A/N AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! …I think that about covers it.
A thousand thank you's to my bat-beta, IcyWaters, for her patience, her speed, her honesty, and her overall amazing work on this story!
Disclaimer Forty-five chapters, one Prologue, and one Epilogue later, they're still not mine. Excuse me while I go drown my sorrows in chocolate.
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Savior's birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is that time.
Dick opened his eyes in the dark bedroom. He could tell it was still early because no light was creeping in around the curtains. There was some reason he had woken up already, something special. Excitement flooded through him, and he bounced out of bed and raced down the hallway. "Bruce! Hey, Bruce!" He burst into the dark bedroom and pounced on the slumbering form of his guardian. "Bruce, wake up! It's Christmas!"
- - - - - -
Gordon squirmed, although he had no reason to be uncomfortable in the wide leather seat. But this was the first time he had ever flown first class (actually, it was only the second time he'd been on a plane in any class), and he couldn't quite get used to the subtle feeling of luxury that clung to the cabin. He absently chewed on the end of his mustache, remembering with irritation the day Bruce Wayne had breezed into his office.
"Lieutenant Gordon, there's no way I can thank you enough for all you've done for us – for Dick – but I was hoping you'd accept this small token of appreciation as a Christmas gift."
Gordon drew himself up proudly, ignoring the proffered envelope. "I appreciate your kindness, Mr. Wayne, but it's all in the job description. If you'd really like to do something, donations to the police widows and orphans fund are always appreciated."
Wayne grinned with boyish charm. "I already did that. Please, Lieutenant."
"Thanks, but no."
Wayne had quietly acquiesced, and Gordon had assumed the matter was settled – until, that is, he got home that evening and Barbara and Babs had met him at the front door with shining faces. The arrogant young scoundrel had gone to Gordon's wife behind Gordon's back, and Gordon found himself completely unable to tell her, "No, honey, we can't spend an all expenses paid week at a Caribbean resort."
Barbara, of course, had gone on and on about Wayne's charm and his easy friendliness. "Not at all stuck-up like you'd think," she'd said at least a dozen times. "I'm so glad we didn't sell the stock, especially since Mr. Fox has been cleared. You were right, Jim." But even this concession failed to soothe Gordon's aggravation.
He snatched the in-flight magazine out of the seat pocket in front of him, and flipped through it in an attempt to distract himself. It was filled with beautiful, bronzed, and athletic people having an enormously good time against tropical scenery. Cruzan welcomes you to the Caribbean (always drink responsibly)...Siesta all day, Fiesta all night – Archer Travel's 210th Mexican Riviera Cruise...Divi Resorts: No we're not expecting royalty, we're expecting you...
He slapped the magazine shut and stuffed it back in the seat pocket. Prince of Gotham, my...
"Can I offer you something to drink, sir?" a blond haired, blue-eyedstewardess with a southern drawl as broad as Texas interrupted his mental fuming.
"Ah, no thanks," Gordon muttered, his eyes just catching sight of her nametag before she turned to serve Barbara and Babs across the aisle. Did that say what I thought it said? The stewardess turned back around to reach the ice, providing him a clear view of the metal pin. Yep. Chigger. I always knew those southern states were strange.
The beverage cart moved on, just as Babs squealed, "Mommy! Mommy, look at the ocean!"
Gordon craned his neck to see what she was so excited about. Below them, as the tip of Florida fell away, the noontime sun streamed down onto the Atlantic, transforming the water into a blaze of turquoise. It stretched on and on out to the horizon, brilliant color that took your breath away. It was one of the prettiest things he'd ever seen.
Barbara twisted in her seat to look at him, her face more joyful and carefree than he had seen it in months. "Oh, Jim, isn't it just…just…"
"Beautiful," he agreed quietly, not taking his eyes from her face. I guess my ego can get over it.
She reached across the aisle and caught his hand. "Merry Christmas, Jim."
"Merry Christmas, babe."
- - - - - -
"Once more," Dick pleaded, his wind-nipped cheeks just visible between his snow-crusted hat and scarf. He and Bruce had already taken the new sled down the hill a good two dozen times, and they were late for dinner.
"Alfred will be waiting," Bruce began, but immediately caved in to the pleading look in Dick's eyes. "All right, but just one more."
