SNOWFALL AND SUNRISE
December 23, 12:30 PM
It was early winter in Gotham City, and the great old girl was waiting for her first snowfall of the season. Chilled bitterness was sharp and heavy in the light wind that accompanied the low, dark blanket of clouds. Those unfortunate souls whose bones and joints signaled the change in the weather foretold of a serious storm on the horizon. Indeed, the Gotham news and weather channels showed the approaching Nor-easter, barreling down the Newfoundland coast, headed for havoc along a greater part of the northern Atlantic seaboard. Aggravated by one of the last of the year's tropical waves moving up the Gulf Stream, the combination was the kind of weather system that showed no mercy to the weak or the homeless, and Gotham City had plenty of both.
The city's shelters and emergency crews were on alert, gearing up for what promised to be a hard storm, with heavy precipitation in the form of snow and ice, and a deadly wind chill factor. It wasn't exactly the "White Christmas" that Gothamites traditionally wished for, but it was in the mail and ready to be delivered to their doorsteps.
Barbara Gordon, on winter break from her first year at college, was hard at work, ferrying blankets, canned goods, and donated clothing to the "Crime Alley" homeless shelter, a block away from Dr. Leslie Thompkins' free medical clinic. The Wayne Foundation sponsored the shelter, as well as the Thompkins Clinic, and it had been a volunteer opportunity that Barbara had been a part of since high school. After dropping off the latest load of donated items at the shelter, she left the WF van parked at the curbside and walked briskly up the block, wincing from the dropping temperature, to share lunch with Dr. Thompkins and her physician's assistant Ellen Garland.
Walking through the clinic's door, Barbara glanced around for Dr. Thompkins. The waiting room was uncharacteristically empty. "Hi, Ellen, I brought lunch! Where's the Doc?" Barbara asked as she held up a paper sack containing deli sandwiches.
Ellen smiled through the open sliding window in the wall that separated the waiting room from the small administrative office. "Oh, wow, Barbara, thanks. This is great! Leslie's in the one of the examination rooms with a patient. Looks like we might get an uninterrupted meal for once, knock on wood!" Ellen stood and walked around the corner of the office and opened the door to the reception room to let Barbara through. "Let's take this into break room, shall we? You look like you could use a cup of hot chocolate!"
"I could use a trip to the Bahamas, El, but I forgot to put it on my list to Santa." Barbara followed the slender black woman into the small room that served as their coffee bread and lunchroom. She placed the bag of sandwiches on the table and shed her coat, gloves, and hat.
The two women busied themselves setting up their lunch on the table, getting drinks — coffee for Ellen and Dr. Thompkins and instant hot cocoa for Barbara. By the time they had everything arranged, Leslie joined them, greeting Barbara with a grateful kiss on the cheek.
"Barbara, you're an angel, thank you. How's your father?" Leslie asked, seating herself at the table.
"The usual, plus the added activity because of this storm. But everything seems to be in place, it just depends on how hard and how long this thing hits us. I heard Boston got twenty inches of snow." Barbara sipped her steaming cocoa carefully, recalling her father's concern about the storm over breakfast that morning. A captain in the Gotham City Police Department, he had coordinated his precinct with the City's departments of Public Works and Emergency Management to be sure that at least his part of Gotham City was prepared to handle whatever the weather delivered. With Christmas just two days away, the burden of last-minute shoppers, and the aggravated traffic that accompanied them, served to compound a potential emergency situation.
"I certainly hope we'll be spared that kind of snowfall. I'll probably be here Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, holding down the fort, dear. If you find yourself with nothing to do, drop in and roll up your sleeves. I'm sure you could even arrange for a police escort!" Leslie's eyes twinkled at the flame haired teen who had only recently outgrown the gangly awkwardness of her youth and had become a very pretty young woman. One who, no doubt, probably had plans with some young beau for her holiday.
Barbara looked up from her chicken sandwich. She swallowed a mouthful of sandwich, washing it down with the cocoa. "But Leslie, don't you always spend Christmas out at Wayne Manor?"
The silver haired doctor leaned back in her chair. "Yes, but I gave the staff time off for Christmas this year. Bruce and his family are going to England for the holidays, in fact, Alfred Pennyworth is over there already, opening up their London flat. Bruce was held up by business, and Dick didn't want to go over there without him. They're flying out this afternoon, or should, to beat this storm."
Leslie smiled as she reached for her coffee. She was thankful that Bruce was taking a much needed and well-deserved vacation. Dick had stayed behind to make sure that the Batman wouldn't interfere with their holiday plans — and leave him and Alfred jilted in London — while he toiled in his nocturnal crusade. When the boy had stopped by the clinic two days ago to bring his Christmas gift to her, he had confided that as much as he loved partnering with the dark and serious hero, he was also anxious to have some father-son time away from Gotham City.
'Now that would be a gift, for my boys to have a Christmas without danger!' Leslie mused, returning to her sandwich.
December 23, 11:00 AM
"Are you packed yet, chum?" Bruce Wayne called out from his room to his ward, Dick Grayson, who was down the hall in his own room. The thirteen-year-old Boy Wonder stepped out of his room, backpack, heavy jacket, and cap in his hands, and looked back toward his guardian's room with a look of definite annoyance.
"Bruce, my bags have been in the foyer for two hours, I *told* you that, like, three times already. Where's *your* bags? Can you even pack without Alfred's help?" He marched down the hall to his mentor's room with a smirk on his face, readying himself for Bruce's comeback. When he reached the door to Bruce's room he was met with a hands-on-hips mountain of man. Visually scaling that mountain, Dick's eyes landed on Bruce's face, which bore one of the man's most intimidating scowls. Looking past his guardian, Dick saw clothes strewn all around Bruce's room, and open suitcases sitting on the bed. 'Oops,' he thought, 'guess he can't!'
"Want me to help, Bruce?" he offered, his smirk blooming into a wide grin.
"No!" came the rumbling reply. "I'm almost finished."
"Uh, yeah, I can see that. Well, if we've got a few minutes, can I ride my bike down to the shopping center and pick up my comic books at the hobby shop? I want something to read on the plane." Dick hoped Bruce might be ready to go when he got back. He looked up at Bruce with his most convincing "puppy-eyes."
"May I." Bruce uttered.
"May I ride my bike, chum."
"Who died and made you Alfred? This is a holiday, Bruce, gimme a break!" Dick fired back, impatient, and beginning to get a feeling that the longer they remained at Wayne Manor, the greater the chance that some emergency would send Batman and Robin into action, and waylay Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson from their Christmas holiday trip.
Ignoring the boy's burst of attitude, Bruce posed a suggestion. "Can't we just drive there on the way to the airstrip, Dick? It's getting pretty cold out there, chum." He relented somewhat at the big baby blues staring him down, and put his hand on his ward's shoulder. "Besides, once we're airborne, you'll spend the first half-hour pestering the flight crew, and then you'll eat whatever's not nailed down on the jet, and then you'll fall asleep!" he teased the youngster.
"Ha, ha, Bruce. Very funny. The airstrip's in the opposite direction from the store, and once we're in the car," — 'If we ever *get* to the car!' he thought —"then you won't want to lose the time. Why don't I just ride down there on my bike while you finish packing? Two birds with one stone. Cool?" Dick believed he had presented a logical case before judge and jury. He stood resolutely, waiting for an answer.
Bruce looked at the serious child before him. He sighed, looked back over his shoulder at the suitcases, then back down at Dick's impatient face. "all right," he relented. "But be careful, and bundle up. Be back here in forty-five minutes."
The boy took off like a shot, firing back as he disappeared from sight, "Yes, *Alfred!*"
Bruce shook his head and returned to his packing.
On his BMX bicycle, Dick Grayson sped down the tree-lined lane that led from Wayne Manor to the main road. As he approached the iron entry gates, he reached into his pocket and pressed the remote device that signaled the big gates to open. The growing gap was barely wide enough for him to pass when he zipped through the gates, pressing the remote again to close them.
Enjoying his momentary freedom and solitude, Dick raced the two miles down the scenic country road, to the quaint shopping village, barely noticing the bitter cold. Rosy-cheeked, he skidded to a stop in front of Abacus Hobbies, a collector's shop that dealt largely in sports cards, coins, toys, and comic books. He bounced through the door, making the bells on the door jingle festively. Dick smiled and waved at the owner of the store, a short, stout, happy faced man. "Hi, Ray, Merry Christmas!" Dick greeted the man.
"Hello, young squire! I was wondering if we'd see you before Christmas." The man turned and rifled through a filing cabinet, then turned back with several comic books in his hands. "Here you go, Dick, that double Superman issue is in your stack — I know you've been waiting for that one!"
Dick carefully took the stack of magazines from the jolly proprietor's hands, cradling them in one arm as he fished his allowance money out of his pocket and handed it over in exchange. As Mr. Lyles rang up the purchase, Dick thumbed through the books gleefully, then stowed them away in his backpack. He looked up at Mr. Lyles, who handed him back his change. "Thanks, Ray, this is great! Now I've got something more interesting to read on the plane than my homework!" Dick grinned broadly.
"Plane? Where're you off to, young squire?"
"England. London. For Christmas. Actually I gotta fly back to the house now, I don't want to be late! Have a great Christmas Ray, and my best to your family!" Dick shook Mr. Lyles' hand politely and hurried to the door.
"You, too, son, have a good trip." Dick heard the man call to him as he flew out the door to his waiting bike. He hopped on and sped out of the parking lot, jumping a small handicapped-access ramp onto the sidewalk.
Dick rode down the sidewalk for a few blocks, until it came to an end. He watched his breath puff away from his face as he moved through the chilled air. He was glad to have worn his heavy jacket, cap, and gloves. Singing a Christmas tune under his breath, he shot sharp, searching looks up and down the road, in front and behind him, gauging the sparse traffic.
Judging his safety, he jumped the narrow, grassy shoulder onto the road, and quickly moved over to the far right of the lane that would take him to the Wayne Manor gateway, about a mile away now. Dick pumped the bike with enthusiasm, constantly shooting quick, darting glances around him at the cars on the road. After a quick look over his shoulder, he looked forward again.
What he saw made his eyes grow large in alarm.
