CATverse A/N: Please see catverse. com to find where this story belongs in the timeline. It's in arc seven.
A/N: This is two Christmas fic ideas smushed together. I'm not entirely sure if it works quite the way I want it to (especially the ending), but there are loose ends and side storylines in the 'verse I need to tie up in the arc after this and it was a way to plant the seeds of foreshadowing. This story was originally posted months ago (our beloved Wally--adabsurdum over on DeviantArt--even did an illustration for it, huzzah), but really, I wasn't satisfied with it. There were bits that were too out of character for me to swallow, so I took it down and let it sit for a bit until I could revise it. It goes down much more smoothly now.
T'was the night before Christmas, even in the Scarecrow's lair,
And only one creature was stirring, who'd rather not have been there,
With a stocking in one hand and a gift in the other,
The master of fear snuck past the trio he'd like to smother...
Jonathan Crane paused. That was a bit macabre for a yuletide poem, even if he was the author...and besides that, the rhyming scheme was off by a syllable or two.
An abrupt snore came from the sofa and he heard its inhabitant roll over. He froze in place. This was followed by a nonsensical answering grumble from the floor and the sound of three bodies shifting about. Since having to move to a new hideout, the girls had been forced to start sleeping in the common area. Unlike the last few places they'd holed up in where they could each have a room of their own, the gutted bar where they were staying only had three spare rooms. One was automatically given to Kitten (it was safer for her to have a room all her own, should anyone ever breach their security), one was turned into his lab and the other, his personal quarters. This set up left the girls to take turns sleeping on the floor.
Jonathan wondered if they'd ever realize how little time they had left for such behavior before aching backs and creaking joints demanded they always have mattresses at their disposal. They were already in their mid-thirties, and while that might not have seemed like much to most, they were far from peak physical condition when they'd first come to him, now so many years ago. Gotham had toughened them since then--swinging a lead pipe for a living made for mean upper body strength--but that didn't keep Captain from having a trick hip or Techie from having a trick knee. Sooner or later, one of them would throw something out that couldn't be popped back in again and they would have to retire. He knew in his heart that the day was coming, though he secretly hoped it never would. He'd gotten accustomed to having allies--friends, even--and he didn't like to think about living out the next few decades in solitude. Not that you'd ever get him to admit that.
The girls ceased their tossing and turning, leaving Jonathan to take a small breath of relief. The last thing he wanted was for them to awaken. They'd never let him live it down if they saw him looming with gift packages and a black and green striped stocking, intent on hanging it at the foot of Kitten's bed so that the little terror would wake up in the morning and have a nice Christmas surprise. He'd managed to snatch a few illustrated classics that she didn't already have. His henchgirls had already showered her with the works of A.A. Milne, Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter (at Captain's baby shower, in fact, Techie had given her friend a huge volume of Winnie the Pooh--complete and unabridged--seemingly unaware of the fact that the newborn child wouldn't be able to understand any of it), Jervis made sure she had the Alice books, so it was up to him to give her Poe, Washington Irving and Robert Louis Stevenson.
In truth, he didn't quite know why he was doing it. He loved the little pest, certainly, but he was hardly the sort of man who celebrated holidays unless he was forced into it. He definitely wasn't the sort of man who would feed a child's delusions about Santa Claus, but he was compelled to do this anyway. Maybe--and this was the theory he held to be most likely, but would never, ever speak aloud--he wanted Kitten to have as normal a life as possible. If he was really thinking about it, despite the fact her 'family'--extended included--was made up of wanted criminals and borderline sociopaths, she was definitely having a healthier, happier childhood than his own had ever been.
Once he was certain that the Captain, Al and Techie were fast asleep, he continued on his way across the common area and to Kitten's door. There were little crayon drawings tacked to it, one of them nothing but a tall brown scribble with a hat. It was lovingly labeled 'Squish' by a hand that was obviously guided by an older, steadier one. His chest always constricted with near fatherly pride when he saw that picture…but he ignored it more often than not.
He grabbed the door handle and slowly, carefully eased the door inward. It creaked loudly and he stopped, wincing. Jonathan glanced back over his shoulder. The snores were steady and slow, so he figured he was still in the clear.
Like a ghost, he slipped in through the door without opening it too far. The fairy lights always startled him, laid along the ceiling with enough duct tape to choke an elephant. The girls had gone out of their way to decorate this room for Christmas with whatever they had on hand, just to make the holiday extra special for the kid. A bright orange traffic cone sat in the corner, covered in tinsel and a big silver star was set on top. Most disconcerting or all, though, was the mistletoe hung in the doorway. That had been an unpleasant surprise, the first time Al ambushed him, shouting something about the 'real reason for the season'…
Well, okay, it hadn't been that bad…just a shock to the system, that's all. That hadn't stopped him from gassing her, though.
