Title: Snow Day
Author: DC Luder
Summary: A winter storm traps the residents of Wayne Manor in for a day.
Infringements: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
"Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood."
For the last two years, Alfred woke me at seven on weekday mornings.
It would start with his entering the master bedroom, turning the overhead lights before crossing the room. His first act had always been pulling back the thick velvet drapes on the bay windows to threaten me with dawn. If visual stimuli had no impact, he would then resort to sound, announcing my name cheerily and rambling on about how beautiful it was outside. As a last resort, he would rip the down covers off of my body, hoping the change in temperature would force me to wake.
As much as I loathed his determination, he had more than enough justification.
Alfred went through the routine every weekday so that I could share breakfast with Dick before he left for school. His intention to arrange bonding time between us that didn't involve masks was more than welcome in later hours of the day, but not at five after seven. I often made it to the kitchen nook just as Dick was finishing, treating myself to whatever Alfred had set out on a plate or in a glass. With Alfred glaring at me from the doorway, I was strongly encouraged to inquire about Dick's coming day, quizzing him on his studies and activities. It wasn't the fact that I had no interest in his life during the daytime, it was simply that I was exhausted.
From there, Alfred would take my eleven-year-old ward to school and leave me to toil between my two options. First, was accepting that I was awake for the morning and to shower, dress and head into the office on time. The second was to climb the stairs back to the third floor and crawl back into bed, after locking the door to prevent further interruption. There was a third option during high profile cases and that was to trek to the Cave and spend the day laboring over evidence and research materials. Then again, during those times, I rarely made it to bed in the first place…
That morning, Alfred didn't so much as knock on my door.
I had cut patrols short the night before in light of an encroaching winter storm. Just as the roads became slick around midnight, Dick and I had made the trek back to Bristol. Even had it been decent weather, I had preferred not to have him out for the entire evening on a school night. Often, I would return to the city until dawn but even criminals knew better than to be out in such treacherous conditions. By the time we had made it back to the Cave, there had already been a fresh inch of snow, having accumulated in less than an hour.
Dick had quipped, "Maybe they'll cancel school tomorrow."
"Maybe," had been my only reply.
Where he had graciously accepted a late night snack from Alfred in the form of a turkey sandwich, I had declined. Taking a seat before the computer, I brought up the weather radar and was surprised to see the storm coming up the east coast had nearly tripled in size. The American Weather Service had increased its projections to a foot of snow by morning instead of its original warning of four to six inches.
While Dick sat on a nearby workstation counter, Alfred had approached me, "A white Christmas… two weeks too late." When I didn't say anything, he had inquired, "Is it safe for one to assume you will not be returning into the city, sir?"
I had nodded, reluctantly reaching up to push the cowl off of my face, "Looks like it."
Dick had commented from a few yards away, "There is no way there's going to be school tomorrow."
"And you are excited for what reason, sir?" Alfred had asked.
Shrugging, Dick had replied, "We had a European geography quiz. And I can never remember the capital of Croatia."
"Zagreb," I had responded without looking away from the monitor. After a beat, I did glance towards him, "We can study for the quiz tomorrow, so you'll be prepared for the test the next day."
"Okay… but after the snow day requirements have been met," he grinned at me, still wearing his domino mask.
Still smiling, he had hopped off of the counter and walked towards the costume vault, "You'll see."
I remained in the Cave for another hour and a half, keeping track of the scanners and the weather reports. Ninety percent of the calls made into the county dispatch were related to minor fender benders and weather related car accidents along with a number of small residential fires from overworked space heaters. The only criminal reports made were of those stealing food from crowded all night grocery and convenient stores and the usual lot of drunken disputes and domestic disturbances.
Over and inch of snow an hour had finally made the city quiet.
Once I had shut the computer and crays down for the night, it was well after one. For school nights, I had always brought Dick home by midnight and returned to the city limits to resume patrols. More often than not, I never returned for the night until well after four. And yet as I had traded my body armor for a bathrobe, my body was more than ready to call it a night despite the lack of activity.
After making the climb up the rough stone steps to the Manor, I had taken the stairs two at a time, from the ground floor up to the third. Although my pulse had increased from the exertion, by the time I made it to the double doors of the master bedroom it had returned to normal. After a quick, hot shower, I had changed into a pair of flannel pants, sparsely drying my hair as I walked over to the bay windows. The world was a mixture of dark and light, the perimeter lights showing large flakes of snow filling the air.
A reprieve from Mother Nature, I thought to myself as I climbed into bed, I had no intentions of putting it to waste...
My first conscious thought the next morning was that I woke on my own.
The room was in darkness but the bedside clock put it at a little after nine. Sitting upright, I hesitated before swinging my legs over, calculating that I had been granted seven hours of sleep for the first time in far too long. I took a moment to cross the room and glance out of one of the massive windows, just as I had the previous night. The estimates had been spot on as nearly a foot of bright, white snow covered every inch of the side lawn, tree branches bowing under the weight. The sky itself appeared to be white, with snowflakes still falling from unseen clouds.
"Hm," I said to myself.
