Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
A/N Sorry for not having this up Saturday as promised. Nothing in my life seems to be going like I expect it to anymore :P.
To any new readers: This story is a sequel to my other Batman Begins stories The Nestling, Toward a Dark Horizon, and Monkey See, Monkey Do. It is a complete story in and of itself, and will make sense if you don't read the others. However, I would suggest that you at least read the The Nestling (only six short chapters) in order to give yourself a feel for what I'm doing with the characters.
Disclaimer This story is for informal entertainment purposes only. I am making no profit from the publication of this story. I have no legal right to any characters copyrighted by DC Comics.
Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.
- "Desert Places"
Gotham – 26 months after Barbara Gordon's death
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," said the Spirit. "Look upon me!"
- A Christmas Carol
"Ok bud, hand it over."
The frightened little man with his back to the wall started to shift the bags to his left hand so that the right would be free to reach for his wallet.
"No, dude, the bags too," the man with the knife directed.
"Yeah, especially the bags," his friend agreed.
"Please, it's just some gifts for my kids, please…" their victim stammered, reluctantly handing over the bags.
"Hey, I got kids too," the armed man said agreeably, motioning for his companion to take the bags. "I'm sure they'll love it. Now the wallet."
As the victim reached into his pocket, his eyes went wide and he froze.
"What's the matter, man, find a mousetrap in there?" one of his muggers taunted.
"Maybe just a piece of cheese," a soft, weirdly detached voice behind them suggested.
The two thieves spun, the one with the knife going into a defensive crouch. But their surprise changed to confusion as they stared at the slight figure in front of them. It had a floor length cape, and smooth cowl that covered its eyes and nose, dressed from head to toe in a color that seemed like it ought to black, but wasn't.
The guy with the knife laughed uncertainly. "Look, it's one of Santa's little elves."
"Seriously, have you two even tried picking on someone your own size?" the new arrival asked.
"Like you, little man?" Recovered from his fright, the one holding the stolen presents grinned.
"No," said the stranger calmly and pointed up. "Like him."
Both muggers spun, gazes frantically searching the empty rooftops. They didn't even understand their mistake as their knees buckled and sudden unbearable pressure on their necks brought blackness.
The figure in the cape absently nudged one of the bodies with his toe. "You have a phone to call the cops?" he asked the wide-eyed erstwhile victim.
"Y-yeah," the guy stammered.
"Then do it." He began to walk away.
"Wait!" the man cried. "Who are you?"
The stranger hesitated, then turned. "Call me Nightwing."
"Night…" Sudden understanding dawned on the other's face. "I know who you are. You're that Robin kid!"
A impatient hiss escaped from 'that Robin kid' and he shot upward, immediately lost from sight in the gray city night.
The man stood staring up at the sky for a dazed moment, then reached for his cell phone and hit speed dial. "Hey honey, you're never going to guess what just happened."
"Why can't they just call me Nightwing? Why?" Robin demanded, as he crouched next to his mentor. "It's simple, it's cool, and it makes way more sense than Robin Hood. I am so sick of jokes about men in tights!"
Batman ignored the tirade. "This is the third time you've used that little trick of yours. Knock it off before your luck runs out."
"It's not luck when I use it on guys who obviously have an IQ lower than a brick's."
"Don't take the stupid ones for granted," Batman warned.
"Shhh," the Bat cautioned, pointing below. The warehouse they were observing was practically swarming with guys in dark clothes carrying mysterious boxes. The ones standing guard were cradling automatic machine guns.
"What's in there?" demanded Robin.
"It's an import company for fine rugs."
"Drugs?" the boy guessed.
"Yeah. They're pretty scattered," Batman answered, indicating the men below. "Can you glide to that roof there?" He pointed diagonally across the open space.
"Of course," Robin answered, sounding faintly insulted. On of the advantages of his small size was that he could glide farther than his mentor.
"Ok. Drop smoke in a straight line. Try to hit the roofs of the vehicles."
"Got it." Removing a fistful of cartridges from his belt, Robin backed up to give himself a running start. A moment later he was air born, the unique color of suit making him all but invisible against the dirty city sky.
Batman waited until the smoke billowed thickly below, pierced by cries of alarm. Attaching a tiny gas mask to the front of his cowl, he dove down, intent on making this quick and clean – the last job of the night.
James Gordon lay on his back and stared up into the darkness of his room. Aside from the low hum of the furnace the house was quiet, its occupants asleep. Turning his head on the pillow, he glanced over at the glowing green numbers of his clock which proclaimed 4:58. Actually, he was surprised Jimmy hadn't come tearing downstairs. He'd been threatening to explode for days unless he was allowed to open just one of the growing mound of presents beneath the tree.
