A/N: This is a Batfamily reworking of a classic Christmas tale. Special thanks to my wonderful beta, HaleyKim, for her incredible editing skills. :)
"I think that Life has spared those mortals much – and cheated them of more – who have not kept a breathless vigil by the little bed of some beloved child." Faith Baldwin.
Bruce brushed snowflakes from his shoulders as he stepped into the foyer of Wayne Manor. The small flurry that had been falling as he left Wayne Enterprises was now a heavy snowfall, and forecasters were predicting a blizzard before night.
The billionaire scowled as he removed his coat. A blizzard could prove disastrous to his plans for smashing the drug ring that had been wreaking havoc in Gotham for weeks now: heavy shipments of heroin had been circulating on the streets, while a new strain of ecstasy that had resulted in several overdoses was rampant in the clubs. Bruce believed the source to be a crime lord named Oleg Petrov – a violent, brutal man not known for his humanity – but he had yet to uncover any concrete evidence to connect the drugs to Petrov. However, his surveillance over the last few weeks pointed to a massive shipment coming into Gotham tonight. If Batman could catch Petrov in action, physically connect him to the drugs, Gordon would be able to put him away for a very long time. But if a blizzard derailed Petrov's plans and delayed the arrival of the shipment, it could potentially be several weeks more before Petrov and his drugs were off the streets.
Bruce's scowl deepened. He couldn't allow that to happen.
"Master Bruce," Alfred's voice sounded behind him, "have you seen the weather report?"
"Unfortunately." He turned to face the butler. "Alfred, would it be possible to have dinner a little earlier? I want to leave for Gotham sooner than we originally planned in case Petrov moves the shipment up to beat the weather."
"You think he will still go ahead with his plan when forecasters are advising that we batten down the hatches?"
"I can't take the risk that he'll sneak past me somehow – there's too much at stake here."
Bruce sensed disapproval in his tone. "Something on your mind, Alfred?"
"Do you still plan on bringing Master Dick with you?"
Bruce sighed. He should have known. This was about Robin. "Yes. I need him on this. Everything points to the shipment coming in by boat, so I need to be in close proximity to the docks. But someone still needs to scan the radio frequencies and maintain an aerial view in case the shipment arrives by other means. That's even more critical now with current weather warnings."
"And Master Dick is the best person for the job?"
"Yes," Bruce ground out. Despite the fact that Dick had been Robin for almost two years now, Alfred still disapproved. "This is a two-man operation and Dick knows the layout of Gotham's docks and shipyards. Plus he's familiar with how Petrov operates."
"Dare I suggest, Sir, that Mr. Kent also possesses those attributes? And he has the added advantage of being slightly more weather-resistant than an eleven-year-old."
Damn. Bruce scowled. Why had he ever consulted Clark on this? Oh yeah, because the Big Blue Boy Scout had done a piece on Petrov several years ago when he was operating out of Metropolis. Clark had even met the man briefly. And because Bruce had wanted as much information as possible on the crime lord to make it easier to second-guess him, he had quizzed Clark thoroughly on his dealings with him.
Alfred had a point about Clark, but Bruce just wasn't in the mood to deal with the Kryptonian tonight: the man was annoyingly chipper at the best of times, but he was downright unbearable at Christmas. "I'm sure Clark will have enough on his hands if this blizzard they're forecasting hits."
"And if it does, Sir? Will you and Master Dick be safe in Gotham?"
Bruce knew that Alfred wasn't worried about Batman, who had endured many blizzards before. He was worried about Robin. "Alfred, Dick will be fine."
The butler sighed. "You know best, Master Bruce. But I do wish you wouldn't drag him out in such treacherous weather to face a bunch of dangerous men the day before Christmas Eve."
Bruce couldn't help but feel a stab of guilt. This would be Dick's third Christmas at the manor, and the first time he was actually looking forward to it; he had spent the previous two Christmases grieving heavily for his parents. Bruce knew he should be doing more Christmas-type stuff with the boy, but he honestly didn't know what that would even involve. He hadn't exactly celebrated the holiday since his own parents' deaths.
But he supposed he could try. Dick clearly wanted him to. Less than three nights ago he had convinced Bruce to watch a movie with him that he enthusiastically proclaimed was a Christmas classic. The title, It's a Wonderful Life,had turned out to be somewhat misleading. The main character, George something or other, had spent his whole life in a small town that he wanted nothing more than to escape from. After some underhand behaviour by the film's requisite bad guy, George had found himself facing the threat of ruination and the undoing of all the good achieved by the sacrifices he had made. Cue a crisis of faith with the man wishing he had never been born, while some ridiculous angel in an undershirt granted his wish.
Bruce had found the whole thing trite, ridiculous and somewhat depressing for a movie that was supposed to epitomise how wonderful life was. He had fallen asleep before the end and awoken just as the credits rolled to find Dick's disappointed face staring at him.