They ran up the hill, pulling the bright red toboggan behind them. Dick climbed onto the front, and Bruce crouched down at the back.
"Ready, set…" He gave a mighty push and jumped on the back as the sled swooped downward. By now, they had done this so many times that the snow was packed into a hard, shiny track, and halfway down the hill the sled was practically flying, its runners barely skimming the snow. Near the bottom, the toboggan suddenly swerved, they hit a bump, and then Bruce, Dick, and the sled really were airborne and going in three different directions.
Bruce landed hard in a snow bank, the wind momentarily knocked out of him. "Are you all right?" he gasped sitting halfway up to look at his ward. Dick's only response was a burst of laughter, so Bruce flopped back in the snow. "Man, that is the last time I am letting you drive."
Still laughing, Dick crawled over and collapsed beside Bruce. "That was awesome."
"Yeah, it was."
"Hey, Bruce?" Dick suddenly asked, sitting up and peering into his guardian's face.
Bruce squinted up against the pale winter sun. "Yeah?"
"Are you going to marry Rachel?"
Where did that come from? He had wanted to keep the news of the whole fake engagement completely away from Dick, but obviously that had been too much to hope for. "No," he said honestly. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, some people said you were. So I just wondered."
It was hard to tell beneath all the winter wraps, but Bruce thought Dick looked, if anything, slightly relieved. "Yeah, there was kind of a mix-up. But I'm not marrying anyone."
"Ok." Dick scrambled up and went over to retrieve the sled. "I'm hungry!"
"Me too. Race you back."
- - - - - -
"It's the child, isn't it?"
Cecilia snapped out of her reverie and glared at her sister through her new, gold wire frame glasses (Terry's choice). "What are you talking about?"
"You've been moping about in a black depression ever since we returned from Gotham." Terry lifted the spoon out of her pot of chili and tasted it thoughtfully.
"Why should I mope? I've never been so glad to leave a place in my life."
"I know what you look like when you're moping, little sister, and I've never seen you so depressed."
"I am not depressed."
"Yes, you are, and it's because of that boy."
Terry rolled her eyes in an expressive gesture that said she thought her sister was playing stupid games but would be tolerant. "Richard Grayson. You got attached. You always get attached."
Cecilia shrugged, not debating the point. "He was a nice child. Why would that make me mope?"
Terry pointed her wooden spoon accusingly at her sister. "You were just like this after the girl in Colombia."
"In case you didn't notice," she responded dryly, "Richard Grayson is alive. I am not moping." She reached for a piece of fudge from the plate on the counter.
"You miss him. Why you adore strangers but won't spend time with your family…" Terry forcefully slapped Cecilia's hand away from the candy.
"If I am depressed," Cecilia snarled, rubbing her hand, "maybe it's because you won't even let me have a piece of fudge on Christmas day. If you'd stop abusing me, I'd spend more time with you."
"Fudge is for after dinner." Terry grabbed a bowl out of the fridge and slammed it on the counter. "Have some celery."
"I've been eating celery for a week," Cecilia muttered, but crunched viciously into a stalk. She was picking the strings out of her teeth when the doorbell rang.
"Would you get that?" Terry asked, opening the oven door to check on the turkey.
Cecilia reluctantly pushed herself off her stool and went the front of the house. The balmy Miami breeze swirled around her as she pulled open the front door to reveal two deliverymen on the front porch.
"Good afternoon, ma'am, I've got a registered letter for Cecilia Somerville," one of them said, extending a clipboard.
"And I've got a package for the same party."
She signed for both items and wished the men Merry Christmas before shutting the door on them. She glanced first at the letter, and her eyebrows flew up as shenoticed Rachel Dawes' name on the return address. Tucking the package under her arm, she slit the top of the envelope as she walked into the living room – deserted except for the twinkling tree.
Henry Judas has, for the past week, been telling us everything he knows about the operation that involved himself, William Earle, and the man called Gatsby. Yesterday, he admitted that although the Joker was responsible for the actual death of Simon Golding, he himself had been poisoning Simon through his insulin, to keep his mind clouded as they began manipulating the work he did at Wayne Enterprises to frame him for the fraud.
