WHEN HEROES GRIEVE

DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the characters. Nightwing and all of his friends belongs to DC comics. I'd be a happy woman if Dick belonged to me...but no such luck. I have not made any profit out of writing this, so please don't sue me. It would not be worth your while.

Author Comment: Thank you to my wonderful beta, Jean whose comments force me to examine my writing. There are a number of spelling, grammar and punctuation differences between Australia and the USA... please forgive me for writing with an accent. (g)

Special Thanks: Thank you to all those people who have sent support and encouragement on my previous stories. Your words of support and encouragement mean so much.

MERRY CHRISTMAS:Wishing everyone a happy and safe Christmas filled with love.


Windows

A Christmas Story

Alfred Pennyworth reread the letter, his brow furrowing with deep apprehension. With a shake of his greying head, he folded the plain and slightly crumpled piece of paper and placed it in his top pocket. Unconsciously, his eyes lifted in the direction of the bathroom on the second floor where his young charge was bathing. Not once, in the nine months since Dick Grayson had joined the Manor family, had Alfred interfered in Bruce's decisions regarding the boy. Not even when Bruce had announced that he was gong to begin training the child to partner Batman. They had discussed it and Alfred had expressed grave concerns... concerns he still harboured, but he had not interfered. It wasn't his place. However, after reading the handwritten letter, Alfred knew he would need to step in for the child's sake. Bruce would be at a loss to deal with this and if he handled it badly, the child would suffer for a long time and perhaps carry the scars with him for the rest of his life.

The elderly butler made his way to the entrance hall at the return of Wayne's Jag. He waited until he heard the approach of leather shoes on the cobblestones outside and then opened the door just as his master reached it.

Bruce smiled with genuine affection. "Alfred. The snow is starting to come down. It's going to be cold on the streets tonight."

"Sir." Alfred took his employer's briefcase and helped him out of his heavy overcoat.

"Sorry I'm late. I've just enough time to grab some dinner before heading off on patrol. Where's Dick?"

"He will be down shortly, Sir," the elderly man answered as he hung the coat on the coat rack and placed the briefcase on the hall stand. "Before he arrives, there are some things we need to discuss."

Bruce's left eyebrow peaked. It wasn't what Alfred had said, but the tone of his voice. A tone Bruce remembered well from his teenage years when Alfred would 'put his foot down'. It hadn't happened often, but when it had, Bruce had quickly learned it was sensible to listen. Alfred Pennyworth was far more than just Bruce's butler. He was his confidant, right-hand man and his family. The elderly butler had taken over much of the role of raising Bruce after the death of his parents. Neither would openly admit it, but for all intents and purposes, they were like father and son. Their complicated relationship was a source of mystery for others. There were those who criticised Bruce for allowing the man who raised him to remain a 'servant' and others who slammed the fact that Bruce gave an 'underling' so much power over, not only his affairs, but also his decisions.

"I see. The study then?"

"Very good, Sir." Bruce led the way through the lavish old hall and into the large office, shutting the ornate hand-carved door after Alfred. By the sound of it, this was not something for Dick's ears.

Wayne took a seat at the huge, hundred year old oak desk that had once been his father's. The butler remained standing, his hands clasped in front of him.

"When I picked young master Dick up at school today, I was asked to seek an audience with the school counsellor."

Small creases appeared at the corners of Bruce's eyes - a mixture of concern and an overt sign he had become instantly defensive. Wayne was well aware of the fact his guardianship of Dick was still under scrutiny, particularly from the media.

"As part of their lessons this week the children were asked to write a letter. Master Dick, like most of his peers, chose to write to Santa Claus."

"He's only eight and it's five days until Christmas. Sounds pretty normal to me... you've got the Santa thing covered, haven't you?" Bruce checked quickly. Christmas shopping of any description hadn't entered his mind. The Joker had been on the loose and capturing him had taken up his every waking thought, not to mention a business deal with a South African firm which would ensure food aid for the poor in underdeveloped countries.

The look Alfred gave Bruce was one of absolute disgust. "Of course, Sir. All gifts have been purchased and wrapped."

Bruce winked at him. "You better let me know what I'm giving everyone this year before I actually give it to them."

"The school counsellor," Alfred dismissed impatiently, "mentioned that Dick was quite upset when some of the older children told him that Santa was a 'lie'. He was very distressed that his parents had lied to him."