Gordon closed his eyes and contemplated the many reasons why he was the only member of the household who was awake. This was their third Christmas without Barbara and her absence was still a noticeable emptiness in their lives.
Nevertheless, there were good things. Surprisingly, his relationship with his mother-in-law was one of them. Jane still lived with them, keeping things together at home and, Gordon had to admit, keeping him in line as well. But she was a rock of stability for the kids, and although she still detested his profession, they had at last formed a solid alliance, based largely on shared love for Babs and Jimmy.
And then there was Sarah. Gordon wasn't quite sure when his relationship with the detective had morphed from business to friendship to something deeper. He still didn't know how deep. What he did know was that she was coming over for dinner today, and he wasn't at all sure that his family was ready for it. Maybe Christmas wasn't the best time to do this, he told himself for the two hundredth time, but Sarah's family all lived on the other side of the country, and he wasn't about to let her spend Christmas alone, or, worse, at the precinct singles dinner.
On the bedside table, his pager emitted a series of urgent beeps.
Please, not this Christmas, Gordon pleaded even as he reached for the device. Forty minutes later, he was standing in the foyer of a shabby apartment building, having left a scribbled note on the kitchen table.
"Sorry to pull you out of bed on Christmas and all, Chief," Captain O'Hara apologized, "but I thought you'd want to see this one for yourself." The portly officer led the way to the second floor and ducked beneath the yellow crime scene tape that marked the doorway of apartment E. The place was buzzing with activity as various CSI personnel snapped pictures and collected evidence. O'Hara led Gordon into the bedroom where a grisly tableau was laid out.
The corpse of a portly, middle aged man lay neatly arranged on the bed. It was dressed in a rather old fashioned pair of blue striped pajamas and the blankets were pulled up to its armpits, the hands precisely folded on top of the comforter. What marred the peaceful tableau was the blood smeared across the victim's jaw and neck and spattered on the white pillow case. Arranged on second pillow next to the head was a square of bloody teeth framing a quarter sheet of paper.
Gordon repressed a shudder. "Let me guess. The guy was a really bad dentist, and one of his patients finally cracked."
"Actually, we're not entirely sure what he did. The neighbor who phoned in an alarm didn't know."
"How'd she know to phone in?"
"Says she heard a funny kind of thump around four. She knocked on the door to see if everything was all right, and when she couldn't get an answer, she called the police."
"He was still alive when he lost his teeth," Gordon guessed, eyeing the amount of blood.
"That's what the M.E. says."
"Cause of death?"
"We don't know yet."
Gordon grunted and stepped closer to the bedside, peering down at the arrangement of dislocated teeth. "What is this?"
"It's an old riddle about teeth, sir."
Thirty white horses on a red hill.
Now they tramp,
Now they champ,
Now they stand still.
"Yeah, they're standing still all right," Gordon muttered. "You think we got another psycho on our hands?"
"I don't know," O'Hara admitted. "There's a chance it's just a vicious personal grudge."
"There aren't any media here yet," Gordon observed, glancing around.
"No. There's a fire over on the east side," O'Hara explained. "That's probably what's distracting them."
"Good. I don't want any of this in the papers." Gordon gestured toward the teeth. "As far they're concerned, this is just another Christmas b&e gone bad."
"Yes, sir. I thought that's what you'd want, but I thought you'd also want to be called."
What about escalation? Gordon sighed as he remembered his long ago warning to the Batman. He hadn't, however, foreseen the waves of bizarre crime that would periodically sweep Gotham, typically initiated by some brilliant but sick criminal mastermind – like the guy who'd claimed to have been raised by penguins. Gordon still wasn't sure whether the villains were a side effect of the Batman, or whether both Batman and his foes were a product of Gotham's special blend of corruption, but he had to admit that every time the Bat (with not inconsiderable police assistance) took one of the masked fiends down, the city seemed to emerge a little saner, a little cleaner, a little more like a decent place to live.
Gordon pulled away from his reflections to answer the puzzled O'Hara. "Yeah, you thought right."
O'Hara edged closer and asked in a low voice, "Should I make sure the roof is clear tonight?"
"Might be a good idea," Gordon agreed, glancing at his watch. "Just in case Santa and his reindeer decide to make a second round this year." With a little luck, he'd be back home before his kids got through their own presents and started on his.
"Really, Dick, you shouldn't have." Bruce looked down at the copy of Mortal Ninjas: The Destructoid Saga IV he had just unwrapped, and then over at his ward who was smiling modestly.
"I know, I know. How did I pinpoint that one thing you desperately wanted yet wouldn't buy for yourself?"
"Oh absolutely. You read my mind."
"You know, down at the polo club they call me psychic Grayson."