Perhaps you are already aware of this, but he was your friend. I thought that knowing how he truly died might make it easier to cope with, if anything can.
Oh Simon. Cecilia stared blindly out the window, not really seeing the supple palm trees swaying in the wind. She could really mourn now – mourn for the loss of his life, not the loss of his…goodness, I suppose you would call it. Who would have thought that Rachel Dawes of all people... The letter showed an astonishing generosity and sensitivity that she had never before received from the lawyer. I will never understand that woman.
With a start, she realized she was still holding the package beneath her arm. It really didn't have enough substance to qualify as a package – just a sturdy cardboard envelope that weighed about as much as a deck of cards. There was no name on the return label, but the address was that of Wayne Manor, and she thought she recognized the handwriting. Fumbling a little with her crooked fingers, she ripped off the easy open strip and pulled out a thin manila folder.
Frowning a little, she opened it and found herself looking at a brightly colored brochure advertising a hospital in Los Angeles. The caption on the front proclaimed, Internationally acclaimed for its cutting edge techniques in reconstructive surgery. Her hands shaking slightly, she paged through the rest of the documents and found a round trip plane ticket, hotel reservations, and a letter that asked her to authorize the release of her medical records prior to her pre-surgery assessment scheduled on January 2. At the very bottom of the stack was a piece of heavy, cream colored stationery that read simply, With deepest gratitude –Bruce Wayne.
Cecilia started and looked down to find Terry's four-year-old daughter staring up anxiously. "Hola, Tamicita."
"Tia C'ia, are you sad?" the small girl asked anxiously.
She became aware of her own grim expression and quickly replaced it with a smile. "Of course not, cariña. Why would I be sad?"
"I thought maybe you read something sad."
Cecilia knelt down next to Tamara and showed her the brochure. "It's not sad at all. Look, I am going to take a trip to California."
Her niece looked curiously at the picture of the modern white building set against golden sands and blue seas. "Why?"
"So that they can fix my hand."
The girl's eyes grew large, but before she could comment, Terry's voice drifted into the room, "Tammy!"
Tamara clapped a hand over her mouth. "I forgot! We are supposed to go and see abuela now." She ran to the door and looked back over her shoulder. "Are you coming?"
"In a minute. Go!" She made a shooing motion, and Tamara ran out.
Cecilia freed the piece of stationery from the pile and read it again, the smile she had created for Tamara's benefit dissolving into a scowl. With impatient movements, she crushed the paper into a small square and shoved it into her jeans pocket, then followed her niece from the room.
- - - - - -
Bruce stood silently in the doorway of the TV room, observing his ward who sat scrunched up in a corner of a couch, his blanket spread over his knees. Partially assembled pieces of the Lego version of the Death Star were spread across the floor, but Dick had abandoned the project and was simply sitting, gently stroking the embroidered robins. Bruce gingerly picked his way through the construction and sat down next to Dick. Without saying anything, he reached out and wrapped his arm around the kid's shoulders.
"You know," Bruce said at last, "your mom was a pretty smart lady. And she knew that something might happen to her before you grew up. So you know what she did?"
"Just in case, she left you a message, right here in your blanket."
"Yep. These robins are like a secret language."
Dick looked down and gently stroked one of the birds. "What do they say?"
"It's directions to a hiding place for something your mom – and your dad – left for you."
He took Dick downstairs to the study and showed him a small safe built into the wall. "Anything important you need to keep safe, you can keep in here." He pulled out the knife with Charles Grayson's initials, the locket with the pictures, and the letter. "There were some other papers we can talk about later, but these were the important things."
Dick looked carefully at the necklace and knife, then unfolded the letter.
"Do you want me to read it to you?" Bruce offered.
The boy shook his head. "I can do it." He sat down, right there on the floor, his face a mask of concentration, his mouth moving silently as he worked through the longer words.
Bruce watched him for a moment before moving away to stand by the window and stare out at the setting sun. He had only read the letter once, but was sure he could quote it almost word for word.
If you are reading this, then it means that something has happened to us. We pray with all our hearts that you are in a place with people who will keep you safe, and who will love you. There are a lot of terrible things in this world, little Dicky-bird, but don't be afraid of them. Fight the darkness – there is nothing else worth doing. Always remember that, and always remember that we love you. We will always love you, no matter where we are, no matter what has happened to us.