A car shot into the intersection in front of him, running the crossroad's stop sign without slowing. Dick hit his brakes, laying down a black skid mark on the road. Unable to avoid a collision with the car, Dick instinctively steeled himself for impact and reaction. As the bicycle slammed into the rear door of the car, Dick's feet were already up on the seat of the bike to give him greater height and a surface from which to propel himself. He sprang and twisted, vaulting a flip over the car's roof, as his bike was crushed on impact. Hoping his gloves and jacket would take most of the "road rash," Dick hit the asphalt and tumbled into a cushioning series of rolls to ease his fall.
What he could not avoid, as he rose, was the car that skidded into him as it braked and veered to avoid rear-ending the truck that struck the car that had run the stop sign.
Dick barely had a second to react to this new threat with a leap and twist, sending his left shoulder — rather than his helmet-less skull — smashing into the top of the windshield. The jagged pain from his shoulder seized him, followed by the snapping impact of his left leg, before he was tossed over the top of the car's roof. He hit the trunk, breaking several ribs, and then came to a thudding stop behind the car, cracking his head on the pavement as a final insult.
All became still and quiet for a moment. Before he slipped from pain-wracked consciousness, Dick Grayson felt the first flakes of snow from the approaching storm land softly on his face.
Bruce Wayne uttered a mild curse as he looked at his wristwatch for the fifth time in ten minutes. Dick was late. Probably dawdling, looking at books or chattering affably with someone in the store. Bruce moved their bags to the front steps and walked around to the garage, opening it with the remote control attached to his set of keys. In the distance he could hear sirens, as the wet snow began to fall. He grumbled again, for the snowfall had begun much earlier than predicted. The weather might pose a problem for takeoff, but if they hurried, he and Dick would be able to get off the ground, with the skill of Bruce's able pilots. Damn! Where was that boy?
Bruce selected the Range Rover, for it's traction, in case the snow built quickly, which it appeared to be doing. Cursing yet again, he moved the Rover out of the garage, to the front of the house. He got out and began to load the luggage into the vehicle. Grabbing the last bag from the top of the steps, he paused, noting the persistent sound of emergency vehicle sirens. He sat the suitcase down again and strained to look off-property in the direction of the sounds, but could see nothing helpful.
A sudden uneasiness came over Bruce Wayne as he heard more sirens gathering not far down the main road. He turned to go back into the house to call the hobby shop, to see if Dick had left yet. Bruce could hear the phone ringing as he entered the foyer. He strode quickly to the Queen Anne table where the cordless telephone sat, and snatched up the receiver.
"Wayne Manor, this is Bruce Wayne," he spoke tersely into the phone.
"Mr. Wayne, this is Deputy Karen Gallagher with the Gotham County Sheriff's Department. Your — son? — has been involved in an automobile accident and is being med-evac'd to Gotham Regional Medical Center's trauma unit." Bruce walked quickly out the front door, receiver to his ear, and looked in the direction the emergency vehicles had gone. He could see a helicopter hovering over the site, which appeared to be about a mile away.
"Excuse me, Deputy, I'm transferring this call to my cellular phone..." he interrupted, then punched a series of buttons on the phone. His cell phone beeped as he reached for it with his free hand.
Completing the transfer, he spoke into his cell phone. "Deputy Gallagher, is the accident about a mile north of the entrance to Wayne Manor?" Bruce threw the cordless phone's receiver into the house and slammed the door shut. He rushed down the steps and was in the Rover before the sheriff's deputy could reply.
"Yes, sir. The Med-Evac helicopter is just about to land. We've stopped road traffic on either side of the accident."
Bruce floored the Rover, peeling out of the driveway. He flew down the Manor lane to the gates, and could see the halted traffic in front of them. "Deputy Gallagher, I'm on my way, I'll be driving up the east shoulder of the road. Inform your people, and *don't* let that helicopter leave before I get there!"
"But Mr. Wayne..." Bruce shut off the cell phone and pushed it into his jacket pocket. He passed through the iron gates of Wayne Manor, cutting the large, off-road vehicle to the right, as the gates closed behind him. He drove as quickly as he could up the shoulder of the road, swerving to avoid trees and rocky outcrops. A wide culvert that ran beneath the road, just fifty yards short of the scene, halted him. Too deep to drive through, he stopped the Rover, got out, and sprinted for the waiting helicopter.
Arriving at the accident scene, Bruce was met by a petite, uniformed woman with strawberry blonde hair. "Mr. Wayne," she shouted over the helicopter's whistling turbines, "over here, sir, they're ready to take off!" she shoved a small bundle into his hands.
"Thank you..." Bruce shouted in reply, then he scrambled into the whining air transport. The doors slammed shut behind him.
Bruce Wayne watched the emergency medical technicians work rapidly over the small form that was strapped to an immobilization board. IV's were inserted; commands and instructions barked out over the din of the turbines, communications passed back and forth between technician and the Trauma Center's base ops. Bruce could see, as the EMTs shifted their positions, that Dick's left arm was braced, his left leg supported in an inflated splint. His head was bandaged, a cervical collar was around his neck, and he had been intubated and was receiving oxygen.
Bruce's eyes narrowed to flinty blue chips. He had questions, but this was no time to ask them. Bruce then realized he was holding something in his hands. He looked. Dick's jacket and backpack. For lack of anything else to do, he opened the backpack, reached inside, and pulled out the small stack of comic books. They were all bent and some were torn. Bruce flipped through them; his eyes landed on the Superman book. He sighed heavily and shoved the lot of them back into the bag.
December 23, 1:15 PM
Leslie Thompkins had left the lunch table to attend a walk-in patient with a deep finger cut. Ellen went out to assist in getting the patient's personal and medical information, leaving Barbara Gordon to do the light and quick cleanup of their lunch. It had been a brief but enjoyable respite from their work.
The clinic's phone rang, and Ellen picked up the receiver, punching the line-one button. Barbara slipped into her coat and pulled her gloves and hat out of a pocket, readying herself for the cold walk back to the shelter. She had one more run to make, and then she would be headed home to start dinner for her father and Sarah Essen.
"Leslie, it's Bruce Wayne...Dick's been in an bad accident..." Ellen called to Leslie, who emerged from an examining room to take the call. Barbara's head snapped up from where she'd been buttoning her coat, at the sound of Bruce and Dick's names.
"Dicky..." she breathed, her attention rapt on Leslie and the telephone. Barbara walked slowly to Ellen's desk and stood there, watching Dr. Thompkins, and twisting her green felt beret in her hands. Both Barbara and Ellen were silent, straining to hear Leslie's side of the conversation.
After a moment, Dr. Thompkins hung up the phone. "Ellen, call Doctor Sam into the office and apologize for me, and explain what has happened. And call John Kilgore, the orthopedic surgeon, and get him out there at GRMC. I don't want some on-call to cut on that boy — never mind, I'll phone him from the van. Oh, Ellen, dear, I've sutured the patient in room one, can you dress the wound and give him a tetanus shot, please? Barbara, I don't suppose you could drive me out there?" Leslie asked, guessing that she'd end up meeting the girl there anyway. At least Leslie could make her calls without taking her attention off her driving.
"You bet. After you make your calls, I'll phone dad and the shelter
and let them know where I'll be. Let's go!" Barbara replied, pulling
on her hat and gloves. And with that, the women were on the case and out
December 23, 1:45 PM
Dr. Thompkins and Barbara Gordon met Bruce Wayne in the family waiting room of GRMC's Trauma Center. Bruce stood next to the door where the ER personnel came and went. Barbara thought he looked remarkably calm, considering the circumstances. Leslie Thompkins thought he looked like a wreck.
"Where is he, Bruce?" was all Leslie asked, but she took one of his large hands in her two small ones, and held it firmly.
"I'm not sure, I can't get any answers. X-ray, maybe. I've called Alfred; he should be boarding a Concord for Gotham about now. That should get him here this evening." Bruce's hand squeezed Leslie's. "Dick's been concerned that my — work — would prevent us from taking this vacation. He'll be peeved at the irony..."
Leslie pulled the big man into an embrace, and then stepping back, she patted his hand briskly. "I'm going to see what I can do, Bruce. I've got Dick's records in my briefcase, and John Kilgore's on his way. Dick will be fine. You should sit down. You won't, I know, but you should. If I don't come back out myself, I'll send word, all right?"
Bruce nodded mutely at the woman who had been his only maternal figure since his parents' deaths. And mutely, he watched her slip through the door. He turned back and saw Barbara Gordon sitting quietly in a chair, settling in for the long wait. She looked up at him and smiled wanly, then patted the seat next to her. When he didn't go over, she got up and walked to him.
"Why don't I get us both something to drink, Mr. Wayne, some coffee or a soft drink?" she coaxed quietly.
"Bruce. Call me Bruce, Barbara."
He remained largely expressionless to her. At least he was talking, that had to be a good sign, she thought.
"Something to drink would be nice, thank you. Here." He pulled out his wallet and peeled off several single bills. "I don't have any coins..."
"That's okay, most machines take bills now. What would you like?" She smiled warmly at him, finally seeing...something now.
"A cola would be fine. Thank you." He glanced back at the door, and Barbara took off for the vending machines across the room.
When she returned, she was relieved to see him sitting in the chair next to her coat, laptop, and purse. Barbara handed Bruce Wayne a dewy can of cola, and she took her seat, cracking open her own can of diet cola. "Thanks for watching my stuff," she said.
Bruce opened the can of cola and took a long drink, stopping to stifle the carbonation burp rising in his chest. He snorted a short laugh. "Dick would have ripped that one loose. And Alfred would have boxed his ears for it." Bruce sighed and set the can on the table in front of the chairs.
"Is that Dicky's backpack, or some new designer briefcase all the CEO's are carrying these days?" Barbara asked, gesturing at the nylon backpack that Bruce held. As soon as the words left her mouth she mentally kicked herself for her fresh comment. Her Dad frequently reminded her that not everyone would accept her dry humor as readily as he did.
Bruce Wayne lifted the scarred backpack in his hands slightly and looked at it. A faint frown knitted his brow as he spoke. "It's his. He was on his bike when it happened.... He was fidgety, waiting for me to finish packing, so I let him ride up to the hobby store for some comic books to take on the trip. I don't even know the circumstances of the accident. I just raced to the scene and jumped on the Med-Evac helicopter to ride here with him."