"And yet," Bruce mused, flipping the case over to read the back, "I have the oddest feeling that I just unwrapped one of your gifts."
"Bruce! Would I do such a selfish thing? I mean, sure it's designed for more than one player, and sure you'll need me to walk you through the very complicated opening levels, but I'm shocked, shocked, that you could accuse me of such crass selfishness."
"Grayson, I think I can figure out how to play the game without you."
"Ha!" Dick snorted, then coughed into his fist. "I mean, sure Bruce, whatever you say."
The billionaire picked a piece of garland and threw it at the couch. "Put some tinsel in it, smart aleck."
"Thanks, but I prefer Alfred's fudge," Dick parried, picking up the candy dish that sat on an end table and selecting a piece.
Bruce looked helplessly at the butler. "When did he get so mouthy?"
Alfred was gathering up loose wrapping paper, but at the question he paused and glanced up seriously. "It pains me to say it, sir, but I believe he learned it from you."
Bruce sputtered in protest as Dick hooted, "Oh yeah! He shoots! He scores!" The teen broke off with a yelp and scampered off the couch as his two hundred pound guardian lunged toward him. A lively gift wrap battle ensued, undoing all of Alfred's efforts to tidy the room, and it didn't end until the butler blew a shrill blast on a police whistle that had been for some reason residing in his pocket.
"Excuse me, gentlemen, but need I remind you that we have guests arriving in less than two hours, and you are both in your pajamas. In addition, this room is a disaster zone and I have dinner preparations to oversee."
Dick looked dubiously at the large garbage bag the butler was thrusting in his direction. "In other words?"
Alfred smirked. "Shape up, or you don't eat."
"Was it just me or did his Christmas joviality seem a tad lacking?" Bruce asked as the two of them scrambled around the room, picking up shreds of paper and ribbon.
"Maybe it was because you got him a tie. Again."
"Hey, he's hard to shop for," Bruce said defensively. "Besides, he liked it."
"You'll notice I was a little more imaginative with my gift."
"Ah, right, Mutant Cheerleaders Attack X. Very appropriate for a man who prefers the Garden Channel to Cartoon Network."
Dick threw up his hands despairingly. "You try to bring a little culture into people's lives and do they appreciate it?"
Bruce's answer was to bounce a large wad of wrapping paper off the back of his head.
Gordon ran the comb through his hair yet again and nervously eyed his reflection in the mirror. Was this shirt just a tad too tight across his stomach? And what about a tie? He was having a tough time deciding between a conservative dark green and the one Jimmy had given him that morning which displayed a large Christmas tree with actual working lights that twinkled in time to O Taunebaum when you pressed the bottom.
Babs stuck her head through the door. "Hey Dad, did you pick up the cranberry sauce?"
Gordon spun in relief. "Babs, which tie?"
She stared at him like he'd grown a second head. "You're wearing a tie?"
"We're having a guest!"
"Guests," Babs corrected. "Didn't Grandma Jane tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
"Trevor's coming. His Dad had to go to some big company thing at the last minute, so he's eating with us."
Gordon frowned. "I thought he spent Christmas with his mom."
"She had to go to a fashion show in Australia. No kids allowed. I couldn't let Trevor eat with the maids on Christmas."
He couldn't argue with that. He'd used much the same argument about Sarah. "All right. I stuck the cranberries in the pantry."
"Ok. The Christmas tree."
"What?" Gordon asked, confused.
"The tie. It'll make Jimmy happy." She disappeared down the hall and Gordon began knotting the strip of polyester and electrical wires around his neck, simultaneously trying for the umpteenth time to figure out what it was about Trevor Wren that he couldn't stand. Was it the kid's smooth way of talking or the intensity with which he occasionally regarded Babs? Whatever it was, Gordon couldn't deny that on the surface, at least, Trevor was a model boyfriend. He was polite and punctual, always had Babs home by curfew, kept the phone calls to a reasonable length, remembered her birthday, and always treated Gordon with the utmost respect. Jane adored him, but in the two years his daughter had dated the boy, he had never managed to warm up to the kid. Maybe it was just his cop's sixth sense gone overprotective, but whatever the truth might be, unless he came up with direct proof, Gordon had to tolerate Trevor's presence to remain on speaking terms with Babs.
"James!" Jane's voice suddenly called from downstairs. "James, come and help me pull the turkey out of the oven!"
Gordon gave a last nervous tug at his tie, accidentally setting off the lights, and ran downstairs.
To Be Continued
A/N So we have begun! I'm heartily glad to be finally posting this chapter because it fought me almost from beginning to end. I think Chapter 2 will be easier, however, and I'll be trying hard to get back on the once a week update schedule that worked so well last summer.
Please leave a review and let me know how you think the opening of the new story went. Thanks!