The springs on Kitten's bed squeaked and Jonathan was drawn back to the present (he was not reminiscing about the forced smooch with Al. No, he was not). She was still asleep, mercifully, but he knew he'd better make it fast. With as much stealth as he could muster, he stalked across the room and paused at the foot of the girl's bed. She looked so angelic, it was almost distressing. She could be as much of a holy terror as his grown-up girls--sometimes more so, because she could pull off the doe eyes without looking like she was trying to manipulate him--so seeing her looking like every child in every holiday catalog on the planet was weird.
He stuffed the books into the stocking and bent the attached hook so that it would fit on the bed frame. He attached the stocking to the brass bed, smiled unconsciously as the metal bent under the heaviness of the books and stepped back, pleased with himself.
He turned on his heel, rubbing his hands together like the Grinch and came face to face with Nightwing.
The younger man was leaning against the wall, arms folded over his broad chest and he looked very amused.
"Lookin' a bit scrawny there, Santa."
Jonathan moved to flick his wrist to release a capsule of toxin but then he remembered that Kitten was in the room. He had filters in his nostrils, she was vulnerable.
He opted to glare at the vigilante instead and weigh his other options. "How did you get in here?"
"I used the front door." Nightwing said with a shrug. "The chimney's not really my style."
"And the girls?" his voice went up an octave on the word 'girls'. Hopefully, the sound would wake them. Not likely, but worth a shot.
"Sleepin' like babies."
"What do you want?" Jonathan wondered if he could punch Nightwing with enough force to knock a few of the teeth out of that far too smug grin. Then he could run--get him away from Kitten, get him out where he actually had a chance against him.
"Would you believe I was in the neighborhood?"
Nightwing moved with such speed that Jonathan didn't even see the fist barreling towards his face. He was knocked flat on his ass, stars swimming in his field of vision and blood trickling down his face.
"What was THAT for?"
Nightwing dragged him up by the collar. "You," he poked Jonathan in the chest, making him flinch, "villain. Me," he thumped his chest with his free fist, "hero."
"I thought so," Nightwing replied with another smirk.
For pure strength, he knew he'd never be able to match any of the superheroes in the world, but he had to do something. Jonathan brought his fist up and swung with all his might. Nightwing caught it with ease, his powerful hand crushing the Scarecrow's fingers, even though they were balled as tight as he could manage. He let out a pathetic little squeak in response.
Nightwing sighed, like he was bored. "Can't you ever come quietly?"
A wooden block sailed past Jonathan's head and smacked Nightwing in the eye. He dropped his quarry and staggered back a step, one of his hands covering the injured body part.
"Leave Squishy 'lone!" a tiny voice shouted with as much lung power as its owner could summon. There was the sound of little feet pitter pattering toward him and Kitten slid awkwardly into place at Jonathan's side. She almost lost her balance--Catwoman she was not--and she grabbed his hand to steady herself.
Nightwing glanced from the child to her guardian, uncovering his eye as he did so. It was already red from the blow. "Squishy?"
"Leave him 'lone, mean mask!" she shouted angrily, letting Jonathan go and running up to Nightwing to kick him in the shin.
He stuck out one hand, pressing it to her forehead and stopping her about two feet from his body.
"Meanie!" She swung at him furiously anyway. "Big blue meanie!"
"I see your brute squad has increased by one," he said with amusement.
The hollow sound of an aluminum pipe cracking Nightwing in the skull was absolutely beautiful. The look on his face was even better. His hand went to his head as he turned to see the Captain, Al and Techie standing behind him in the doorway. Kitten saw her opportunity and pounced on him. She actually bit his knee.
The girls didn't start raining blows on him as Jonathan had expected they would. Instead, they held their ground, weapons at the ready: Captain with her pipe, Al with her shovel and Techie with an axe handle.
"Kitten!" the Captain said with as much motherly authority as she had in her being. "Get away from him. Go stand by uncle Squishy."
Kitten reluctantly did as she was bade and clung to 'Squishy's' pant leg, glaring at Nightwing with the sort of angry, near tears fury that only a child could manage.
"You get one chance to get out of here," the Captain growled, hefting her pipe from one hand to the other in a threatening fashion. She stood with her feet shoulder width apart and a determined scowl on her face, a shining example of barely restrained, righteous maternal ferocity. "I don't want bloodshed in front of my baby unless Dario Argento is involved."