The memory nipped at his conscience and Bruce sighed. Fine. He would do something about the whole Christmas thing tomorrow, but tonight, they needed to bring Oleg Petrov down. "I'll make it up to him tomorrow, Alfred, but tonight's patrol is important. And you still haven't answered my question about dinner."
The older man pursed his lips before responding. "I can move dinner up to an hour from now, if that will be sufficient, Sir?"
"It will. Thank you, Alfred." Bruce looked around. "Where's Dick?" It had just occurred to him that the boy hadn't darted full-tilt into the hallway to greet him as he usually did when Batman and Robin had something big planned for the evening.
"I believe the young sir is in the den if you would like to inform him of your change in plans." Without another word, Alfred returned to the kitchen.
Bruce stared after him, frowning. He had to admit, the old man's disapproval stung, and he wondered if Alfred would ever approve of Robin. Bruce was getting tired of constantly trying to justify Robin's existence, especially when it sometimes seemed as though Alfred had a point. Dick was just a boy, throwing his childhood away on a crusade that bordered on futile: Gotham didn't seem to be getting any better.
He was troubled as he headed for the den. Drawing near, he could hear Dick talking from inside the room. The boy was obviously on the phone.
"…fight Joker and then tell me Gotham's villains are lamer!"
Bruce froze, his hand on the door. Why was Dick talking about crime fighting on the Manor phone line?
He heard Dick snort. "Yeah, right! Wally, I could kick your butt any day of the week!"
Bruce narrowed his eyes. He was talking to West. From the Manor. Unacceptable. Dick knew he was forbidden from contacting the junior speedster from the house because it would be too easy to trace the number. He and the boy were going to have words about this.
"Walls, any fight-off will have to wait until after Christmas," Dick was now saying. "Bruce is taking time off work and I really want to do some stuff with him."
The billionaire stiffened. Had Dick just used his real name? To West? When had the boy revealed his identity to the loud-mouthed teenager? Bruce had never given him permission to do so! Furious, he pushed the door open.
Dick was curled in the leather chair behind the antique desk, his legs tucked under him. He looked up as Bruce entered and blanched at the look on his guardian's face.
"Wally, I'm going to have to call you back," Dick whispered, never taking his eyes off of Bruce. Slowly, he put the phone down. "You heard," he said quietly.
"Yes." Bruce folded his arms and glared at him. "When did you tell him?"
Dick squirmed under his gaze. "A couple of months ago."
"But you've only known him for a couple of months!" Bruce was beyond furious now. "How soon after meeting him did you tell that fool your real name?"
"Wally's not a fool!"
"Well, he certainly acts like it sometimes. Dick, how could you be so stupid?"
Dick flushed and sat up straighter in the chair, slowly peeling his legs out from under him. "I'm not stupid! Wally's my best friend and–"
"He's a teenager who doesn't know how to keep his mouth shut and you told him who you really are! You barely even know him. What were you thinking?"
Bruce's voice was getting louder and Dick wilted. "I…I just wanted to tell him who I really am. Please don't be mad, Bruce."
Dick's blue eyes were wide and upset, and Bruce would have felt guilty if he weren't so concerned. Why didn't Dick realize how serious this was? "Dick, you told a boy you've only known for a short period of time your real name, a boy who has done nothing to indicate that he can be trusted, and who has proven that he will blurt things out when he's under pressure! Did you use your head at all?"
Didn't Dick understand the danger he would be in if West screwed up? How would he keep the boy safe if it got out who Robin really was?
Dick stood up and came around the desk towards Bruce, his hands out in a placating gesture. "Wally won't tell anyone, I swear! He can be trusted, Bruce."
"How do you know he can be trusted?"
The boy hesitated. "I just know," he mumbled finally.
"That's not an answer."
Dick shrugged, the action infuriating Bruce further. He unfolded his arms. "That's it, you're grounded. No friends, no phone, no TV and, after tonight, no Robin duties for two weeks."
Dick's mouth dropped open. "Two weeks?! But…it's Christmas."
"That's how disappointed I am in you." Bruce pointed a finger at Dick. "And Robin wouldn't even be coming tonight if it weren't so important to put Petrov behind bars."
"This isn't fair!"
"Fair?" Bruce echoed dangerously. "Dick, I told you never to reveal your real name to anyone, and you disobeyed me."
"You told the League your name," Dick pointed out sulkily. "I don't see how Wally is any different."
"Not everyone in the League knows my real name. And those who do had proven themselves as heroes long before I ever met them, and I took the time to get to know them, trust them, before I revealed my identity. West has barely started in the guise of Kid Flash and we still don't know if he can be trusted."
"Of course he can be trusted! He's Flash's nephew."
"By marriage, not blood," Bruce reminded him. "And association with other heroes is no indication of trustworthiness. Trust has to be earned."
