Disclaimer: Not mine, No money, Don’t sue. Oh, but if you made that sweater, let me know, cause I want one and so far I’ve only seen it in my mind.
Notes: Originally written for A.J.'s Christmas Contest. Research and medical procedures and conditions is based in fact but speculative.
Warnings: Strong, but not overly explicit language.
Thanks: To Sandra for being a patient kind and quick beta. To Rose, Reccea, and Scott, for offering to beta. To Cyndi, my fellow insomniac for staying up and nitpicking points with me and providing me with a fresh perspective. To Dr. E. action sequence guru, ‘nuff said. To Scott, Scruff, or Sock, whichever one I happened to be talking to at the time. To Marcie for support. To Chicago, Smitty, and Mickey for explaining to me just who the heck Jason Bard was. To anyone, I made read random disjointed paragraphs. And mega and biggest hugs to Gina who critiqued, nagged, prodded, helped, and supported me through this entire endeavor.
* * * * *
The Sanctity of Snow
By Gen X
* * * * *
I watch him sitting at the windowsill, acting as if he's watching the snowfall. He sits still and silent facing the window. The glow of the white flakes reflects off the dark glasses. I finally got him back inside. If it weren’t for me, he’d stay out there in the snow all night.
I look at the clock. Almost five, everyone should be coming soon. I’m torn between letting him stay where he is and having him help. I know he’d jump up eagerly if I asked.
I don’t though.
He doesn’t have to put on his party face yet. Nowadays, if you were to talk to him, you’d never know anything is wrong. But if you saw him alone, you’d see the pain that is present. The pain that is finally, slowly starting to heal.
I go to tell him to get ready for the party. People will be coming soon. But, instead I find myself watching him and watching the snowfall that he can’t see.
* * * * *
"Home for the Holidays"
It’s good to be back in town.
I’ve been away far too long. I pause on a rooftop, taking in the view. With the untouched blanket of snow, Gotham actually looks peaceful tonight. The snow has stopped falling, and everything is shimmering. No soul has yet tread on the pristine carpet. By tomorrow it will be filled with tire tracks, footprints, sand, and salt. The vile elements of corruption will ruin its splendor. The beauty will be lost. But I know the beauty will be back with the next snowfall.
I tread lightly across the roofs, the snow crunching beneath my boots, I feel guilty for desecrating this miracle of nature. Irrational, I know. I shake off the sense of reverence, it’s best left reserved for quiet nights at the manor. Jumping from rooftops requires focus.
By the time I reach my destination, a light snowfall has begun. I work my way through a maze of security nets until finally I reach a window. I climb inside, leaving a trail of melting snow.
“You could have used the door, Former Boy Wonder.”
Babs wheels into view. She looks down contemptuously at the wet spots on the floor. I grab a towel that she hands me and ineffectively clean up my mess. “And pass up the latest round of ‘Invade the Clocktower’?”
“If it spares my floor then the security can wait.” She takes the soggy towel from my hands and wheels into the other room. I follow her. No Christmas decorations, I notice dejectedly. We’ll have to remedy that.
“So what new and exciting mission brings you to my home.”
I snort indignantly. “It’s Christmas Babs, and you want a reason?”
She laughs. “I think your calendar’s a little off. It’s only December 7th. Where do you get your information anyway?”
“From a very reliable source,” I respond, while raising an eyebrow. "Some source on the web," I say dismissively. "Claims to be all seeing and all knowing."
"Does it live up to its reputation?"
"Every time." There must be that twinkle in my eye she always says I get, because she laughs.
“Don’t you have to be out on patrol? Kids, nowadays, always slacking.”
“I’m going. I just stopped by to ask you to go shopping tomorrow. I figured we’d hit the store, buy some presents and decorations. Pick up some gaudy plastic reindeer.”
“I need you to come Babs, I always forget the name of the stuff Alfred likes. You know the weird chocolate stuff.”
Her face wrinkles in confusion. “Nutella?" That's the Oracle I know and love. "Why are you buying him nutella for Christmas?”