They had been remarkable people. Of course, you didn't really need a letter to tell you that. All you had to do was look at their son.
After a long time, a soft sigh escaped Dick's lips and he stood up. He saw Bruce looking at him and gave a small, sad smile. "I wish I could talk to her. Just one more time."
"I know what you mean," Bruce said seriously. "Go get your coat on. There's something else I want to show you."
Alfred was waiting for them by the door, his own coat already on and buttoned up. How does he always know? Bruce wondered yet again as he led the way outside and to a far corner of the gardens where a short iron fence corralled a largish square of land. "This is the Wayne family cemetery," he explained. "When you're a Wayne and you die, this is where they put you." They walked to the far side of the enclosure where there was still empty space and stopped in front of a large double headstone that had been carefully cleaned of snow. "My parents," Bruce said simply.
They stood there for a moment, staring quietly at the names written on the stone. Then Bruce laid a gentle hand on Dick's shoulder and guided him to the neighboring grave, marked by a smaller, single headstone. The light was fading fast, but they were still able to read Robyn Grayson, clearly engraved on the top of the stone. "I thought she belonged here," said the master of Wayne Manor.
Dick stepped forward and traced his finger over the letters. "Is it ok if I stay here for a little while?" he asked, not turning around.
"Sure." Bruce left him there, and walked past Alfred who still stood in front of Thomas and Martha Wayne's grave, to where he could get a clear view across the land.
Putting Robyn here had been the right thing to do, but for how many of his other recent decisions could he say the same? He had made so many choices during the past few weeks, terrible choices that he never wanted to face again, but choices that waited for him every time he descended to the caverns and picked up the mask. Was it worth it? Had it ever been? He doubted his own wisdom, his own strength.
He heard Alfred walk up behind him.
You lack the courage to do all that is necessary. That had been Ra's' opinion, and Bruce couldn't help thinking that if his old mentor had been around to witness the conflict with Gatsby, that the same judgment would have been given. He would have thought… And then he realized that he didn't care what Ra's would have thought.
He looked at the man next to him. The man who for thirty years had fought for him, waited for him, believed in him. It was Alfred, not Ra's, not even Thomas Wayne, who had ultimately shown Bruce how to fight the darkness - a day at a time, putting one foot in front of the other.
"Am I doing the right thing, Alfred?"
Alfred looked at him for a long moment, his frosty breath hanging in the still air. "Yes, Master Wayne," he said, with absolute conviction.
- - - - - -
Dick knelt on the slight mound in front of the gravestone, ignoring the snow that seeped through his jeans. "Hi mom," he whispered. "I got your letter. I just wanted you to know, I'm doing good. I'm in a place like you wanted me to be in. And I'll do like you and dad said and fight the darkness. I don't know how yet, but Bruce, he does that. He can teach me." Dick drew a deep breath and laid his cheek against the freezing marble.
A/N Can you believe it? Can you believe you just read those two little words, "The End"? Aren't they incredible?!
A message for all you lurkers: If you've read this whole thing, would you please, please break radio silence and write me a review? It can be anonymous, it doesn't have to say anything more than "I read it" (of course, I would love to hear more), but I'd really, really like to get an idea of how many people have actually read the story :D
Thank you so much, all of you who have reviewed throughout the course of this story. I can say honestly that without your encouragement I would never have finished it. Accountability is a great thing to have in your life, no matter if it's for fan fiction, keeping your house clean, beating chocolate addictions…
Remember that the challenge deadline is Wednesday. I would suggest that we all put CHALLENGE as the first word in our summary, to make it super easy for everyone to find everyone else.
Responses to reviews for the last chapter can be found on my homepage.
And now, the moment you've all been waiting for (maybe)…
Richard Grayson: Boy Wonder, Super Sidekick. Or he would be, if Bruce Wayne would stop telling him to do his homework and let him start saving the world.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Online December 17
In essence, this story picks up five years after the ending of Dark Horizon, and will cover the beginning of Dick's transformation to Robin. I'm sorry I can't start it until December, but I've got to get through the rest of this semester first! If you need a Batman fix before then, read the challenge entries and check out E Kelly's story Fall to Grace, which is nice and long.
See you all in December!