Barbara sat quietly and sipped from the can in her hand. She didn't really know what to say to the man. She didn't know *him* very well. She baby-sat a few times for Dick when he was younger, and knew him much better than she did his "father." But Bruce Wayne had always seemed nice; he paid generously for the baby-sitting jobs. And he was the one who had suggested to her father that she apply for a Wayne Foundation scholarship, which she was awarded — for her grades, she hoped, and not her casual association with the Wayne family.
"Excuse me, Mr. Wayne?"
Bruce looked up, into the face of the deputy sheriff who had handed him Dick's belongings at the accident scene and had escorted him to the helicopter. He stood immediately and held out his hand to her. "Deputy...?"
"Gallagher, Karen Gallagher." She shook Bruce's hand. He motioned for her to sit, and she did. He sat next to her, and turned to face her. Barbara leaned forward, her elbows on her knees, and looked around Bruce Wayne at the deputy, wanting to hear what was being said.
"How is your boy, Mr. Wayne, have you heard anything?" The deputy looked like somebody's mom, Barbara thought.
Bruce shook his head slightly. "No, not yet." He looked at the door that led to the ER suites, then back at the deputy. "Our family physician is in there with him now."
"I'm sure he'll come out of this just fine, Mr. Wayne. I've got two kids, one about his age, and one a couple of years older. Kids can be pretty resilient." She smiled reassuringly at the man.
'Total mom, I knew it,' Barbara thought smugly.
"Mr. Wayne, I have the accident report here, and from the witnesses statements, you seem to have a *remarkable* son. He avoided being killed by the car that caused the accident by leaping over it! He would have escaped all injury except that the chain reaction collision caused by that first car, the one that ran the stop sign, sent another vehicle out of control, and that's the one that struck the boy." The deputy didn't try to conceal her amazement over the facts represented on the report.
"Dick's my ward. I'm his legal guardian. His parents were killed a few years ago. They were all aerialists in a circus. He must have defaulted to that training," Bruce explained softly, giving a small, almost apologetic smile to the deputy.
Karen Gallagher smiled back. "I see." She did see, that Mr. Wayne considered the boy much more than his ward. She stood up and held out a form with a business card stapled to one corner. "Mr. Wayne, I thought you'd like to have a copy of the accident report. That's my business card. My home number is on it if you'd like to contact me during the holidays."
Bruce stood and thanked the deputy, shaking her hand again. She left, and he remained standing as he read the report. His face darkened, and he placed Dick's backpack and jacket that he'd been holding all along in the chair he'd been sitting in. He threw the report into the chair as well, and murmured something about finding a restroom and abruptly left the room.
Barbara picked up the report and read it, guessing the reason for Bruce Wayne's angry departure. The driver who had run the stop sign had tested positive for alcohol, at high levels — a DUI.
December 23, 3:00 PM
In a corner of the surgical waiting room of Gotham Regional Medical Center, Bruce Wayne stood with Doctors Leslie Thompkins and John Kilgore. Kilgore was a gifted orthopedic surgeon — as was his father, William, who had attended medical school with Bruce's father, Thomas Wayne. Kilgore had all of Leslie Thompkins' trust, and that was sufficient for Bruce Wayne.
The two physicians listed the extent of Dick Grayson's injuries from the accident: broken left shoulder and collarbone, compound fractures of the left tibia and fibula, three broken ribs on the right side of his torso, a moderate concussion, some contusions and abrasions. No internal injuries or hemorrhaging, no spinal injuries, no critical cranial injury. The boy's excellent physical condition and outstanding reflexes had saved his life, and his heavily padded jacket had kept him from incurring worse injury from the broken ribs.
"He's unbelievably lucky, Mr. Wayne. But next time he's on a bicycle I hope you'll insist he wear a helmet," Dr. Kilgore chided gently.
Dick was scheduled for surgery in 30 minutes, to set and pin the leg fractures. The other fractures had been set and immobilized. Surgery was not expected to be extensive, but would probably take a couple of hours.
Barbara Gordon approached the group, carrying a cardboard cup holder full of cups of steaming coffee for the assembly, which they were gratefully accepted. Dr. Thompkins briefed the young woman on her young friend's condition as Bruce asked Kilgore about Dick's expected recovery and physical therapy.
And then the two physicians departed for the surgical suite, leaving Bruce and Barbara to wait. Bruce walked to a window in the small lounge and stared out at the heavy snowfall. Barbara followed, unsure what to say.
"I called my dad to let him know what happened to Dick. He'd already heard about it from someone at County. He said he could stop by later, unless you needed anything now..."
Bruce turned and looked at the girl, registering what she'd said. "Oh. That's... Barbara, I'm sure your father has his hands full, it's not necessary for him...." Then Bruce realized that Barbara probably had holiday plans or preparations. Was she waiting for a dismissal? "Barbara, you don't have to stay here. We'll be fine. I'm sure you must have some plans... I don't want to keep you from them." There, she needn't feel obligated to stick around. He turned back to the window.
Barbara didn't know what to think. Was he sending her home? Without knowing the outcome of Dicky's surgery? Nuts to that!
"Mr. Wayne, unless you have me thrown out of this hospital, I'm not going anywhere! Dicky's a friend, I got pretty fond of that little Munchkin! What difference does it make where I sit and worry about him — here, Dad's precinct, home? If you don't want company, I'll understand — I'll go sit across the room. But I'm not going anywhere until Dicky's out of surgery and I know he's going to be all right!" Barbara hadn't meant to get her Irish up at the man, but for some reason she had yet to comprehend, she felt really defensive about that kid.
Bruce Wayne held his hands up in surrender at Barbara's impassioned response. "Whoa, young lady! Back down! I'm not telling you to leave, Barbara. I just wanted you to know that you had an out if you wanted one — that is, if you had other plans..." He stopped, halted by the rising color in her cheeks.
"Mr. Wayne, for the CEO of a multinational corporation, you can be awfully clueless sometimes." That said, Barbara retreated to the far corner of the waiting room, curled up in a chair, opened up her laptop computer, and began tapping away sporadically on it.
Bruce Wayne glanced at his wristwatch, then resumed watching the heavily falling snow outside.
December 23, 6:10 PM
The captain of the British Airways Concord flight 808 opened up the public address system to make an announcement to his passengers.
"Ladies and gentlemen, due to adverse weather conditions in Gotham City, we have been directed by air traffic control to divert to Metropolis International Airport. Connecting transportation will be arranged there, as well as airport hotel accommodations in the event that the storm system renders other transportation options unusable. We shall be landing in Metropolis in forty-five minutes. Thank you."
Alfred Pennyworth looked at his pocket watch, then replaced it in his vest pocket. This delay was most unfortunate. He picked up the in-flight telephone and dialed.
Barbara looked up when she heard Bruce Wayne's cell phone beep. From across the room, she watched him speak in low tones that were inaudible to her. He was speaking to someone who evidently was giving him news he didn't want to hear. He concluded his call, returning his phone to his pocket, and stood turned away from her, rubbing his temple with one hand.
"Bruce!" Both Bruce Wayne and Barbara Gordon turned toward Leslie Thompkins as she entered the surgical waiting room. Both gathered around her immediately.
"Dick's surgery went well, he's in the recovery room now. John's with him. He'll be fine Bruce. He'll be in some pain for a while, that can't be avoided with broken bones." Leslie looked tired, and small, in surgical scrubs a size too large for her.
"Can I see him, Leslie?" was all that a relieved Bruce Wayne could say. Leslie smiled and nodded.
"Of course. I'll take you there now, Bruce." Turning to Barbara, Leslie pulled the young woman into a hug, whispering into Barbara's ear, "Thank you for staying with him, dear. I'm glad he didn't have to be here alone."
Barbara pulled back, a little surprised. She returned Leslie's smile. "Tell Dicky I'm thinking about him. I'd better getting home while the streets are passable."
Overhearing Barbara's words to Dr. Thompkins, Bruce interjected, "You'll need a ride — I can call someone...."
Waving him off, Barbara chirped, "So can I, and my ride comes with a nifty siren and blue flashing lights! I'd like to come by tomorrow if that's okay. Please tell Dick that I'll visit tomorrow," she asked, her large, green eyes hopeful.
"That will be fine. Thank you, Barbara." Bruce touched her arm tentatively, not having said all he knew he should, but he was anxious to see Dick in the recovery room.
Barbara gathered her belongings together as the two older adults left the room. Blinking back tears and swallowing past the hard knot in her throat, she walked out of the room toward the elevators, headed for home.
December 24, 3:22 AM
By midnight the storm had dumped sixteen inches of snow on Gotham City before it started to taper off. It was still snowing, though at a much slower rate, but the bitterly cold winds had picked up, blowing the fallen snow into drifts. The city's armada of snowplows was ready for deployment, and due to hit the streets by 5:00 AM. Power outages had been kept to a minimum, and the shelters were filled. Three deaths had been reported. Gotham City had been lucky so far.
Luck did not seem to be with the Wayne family, Bruce Way thought to himself, as he sat a vigil at Dick's bedside. Alfred Pennyworth was cooling his impeccable British heels at Metropolis International Airport, unable to secure ground transportation back to Gotham City. Highways and rail lines were paralyzed by the storm, with its high winds, loss of visibility, and gusting drifts of snow.
Dick had yet to regain full consciousness following his surgery. He had come close, fretful and delirious from the pain that wracked his broken body. He murmured and mumbled in his semiconscious state, most of which was unintelligible to an untrained ear. But more than once Bruce Wayne's ears caught Dick's whispered cry for the Batman.
Bruce knew full well that Leslie Thompkins would never sanction transferring the boy to the Batcave's infirmary, not under the current weather conditions, and certainly not without Alfred there to provide the necessary medical attention the boy would need.
Holding Dick's free hand in one of his own, Bruce Wayne smoothed the hair from the boy's pale forehead with the other. The man struggled internally with his options, which he felt were few.