“ ‘Cause he refuses to add it to the grocery list and won’t buy anything if it’s not on there. Which is strange because he makes the list, so don’t ask me. I started buying it as a joke about six years ago. It’s become tradition. Come on Babs, you gotta come, otherwise I’ll forget what it is.”
“I think you’re just using me for my memory.”
‘No, just your looks,’ I want to say. “No, I’d never do a thing like that," I say innocently. I look behind me and add, “Would I, Bruce?”
“Yes, you would.” he says evenly coming out of the shadows. Babs is too used to it to be shocked. She just rolls her eyes instead. “Come on," he says gruffly. "You’ll see Barbara tomorrow. We’ve got a city to patrol.”
I give Babs a mock salute, and I’m out the window following the bat into the white abyss. She doesn’t object to Bruce’s statement. Maybe it’s reflex. Maybe she wants to go. Either way, I know she’ll be there, the bat said so.
My dad is so cool.
* * * * *
"I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas"
If he doesn’t stop soon, I think I’ll be forced to kill him.
“Just a little one?”
"Puppy dog eyes didn't work when you were twelve. They're not going to work now that you're twenty-four."
"I think your memory's going. They always worked when I was twelve. Don't you remember the cookies and stories and the-"
I hold up my hand. "I get the idea. But I'm don't want one. And puppy dog eyes are not going to change my mind."
“But Babs," he wails, "You can’t have Christmas without a Christmas tree.”
“I have nowhere to put it.” He looks at me skeptically. “Even if I did, there’s no way we’d load it in the car with everything you’ve got back there.”
We’ve been shopping for almost five hours. Dick definitely went overboard on decorations. Everything plastic and gaudy is now in my van. Somehow, he managed to convince Bruce that the manor needed new decorations. Like anyone can even see them atop that hill.
Bruce probably gave his permission to get Dick to stop nagging. Much like what I’m considering now, but I really don’t need a tree. Dick’s face is so full of joy that I know I’m going to give in. It's just a matter of time.
Dick has been going at full speed since we left. He showed up on time. Unfortunately. I never got to finish my statement last night, so I never got to tell Dick that Jason Bard was coming over. Jason and I had just finished up lunch when Dick arrived. No situation is tenser than a jealous superhero. Thankfully the situation defused quite civilly, and Dick's mind shuffled his jealousy to the back after just a few minutes outside.
“It should be snowing,” he says abruptly, bringing me back to the present. He stops on the sidewalk and looks around.
“It’s a cheery day. It should be snowing.”
“Most people consider snow a bad thing.”
His face twists in utter amazement. For a second, I see that youthful boy with whom I used to fly across the rooftops. The little kid that took delight in everything trivial and heartbreak in everything minor. His eyes capture that wonderment and innocence he once had. "How can snow be a bad thing?" he asks incredibly.
He's so full of the Christmas spirit that I don't even try logic. "C'mon, don't you have more shopping to do? I think you have yet to succeed to buy out those tiny plastic elves."
"Speaking of colorful short things. What should I get Robin for Christmas?"
"So, that means I don't know. But it's still a good question. But, I have a better one, what are you getting Bruce?"
"Don't worry, kid, you've still got time."
"What do you get the guy that has every-wait, did you just call me kid?" His face wrinkles in mock disgust.
I tug on his arm and say, "C'mon, we've got a Christmas tree to find."
"You mean it?" His childish eyes light up with delight. As we head off in pursuit of a pine nuisance, a light dusting of snow begins to fall.
* * * * *
"Deck the Halls"
I creep silently across her roof. She's added new tricks up here. Flying shrapnel almost took my head off. I thought her security was supposed to be non-lethal. But then again, she did say the roof access was set up mainly for Bruce. And other flying Rodents.
She knows I'm up here, I accidentally trigged the high-pressured air jets when I was setting up the reindeer. My arm is going to have bruises tomorrow. I was doing good, key operating word: ‘was’. I knew her pressure sensors wouldn’t be activated with the snowfall. Figures, I’d trip and give myself away when the plan was so easy. I rub my arm, it definitely will have bruises. Her reaction will be worth it though.