A quick trek to the bathroom silenced my bladder and showed my hair had dried chaotically. I patted it down with some water before retrieving shaving cream from the in-wall shelf. After a moment of staring at the canister, I put it back, certain that enjoying a snow day naturally entailed not shaving.
I donned my robe once more along with a pair of dark loafers, then set out into the quiet corridor. Stopping at Dick's room, I knocked and called his name but I received no answer. Opening the door a sliver, I was surprised to not only find it empty, but that his bed was already made the room itself was spotless. Apparently, I had been the only one that had slept in.
Closing the door, I proceeded to the stairwell and quickly made my way to the ground floor. Instinctively, I headed towards the kitchen, finding Alfred ready to greet me with a steaming cup of coffee. As I accepted it, he apologized, "I am afraid there are no morning newspapers, sir."
"Understandable," I replied while taking a tentative sip.
"The plowing service won't be able to attend to the drive until noon," he returned his attention to the stove top where he was deftly checking the progress of large slices of French toast. "Not only has the school district closed for the day, but the entire county, sir. The department of highway safety and of transportation is at a loss… The news said they have been working all night, but the snowfall is unlike anything they have ever seen."
"How much did we get?"
"Since midnight, they have reported fourteen inches. And counting, sir."
"Snow day," I sighed before sipping again.
"Wayne Enterprises has closed for the day as well… at least that spares you having to come up with an excuse not to make it in... for a change."
Ignoring him, I set the warm mug on the counter top and asked, "Where's Dick?"
Alfred turned to look at me, fighting back a smile, "Master Dick is diligently working on his… list of snow day activities." He pointed the refrigerator and I spotted a piece of loose-leaf paper anchored with a plain, black magnet.
I stepped closer and read the list to myself:
Snow Day List
1- Hot Cocoa (extra marshmallows)
2- Snow Swimming (if it's fluffy)
3- Snowball fight
4- Igloo (if it's packy)
5- Ice sculpting
6- Buried Alive!
8- Fireplace (s'mores?)
9- Study for Euro Geo
With my eyes still on the list, I heard Alfred explain, "He must have prepared it last night, it was hanging there when I woke this morning."
"The last one is blank," I noted.
"Ah, yes, I would inquire to Master Dick about that."
"Which one is he on?" I asked.
"Given that it is… packy snow… I believe he is preparing an igloo." When I turned around, he continued, "There are outerwear garments waiting for you in the service entryway, sir."
"I was just-."
He cut me off, pointing towards the service entrance with the spatula, "Hat and mittens as well, sir."
Knowing he wasn't going to let me get in another word, I drained my coffee and proceeded out of the kitchen. Sure enough, my attire for the day was waiting for me, folded neatly on the antique bench near the coat rack. I donned heavy wool socks, a silk tunic and wool sweater before pulling on black snow pants and a black and blue parka. Everything appeared to be brand new, fitted perfectly to my form. As I laced the hiking boots up, I wondered just how long Alfred had been waiting for this day.
Stepping outside, I was surprised that it was fairly mild out, hovering under freezing with a only a gentle breeze stirring the snow. I followed the faint trail around to the left of the house, smirking to see only Dick's feet sticking out of a mound of snow nearly as tall as my waist. Approaching him, smirked to see he had already made three snow men, although they had yet to be adorned with buttons, carrots and scarves.
"Looks good," I offered as I paused a yard away from his frozen fortress.
He shimmied back out and hopped up to his feet, wearing a similar set of winter gear save that it was blue with black accents. Dick observed his hard work, "Thanks… Almost have it so I can sit up in there."
"Been out here long?"
"Not really," he said, although his bright red cheeks were a dead giveaway.
"Alfred's nearly done with breakfast, maybe you should come in for a bit… then finish up."
Dick looked back once to his igloo and then righted his hat, "Okay."
I followed him, watching as even in snow up to his knees he managed to walk effortlessly. We shed our outer layers outside of the door, entering the manor once we were certain as to not bring in snow.
Alfred had another cup of coffee ready for me along with hot chocolate for Dick. He promptly drank it and then crossed the kitchen to the posted list, retrieving a pen from the counter. "Okay," he sighed as he drew a line through each item, "Done with snowmen, first round of hot chocolate… igloo is almost done… can't go swimming…"
"Quite productive, Master Dick, seeing how it is not even half passed nine."
He returned the pen before looking to Alfred, "Yeah… At school, I'd only be halfway through my geography class."
I nearly said that he should make an effort to spend part of the day away from school studying all of his subjects, not just European countries and capitals. The only thing that kept me from doing so was Alfred's proximity to both the hot skillet and my face. Instead, I suggested we take our drinks into the nook where Alfred had already plated breakfast for us.
For once, I ate an entire meal alongside my ward without having my mind drift away. He explained how he had made the igloo by compacting a giant pile of snow with a shovel and then had been burrowing inside of it for the last hour. I listened as Dick said that he already had colored water freezing in plastic dishes out on the terrace, of which he intended to sculpt into shapes later in the day.
"It's easy," he explained, "You rub salt on the ice and get it to melt a bit, then you start molding it into shapes. We did it in science class last week."
"And the food dye?" I asked.
He smirked at me, "Just makes it more fun."