A pediatric nurse entered the room to observe and record Dick's condition. She checked his vital signs, and inspected his IV, urinary catheter, monitor leads, and traction rigging. She carefully changed the dressing on his leg's surgical incision, and then observed the coloring and temperature of his foot. The nurse did the same for the fingers of the injured arm, making sure the circulation to the extremities was satisfactory. She hooked up a fresh IV drip, administered the prescribed dosage of antibiotic and mild pain reliever, and made a brief written entry on his chart before leaving the room.
Dick's fretting quieted and his rest became deeper. Bruce sat back in his chair, exhaling audibly. He picked up the telephone beside Dick's bed and dialed. "Jack, Bruce Wayne. I'm sorry to bother you, but I've got a critical situation here. We're taking the Lear out." Hanging up the phone, Bruce stood and held the smaller hand in his for a moment, then left the room. Within five minutes he had located Dr. Thompkins in the physician's lounge where she was resting, informed her of his plans, and left the hospital, ignoring Leslie's loud protests.
December 24, 9:37AM
Leslie Thompkins gently attempted to calm an increasingly agitated Richard Grayson, who had attained a confused and painful state of consciousness a little more than an hour earlier. The effects of residual anesthesia, intense pain, and a moderate concussion scrambled the youth's sense of awareness, and the single consoling object he sought — Bruce Wayne — was unavailable.
It was this scene that greeted Barbara Gordon as she entered Dick's room. Having slipped into the hospital earlier than nonfamily visiting hours permitted, she had hurried to the pediatric floor and to his room, only to find Dr. Thompkins struggling to ease Dick's anxiety and discomfort.
"Where is he, Dr. Leslie, did he go to England? Did he go without me? I couldn't stop, Dr. Leslie...the car was...Bruce is gone?..." Dick's rambling questions were suddenly halted by a teeth-clenching grimace of pain from the many broken bones in his slight body. His face blanched a pallid white and beaded with cold perspiration. A low groan escaped those clenched teeth and ended with a plaintive call, "...*Bruce*..."
Leslie saw the pretty young woman, this boy's friend, and motioned her to the bedside. Barbara quickly shed her coat, tossing it and her purse into a nearby chair, and rushed to take Dick's hand.
"Dicky?...Hey, Munchkin, it's Babs. How's my guy, huh? Better hush that fussing or Santa's going to pass you by, and won't leave that you that Ferrari..." She bent to lay a soft kiss on the boy's forehead.
Dick turned his head to her voice and opened his eyes, his pained gaze anchoring on her cool, green eyes. Babs. Yeah. Babs. His incipient male ego and sense of pride eased forward to bite back his cries of pain. "B-Babs? What'r you doing here? I...I..." his words trailed off, stopped by the lack of clarity of his thoughts.
"I came to see you, Munchkin. I heard you picked a fight with a Buick!" Babs gave Dick her sweetest smile.
Doctor Leslie administered a sedative through Dick's IV. "Dicky, this is going to take the edge off that pain, but not block it completely. I don't want to knock you out, until I get a handle on that head injury of yours."
Dick felt the pain abate. Dulled but not eliminated, it was not as overwhelming as the moment before. He struggled to gather his thoughts and make sense of them. Why was he here and not at Wayne Manor, and where were Bruce and Alfred? He looked at Babs — she still held his hand, and that, at least, felt nice. But he had to get a grip on what was going on, and not cry like some baby in front of her. Images and sensations tumbled into place slowly, still fuzzy, but becoming comprehensible. His bike, the car, another...oh, man. Another car, one he had been unable to avoid.
"Dr. Leslie...what's busted? It all feels...bad. The car came out of nowhere — it ran the stop sign. Was anybody else hurt? A different car hit me...was that driver hurt?" His questions were expressed as clearly as he could manage. Dick's face clouded over with emotion again. "Ohh. Dr. Leslie, *I ruined Christmas!* I thought Bruce would, with work, but it was *me*...." The words came out in a harsh whisper.
Babs jumped in front of Leslie's reply with one of her own. "Dick, Christmas hasn't been ruined, it's just been changed, that's all. This blizzard outside has changed a lot of people's Christmas plans."
"That's right, Dick," Leslie joined in. "You were in an accident; it was unavoidable, sweetheart, it wasn't your fault. You're banged up pretty good, Dicky: broken shoulder, broken leg, broken ribs, but no internal injuries. You've got a good-sized goose egg on your noggin, and a concussion to go with it. You're a lucky — and skillful — young man, to have avoided more serious injury, or death." Leslie took her turn to give the confused youth a maternal peck on the cheek. She sat next to him and proceeded to explain gently. "Dicky, Alfred flew back from London as soon as he heard what happened to you, but his plane was diverted to Metropolis because the snowstorm closed the Gotham airport. The roads are closed, too, and the trains are shut down. Bruce decided to go to Metropolis himself, to bring Alfred back home for Christmas."
Dick strained to grasp all that Leslie explained to him. "He flew out in the storm? Is it safe to do that? Dr. Leslie, what if the airport shuts down in Metropolis, too?"
Barbara looked up at Leslie, in disbelief at Bruce Wayne's stunt. "Dr. Leslie, Metropolis International has been closed, at eight-thirty this morning. Nothing can go in or out. Babs turned back to Dick, whose blue eyes widened at the news.
"They'll be stuck there. For Christmas. And it's all my fault. If I hadn't been so antsy with Bruce, if I hadn't gone out to the store, we'd be in London right now. Together. With a fireplace and card games and chocolate chip cookies and hot cocoa..." Dick took a ragged breath and looked away from the two women. His features locked into a fierce scowl to dam the tears that threatened, but were refused permission to fall. He fell silent, focusing instead on the swirling snow outside the hospital room's window.
Barbara fumed. How could Bruce Wayne have left Dick alone like this? Just how incapable was he of merely sitting with Dick when he was needed most?
Leslie Thompkins excused herself and hurried to the physician's lounge, intent on getting some answers. She reached for the nearest telephone and dialed Bruce Wayne's cell phone number.
"Bruce, it's Leslie...well, he's awake and asking for you. So now I hear that Metropolis airport is closed and you and Alfred are grounded there?" She listened to his response with little patience.
"Yes, Bruce, he's in quite a bit of pain, I'm trying to balance his medication so he'll be more comfortable but not a zombie.... Yes, he's relatively coherent and he's blaming himself for ruining the family's Christmas. Bruce, of all the bone-headed... What? ...No! No, you don't, young man... Listen to me, Bruce Wayne, if anything happens, if your plane goes down in this storm, God forbid, that boy will not only be completely alone, but he'll feel responsible for your deaths! Do you want that? ...I don't care how good your pilot is... Bruce? Bruce Wayne!" Leslie Thompkins slammed the receiver down and swore a string of epithets that would make a Marine blush.
Barbara Gordon sat at Dick's bedside, holding his hand quietly. Despite attempts to engage him in conversation, he stubbornly refused to speak, looking way from her, instead. Barbara was furious that Bruce had left Dick, no matter what his intentions had been to bring their family back together. Now Dick was facing Christmas alone in the hospital, injured, worried, and in pain. Leslie would stay with him, of course — there would be no removing her from Dick's side now.
An idea bloomed in Barbara's thoughts. She looked at her young friend, still locked in his self-imposed silence. 'It just might work to help cheer the little guy up,' she thought. A small smile crept over her lips. She stood and leaned over to kiss Dick's cheek. "Munchkin, I'll be back in just a little while, I have to run an errand. Want me to bring you back a milkshake or something?" There was no response from the boy. "Okay, I'll take that as a definite 'maybe.' Hang tight, Dicky, I'll be back soon." Barbara gathered her coat and purse and left Dick's room, giving one last look at him over her shoulder.
Barbara Gordon left a message for Dr. Thompkins at the nurse's station, stating that she'd be back shortly. With the image of the despondent Dick Grayson in her mind, she hurried out to her car, hoping the roads would still be clear enough to negotiate.
Babs had left. Dr. Leslie was gone. Bruce was...
Dick Grayson was alone. He turned his face from the window to look about the stark, sterile hospital room. His eyes landed on the traction rigging that supported his shattered leg, then they traveled to the leg itself. He looked at the immobilizing brace, the sock over his cold foot. He visually inspected the cast encasing his left arm and part of his upper body. He dropped his head back against his pillow, biting back the deep and piercing aching within the broken limbs. A half-gasp, half-sob escaped his chest, to batter his fractured ribs without mercy. Nausea nagged him — a side effect of the general anesthesia's residue and the pain medication Leslie had given him. Dick lay still, eyes closed, his breathing shallow and rapid. His tenuous grasp on control over his pain and fears dissolved. He wept, his tears falling as quietly as the snowflakes outside the window.
December 24, 11:05 AM
Bruce Wayne and his executive pilot, Jack Palmer, had landed at Metropolis International airport forty minutes before it was closed due to near-zero visibility and gusting winds from the blizzard. The powerful nor'easter that had pummeled Gotham City overnight had moved on to bury Metropolis in its Christmas whiteout.
The Lear jet taxied into an available bay at the Wayne Enterprises hangar at Metropolis' airport, a building as large as some entire regional airport terminals. It would be immediately refueled and inspected for the return flight to Gotham City. Alfred Pennyworth had proceeded directly to the Wayne hangar facility as soon as his Concorde flight from London had landed in Metropolis. He managed to get as much rest as his nagging concern for Dick Grayson would allow, and now greeted his employer and the pilot as they stepped off the executive jet. Over the next few hours the three men remained in the hangar's lounge, monitoring the weather and news updates about the storm system. When Bruce Wayne stepped outside the lounge to take an incoming call on his cellular telephone, Alfred observed him closely, anticipating news on Master Dick's condition. When Bruce returned, his news brought a mixed reaction. The boy was awake, in a great deal of pain, and confused and upset that his family was absent.
Bruce Wayne was frustrated by his inability to act immediately. Alfred approached him in an attempt to offer some words of consolation, but was waved off. Bruce walked over to his pilot, who monitored the National Weather Service and FAA status reports via radio and computer in a small office adjacent to the lounge. "What's the status, Jack?" he asked, picking up a printout of the latest report and glancing over it.
"Not good, Mr. Wayne. I'm looking for breaks in the storm. Lucky for you you've got the best Doppler radar equipment at this airport. But even that's showing only spotty patches of relief in the system."