Her voice comes through the comm link, "What the hell do you think you're doing? It’s after hours, shouldn't you be asleep like all good vigilantes?"
Ulp! *That* was not the reaction.
I'm almost done, so I ignore her and set back to work. She’s not going to make me blow this surprise prematurely. Just have to set the timer on the lights to make them sing electronically. Ta da! I throw the switch, and Bab's roof lights up like a virtual wonderland. The animatrons move, the signs illuminate and the lights sound out "Jingle bells.” For about two seconds. Then the roof totally goes dark, and I'm assaulted with an ear splitting screech. Thankfully, it stops as abruptly as it started.
"Looks like you got around to putting in those noise detectors, Babs," I mutter.
A voice behind me says, "I helped her install them last week. Didn't test them out yet. I suppose she should thank you."
I turn to face Robin and lean against a plastic sleigh. "Heya kid, whatcha doing around these parts?"
"Oracle called me in." He picks up a random snowman. "Heh. She said you weren't responding."
"It was supposed to be a surprise," I say lamely.
He turns around and sees the paradise I’ve created. “This was supposed to be discreet?”
“Well, no, but it was supposed to be surprise. She wasn’t supposed to be up.”
He smiles and laughs at my optimism. I scowl, he always forgets I’m bigger than him; just your typical little brother.
“Hold on a sec,” he says, turning slightly away. Ah, the illusion of privacy. I listen to the one sided conversation. “Oracle, I found him. Yes. No. Well. Why don’t you ask him? Yes. No. No. I don’t know. Do you want me to ask? Okay, we’re leaving.” He turns back around. “She says you blew a fuse.”
“Damn.” I move to open a panel on the roof so I can remedy that. I wipe away the newly fallen snow and tug on the panel. Tim follows me, stepping over some giant snowflakes still lying on the ground.
“Make sure you turn off the power.”
“Thank you,” I say sarcastically. “I think I know what I’m doing.”
“You didn’t when you blew it.”
I turn and frown at him.
I fiddle with the switches a little more. Voila! The wonderland lights back up. I dash over to the lights to turn off the sound before the sensors go off again. “So, Timmy, what do you think?”
“Great. But aren’t you going to put those plastic things up?” He’s pointing to the leftover decorations scattered across the roof.
“The snowflakes? I ran out of line to hang them off the roof.”
Tim stops momentarily, pondering something. Then, he pulls some jumpline out of his pack. “Will this work?”
“You’re a genius, did you know that?”
“Well, yeah, of course. C’mon, I’ll help you out.”
We quickly dangle the rest of the snowflakes. What would Batman say if he knew his resources were becoming part of a Christmas display? Which reminds me, the manor is next.
* * * * *
"Do They Know it’s Christmas?"
Criminals don’t stop for Christmas, Babs. Christmas doesn’t mean anything to them, Barbara. Criminals don’t take a holiday, sweetie. Everyone I love has told me that. I understand it. I accept it. But, no one’s told me I have to like it. Holidays aren’t supposed to be spent out in the cold snow trying to stop multitudes of criminals. I wonder, would they take the day off if we paid them to?
Even so, just like everything, life goes on. Like with everything in the holiday season, it becomes worse. Like shopping, crime goes up. I haven’t gotten a decent sleep in a while, and it’s Dick’s fault last night. It’s eight a.m. I’ve gotten about three hours of sleep. I mean, I love Dick; he’s always this warm center of my world. But sometimes, a woman just needs her beauty sleep.
Still didn’t figure out what he was doing on my roof. Forgot to ask Robin about it last night. Oh well. I log into my email and wait for the messages to ping. I’m about to start coffee but seeing the light snowfall outside makes me opt for hot chocolate. I put on a teapot instead. I turn my attention back to the computer when it beeps at me.