"With you!" Dick shot back suddenly, angry splotches of colour on each of his cheeks. "Trust has to be earned with you! I like to give people the benefit of the doubt first."
Sometimes Dick's naivety flat out scared Bruce. "A foolish inclination that could get you killed. Dick, you aren't to speak to West outside of Robin activities again. It's too risky."
"You're not being fair! Wally's known for months and he hasn't told anyone! Not a single soul."
"You won't even give him a chance!" Dick stamped a foot in frustration. "Wally's my best friend; you can't force me to not speak to him!"
"I can and I will. Keep pushing me and I'll make your punishment last a month."
The boy's face twisted in anger, hurt and disappointment. Without another word, he slipped around Bruce and ran from the room, slamming the door behind him.
The billionaire stared at the closed door and rubbed his temples. He probably could have handled that better, but why was this so hard for Dick to understand? Secrecy was crucial for Batman and Robin. Every criminal in Gotham wanted revenge on Batman, and when Robin had first hit the streets, his presence had incited the criminal underworld into a blood-thirsty frenzy. It was obvious they thought he was Batman's son, making him one of the underworld's biggest targets. But Robin's stellar training and impressive skill set, along with Batman's caution, ensured they were never able to lay hands on the boy.
Bruce had known from the outset that criminals would target Robin to get at him, but he hadn't anticipated the level that some were willing to go to. Joker was particularly troubling in his obsession with Robin. Therefore, keeping their identities secret was of paramount importance. Why couldn't Dick understand that instead of blabbing to the first child hero he had become friendly with?
Bruce scowled. West hadn't been operating as a hero long enough to prove himself trustworthy. Sure, he was enthusiastic, but that only made his motormouth tendencies worse! How could a boy like that be a reliable confidante? And Bruce was expected to trust him with Dick's identity? Hell no!
He wondered seriously if he could convince Martian Manhunter to wipe the memory from the teenager's brain.
Dinner was a silent, uncomfortable affair: Bruce had conveyed his displeasure by refusing to look at or speak to Dick throughout the entire meal. Dick had spent it staring at his plate as he tried to force food down his throat. And now his stomach was churning as he stared miserably out of the window at the falling snow while Batman and Robin drove into Gotham.
Dick knew he should have told Bruce that he revealed his identity to Wally, but he'd been putting it off because he knew the man wouldn't take it well. Bruce trusted no one – not even Clark! – and he was paranoid beyond belief about security. The fewer people who knew things about him, the better he liked it.
But Dick needed people around him. He had found it very hard not having anyone to confide in about Robin stuff until Wally came along. It wasn't exactly easy to tell Batman when Robin was scared about something. The only thing Batman understood about fear was how to inflict it.
But Robin could talk to Kid Flash.
Kid Flash understood every fear or insecurity that Robin experienced because he had them too – doubly so because he was new to the whole Superhero gig. Plus Wally liked all the same things that Dick did and he was just so easy to talk to. Dick hadn't been able to get too close to anyone in school because he was worried about letting stuff slip, so he'd been feeling somewhat isolated for a long time. Bruce was great and everything, but he was hardly ever here. Between running Wayne Enterprises, protecting Gotham and heading the Justice League, Dick was lucky just to see his guardian every day.
So when he and Wally had struck up a friendship, it had been everything the lonely boy had been looking for, what he had been missing since his parents died – closeness, trust, warmth. Dick had wanted to prove that he valued their friendship every bit as much as Wally did, and he wanted to keep their friendship equal. After all, why should he know who Wally was when Wally didn't know who he was? Dick knew Wally would never betray him. Why couldn't Bruce see that?
He wished he could make Bruce understand how important this was to him. But human feelings were too irrational for Bruce sometimes, and asking him to trust a gut instinct was like asking him to let Dick play with guns.
The boy sighed, making the glass frost with his breath. He had actually been looking forward to Christmas this year, and now it was ruined because Bruce didn't know how to trust people.
"Robin. Did you hear what I said?"
Dick started, and whipped his head around. Batman was staring at him with a less than pleased expression. Oh, right. He was supposed to be Robin right now, and Robin paid attention.
Dick hadn't even noticed the car stopping.
Reluctantly, he shook his head and Batman hummed with displeasure. "We're here. This building has the highest vantage point in the vicinity of the docks so you will situate yourself on its roof. I want you to stay there once they show. Petrov and his men are known for their shoot-first-ask-questions-later tendencies. Maintain radio silence unless it's an emergency. When you see them approach, signal me and then contact Captain Gordon."
"What if you need help?"
"Stay. Put," Batman reiterated, frowning. "Gordon and the police will assist me once they get here."
Robin knew better than to sulk, but he couldn't help feeling like this was further punishment. Climbing out of the car, he watched as Batman reversed and drove back down the street to park the bat-mobile out of sight. Then he retrieved his grapple gun and fired a line at the tall building, before activating the recoil that propelled him upwards into the rapidly swirling snow.