"Ohhhh." Bruce frowned. The Santa part was hard enough without the idea of trying to explain why Dick's parents had been less than completely truthful. This wasn't going to be easy. The little boy had come a long way in the nine months since witnessing the death of his parents. There were still nightmares but time had brought healing and the revelation of a cheeky personality and sharp wit. "I guess I better have a chat with him and let him know how it works." Bruce leaned back in his chair, trying to remember what he'd been told when others had stolen the magic of dear old St. Nick from him.

"I'm not so sure that is a good idea," Alfred disagreed. It was time to 'interfere'.

"Huh? So what do you want me to say to him?" Bruce asked perplexed.

"The school counsellor gave me the letter. It is quite informative."

"So, do we need to do some more Christmas shopping? What does the letter tell us? He wants a bicycle? I know, one of those computer game things they keep advertising on television?"

Alfred withdrew the letter from his pocket. "No, Sir. The letter tells us three things. First, Master Dick's home schooling was very successful for he is incredibly literate for his age despite only having attended formal schooling for six months. Second, he firmly believes in the magic of Santa Claus and thirdly.... you need to read the letter."

Bruce reached out for the proffered piece of paper, scrutinizing Alfred's concerned face for several more seconds before unfolding the letter.

VVV

Dear Santa Claus

Thank you for the toy car you gave me last year. I still have it and play with it. If it is okay with you, I want to swap this year's presents and all of the presents until I'm all grown up for something else. I know that you know Jesus. My mum told me that you sort of work for him. When Jesus was born people gave him presents and now you give everyone else presents so they never forget baby Jesus' birthday. Instead of presents, would you please ask Jesus to let my mum and dad in Heaven know that I'm okay. Tell them that I'm living with Bruce (he's pretty rich but nice) and Alfred (he's pretty strict but nice.) I want them to know that I'm okay. I know they're okay because they're in Heaven with Jesus, but my mum used to worry about me when she didn't know where I was so she's probably worried in Heaven. Could you also tell Bruce's parents that he's okay too. He gets sad sometimes, but Alfred and I are looking after him. Tell Jesus to tell mum and dad that I love them and I miss them real bad. I don't mind not getting presents any more, but could you just leave me a note so I know you spoke to Jesus for me. I speak to Jesus each night but it's hard to tell if he's heard me. Alfred says he does, but I want to be sure. My mum will be worried. I don't live at the Circus anymore. Look for the biggest house in Gotham. That's where I am now.

Love Dick

VVV

The look of pain that claimed Bruce's face was palpable. The child's words could very easily have been his own so many years before. He understood every part of the sentiment in the letter. Wayne looked up at Alfred and opened his mouth, but he had no idea of what he wanted to say.

"It provides a window into his world, Sir. He is, indeed, the most selfless child I have every come across."

Bruce swallowed and read the letter again. "Alfred, what am I.... I mean, I can't... even with all of my money, I can't give him what he wants."

"Why not, Sir? He is an eight year old boy who views the world through the lenses of a child. What he has written provides us with a very clear understanding of how he is dealing with the tragedy that has befallen his young life. Right now, this little boy needs confirmation that all is right with those he loves. That confirmation cannot be an explanation born of adult understandings of our human existence. It must come in a form he will understand and in a way he will accept. Maturity will catch up with him quite soon enough. We must allow him this innocence."

"Alfred, I... I just don't know," Bruce whispered. Memories of his own childhood swamped him.

Alfred walked around the desk and placed his hand on the shoulder of the man who loved like a son. "When you were eight, did you not believe in Santa Claus? After the tragedy, at the age of twelve, did you not believe that your parents were in Heaven with Jesus? At the age of fifteen, did not maturity tell you that these were simplistic views of what we call life?" Alfred paused and sighed. "My boy, do you feel I lied to you or betrayed your trust when I told you repeatedly that God needed your mother and father and that was why they had to go to Heaven?"

Bruce glanced up at the man who had raised him. A man whose opinion and wisdom was the cornerstone of his life. "No." Bruce didn't believe they were lies or words that betrayed his trust.

"My explanation was a manipulation of truth provided in a form that eased your pain. We must do the same for Master Dick and put his mind at rest."

Bruce nodded. "So what do we do?"