Nothing urgent, or semi-urgent. Dinah’s report. JLA research information. An email from Dick. Perhaps an apology? Looking at the subject, “Winter Wonderland” I highly doubt it. Probably more Christmas cheer. The past few days, I’ve gotten singing reindeer, dancing elves, flying candy canes, this morning is probably going to be ice skating snowmen floating across my screen.
It’s a satellite picture. Of my tower. Of my roof. Filled with reindeer, elves, candy canes, and snowmen. I laugh aloud. Only Dick would do this. So this is what he was up to. Suddenly it dawns on me, as much as Dick insists he can use computers, he doesn’t know how to configure a satellite. So that’s what the new boy wonder has been doing in his spare time.
I pour myself a cup of cocoa. I need the caffeine so I can start cracking on the info needed. If it weren’t for Dick’s enthusiasm, I’d probably be bah humbugging the holidays, but unfortunately optimism is infectious. Nevertheless, I still think we deserve the time off or, at very least, hazard pay.
* * * * *
"Children, Go Where I Send Thee"
“I need you and Tim over at the harbor tonight.”
“No problem, what’s up?”
"Arms deal, extortion ring, and counterfeit racket."
I let out a low whistle. "All one group?"
"Yes, but they don't know it. And because they don't..."
"...they're going to make a play for each other's operation. Who hires these guys nowadays? Where are you going to be?”
“I have to wrap something up. I trust you.” With that he gets into his car and heads off. The cave is a little bit cramped. After all, with Tim off on break and me home for the holidays, all the little Nightwing and Robin gizmos are stuffed on the shelves next to the Bat’s. I honestly thought Bruce was going to flip out when I brought my car.
I’ve just about finished suiting up when Tim wanders down the steps. He looks at the empty platform then looks at me.
“On our own tonight?”
“Yep, the bat has entrusted us to stop a war at the harbor.”
“He always gives us the easy ones,” he says with a wry smile.
In twenty minutes, we’re off in the Nightbird. I’m driving, of course; Tim’s examining all the controls and asking me tons of technical questions. I promise him the blueprints when I get back to Bludhaven. That seems to satisfy him for the moment.
I park half a block from the harbor; this poor car doesn’t need to be that close to the firefight. The deals have already started when we approach. We scan the area; there are three meetings, just like Bruce said. Except there’s about three times as much muscle power. It’s not snowing, so if they scatter, we’ll be hard pressed to catch up with them. There’s way too many people here; please don’t tell me each group is trying to rip off the other. Talk about confusion. The biting irony is that these guys are all controlled by the same boss, and when he gets wind there’ll be even more casualties.
“Let’s split up,” Robin suggests. I’ll take the counterfeiters, you can clean up the extortion deal then we’ll tackle the arms.”
I shake my head. “The moment we jump on one group, hell’s going to break loose. The moment anybody hears gun fire the harbor’s gonna be red. We’ll take the arms deal first, and together. The last thing we need is for those guns to be used tonight.”
We move in and watch as the deal is in transaction. I’m about to signal us to move, when another group storms through the door. There’s yelling and shouting, until finally, the shot heard ‘round the harbor gets fired. Criminals scatter. Clips of 9mms get unloaded and money goes flying like confetti.
I toss some smoke pellets down, while Robin nails some goons with some batarangs. Some are off and running; the rest are pinned down by crossfire that hasn’t quite dwindled down. In the distance, I hear more guns. Just like I predicted.
One ambitious thug is making a play for the gun crate. I don’t know if they’re loaded, but I’m not about to take the chance that in a few seconds he’ll have a loaded MK-17 in his hands. Not about to take a chance that everyone could be mincemeat in a few seconds. I jump down and slam into him with a flying tackle. I hope Robin has enough sense to stay up there, out of the frying pan, which puts me in the fire. There’s not a place I’d rather be.
The thug and I go sprawling down. I make sure he takes the brunt of the impact. His head hits the ground hard, and he’s out for the count. I spin around to see another mook lifting a gun out of the crate and, of course, aiming straight for me. I dive out of the way just as he fires. Instead of a spray of bullets, there’s an explosion. A double cross. The gun explodes, pretty much decimating his hands and sending superheated metal shrapnel throughout the area.
