred." Dick put the phone down and answered the door. It was a bellman.

"Are you Richard Grayson?" The bellman was friendly, young and athletic-looking, with a tousled mop of reddish-blond hair and a spray of freckles on his wind-chapped face.

"That's me," Dick smiled. "Just dump it anywhere."

"Oh, no, dude, there's special racks for your ski and board bags. Let me show you." The bellman, whose nametag read "Gonzo," opened a closet door and put away Dick's two bags of equipment. "Looks like you're stoked, dude. My guess is you've got skis and a couple of boards here."

"Yeah," Dick nodded. "For freeriding and freestyle. I got the freestyle board late last season, so I've only had a chance to try it out once."

"Well, if you're up for it, there's a decent half-pipe here, and if you really want to boost some air, there's a jump, too," Gonzo told Dick. "We got eight inches of powder last night and they're expecting another six tonight. It's gonna be a totally gnarly day on the mountain tomorrow."

"You ski a lot, huh Gonzo?" Dick asked, smiling at the guy's ski lingo.

"Ski bum and total board-head, dude," the young man replied as he placed Dick's suitcases on folding luggage racks from the closet. "I'm from California, but just moved here to Jay to taste New England pack and powder."

Dick reached into his pocket for tip money and handed Gonzo a twenty-dollar bill, following Alfred's advice to be generous with staff that performed to better than expectation.

"Hey, thanks, dude!" Gonzo exclaimed. "Stay out of the way of the SPORS and keep your eyes peeled for Shred Bettys," he said.

"The whats?" Dick asked.

"Stupid People on Rental Skis and serious ski bunnies!" Gonzo replied, pushing the luggage cart down the corridor.


Restless from the travel, most of the students headed outside for a look around the grounds. Eventually, a snowball war erupted that lasted until dinnertime. Dick enjoyed the food, and afterwards, he and a couple of guys hung out in the main lobby listening to a guitarist who was playing on a small, corner stage. The boys snickered at cooing couples engaged in après-ski snuggling.

"Hey, look — it's snowing again," Frank Madison pointed out. The boys' attention diverted to the big picture windows. "What're you guys planning to do first?"

"I'm headed up the slopes with my skis first," Marty declared.

"Same here," said Frank. "I thought I'd warm up on the north run and then try out the slalom course. I bet Hauser I could do the slalom course at least five seconds faster than he can."

"What about you, Dick?" asked Marty.

"I think Hauser will take you," Dick grinned at Frank. The boy slugged Dick in the bicep.

"Smart-ass!" Frank remarked. "Grayson's going to spend all his time on the bunny hill with the tourists."

Dick laughed and rubbed his arm. "Frank, we *are* tourists. Actually, I was thinking about trying out a powder course with my snowboard."

"You should hook up with Chaz Peterson," Marty suggested. "That's his thing, too."

"Guys — GUYS!" Frank whispered loudly. "Incoming."

The boys turned just in time to see a tight, low-cut, generously-filled sweater approach them. "Can I get you fellows something from the bar?" asked a very cute dark-haired waitress.

"Uh, cola," Marty squeaked, his voice breaking noticeably.

"Same here," Frank said to the girl's chest.

Dick forced himself to maintain eye contact with the waitress. "Thanks. I'll take a hot chocolate."

"Great! I'll be back in couple of minutes with your order." The waitress walked away, with three pairs of eyes trained solidly on her tight black slacks.

"Wow," Marty said admiringly.

"No kidding," said Frank. "Did you see those hoot—"

"Yeah, Frank," Dick replied quickly. "Sit back and stop drooling." The guy was worse than Roy Harper, Dick thought. No, fellow Teen Titan Harper — not called Speedy for nothing — would have tried to make a date with the waitress, despite the difference in age. And probably would have succeeded.

"I'm giving her a BIG tip!" Frank grinned.


Before the waitress took the three boys their drinks, she stopped at another table. She put a schooner of beer down in front of a man with short brown hair and frameless eyeglasses.

"It's him," the girl said quietly to the man. "I recognize him from the picture."

The man said nothing to acknowledge the girl's information. He merely paid for his beer with a five dollar bill — and placed an additional hundred on the girl's tray of drinks.


Glossary:
Pack — hard-packed snow on a ski trail/course
Powder — light, fluffy, unpacked snow
Freeriding snowboard — for use in powder snow
Freeriding — an all-round snowboarding style where the rider can ride, carve and jump on any terrain on and off piste
Piste — maintained, packed snow ski trail/course
Freestyle snowboard — for aerial tricks
Half-pipe — a snowboarding arena, a U-shaped bowl where boarders move from one wall to another, doing aerial tricks.


tbc in part 2