"If you see a hole, could you get us through it, Jack?" Bruce asked quietly, pulling a chair up next to the pilot. Bruce shot a glance over his shoulder at Alfred, who watched him like a hawk.
The pilot shifted his eyes from the computer and video monitors to his employer's face. He hadn't thought of Wayne as a man who would take extraordinary chances — the playboy rep, and all. But Jack Palmer knew that Wayne's London trip had been suddenly canceled, and that the old Brit had been called back from London because Wayne's kid had been injured in a bad accident. It had been a risky shot to try to get in and out of Metropolis around this Nor-Easter, one that hadn't exactly panned out. "Mr. Wayne, I've flown under a lot of adverse weather conditions, and you've certainly provided me with the aircraft and equipment to pull it off. If I see a break in the storm, I can try to get us through it. The precip's backed off around Gotham for the moment, but the winds are gusting badly — there are some nasty shears. How are you at copiloting and reading radar?"
"I don't think I'd have a problem, Jack. So you think we'd stand a pretty good chance?" Bruce was more hopeful than he'd been in hours.
"We stand *a* chance, Mr. Wayne. But a stunt like that, violating the FAA grounding, might possibly lose me my ticket, my license to fly." The pilot's face broke into a conspiratorial grin. "But somehow, I don't think you'd let that happen."
Bruce Wayne narrowed his eyes at the comment. He was prepared to pay whatever fines would be levied against him for what he was proposing. "Jack, I'm game to take off if you are, but you're certainly under no obligation to take the risk. I appreciate what you've done so far, and you can walk away now with a six-figure holiday bonus."
The pilot's gaze never wavered from Bruce Wayne's. "Six figures, huh? And if I see this crapshoot through?"
"Seven figure bonus, Jack. And you keep your ticket, either way. And I pay an outrageous federal fine." Bruce Wayne's eyes burned into the pilot's.
Jack Palmer was no stranger to risk. He'd flown combat missions in Viet Nam, and had dabbled in some smuggling runs overseas before settling down to a more legitimate flying career. What the Hell. This would certainly be a score worth the effort. He could retire and spend the rest of his days bone-fishing in Bahamian shallows. "Well, God hates a coward, Mr. Wayne. I'm in. Be ready. When I see my break in the radar, we've got to move out fast." The pilot flashed a wolfish grin at the billionaire, then returned to scan the weather feeds.
Bruce breathed a sigh of relief. He knew Palmer's past record and had hired him several years ago based on the man's skillful, if checkered, history. Bruce stood to go back to inform Alfred of their plans, but when he turned, his devoted valet was standing silently behind him. Bruce's heart skipped a beat, but his face never disclosed it. Or so he thought. Alfred's chin and eyebrow lifted imperiously, then he turned on his heel and walked back to the lounge, followed closely by Bruce Wayne.
"...Alfred, I...." Bruce began, but was interrupted by Alfred's clipped remarks.
"Master Bruce, if we are to make our imminent departure, I suggest you take care of any last minute 'necessities of comfort.' I expect our flight will be a bit hectic and bumpy." The stoic gentleman's gentleman proceeded to carry their outerwear to the Lear jet, leaving the billionaire in his wake.
December 24, 12:06 PM
Barbara's eyes scanned the wrapped boxes beneath the Christmas tree in her father's living room, and landed on a large box approximately 24 inches square. 'That's got to be it,' she thought, as she knelt beside the tree and pulled the box forward. She carefully lifted the folded paper on the top of the box, pulling the paper open enough to confirm the wrapped contents.
"Daughter! Can't you wait until tonight? I haven't had to chase you away from the Christmas tree in years! Scat!" Police Captain James Gordon had heard Barbara enter the house and had come out of the kitchen where he was eating lunch to discover her rifling through the Christmas gifts.
"Sorry, Dad, I'm on a mission. I need my Christmas present early." Barbara hefted the box into her arms and stood up, then crossed the room to place it on the coffee table.
"You do? Explain, Barbara." Gordon crossed his arms over his chest and frowned at the girl before him.
Barbara pushed a lock of auburn hair out of her face and reset the wool beret on her head. She looked squarely at her father as she pulled her gloves on, preparing to go back into the cold. "Dad, I know you got me this TV-VCR for my dorm room and it's just what I wanted, thanks. But right now, I need to take it with me to where it will do more good than just sitting under the tree. I have less than an hour to get to the video store before it closes early for Christmas Eve. I'm lucky I've even found one that's open at all today. But right now, I've got to fly, Dad."
Captain Gordon looked at his daughter, flushed from the cold and from excitement. "Daughter, you are ever on a mission. I don't suppose you're taking that to the GRMC pediatric wing, are you? To a certain young fellow?" he grilled.
"Yeah, Dad. Dick Grayson's all alone up there... Bruce Wayne took off hours ago to retrieve the butler from Metropolis airport, but that's been closed by the storm, too." Barbara explained breathlessly. She slipped into her coat and stood in front of her father, large green eyes blazing righteously. "Dad, I know we were supposed to have dinner and open presents and everything, but I can't let Dicky spend Christmas Eve in the hospital alone! I'll be home whenever his family gets back, tomorrow, maybe. I've got gear packed for the night. I'll be okay, and I'm sorry to bail out on you and Sarah, but you understand, don't you, Dad?"
James Gordon reached out and buttoned his daughter's coat. He knew there was no deterring her once her mind was set. He grinned beneath his silver-and-rust mustache, then leaned forward and kissed her rosy cheek. "Be careful out there, daughter. The weather's getting nasty. Bad gusty winds are blowing all this damned snow around and it's colder than a gravedigger's ass. Call me if you need anything."
Barbara's face illuminated and she threw her arms around her father to give him a fierce bear hug. "Thanks, Dad, you be careful out there too. Merry Christmas. I've got to fly now!" She released him and shouldered a nylon gym bag, her laptop case, and purse. Then she loaded the big gift-wrapped box in her arms and zipped out the front door, which her father held open for her.
James Gordon watched with paternal pride and concern as his kindhearted daughter drove away.
December 24, 1:15 PM
Sickening break-bone pain slammed Dick Grayson's body full force. Wave after wave of pain and nausea washed over him, as he struggled valiantly against them, desperately wanting to avoid the additional pain that his cracked ribs would deliver if his body spasmed from vomiting. Cold sweat poured off him, matting his hair and soaking his hospital gown and bed sheets.
Leslie Thompkins rushed to Dick's bedside, summoned by one of the pediatric nurses. She helped support him in a sitting position as the nurse adjusted the head of the bed to be more upright. Dick cried out in pain at the unwanted movement. "L-Leslie...g-gonna be s-sick...don't wanna..." Nausea struck the boy again, and he was unable to hold back its effects. Stabbing pain pierced his torso as he wretched the sparse contents of his stomach into a pan held by the nurse.
Dr. Thompkins held the boy while cooing softly to him, "Shh, Dicky, I know, sweetheart. I know it hurts, but not for much longer, I promise, dear." She eased him back carefully into the pillows, then wiped his face and mouth with a cold, wet cloth. John Kilgore and another nurse joined them. Leslie looked at the surgeon and nodded her head. Kilgore took a syringe from the second nurse and injected morphine into Dick's arm. Seconds passed, then the youth relaxed as he drifted out of agony, and within moments, into a pain-free sleep. The four medical professionals tenderly changed Dick's gown and sheets, and then settled him back into the bed. The two doctors reexamined the boy's injuries, then conferred quietly as the nurses left the room.
December 24, 1:45 PM
"Got it! Let's scramble, people, we've got a hole in the sky, *let's go, let's go!*" Jack Palmer shouted orders through the Wayne Enterprises hangar as Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth hurried to join the pilot in the Lear jet, and settled into their seats. The hangar doors opened and the executive jet rolled out into the blowing snow.
December 24, 3:37 PM
Barbara Gordon sat cross-legged in a chair next to Dick Grayson's bed, tapping away at her laptop computer. Actually, the laptop was on loan from one of her University professors. She was working on a programming project over the holidays for the instructor, who had offered her a student assistant position for the upcoming semester.
Her head snapped up when she heard Dick stirring. She shut down the small computer, stowing it away in its storage case. Barbara stood and took Dick's hand in hers. She watched as his blue eyes fluttered open beneath their dark lashes. She smiled as those eyes settled and focused on her. "Hi, Dicky. Told you I'd be back. Did you have a nice nap?" She bent and kissed his forehead lightly.
Dick Grayson floated on a narcotic cloud. His thoughts drifted fuzzily, but his attention locked on the pretty green eyes in the pretty face surrounded by the pretty red hair. She was so pretty. Hey, 'she' was Babs. A crooked smile grew across his mouth as his vision blurred and refocused on this pretty girl he knew. "Heyyy. Babsss. You're so pretty...you still gonna marry me? I tol' Bruce one time I was gonna marry you..." His eyes closed again in a long blink, and then reopened slowly. She was still there. Cool.
Babs smiled at how cute Dick was at that moment. She knew he'd received the strong sedative because his injuries were so painful. But he was calm just now, and evidently experiencing no pain. She recalled him proposing marriage to her when he was just nine years old. It was cute that he would think of that under the narcotic's heavy influence. "You bet, Munchkin, I'm still going to marry you, someday. Hey, I have a surprise for you, look!" Barbara rolled the bed-table over, revealing a 13-inch TV-VCR combination, and a stack of rented videotapes.
Dick's eyes widened slightly as he recognized what it was she was showing him. "Heyyy, mooovies, Babs. We gonna watch some mooovies?" he grinned.
Bingo. She knew this would perk him up. "Yeah, Dicky, lookie what we've got here," and she held up some of the videos for him to see. "Here's 'Casablanca,' and 'Rear Window,' and 'The Greatest Show on Earth,' and 'Planet of the Apes,' and oh, 'Miracle on 34th Street!'" Babs was elated when Dick's smile grew larger as she recited the titles of some of what she had remembered were his favorite old movies.
"Oooh, whoa, 'Greatest Show on Earth' -- can we see that one first, Babs? It's circus...there's real circus folks in that movie, y'know. It's the 'R-B-B-and-B!' They don' have a' aerialist who does a quad...I can do a quad, Babs, no net. Just ask Bat...uh...I, uh...or we can see the monkey movie, it has that same guy in it...Moses..." Dick rubbed his eyes with the heel of his right hand and shut his mouth. He wasn't supposed to talk about Batman. He almost said the wrong name. Bruce. It was supposed to be Bruce when people didn't know. Dick looked around the room, suddenly troubled. Where was Bruce? Why wasn't he here, too?