A piece flies by my face, catching the side of my face and searing my hair. On the bright side, the wound is instantly cauterized. More shrapnel coming my way. Too late to move. A blunt piece hits my face, cracking the lenses in my mask. I roll behind a crate and pause to wipe the rest of the broken lenses away. I shake my head to clear away any disorientation. I peek around and do a quick check to get a position on Robin. He’s not up in the rafters, which means he’s got to be on the ground.
I peer around the crate and take stock of the situation. The gas has completely dissipated so the gunfire has increased. The number of people in the warehouse has been cut down to one-fourth of what we started with. The gun crate stands alone in this sea of destruction. Thank god. Tim’s in the corner taking down some guys with his bo stick. He’s not outnumbered; he can handle himself.
I turn to my immediate area. There are still some pistol-toting thugs that need to be disarmed. I’ve almost got most of them down when the doors to the warehouse swing open. Won’t you join the dance? The outside noise has quieted down, looks like the party’s here.
Robin and I need to regroup if we’re going to get out of this with our kevlar intact. The group opens up with some heavy firepower. They’re aiming at everything that moves. We both duck and cover. Tim’ll be fine on his own for a few moments longer.
The gunfire stops, and the group disperses, approaching and cornering the trapped or fallen souls. Time for me to move. I’m heading across the room, when the original party retaliates. Nothing like a nice little crossfire to get your blood pressure up. Robin’s pinned down because of the gunfire, something I quickly remedy with a few well-placed kicks.
“C’mon,” I say, “I think we’ve overstayed our welcome.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice.”
Normally, we’d have the ever so climactic scene with our jumplines ascending and us flying out into the night, but that would give the boys with high-powered toys a slow moving and pretty much linear target.
The group’s moved away from the door. What better place for an egress than two wide open ceiling tall doors? The only drawback is we have to cross the entire room. Luckily, we have some nifty tools to pave our way.
We wait for a lapse in fire, then spring to our feet and start our escape. We don’t get far and end up taking shelter behind some other crates. We're slowly making headway. I'm in the lead with Tim watching our back. Luckily, the criminals seem more interested in shooting at each other so that provides us with a pleasant diversion.
I'm almost past the gun crate, the halfway mark, when I see someone pulling out a grenade launcher. You've got to be kidding me. His first shot goes high and impacts in a far corner raising numerous shouts from the people in that area.
He's getting ready to fire again. Time to move. Behind me, I hear Tim call out, "Nightwing!" Just as I spin around to look at him, the crate explodes under the fire.
First, there's searing heat. Next, I feel shrapnel impact with my suit. There's going to be more bruises tomorrow, if not actual wounds. Then my world goes white, and I howl at the sudden pain in my eyes. I manage to stop myself from falling to my knees. Instead I grit my teeth, no time for pain now, later when we're safe, I can deal with it.
I shake my head trying to clear my vision but am greeted only with darkness. Damn. I call out, "Robin?"
"Over here." I turn towards the sound of his voice, my hand shielding my eyes from his view. He sounds relatively unhurt; his voice is even almost calm.
"You take point." He shuffles past me and starts the same duck and run technique we were using before. I've worked in tandem with him long enough that I've almost gained an instinctive sense of his presence.
The next time we pause for gunfire, I reach up and tenderly touch my eyes. There's an ever present pain that won't quit. I'm brushing over them lightly when my fingers impact with something hard and sharp. Oh god. Oh god. Oh-
I turn away from him and pretend to scout the area. I turn towards the sound of gunfire thus avoiding his scrutiny. "I'll be fine." I hope. "We're almost out of here. Let's go."
The population in the warehouse has dwindled down due to the heavy firepower. So much so that moving targets are a rare thing. I listen to the noise. Not many people moving. Heavy breathing, clips ejecting, rounds chambering. Ammunition is starting to run low for these guys, I can hear their angry mutterings.
