Bruce Wayne/Batman, Dick Grayson/Nightwing, Kathy Kane/Batwoman, Barbara and James Gordon, the Joker, and all other important characters belong to DC Comics/Time Warner.
I am using them without permission, however I have not and don't expect to make money from this.

Based (loosely) on events in Batman 408 and Detective 485, also influenced by other stories and the animated series.

This is set in the AU created in 'Birds of a Feather', in which Batman and Nightwing met years later than in the comics. Based on the Batman comics of the 40's and 50's with some elements from the present-day version, it includes only the Golden/early Silver Age characters: principally Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Kathy Kane (the original Batwoman), and Barbara Gordon.

Any differences from current canon are probably because I'm starting from the Golden Age version of the characters and their origins. Think of it as taking the Batman and Robin of the 1940's, modernizing them, and giving their story a twist.

This takes place at Christmas time but is not exactly a happy seasonal story.

Rated PG-13 : violence, language, sexuality, some mature concepts.

Reviews are greatly appreciated.

Silent Night


- - -

How did this happen?

It was quiet, only the soft sounds of machinery and the medicinal smells of a hospital room. Vaguely, he was grateful the police were keeping the reporters away. He stared at the form in the bed, at that face slack in unconsciousness, every breath an audible struggle. For a moment tears threatened, but he didn't let them fall. Can't let anyone see Batman cry. They'd take his lack of tears as further evidence that his heart really was as cold and hard as a stone. If only it were true.

It was his fault, of course. All of it, since he'd made the mistake of helping Dick continue his career as Nightwing, since he'd grudgingly accepted Kathy as a partner. He had failed to protect them - he had led them into danger, let them down, and now what he had most feared had happened.

Shadowy echoes of another night surrounded him for a moment, replacing the white walls with dingy brick, the tiled floor with dirty concrete, the faint murmur of activity from the hallway with the echo of footsteps and the low voice of a man stepping from the darkness, a stray beam of light catching the gun in his hand...

With a chill of fear, Batman forced the memory back where it belonged, locked up securely with the child he had stopped being on that night. It had been years since it had come back to him so vividly, but he knew why it was here now, because it was happening all over again, in a different way. He leaned closer to the bed, watching each breath, trying to concentrate on more recent memories, and less painful ones.

It had begun almost a year ago, when Dick and then Kathy had started down the road that had led inexorably to this day. When he had given in to what they wanted despite his better judgment, and even helped them to do it. You couldn't have stopped them, a voice at the back of his mind whispered logically. And yet... he should have. Should have done something, anything; persuaded them, fought them, locked them up in some forgotten room, made them see. Should have turned his back and not gotten involved in the first place...

But... in a more immediate sense it had begun less than a week ago. Only a few days, and a lifetime, as his dazed and numbed mind drifted back, searching for something he might have done differently...

- - -

The first thing he became aware of as he drifted up out of sleep was the light. Morning light, barely dampened by the thin curtains over his bedroom windows. Must have forgotten to draw the drapes, not a mistake he made often. Open them when he got up, catch a little sun and let its brilliance chase out the shadows of the night before, close them when he went to bed, often with the light of dawn already tinting the sky.

But last night he had been distracted... Bruce stretched, enjoying the unaccustomed luxury of a full night's comfortable sleep. Then he rolled onto his side, propping his head on one elbow, feeling a smile lift his lips as he watched the other occupant of the bed.

Kathy's face was turned away from him but he could see her profile, framed by tumbled dark hair, her features relaxed in sleep. Or at least he thought so, but even as he raised a hand and gently drew the back of a finger over the line of her jaw, he saw her smile.

"Sleepyhead," he said.

"And I suppose you've been up for hours." She looked up at him, still blinking drowsily, shifting her weight to bring their bodies almost into contact.

"That's right, I've already had breakfast and a workout," Bruce said, and then ruined it with a yawn.

"Sure you have." She rolled closer still and ran her fingers slowly over his chest. "For an idle, lazy playboy, you're very - industrious."

"Have to stay in shape. For the ladies." He raised his arm, flexing the biceps.