"Dick, what's wrong, sweetie? We can watch whatever you want." Barbara turned on the TV and loaded the VCR with the circus movie. She brushed Dick's cheek with the back of her hand. "Hey, showtime, Dicky."
Dick turned toward her, confusion plain on his face. "Babs, where's Bruce? How come he's not here?"
Barbara looked into those big, questioning eyes, not knowing what to say. Dr. Thompkins had told her when she returned with the TV and the videos, that Bruce had phoned to tell her they were taking off from Metropolis en route to Gotham City. But that was almost two hours ago.
It dawned on Dick where Bruce was — had been — Metropolis. The snowstorm. "Babs, where is he? Tell me...." He fought through the cloud in his head. He needed to think clearly...concentrate....
Babs bit her lower lip. "Dick...Bruce and Alfred took off almost two hours ago from Metropolis. Bruce called Dr. Leslie, but we haven't heard if they've... landed yet." She didn't want to upset Dick, but he needed to know. He'd never let it rest if she didn't tell him; Babs knew this was one stubborn kid, no matter if he was doped up or not.
Dick considered her answer carefully. Two hours, in a bad snowstorm. It was a little over two hours to Metropolis in good weather, faster still in the Batplane. They should have checked in. "Babs, can you turn on the weather on the TV first?" he asked.
Barbara extended the little TV's antenna and tuned in the local UHF news and weather channel. They watched together, listening to the updates on the storm. Airports still closed. High winds, whiteout conditions from Gotham to below Metropolis.
"Babs, can I have the phone, please?" Dick asked, concentrating on holding his train of thought.
Barbara placed the hospital phone on Dick's bed, within his reach. She stood quietly as he dialed out. He frowned as he tried to recall the number he wanted to connect with. He got a wrong number, and his frown deepened as his frustration increased.
"Here, let me try. Who do you want to call, Dick?" Babs took the receiver from his hand.
"The airstrip. Wayne Enterprises...have they heard from him yet..." he replied.
Barbara dialed directory assistance to get the number, and then called Wayne Enterprises' executive airport. She was transferred twice before being told that there had been no word yet about Bruce Wayne's jet since takeoff from Metropolis. Barbara thanked the supervising flight mechanic she'd spoken to, giving him the phone number to Dick's hospital room. She looked at the anxious boy. "Not yet, Dicky, but they'll call us when the guys land, okay?" She spoke with forced optimism, not wanting to alarm Dick any more than she had to.
Dick was silent. He had a bad feeling about all of it: the flight, the storm, not hearing from Bruce. Bruce would stay in touch if he could. Something wasn't right. Dick began to get angry, despite the drug's tranquilizing effect. He had to do something. His partner might be in terrible danger. His partner...Batman. But who saved the heroes who were in trouble?
Dick's mind crystallized on the only answer he knew.
"Babs, can you do me a big favor?" he looked at her with his best puppy-eyes. 'It worked before...' he thought.
"Sure, Dick, what would you like?" She was surprised he was still calm. She felt like she'd be in hysterics if she were in his position.
"I can't remember the last time I ate anything. Can I have that milkshake now? Vanilla, with peanut butter mixed in it? And some french fries and ketchup?" He smiled at her, lady-killer in the making.
Barbara Gordon smiled back at Dick Grayson's boyish charm. She had the feeling something was up, but she had promised him a milkshake. "Okay, but it will probably take a few minutes to scare up a custom order at the hospital cafeteria."
"That's okay. Then we can watch a movie," he politely acquiesced.
Barbara grabbed her purse, gave Dick a kiss on the cheek, and left his room, bound for the ground floor cafeteria.
Dick watched her go, and then picked up the telephone receiver. He dialed directory assistance. "Kansas, please. Can I have a number in Smallville?"
December 24, 2:37 PM
The small executive jet was buffeted by near-gale-force winds. Jack Palmer strained to keep the aircraft on course. They were flying on instruments now; visibility was at zero. But Bruce Wayne's jets were equipped with better than state-of-the-art technology, most of it developed by WayneTech. The jet dodged pockets of wind shears, detected by the onboard Doppler radar, but the pockets were converging, and the winds were becoming nearly impossible to fly in. Ice had begun to accumulate on the aircraft, increasing air resistance and decreasing maneuverability.
A sudden shear caught the jet, plunging it into a vertical drop of almost 500 feet. They would not be able to afford a drop like that as they got closer to the Gotham Heights, the old weathered range of hills that included the Bristol sea cliffs, where Wayne Manor stood. Palmer steered the aircraft toward the ocean, running parallel with the coastline, to avoid the hills. They were at 2000 feet when another heavy shear slapped them down another 500 feet.
"*Dammit!* That wind's kicking our asses but good!" Jack cursed.
Bruce had confidence in the cagey pilot, knowing that Batman himself couldn't fly the craft better.
The jet suddenly lurched to the left, and was flipped by a powerful gust. Palmer steered the jet in a rollover to recover a level position. Both pilot and copilot simultaneously called out the loss in altitude.
"Shit!" Palmer hissed. They were in trouble. They'd be extremely lucky to walk away from this. Or swim. He was beginning to think he should have just taken the six figures and gone fishing.
Bruce Wayne recognized what the pilot wasn't saying — yet. The jet was facing a possible ditch into the ocean, if not a dead crash. "Alfred! Get into your life vest! We may have to ditch the plane!" he called to his lifelong friend and surrogate parent. Bruce readied himself to assist with the controls, knowing he may have to use his considerable strength to manually put the jet into the water as controlled as possible.
The jet was pelted with ice from the storm. Its rudder became increasingly difficult to move; it was nearly frozen. Another shear hit them, dropping them below the low cloud line, in full view of the water below, with its frothing whitecaps.
"Mr. Wayne, how flexible are you?" the pilot asked, a grimace on his face.
"Flexible? Very! Why?" Bruce replied, confused by the pilot's query.
"Because you're gonna have to kiss your ass good-bye— we can't hold her up. One more shear and we're in the drink!"
'Well,' the pilot thought to himself, 'you roll the dice and you take your chances..."
Before Bruce Wayne could reply to the pilot's fatalistic prediction, another sharp shear wind pounded the jet, and they dropped. Warning claxons screamed out the danger of their loss in altitude. Both men pulled at the controls, trying desperately to keep the jet's nose up as the waves rushed up to greet them.
But the waves didn't claim the jet. Unbelievably, the Lear leveled out and began to climb — straight up! "What the f..." the puzzled pilot gasped. The jet's altitude warnings quieted, but so did her engine — stalled! The lights across the board went dead, but the jet didn't drop from the sky. Despite the still buffeting winds, the aircraft traveled miraculously through the air.
After a moment, the jet gently touched down on solid ground. Palmer blew the doors open for an emergency evacuation. "Time to bail, gentlemen; I don't know how, but we're on terra firma!" He climbed out of the cockpit and scrambled for the exit. Bruce Wayne casually unbuckled his seat belt and stepped out of the cockpit. Alfred handed Bruce his overcoat, having already donned his own overcoat, hat, and gloves. Bruce looked at the older man, who seemed unaffected by the event.
"I think I know how, but I'm not sure I know *why*, Alfred!" Bruce mused.
"Think about it a little more, Master Bruce," said the Englishman, as he stepped to the jet's exit.
As the two men climbed out of the Lear jet, they discovered it had been neatly deposited 50 yards from Wayne Manor, on the back lawn. Alfred Pennyworth immediately marched toward the house, with Bruce Wayne bringing up the rear. Jack Palmer was on the back terrace, slapping at his arms because he'd left the jet without his heavy jacket.
"He came a bit too close to the rose beds for my tastes, Master Bruce, wouldn't you say?"
Bruce Wayne gave a tired half-smile. "You want me to have a talk with him Alfred? I'll ask him to be more careful next time he drops a jet in the back yard!"
December 24, 4:45 PM
Jack Palmer waited out the storm at Wayne Manor, stretched out on the leather couch in the family room. He had appropriated a beer and a sandwich, and passed the time surfing through the cable television channels. The old Brit had shown him a guest bedroom where he could rest, if he wished, but the couch, the tube, a beer, and maybe a nice little nap were much more his style. Jack figured that if Wayne could get his kid transported home that night, he'd just catch a ride with the ambulance driver back into Gotham City. Jack Palmer had a lot of plans for his Christmas bonus, and didn't want to waste much time getting started on them.
Its chassis elevated, body street-camouflaged, and outfitted with high traction snow tires, the Batmobile cruised slowly on instruments toward Gotham City, and its regional hospital. Accumulated drifts of snow that posed an obstacle were blasted and vaporized with jets of air generated through the Batmobile's turbines and heated by its atomic battery.
Dick Grayson dozed on and off through the movie, not letting go of Barbara Gordon's hand. When she'd returned with his requested shake and fries, he seemed less stressed about his guardian's welfare, but was also beginning to experience more pain as the morphine wore off. Leslie Thompkins administered another dose, smaller than the first, and the boy fell into a light sleep. Leslie informed Barbara she had just received a call from Bruce and Alfred, and that the two men were en route to the hospital. She arranged for Dick to be discharged so the boy could be in his own home for Christmas. Dr. Thompkins would accompany him there, and remain at Wayne Manor for a few days.
Dick woke up in time to see the train wreck scene in "The Greatest Show on Earth." It was one of his favorite parts. He made silly, nonsensical observations about the authenticity of the events in the film, and held on tightly to Barbara's hand.
"Dick! How are you feeling, chum?" Bruce Wayne called out to his ward as he entered the hospital room.
Dick turned to the sound of his mentor's voice, his eyes growing large. "Bruce?..." he whispered. Then Dick let go of Barbara's hand, snatched up a videotape, and threw it at Bruce Wayne, who brought his hands up to catch it.
"*Stupid!* You were *stupid*, Bruce!" Dick screamed, the morphine having eliminated his emotional control. Dick Grayson's temper blazed to a near-tantrum. Barbara and Leslie quickly exited the room, leaving Bruce and Dick alone together.