It takes us ten more minutes but finally we're out of the warehouse. Tim leads us down a narrow alley way, and for the first time we relax. I collapse against a wall and bow my head, my hair falling over my face. I can hear Tim pacing, unable to keep still because of the adrenaline rush.
"Do you want to double back and check the other deals?" he asks.
I listen to the noise around us. "No, most of them have split. We're done for the night." At least, I am. "C'mon, you can drive."
"Um...sure!" Then he adds a skeptical, "Why?"
"Because I can't see."
* * * * *
"While Shepherds Watched"
I came as soon as I got the call. With light traffic and no snow, I made it in near record time. I'm sitting in Dick's room in Leslie's clinic. Tim and I are waiting for Dick to come out of surgery. Bruce is nowhere to be found, despite messages left at the manor, work, and anywhere else we could think of. It’s now nine a.m.
Yes, I said Tim. Robin called the tower at five a.m. His voice sounded panicked, as he hastily recounted the night’s details. When I showed up at the clinic, I found Tim sitting on the windowsill, his legs drawn up to his chest and arms wrapped around his legs. He wasn’t in costume, and he looked so vulnerable that for a moment I wasn’t sure who he was.
“Robin,” I called out.
“No,” a pause, perhaps a sniffle. “Tim. Tim Drake.”
“Tim,” I repeated; he nodded slightly. “How’s Dick?”
“Dunno. Leslie gave him something for the pain then made a thousand phone calls, mostly to the eye trauma center. He’s still in surgery.” He added miserably, almost as an afterthought, “It’s all my fault.”
I wheeled over to him. “Hey, don’t start that now. It’s not your fault, and he would be the first person to tell you that.”
He shrugged disbelievingly. “If I hadn’t distracted him-”
I moved to rest my hands on his shoulders. “It’s going to be okay.” He rested his head on my shoulder. “It’s going to be okay.” Please Lord, let him be okay.
That was four hours ago. Four hours and we still haven’t gotten any news. Tim finally fell asleep from exhaustion, although judging from his sporadic movements, he’s not getting any peace.
I’m fighting off sleep, when Leslie comes into the room. She wakes Tim up and motions us to follow her to the waiting area.
“I would have been out to talk to you sooner, but I’ve been discussing options with some of his doctors. Dick’s been out of surgery for a while. He’s been in recovery, and we’re moving him to ICU now. Eye surgery is very susceptible to infection, so for the next 24 hours I’d like to keep him without visitors. He’ll still be out for the most part anyway.”
“How is he?” Tim asks anxiously.
“There’s been a lot of scarring, and there’s been major damage to both his corneas. We’re not sure yet how much of his vision he’s lost.”
I gasp audibly; I can’t help it. I finally find my voice, “Is it permanent?”
“Most likely. We won’t know for certain until he wakes up. If it is, there are some options we can explore, but I’ll wait until Dick’s awake so I can discuss them with him as well. Where’s Bruce?”
“We don’t know,” I say. “We’ve been trying to find him.”
“Dick’s going to need all the support that he can get. In fact, I have a few centers they might want to look into. They deal with the emotional and physical aftermath of these types of injuries. They have staff that can also help ease the transition.”
I nod, suddenly feeling as if this entire day has taken a surrealistic turn. All the color has drained from Tim’s face. He looks horrified. I know exactly how Tim feels because I feel the same way.
Before Leslie gets the chance to move away, I ask, “Can I have that list? I’d like to help and do some research.” I need to do something, I can’t just sit here and wait.
She smiles, softly, sadly. “I’ll get you copies.”
I turn to offer Tim a ride, but he’s disappeared. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where he went. I find him standing outside of Dick’s room in ICU, his palms flat against the glass window. I wheel next to him, in front of the door so I can look in.
Dick looks so vulnerable. There are various IVs running into his arm. There’s a morphine drip running to his arm as well. On his eyes are white gauze bandages that contrast so sharply with his dark hair that falls over them. I bite on my lower lip to stop it from trembling, and close my eyes to block out the sight. A second later, I open them, guiltily. How dare I forsake that which he might not have. I’m thinking irrationally, my emotions are too complex to figure out right now.