"Very impressive. I hope the ladies appreciate your finer qualities."

"As long as one lady does." He glanced at her face, watching for a reaction, a little surprised at himself. Kathy was too, he saw her brows rise slightly before her lips curved.

"Which one is that?" she asked, teasingly.

"Just another rich, idle playgirl." He leaned forward to kiss her lightly.

"Doesn't sound like your type," she murmured.

"Mmm. She's not so bad." He changed the subject after another kiss. "You're still coming Friday night, aren't you?"

"For Christmas Eve dinner? Wouldn't miss it. Dick and Barbara are coming, aren't they?"

"Yeah, Dick seems to be looking forward to it. The kid probably hasn't had too many Christmas parties in his life."

"Or any other kind. It's nice, what you're doing for him."

Vaguely embarrassed by the light in her eyes as she looked at him, Bruce shrugged. "It's just going to be the four of us, and Alfred does the work. No big deal."

"I mean the way you've - you've taken him under your wing. The way you treat him almost like a son."

"I'm not his father," Bruce said, more emphatically than he intended.

"No one said you were."

"I'm not even old enough to be his father. The whole idea's ridiculous."

"It wasn't an insult, you know."

"Yeah, I know. Sorry."

He saw her watching him, and told himself that the annoyance he felt made no sense. What she had said had been meant as a compliment, but somehow it had struck a chord, one he didn't especially want to hear. Family, children... a wife... None of it was for him, not when he couldn't give the kind of things they would need, not when every night there was a significant chance he would never come home. And yet - she was right, in a way. Somehow over the months his relationship with Dick had turned into something compounded of not only partnership and friendship, not just teacher and student, mentor and protégé, but something that felt like - like brothers... or maybe father and son...

I must be getting soft... he looked at Kathy again, dark hair spread on the pillow, smiling slightly as if she knew what he was thinking. She was another part of his life that had taken him by surprise. He had never felt this close to a woman before, not even Julie, to whom he had been engaged when he was too young to know better. Whether it was her good nature, the playfulness that lightened his darker moods, or maybe her career as Batwoman that was so like his own as Batman, he wasn't quite sure. All he knew was that it felt somehow so right to be with her - especially when he could reach out and feel the warmth of her bare skin...

"I think I need another workout," he said.

"One wasn't enough?" Her eyes sparkled in amusement.

"Just a warmup."

"So what's your idea of the main event?"

"You'll find out." He leaned closer, his fingers brushing her hair and then slowly stroking down the smooth skin of her shoulder and arm, taking the edge of the sheet with it.

"Show me..." she said, her voice dropping into a whisper, her hand coming up to caress the back of his neck.

A smile was her only answer, until Bruce brought his lips down on hers.

- - -

"You still haven't told her, have you?" Dick's voice sounded slightly impatient, just a bit disgusted, with overtones of amusement. His expression matched his tone, except for the alertness of his eyes as the two of them circled on a padded practice mat in the Batcave.

"No reason to." Bruce watched, feinted to his right, and smiled inwardly when Dick blocked without leaving an opening. The kid was learning fast.

Kid. It didn't seem like the right word anymore. It had been close to a year now since he had first met a determined but very young man on a dangerous mission of revenge, a mission that had reminded him so powerfully of his own that he had felt an instant and unexpectedly powerful bond between them. It was a bond that had led him to offer his help even beyond the point of bringing the killers of Dick's parents to justice, and which had led him to take the irreversible step of sharing his identity. A bond that had resulted in what had become a lasting partnership.

"You've been going out with her again for months." Dick swung a punch which Bruce blocked easily.


"You're sleeping with her." He jumped forward, kicking out suddenly at Bruce's knees.

A twinge of annoyance made Bruce frown as he stepped back in time to dodge. "Again, so?" he answered.

"But you can't tell her the truth."

Bruce let his hands drop slightly. "According to you she already knows, so what's the difference?"

"If you want the relationship to work, you have to be honest."