Alfred's grey eyes flashed with mischief, the concern that had been there drowning. "I have an idea."

Bruce's eyebrows drew down. "Why does that look make the hair stand up on the back on my neck... and just for the record, I'm not dressing up as Santa Claus."

"A preposterous suggestion."

"Good."

"He would recognize you in an instant. Besides, this Santa Claus needs to be larger than life with a magic you don't have." A smile formed on Alfred's lined face and he bounced his eyebrows once.

"Go on," Bruce encouraged, warily.

Alfred's smile split.

VVVVVVVVVV

Bruce had been home for a good half an hour before Dick came down stairs. The little boy's shoulders were drooped, while his bright eyes reflected a pain and confusion they hadn't for some time.

"Hey, chum. Thought you must have drowned up there," Bruce welcomed from the head of the dining table.

Dick didn't reply. He made his way to his seat and sat down, avoiding eye contact with Bruce.

"Problem?" Wayne inquired.

Dick shrugged as only a child can.

"Elbows off the table, young sir," Alfred instructed as he placed a plate of pasta in front of the boy.

Dick withdrew his arms and stared into the plate. He felt so lost and empty. Not only was Santa just a story, but his mother had lied to him. She had lied!

The two adults at the table exchanged a glance. Alfred quietly left the room, while Bruce rose to his feet, walked across to Dick and placed his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Come on, chum." Gently, he coaxed the devastated child off the chair and into the lounge room.

They sat down side by side as they always did when Bruce needed to talk to Dick. For a long time neither spoke.

"I can't help if you don't tell me what's wrong, son." Bruce's voice was soft and mellow, but it still echoed above the crackling fire in the fireplace.

Dick sighed. He lifted his tiny, confused face to Wayne. His wide, sky blue eyes looked directly into Bruce's heart begging for help.

Wayne waited, placing a hand of reassurance on Dick's arm.

"Bruce, Santa isn't real, is he?"

"Who told you that?" Wayne asked gently.

Dick continued to stare at his guardian. Since he had lost his parents, Bruce was the person whom he felt closest to. The one person he honestly felt he could trust. "My mum said that Santa brought presents so we wouldn't forget Jesus' birthday and that Santa, Jesus and God were all good friends."

"But?" Bruce prompted

"Billy Thompson said that his brother told him that Santa is just a story for little kids and my mum was lying to me."

"I see. Well, he's wrong."

The blue eyes widened with hope. He'd been offered something to cling to. "Really?" Dick pleaded.

Bruce smiled, slipped his arm around Dick and drew the child into him. "Your mum and my mum both knew a lot more about it than Billy Thompson's brother. My mum told me that... what was that?" Bruce asked, glancing toward the window. "Did you hear that?"

"Huh?"

Bruce rose, deposited Dick on the ground and walked across to the window. "I thought I heard something."

Dick joined his guardian at the curtains. "I don't hear...." The child's voice faded. His pupils doubled in size as he saw something he would never forget. In the sky above the Manor, illuminated in the light of the full moon, was a bright red and gold sleigh. "Bruce! Look! It's Santa!"

The child spun around and raced for the door. Wayne watched him go and all of the misgivings he'd had about Alfred's plan disappeared. He'd seen the pure relief in Dick's face - his mother hadn't lied to him. In years to come, he would understand this in a different form.

Wayne met the wily old butler in the hall and nodded his thanks. Together the two men followed their young charge outdoors.

VVVVVVVVVV

Dick raced down the path in his slippers and robe, his eyes glued to the sky above. Overhead, the sleigh circled silently and then began to descend.

Frozen and unable to do anything but gape, Dick watched as the sleigh landed on the newly fallen snow only a few feet from him.

"Ho, ho, ho," Santa boomed in a voice so loud that the glass in the windows of the Manor shook. The huge man stepped from his sleigh and strode up to Dick. The little boy tiled his head back slowly. Santa smiled down at him from his great height. "Well, hello there. It is good to see you, Dick."

"You... you know me?" Dick stuttered in wonder.

"I know all good children I visit each Christmas." Santa glanced across to the porch and winked at the two adults before crouching down in front of Dick. The strong smell of mothballs coming from Santa's clothes reminded Dick of a trunk the clowns used to have at the Circus.

Withdrawing the child's letter from his pocket, Santa handed it to the little boy. "I got your letter. I don't get many letters that tell me not to bring presents."