"Why did you *do* that? You could have crashed, Bruce and I wouldn't have *ANYbody*, anymore!" Dick sobbed, from his temper outburst and from the pain renewed by his exertion.
Bruce went to Dick's bedside and carefully gathered the tearful youth into his arms. He swallowed past the shame of having upset the boy so badly, knowing just how devastating it could have turned out, if not for....
"You're so stupid, Bruce. So stupid. I was so worried about you and Alfred..." the boy cried into the big man's chest.
"Shh. Calm down, Dick. I know it was foolish of me. I just wanted us to all be together for Christmas. Even Batman can make a dumb mistake," Bruce admitted to his young partner.
"Batman didn't make that mistake. You did, Stupid!" Dick relaxed a bit, deciding he liked not only the big arms around him, but their owner's contrition, as well.
"Hey, that's enough with the 'stupid,' son," Bruce gently admonished. "I admitted I made a mistake, so cut me a little slack. At least *one* of us had a good head on his shoulders, even with a concussion and a dose of narcotic! You were pretty clever, chum, good job." Bruce mentally winced, though. He was proud that had Dick made such an intuitive off-the-cuff decision, despite his impairment, only now Batman owed that overgrown Boy Scout for a first-class rescue!
Dick smiled with fuzzy self-satisfaction, and drifted off again, secure in his real hero's arms.
Part Six — Conclusion
Christmas morning dawned sharply cold, but blessedly clear in Gotham City. In the pre-dawn darkness, municipal Public Works crews — on holiday double overtime pay — quickly cleared the city's streets. County took a little more time, but by daybreak the main roads and thoroughfares had been plowed clear of the previous two days' accumulation of snow. Cars and sidewalks were another matter, buried in drifts. Parents awoke to the shrieks of delighted children — not ripping open Christmas gifts, but jumping off roofs into the tall snowdrifts.
By mid-evening Christmas Eve the Wayne family had returned home. Dick Grayson had been transported via ambulance from Gotham Regional Medical Center, under Dr. Leslie Thompkins' supervision, to Wayne Manor. His own bed had been moved aside to make room for one of the hospital-style beds brought up from the Batcave's infirmary. It had been decided to allow the youth to recuperate in his own bedroom for the duration of his convalescence.
It had not been an easy night. Despite the relief of a safe homecoming by all, the fact remained that Dick had suffered serious injuries in the accident, and had barely begun to recover from them. Soft tissue injuries that had paled next to the broken bones stepped forward to add their voices to the chorus of discomfort.
Alfred Pennyworth had spent the night in Dick's room, sitting vigilantly in a chair beside Dick's bed when the boy rested, and on his feet at his side when comfort was needed. Dick's only true relief had come when he was heavily medicated. Alfred had shooed Bruce and Leslie away; they would have their turns later. But that night Alfred's own comfort came from watching over the youngster he had come perilously close to losing.
In the early Christmas morning light, while Dick slept more soundly than he had all night, Alfred sipped a cup of tea and looked out through the French doors, beyond the terrace to the snow-blanketed rear lawn of the Wayne Estate. The small executive jet sat sparkling on the crystalline snow, a curious non sequitur.
Coffee made, breakfast breads baking, turkey thawed and roasting, Alfred stopped to observe the hushed silence of the stately manor house. He had at one time prided himself on the quiet orderliness of Wayne Manor. That calm had shattered four years ago in the wake of the eager, adventurous child who tore open the darkening shutters of propriety and coaxed the sunlight back into their lives. And from that time forward, Alfred Pennyworth, major domo of Wayne Manor, had come to enjoy the quiet less and less.
December 25, 6:30 AM
Bruce Wayne walked silently into Dick's bedroom, knowing that Alfred had stepped away for a brief time to start the day's preparations downstairs. It was a relief to see the boy was sleeping soundly. Bruce pulled up a chair close to Dick's bed and sat, taking his ward's hand in his own. In the stillness of the Christmas dawn, Bruce Wayne contemplated his many blessings.
December 25, noon
"Alfred, this is kind of funny-looking," Dick Grayson complained, picking at the oversized red sweater vest that had just been laboriously arranged over the arm-and-partial-body cast that immobilized his left arm and shoulder. The vest belonged to Bruce Wayne and was the only thing the harried valet could come up with for the injured youth to wear to receive Christmas guests.
"On the contrary, Master Dick, it looks...festive," the older man knowingly exaggerated. "You do rather 'swim' in it, but it disguises the cuts I had to make in your shirt. However, if you prefer, you may wear your hospital gown." Alfred retrieved the flimsy, open-back garment from the hamper and held it out to the youth.
"Uh...that's okay. I like this. It goes with my red Christmas socks."
Dick Grayson was anxious to go downstairs for Christmas dinner. The Christmas they had received wasn't what they had expected, but it was still Christmas, he had informed Alfred earlier, as the kindly caregiver had cleaned and dressed him. Not the customary Wayne holiday dinner held in the formal dining room, their Christmas dinner would be an informal buffet in the family room, where Dick could most comfortably rest in a large, overstuffed recliner.
"Are you certain you feel up to this, Richard?" Alfred asked with grandfatherly concern. "I can bring your dinner to your room...."
"...Like a prisoner in a cell? No thanks, Alfie. I'm a trooper...the show must go on! I'll be okay." Dick reassured him with adolescent bravado. "Besides, I've been smelling your cooking all morning. My stomach's ready to lead this parade to the dinner table!" he grinned.
"Buffet table," reminded the older man.
"Yeah, whatever. To the *food*. And I think Babs has seen me in a bed enough over the past coupla days. She is coming, isn't she, Alfred? Bruce *did* invite her?"
Dinner wasn't all Dick was anxious for, it seemed.
"Of course he did, and she accepted. She should be arriving shortly. Now if you are ready, my boy, I'll call Master Bruce in to help transfer you to the wheelchair." Alfred paused to comb Dick's unruly hair back into place. He stepped back and gave the lad an approving smile.
Dick's expression became serious. "Alfred, I'm sorry we didn't make it to London. I know how much you were looking forward to it — I was, too." He looked down and smoothed a fold in the big sweater.
Alfred reached out and gently squeezed the brightly stockinged foot of the boy's injured and elevated leg. "Nonsense, my boy. Surely you realize that the accident was no fault of yours, but that of a criminally careless individual. Richard, I am more relieved and thankful than I can express, that we are all together safely, here at Wayne Manor. I, for one, have had my year's quota of excitement in the past two days, and I am quite happy to be home with my two young men."
Dick beamed at Alfred's reassuring words. "Cool! Then let's go downstairs and 'Deck the Halls with Boston Charlie!'"
"Yes. Quite." Alfred ceded, beneath an arched eyebrow.
Knocking sounded on the bedroom door. "Anybody here need a ride downstairs?"
"*Superman!* ...Clark! You made it! Hey, Merry Christmas!" Dick almost squealed with excitement.
Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne stepped into Dick's room. "Merry Christmas to you, too, Dick. I wouldn't have missed it for the world," the large, bespectacled man grinned. "Hey, Ma sent you two fresh-baked pies: apple and sweet potato. And this..." The big man placed a blue hand-knitted cap on Dick's head (eliciting another raised eyebrow and silent sigh from the beleaguered Alfred Pennyworth). Dick's smile couldn't get any larger.
"Boy Scout..." Bruce Wayne mumbled under his breath. He leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed, with a faint expression of disgust on his face.
Kent turned and looked at him, smiled, and tapped his finger to his ear. Bruce held his hands up in surrender. "Sorry, don't let me interrupt this fan club meeting. Dick, I'll see you downstairs, chum." And Bruce Wayne left the room.
Clark Kent turned back to the youth, who grinned smugly at the jealous display he'd just witnessed.
"I can't wait to see that jet in the back yard, Clark. That was pretty cool. And thanks for helping out — I didn't know who else I could call." Dick was unabashed in his admiration of the Man of Steel.
"I've already moved the jet, Sport. Sorry. And I'm glad you contacted me. Remember, Dick, you can call me any time." Clark reached out and pulled the blue cap down over Dick's eyes and nose. "So, downstairs sounds like a plan to me, Dick, are you ready to ride?" he asked.
"Sure! You flying me downstairs?" Dick suggested hopefully, pushing the blue cap back out of his eyes.
"'Fraid not, sport. That would be hard to explain to your girlfriend!" It was the big man's turn to grin.
"Huh? Girlfr...oh, Babs is here? Guess we'd better get going, then," he grinned through a bright blush.
Clark carefully moved Dick to the waiting wheelchair for transport downstairs.
Barbara Gordon had arrived at the front door laden with a vegetable casserole and a garment bag containing some of Dr. Thompkins' clothing. Bruce Wayne greeted her warmly, taking the dish from her hand. "Merry Christmas, Barbara. Thank you for joining us — Dick's still upstairs being fussed over by Alfred, but they'll be down soon.
"Merry Christmas...where's Leslie? I have her things here...." Barbara craned to look past her host, looking for Dr. Thompkins, but also enjoying the view of the beautiful old house.
"Right here, dear!" Leslie called as she descended the staircase to join them. "Barbara, thank you for bringing this out to me." She gave Barbara a peck on the cheek and took the garment bag out of her hand. "If you two will excuse me, I'll go change for dinner." Leslie trotted back up the grand staircase, waving to Dick, Alfred, and Clark as they rode down the lift to the Manor's ground floor.
"Babs!" Dick shouted, waving his free arm at his friend. "Owie! ...geez...." He winced and hissed, from his painful broken ribs.
"Master Dick, what did I tell you..." Alfred began his gentle admonishment.
"...Forgot. Oww. This sucks...."
"Master Dick! Such a crude expression. On Christmas Day, yet!"
On the ground floor, the door to the lift was pulled open and Clark Kent pushed Dick's wheelchair into the foyer. Barbara walked beside the chair as Dick was steered toward the family room. "Merry Christmas everyone...Dick, that's a pretty bright sweater you're wearing. How's it feel to get out of that gown?" she chirped, taking his hand in hers.
"I feel a lot less vulnerable, Babs, and less drafty." He flashed a smile that belied his physical discomfort. "Babs, you look great, really pretty."