"I can handle my relationships just fine-" But Bruce knew he had made a mistake as soon as he lost focus long enough to let his guard down for an instant. Dick leaped into a spin kick at his head, which he ducked almost too late. But he was off-balance as Dick continued his motion into a low sweeping kick that Bruce was forced to jump over. The next moment, Dick's shoulder was catching him in the chest, knocking him onto his back.

He tucked into a back-roll and was on his feet again almost instantly, but Dick was ready, shooting a kick that would have connected with his groin if it had been carried through. "Nice," Bruce said, a little grudgingly. "Very nice."

"Like you always say, a distracted enemy gives you an advantage."

"Yeah, guess I shouldn't have let myself get angry during a fight."

Dick blinked, the smile fading, and straightened slightly. "Hey, I'm sorry, didn't mean to say anything-"

And Bruce made his move: a quick punch to draw Dick's attention, a leg hooked behind his knees, a push; and Dick was on his back with Bruce's elbow stopping just short of smashing into his face.

"You were saying, about distraction...?"

"Okay, you got me." Dick climbed back to his feet as Bruce got up and reached a hand down to help him. "So you're not mad?" he asked after a moment, his casual tone belied by an anxious glance.

"Of course not." Bruce turned away from his look of relief as they moved through a few stretches.

"I mean, I haven't told Barbara the truth either, so I wasn't criticizing."

"Don't worry about it." If Dick had a flaw, it was his tendency to be insecure. Especially where I'm concerned... He frowned at the inner comment. He was aware of Dick's exaggerated ideas of him as a hero and role model, and they never failed to make him uncomfortable, with the implication that he had to live up to them. Like a father setting an example for his son. Shaking off the unwelcome thought, he took a couple of seconds to pull off his t-shirt, grab a towel, and toss one to Dick before heading for the shower.

But as he stood under the flow of warm water, washing away the sweat of hard exercise and reaching for, but not finding, the relaxed state he usually felt after a good workout, it came back to him. Whether or not Dick had meant it only to annoy and distract him, his words refused to fade. If you want the relationship to work, you have to be honest.

Did he want this to work? Many times he had told himself it didn't matter, that there was no room in his life for love or commitment, that all he could expect would be temporary and casual liaisons, that anything deeper wouldn't be fair to the woman. He had never really regretted the lack before; loneliness was simply a small part of the price he willingly paid for the life he had chosen. It was easier that way. Simpler. Safer. But now, somehow, Kathy Kane had turned it all upside down.

He sighed. A partner. A girlfriend. He really was getting soft.

- - -

The form in the bed stirred uneasily, and a low moan came to Batman's ears. He leaned forward tensely, but the chest continued to move, rising and falling steadily. Was the sound of breathing a little easier? Or was it just his imagination, refusing to lose hope? He was too exhausted, too numb, to give it much thought.

Faint sounds drifted through the door, the scuff of footsteps, a cheerful voice saying, "Merry Christmas!" Was it Christmas yet? Could this long, terrible ordeal, this darkest of nights, possibly have become Christmas? He had no strength and no will to check the time. Instead he let his mind drift again as he leaned back into his chair. It had been later that same night, when he was having dinner under Alfred's watchful eye and planning his schedule. Plans that were instantly forgotten when he heard the news on the radio...

- - -

"Sir, at least finish your supper first."

"You heard it. The Joker's made his first move. I have to get going."

"The robbery is over; he's long gone. The police are there. Whatever clue he may have left can wait ten more minutes."

"I guess you're right." Bruce sat down again and began to eat, but his appetite was gone. After a few more bites he sat back and sipped his coffee, barely aware of Alfred's resigned sigh.

"The Joker. How many times has he escaped now?" he muttered.

"Altogether too many times. One wonders at the quality of the security at Arkham Asylum."

Bruce snorted. "One wonders indeed. Damn place is too progressive if you ask me. And now he's loose again."

"And he robbed a toy store. Interesting choice."

Bruce glanced up, and smiled to find Alfred's eyes sparkling with all the enthusiasm of the amateur detective that he was. "Not just any toy store. The biggest one in Gotham, catering to the rich and famous. Must have been a good haul. At least this time no one got hurt."