For several seconds Dick couldn't reply. This was Santa! He was speaking to the real Santa, not one of the store Santas the real Santa paid to help him out at Christmas. This was the real Santa. His mother had told him Santa was real and here he was. "I thought that maybe you could speak to Jesus and ask him to tell my mum and dad I'm okay." The words tumbled out of Dick's mouth. Tears welled in his young eyes as the entire situation overwhelmed him.

Santa smiled at the child and picked him up in his massive arms. "They already know, son," he assured softly.

"How?" Dick asked, wiping away his tears with the back on his sleeve.

Santa pointed to the sky above them. "What do you see?"

"Stars?" Dick asked, confused.

"At night, people in Heaven open their windows to look down on those they love and the light from Heaven shines out through each window creating stars."

Dick gazed up at the sky above. Mesmerized, he focused on the brightest star in the sky. "You mean... my mum and dad are looking out of their window now at me?"

Santa nodded and then lowered the little boy to the ground. "Dick, I don't usually allow people to see me, or come out before Christmas, so I have to ask you to promise me something."

Dick nodded up at the giant. "Don't tell anyone we've spoken and ignore those who don't believe in me. If you don't believe, I disappear...." There was the sound of rushing wind and Santa vanished in front of Dick's eyes.

The child gasped. "I believe in you, Santa!" he cried, terrified that Santa had disappeared forever. No sooner were the words out of his mouth when the rushing sound accompanied the return of the red clad giant.

"I know you do, son. I have to go. Don't forget what I've told you... and no peeking on Christmas Eve."

Dick grinned. Santa patted him on the head and stepped back into his reindeerless sleigh. "Where are your reindeer, Santa?"

"They are resting up for Christmas Eve. My sleigh flies without them, but the fuel costs a fortune. You be a good boy."

"I will," Dick promised, watching as the sleigh silently lifted into the sky... Santa gripping the sides of it in his huge hands. The sleigh hung above Dick for several seconds, Santa boomed another ho, ho ho and then the sleigh shot off at light speed, disappearing into the night.

On the porch behind Dick, Bruce Wayne sighed. "That's another one I owe you, Clark."

Dick stood staring at the spot the sleigh disappeared for only a split second before turning and racing up to the house.

"Bruce! Bruce, did you see him?"

"I sure did." The excitement of youth had returned to Dick's face, but there was more too. Overwhelming relief twinkled from his blue eyes.

"My mum was right. She didn't lie to me."

"Of course not." Dick stared up at Bruce and once again, just as they had the first moment they had met, each found he was looking directly into the other's soul. They shared a bond that was so much more than their mutual tragedies. Bruce couldn't explain it, but he felt it to his core.

Dick reached for Wayne's hand and pulled his guardian down the path after him. When they reached the exact spot where the sleigh landed, the child pointed up into the sky and whispered. "Did you hear what Santa said?"

Bruce nodded, lifting his own gaze to the star-covered sky. Before long, he too was drawn in by the amazing sight God had created.

"That means you aren't alone either, Bruce. Your mum and dad are at a window looking down on you too," Dick whispered. Bruce Wayne slipped his arm around his boy - his boy and no judge or social worker could tell him otherwise.

"I know."

For a long time they stood together, gazing up at the stars, drinking in the love and security they had in each other.

"I wish I could..."

"What?" Bruce asked.

"I wish I could wish them a Merry Christmas."

Bruce scooped Dick up in his arms. "We can do that," he claimed with confidence. "It will have to be loud."

Dick grinned. "I can shout pretty loud."

"Me too. On three?"

"One..." Dick counted.

"Two...."

Both tilted their heads back and filled their lungs for a shout that needed to reach the stars. "Three!"

"MERRY CHRISTMAS MUM AND DAD!!!"

Eventually the words echoed out, but the love didn't. Bruce and Dick remained side by side, leaning on each other, staring up at the stars... sharing a window into each other's soul.


I would really love to know what you thought.

© December 2004 Aussie Nightwriter. : This relates only to the creative property in this story. The distinctive way the story unfolds, the specific dialogue and unique situations are mine. I acknowledge that some of the characters and settings belong to DC comics. (g) No infrigement of copyright was intended and no profit has been made from this story... so, please don't sue me. It wouldn't be worth your while.