"Yeah. We can fight anywhere you want, but not here and not tonight." Al supplied. "It's Christmas. Have a heart, Ebenezer."
If the vigilante in the room had been Batman, the girls probably wouldn't have tried negotiation, but Nightwing was a little easier going than Mister Stickler-Stick-in-the-Mud. He also looked a lot less eager to fight with a child in their midst.
The hero looked at the room's inhabitants, considering them each in turn. His eyes lingered on the Captain. He brought up his hand, his index finger extended. "Just this once."
The girls didn't lower their guard, but they did part so that he could pass through the door. He swept past them with effortless grace and only Techie bothered to watch him go, ready to smack him with the axe handle if he tried any funny business. Al immediately descended on Jonathan, pulling a napkin out of her pocket and gently pressing it to his face, the Captain knelt in front of Kitten, enfolding the girl in an embrace.
"Stop fussing over me, woman." Jonathan swatted Al's searching hands away, snatching the napkin from her and wiping the blood off his nose himself.
Techie finally turned back toward the group, lowering her blunt object of choice and Jonathan didn't get the chance to call out beyond--"Look out!" when he saw Nightwing turn abruptly behind the unsuspecting henchgirl. He snatched her around the waist and she immediately went into defense mode. Her fists flew toward his head, but he caught them smoothly.
The other girls dropped what they were doing and grabbed up their weapons, intent on beating the vigilante senseless for the double cross.
They halted in shock. Nightwing had pulled Techie into a kiss. Her still held her fists, but they weren't clenched nearly as tight as they ought to have been. In fact, she looked a little…limp, knees bending alarmingly. The three adult occupants of the room gaped. Nightwing's arm slithered around Techie's waist and hers went around his neck. She was obviously losing the battle with the idea of standing up under her own power.
Kitten giggled and pointed. Jonathan just goggled.
The Captain covered her daughter's eyes and Al moved to cover Jonathan's. He smacked her away.
The kiss lasted maybe all of four seconds but it was so shocking that it seemed to go on much longer. He pulled back, pleased that her eyes had gone wide with astonishment.
"Mistletoe," he said with a maddening smirk. "I love having that excuse."
And then, he was gone.
Techie staggered away from the doorway, looking like she'd just lived through a nuclear blast. She made a show of wiping her mouth on her pajama sleeve.
Her companions didn't buy it for a second.
Al and Jonathan spoke at the exact same moment: "What the fu--"
Captain glared at them, her hands covering Kitten's ears now. "Language!"
They amended their surreally in sync exclamation: "What was that about?!"
"What?" Techie asked, eyes wide and falsely innocent. "That wasn't voluntary!"
Al looked at her sternly. "Oh, you are getting coal, young lady."
Outside the lair, snow fluttered gently down, turning what had merely been a wet Christmas into a white one.
"He's not going to like it." Robin gave Nightwing a wary sideways glance.
The elder vigilante stood with one foot braced on the building's ledge, staring down at the bar the Scarecrow and his henchgirls were probably preparing to desert. If he'd been able to step outside himself and look at his position, he would've seen one of Batman's favored gargoyle poses. "He'll deal with it."
Robin snorted and folded his arms over his ribcage. "Yeah, but he won't like it."
He would have shrugged if he'd been a few years younger. "It's Christmas."
"You know how he feels about holidays and special treatment." Robin's voice dropped an octave as he imitated his mentor in the best gravelly tone he could muster, "'A criminal is a criminal every night of the year.'" After a second, he tacked on a raspy, "Humbug."
Nightwing's resolve crumpled, his upper lip curled into a smirk and suddenly, they weren't Robin and Nightwing anymore, they were just Tim and Dick. Not colleagues mocking the boss, but brothers making fun of dad. Dick looked up at the teenager and saw a great deal of himself reflected there. Funny how blood had nothing to do with family resemblance in Gotham City.
"Crack of dawn, I'll swoop in and arrest them," Dick said as solemnly as he could. "Scout's honor."
"You weren't a boy scout," Tim responded, pulling his grappling gun out of his belt and firing it at the nearest ledge. With a whirr and a whoosh, the cable flew through the air, the grapple digging into the brick with a satisfying clunk. "If he asks, you haven't seen me."
Dick gave the younger man a salute. "Of course not. I just got here."
Tim's expression was one part skeptic and one part mischief as he lifted off the roof. "You might want to wipe off that lipstick, then."