Barbara had worn a green sweater with a Christmas pattern in the weave. It matched her soft green eyes and complimented her auburn hair, which fell in loose waves over her shoulders. Black velvet slacks encased her long legs, and she'd worn black velvet ballerina flats. Dick thought Babs was probably the prettiest girl he had ever seen. Despite the ache in his bones, he felt as if he'd never stop smiling at her.
After Dick was settled into the recliner, his arm and leg bolstered by pillows, and a bright afghan spread over his legs and lap, Barbara brought him a plate of food from the buffet. They sat together and ate, and talked, and laughed.
"Ow! Babs, don't make me laugh, it hurts too much!" he whined with mirth.
"Okay, Dicky, I'll change the subject," Babs chuckled. "What did you get for Christmas?"
"You mean besides a bunch of broken bones? I don't know...all our stuff went to London, no, wait...Hey, Bruce! Where's my new bicycle? Shouldn't I get a new bike for Christmas?" Dick called out facetiously to his mentor, interrupting Bruce's conversation with Clark and Leslie.
The room went silent as five pairs of serious adult eyes descended on the laughing youngster. Dick looked around at them all, and the smile dropped from his face. He swallowed, then swallowed again, and looked down at his lap. "It was just a joke, guys...gee..." he murmured.
Dick's attempt at dark humor struck Babs with the full impact of all that had transpired over the last two days. She suddenly found it difficult to breathe. She took Dick's plate and her own, and stood. "It wasn't the best one you've ever made, Dicky. I'll be right back." She walked out of the room, headed for the kitchen with the empty plates. Dick's face flamed burning hot with embarrassment.
Bruce Wayne walked across the room and sat next to his ward. "Dick...it's okay, chum. It was just a faux pas. No harm, all right?" he reassured the boy.
"No. It's not all right, Bruce, I'm sorry. I don't know why I said that...I didn't mean to creep anyone out, I just wasn't thinking about..." Dick heaved a ragged sigh, then grimaced painfully at the stabbing from his ribs. Insult to injury, a hot tear escaped to roll down his reddened cheek.
Bruce moved closer to Dick, and hugged the boy into a careful embrace. Dick grasped Bruce's sweater in his fist and turned his face into the broad chest, trying hard not to let the tears come.
"Would you like to go back upstairs, chum? Are you getting tired?" Bruce whispered.
"No. I don't want to leave the party... ...but I gotta pee," came the muffled reply. Bruce began to chuckle softly, jostling the youngster burrowed in his arms. Dick lifted his face out of Bruce's sweater; his eyes met Bruce's with an irritated glint. "Stop jiggling! I gotta go bad! I'm gonna need a little help here."
Bruce Wayne's face broke into a genuine smile at Dick's confessed plight. "I think you're going to need NASA engineers to figure this one out, chum!"
"Nope. Just Alfred — Alfred! Mother Nature's singing an aria — help!" Dick pleaded.
A stern Alfred Pennyworth materialized at the youth's side. He wasted no time supervising Dick's careful but hasty transfer to the wheelchair, then rolled him out of the room himself.
"An 'aria,' indeed, Master Dick. What am I going to do with you?" Alfred sighed.
"Spoil me rotten for another couple of days. Then you and Bruce are going to kill me with rehab and physical therapy!" Dick's voice echoed slightly as they rolled into one of the downstairs lavatories.
Barbara Gordon returned to the family room to find the ensemble laughing. In puzzlement, she asked Bruce, "What did I miss? Everyone was in shock when I left the room, and now you're all in hysterics."
"It's Dick...he was, eh..." Bruce searched for a delicate explanation.
"...Just singing for us. What a kid! — Hey, I don't know about you folks, but I can never get enough of Ma's sweet potato pie. How about dessert?" chimed the Man of Steel.
The group agreed and headed for the buffet table again. Selecting a fat slice of the apple pie, Barbara spoke with her host. "You know, I almost forgot what a...different kind of kid Dick is," she smiled. "He can really slay me. I guess I should keep in better touch."
The two sat on a couch and continued to talk. "Barbara, it might not be a bad idea for you to work an internship at WayneTech this summer. We're doing some great research in the computer engineering division — hard and soft. Would you think about it?" he said, between bites of pie.
Barbara put her fork down, stunned and thrilled. WayneTech developed bleeding edge technology, and even a glimpse of what they were working on would be like a religious epiphany for her. "Omigod, Bruce...yes! Yes, oh — that's unbelievable! I'd love to!"
Composing her self in the face of Bruce Wayne's faint smile of satisfaction, Barbara's voice took on a more serious tone. "My father followed up on that driver, Bruce, the DUI who caused Dick's accident. This guy has two priors that were dropped. He's got money and a couple of really good lawyers. Dad's concerned that the jerk might walk away from this one relatively unscathed." Barbara was understandably irate at the thought of such an injustice.
Bruce Wayne's eyes narrowed and his features turned to stone. His voice dropped in timbre when he replied, "I have better...resources. He won't get out of this untouched, Barbara." His face softened somewhat as he placed a hand on her shoulder. "I wouldn't worry, young lady. It will be taken care of, trust me."
"Hey! I leave the room for a couple of minutes and you've got your hands on my girl! ...owww, why do I keep doing that?" Dick's exclamation on reentering the room was quickly snuffed by the sharp pain from his ribs. Bruce rose to assist the youth back into the recliner.
"You just have to keep your voice down, chum, and don't exert yourself unnecessarily," Bruce gently scolded. He noted Dick's pallor, and guessed that the discomfort from his injuries was catching up with his holiday enthusiasm. "I want you to take it easy, Dick. Maybe we should have Dr. Leslie give you something..." Bruce quietly expressed his concern for his ward, as he tucked the afghan around the boy.
"Too late, Alfred already crammed knockout pills down my throat," Dick admitted, looking up at his guardian with a slightly sheepish grin. "I may not be long for this shindig. So somebody needs to get me two pieces of pie — one of each kind — and lots of Cool Whip!" Dick's smile broadened at the mention of Mrs. Kent's coveted homemade desserts.
The holiday gathering at Wayne Manor lasted for another hour before breaking up. Clark Kent bade his farewells, and Superman flew back to his parents' farm in Smallville. Dick fell asleep in the recliner under Barbara's affectionate gaze, clutching her hand. Bruce picked him up and carried him back to his bed, with Alfred right behind them to supervise the operation.
Leslie Thompkins helped Barbara into her coat in the Wayne Manor foyer, as Barbara prepared to leave. "Barbara, dear, I'm so grateful for your help over the past few days. You've certainly left your mark on this family, especially with Dick. I'm afraid I see a huge crush in the making," Leslie laughed.
Babs shrugged her shoulders, conceding her agreement. "Don't worry, Dr. Leslie, I think I can keep Dicky in line. Trouble is, he's such a great kid, a real character. It's actually nice to be around him." She smiled and glanced toward the big staircase, in the mental direction of Dick's room. "I'll come back out in a couple of days. I'm going to get him set up so we can e-mail each other; that way we can stay in touch after I go back to school."
The two women said their goodbyes and Barbara left, bound for home, and then on to meet with college friends for a movie later in the evening. Leslie Thompkins waved as Barbara drove away, then closed the door against the Christmas chill, and walked upstairs to join the Wayne men, to check on her patient once more.
The storm had left thousands of people inconvenienced and a dozen dead, from above Gotham City to below Metropolis. One was a heart attack from shoveling snow, most were casualties from auto accidents, as people attempted holiday travel on frozen roads. But the survivors came out to compare stories and admire the multitude of sins that the pristine white blanket covered, for however short a time. Ecstatic children dragged out snow gear and toys, playing to exhaustion. Snow blowers whined up and down suburban streets as residents uncovered sidewalks, driveways, and cars. The Christmas Blizzard had changed the lives of many people, for good or ill.
- - - - - - - - -
Several nights after Christmas, a sleek black car pulled in front of a taxi on a suburban road outside Gotham City, cutting it off and forcing it to pull to the side of the road. The passenger door opened abruptly and the inebriated fare was yanked from the cab. A dark gloved hand tossed a hundred-dollar bill at the cabbie. "Take off," the deep Voice growled, and the driver backed up, peeled out, and vanished from the scene.
"Y-you can't do this...I-I'll sue..." the terrified man stuttered. He was seized by the lapels of his coat and pulled off the ground, against the huge dark figure. The frightened man turned his face from the grim mask before him and squeezed his eyes tightly shut. The horrifying Voice blew hot into his ear.
"No. You'll seek help. You won't contest the DUI charges against you. If you do, you'll see me again."
One hand left the man's coat and swiftly patted his pockets, extracting a cellular telephone. The dark figure shoved the drunken man unceremoniously to the shoulder of the road and tossed the phone at him.
"Here." The Voice growled again. "Call another cab."
Then the dark apparition disappeared in a rustling of the long, cloak-like cape, and the black car roared away into the cold night.
The shaken man struggled to his hands and knees and vomited.
The next day the man entered a private hospital specializing in alcohol and drug dependency. Weeks later he pleaded guilty to the DUI charges and was sentenced to two years probation, a five-year suspension of his driver's license, and 500 hours of community service, to be split between the Gotham City Medical Examiner's office and the children's orthopedic wing of Gotham Regional Medical Center. He never took another drink of alcohol.
- - - - - - - - -
New Year's Day found newly retired pilot Jack Palmer happily fishing off the wing of his new Grumman Mallard seaplane, somewhere in azure Bahamian waters, methodically memorizing the code number of his Cayman Island bank account.
- - - - - - - - -
Barbara Gordon had insisted that Dick Grayson be allowed to keep the TV/VCR to have at his bedside. She reminded Bruce Wayne that the videotapes were rented, and gave him the rental receipt so he would know where to return them. He bought them instead. When Barbara returned to college after her winter holiday break, she carried with her a powerful, new prototype WayneTech laptop computer.
- - - - - - - - -
Dick Grayson sat in his bed, casually flipping through the damaged comic books he had purchase the day of his accident. He decided not to replace the books, but to keep them as a reminder of the experience that had shown him the value of so many things in his life: his family and friends, his health and feelings, and his heroes. All of them.
- The End