"Yes, sir." That brought a concerned look into Alfred's face as he looked down. "Sir..."

"I know," Bruce replied to the unspoken 'Be careful.' A moment later he was on his feet, reaching to pat Alfred's shoulder before heading for the study and the stairs down to the Batcave.

- - -

Gordon had left his window unlocked, the way he had taken to doing when he expected a visit. That was something else that had changed in the last year: a closer relationship with the police in general and Gordon in particular. In some ways risky... one of his rules was never to get close to the same person as Batman and as Bruce Wayne. The mask and the disguised voice could hide only so much. Yet now he'd done it twice, with Kathy and with Gordon. Not that he couldn't trust both of them to keep whatever they had guessed to themselves.

Batman clung to his perch on the window ledge, taking the time for another look over the city spread out below him. A cold sharp wind wrapped his cape around him, a few stray snowflakes landing on his face to chill his skin for a moment before melting. The city lights shone, mapping out streets and avenues, glittering from tall buildings, as cold and bright as a scattering of diamonds in the dark of night. His city. Beautiful and dangerous. His to protect.

He slipped through the window into a brighter and warmer world, shutting it silently behind him. James Gordon sat at his desk, head leaning on one hand, a pile of paperwork before him, looking tired and perhaps discouraged. Batman watched him for a few seconds before stepping closer, making enough noise to attract his attention.

Gordon didn't even blink. "Been expecting you," he said.

"You should go home. Get some rest."

"Home?" He said it as if the word was unfamiliar. "Not yet. Not with the Joker to worry about."

"Tell me about the robbery tonight." Batman pulled up an empty chair and sat down.

Gordon sighed and combed his fingers through thinning gray hair. "The short version... The Joker's already managed to get most of his old gang together. They hit at midnight. Only the cleaning crew there. Tied them up, took a little cash."

"Only a little?"

"The registers are cleared when the store closes. Not much there. It appears cash wasn't what he was after."

"What then?"

"Toys." Gordon smiled at his expression. "It's a toy store, after all, and that's what he took. Not just any toys, but the most expensive ones in the place."

"Hmm..." Batman paused thoughtfully. "They have some antiques, don't they? And some one-of-a-kind items."

"Right. Luxury train sets worth thousands. Rare dolls. Collector's items. That's the kind of stuff he took."

"Hard to sell."

"Money's only part of what the Joker's after. You know that."

"Yes. I know." There was another pause. No one knew better than Batman that logic and sense had little part in whatever the Joker was likely to be up to. And yet... "He always has a plan. A theme. And what he does always benefits him in some way. He'll find a buyer for whatever he took. And he'll show up again."


"Did he leave anything?"

"The usual." Gordon held it up, an ordinary-looking playing card. A joker.

Batman took it from him and examined it carefully, but found nothing. He frowned at the picture, that harlequin's face so like the Joker's own, down to the unnatural grin that was an expression of violent menace instead of friendliness or amusement. "Where was it?" he asked.

"In a display case, tossed on the floor."

"Anything taken from that case?"

Gordon smiled slightly. "An antique mechanical clown. Right up his alley. Also very valuable."


"You think it means anything?"

"Too soon to tell. Thanks." He got up and paused long enough to say, "I'm sure we'll be hearing from him again," before heading back in the direction of the window.

"Be careful." The soft voice stopped him. "The Joker hates you. Whatever he's up to, chances are revenge on you is a large part of it."

"I know." Batman turned back to see the older man's face shadowed under harsh light on gray hair. "A lot of people hate me. I can handle it." And yet he carried an uneasy feeling with him as he threw the window open and climbed out into cold night air and a thin swirl of snow.

- - -

I can handle it. But how could I expect them to?

His mind retreated from the thought, but it persisted, gnawing at his heart as he watched and waited for the body in the bed to stop breathing. 'Touch and go,' the doctors had said. 'We've done our best. No guarantees. Full recovery is possible in a situation like this, when the person is young and healthy.'

But what were youth and health against three bullets?

- - -