There was no denying how enthusiastic he was about the wintry weather. The previous year had been his first at the Manor and he had admitted that it had also been his first experience with snow. Having grown up in a circus that traveled through the south during the colder months, he never really had a chance to enjoy winter activities. I had offered to purchase him snowmobiles, snow tubes and skis, but he had been quick to say that the snow itself was more than enough.
The simple things were the most important when it came to childhood.
Something I had never experienced until adulthood.
After breakfast, Dick said that I didn't have to come out if I had work to do. He had smiled bravely enough but the look in his eyes had suggested otherwise. Without Alfred's threats, I promptly agreed to do my best, adding, "I'm not sure I will fit in the igloo."
"I know, but I'll need you for something else."
For the remainder of the morning, I joined Dick in working through his snow day list. I could have easily left him to do it alone in order to update the computer in the Cave or even climb back into bed. Instead, I helped him find old scarves and dig out stones from the driveway in order to decorate the snowmen. He made the smallest himself, the largest as me and gave the medium one a small mustache from a tree branch and declared it to be Alfred.
I watched on as he diligently finished his igloo, climbing inside of it and then shouting, "Avalanche!", my cue to knock the roof in, burying him alive and taking care of the sixth item on his list. I was concerned when there was no immediate movement under the pile of snow, wondering if he actually was buried alive. Before I could move to uncover him, Dick's hand surfaced, blindly launching a snowball at me that I narrowly avoided.
The ensuing snowball fight, I reasoned, was an excellent training exercise in hand-eye coordination, evading attacks and making the most of the surroundings for offense and defense. He was more apt to rapidly fire half-formed snowballs at me while I preferred to take the extra time to develop rounder projectiles for better accuracy. Although after I took a large frozen clump to the ear, I decided that my obsession to detail could be cast aside for the time being.
Before returning indoors, we checked the progress of his ice blocks, of which he deemed needed another couple of hours. Once more, we disrobed our snow covered attire before stepping into the house in stocking feet. As expected, Alfred was ready with hot beverages, announcing that lunch would be at one.
"Good, I'm starving…" Dick said as he proceeded to work on his list with the pen.
I glanced to the wall clock, shocked to see it was quarter after noon. Before I could comment on how quickly the day had gone by, Alfred announced, "No doubt you are also chilled to the bone, Master Dick. I've prepared the fireplace in the den… if you wish, you could take your meal there."
"Yeah… that's another one off the list," he promptly crossed it out before capping the pen.
When Dick glanced up at me, I said, "I could stand to thaw out a bit."
Arriving in the den, I wasn't surprised to see that the coffee table had been arranged before the fireplace, along with overstuffed pillows from the couch. In the center of the table, there was a bowl of marshmallows and a plate of chocolate and graham cracker squares. I also spotted stainless steel skewers and thick hand towels. I had once stood in beds of coals while training abroad, but Alfred had no intention of letting Dick burn his hand.
Sitting on the pillows, I aimed my cold feet at the fire, watching on as Dick loaded a skewer up with marshmallows. When he noticed that I wasn't doing the same, he asked, "Want me to make you one?"
I shook my head, "That's all right."
He scooted forward, gently browning the bits of fluff above the flames. The excitement in his eyes and energy in his form seemed as if it had been depleted. I knew for a fact it wasn't because he was spent, seeing how his young form was never tired. After he had prepared and eaten two of the sticky treats, I asked, "Something wrong, Dick?"
He shrugged, licking his fingers clean before answering, "No, I'm okay."
"Could have fooled me."
He balanced the skewer upright on the tip of his pointer finger, moving his hand in figure eights in order to test his ability to defy gravity. During stakeouts, he often did the same thing with batarangs, sometimes even going as far as balancing one on his chin as a means of entertainment. Quickly pulling his hand out from under it, he caught the skewer and set it back down on the table.
Studying the fire, he finally admitted, "I don't know… I… I had a lot of fun today."
I smirked, "So did I, Dick."
There was a long pause before he looked up at me, "I just… I just wish… everyday could be like today."
"A snow day," I replied.
"No, not that… just… that we could have fun. Like this."
Alfred arrived before I could respond, wielding bowls of steaming chicken gnocchi soup and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. We ate in near silence, Dick for the first time tentatively eating instead of quickly packing his food away. When I was finished, I told him we could study for the quiz later in the day, if he wanted to go back outside.
"Nah, I should probably do it now… get it over with."
I felt guilty, having unintentionally put a damper on his fun-filled day. An hour earlier, he had been laughing with delight but as he sat before me, he looked to be the saddest boy in Bristol School District. As an attempt to change topic, I asked, "You had a blank spot on your list. What was it for?"
Dick sighed before answering, "It was for you. To do something you wanted to."
"Anything I want?"
His eyes brightened slightly, "Sure."
I allowed myself a moment of contemplation, trying my best to ignore the look on Dick's face as he stared at me.
"What is it?" Dick asked, unable to contain his curiosity.
I rose to my feet with a smile.
Surely there was more to enjoying a snow day than not shaving, bringing snowmen to life, burying my ward alive and calculating the curvature of a proper snowball's path...