Tim’s head bangs against the window as he slumps against it, letting it support him. I reach up and grab his arm and squeeze gently. This isn’t doing him any good. “Let’s let him rest,” I say. He nods slightly. “Do you need a ride?”
A shake of his head. He swallows a few times until he finds his voice. “I have Dick’s car. It’s parked out back.”
I nod. “You’ll call me when Bruce gets in?”
He nods again.
“He’ll get past this. You believe that, don’t you, Tim?”
“Let me tell you,” I start assertively. “I’ve known Dick for over ten years. I’ve watched him grow. I’ve seen him in bad times and good. He’s a fighter, Tim. He won’t let this drag him down. He’s been through so much, and he’s always bounced back.”
“He’s been through so much. What if this is too much?” With that, he slowly walks away leaving me alone in the middle of the hallway.
I look into the softly lit room again. Tim’s last words echoing in my ears. I know you’re strong enough to live through this, Grayson. Don’t prove me wrong, Dick.
* * * * *
"I’ll Be Home for Christmas"
I think I’m awake. I’m not entirely sure. Everything’s still dark.
I reach up and to clear away the sleep from my eyes. I feel that taut pull of an IV, and that’s when all the memories come rushing back. I’m suddenly aware of the gauze and tape on my face and stop myself from touching them. There’s a dull ache, but no pain. Mostly, I just feel fatigued.
What day is it? What time is it? What-
“You’re awake,” a voice interrupts my thoughts. Babs?
“Where am I?” I ask. My mouth is dry, probably due to anesthesia or oxygen.
“You’re at Leslie’s clinic, hon.”
I nod and vaguely wonder why I’m not in the bat cave.
I lick my lips ineffectually. “Can I have some water?”
“I’ll get it,” Tim says from off to my left. I didn’t know he was here.
“Thanks,” I say. I listen for a moment; I can’t tell if anyone else is in the room.
“How are you feeling, Dick?”
“You were in surgery for almost four hours yesterday.”
“My eyes,” I say knowingly.
“Yeah. I’ll go find Doctor Leslie. She can explain it more to you.” She starts wheeling around the bed.
“Am I blind Babs?”
“We…we don’t know yet.”
“Babs. Don’t go.” She pauses. In a soft voice I add, “I don’t want to be alone.”
“You’re not,” says another voice, directly in front of me. Bruce. Of course.
“I’ll be right back, Dick,” she says, she gives my hand a gentle pat, and she’s out of the room.
The silence only lasts a few moments before Bruce speaks. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” I challenge. I sit up slightly in the bed to meet him more levelly. “You have nothing to be sorry about.”
“For sending you there. For what happened.”
I shrug. “It wasn’t your fault. I’d like to think that it wasn’t mine either-”
“It wasn’t,” he says a little too quickly.
“Achem. Thank you Bruce, I’m aware of that fact. As I was saying-”
“It wasn’t Tim’s fault either,” he interrupts me again.
“Of course it’s not Tim’s fault. I probably wouldn’t have gotten out of there alive if it wasn’t for Tim. As I was saying, it’s nobody’s fault. It was just a bad circumstance.”
“Just a bad circumstance,” he echoes flatly. Bruce’s tone of voice is almost as hard to read as his facial expressions. So given my situation, I don’t think I’m missing out on much. “That’s what you call this?”
“Yes, that’s what I call this!” Outside, I hear the rubber of sneakers screeching to a halt a few feet from what I assume is the doorway. Tim’s back and keeping his distance. “What do you call it? I’m not about to get upset because of something that I wished hadn’t happened. I can’t change it, so I’m going to have to deal with it.”
“I think you should talk to Leslie.”
“Okay. Fine. By the way, you can tell Tim he can come in now.”
A few minutes later, Babs is back with Leslie in tow. She lays out the facts of life. Asking me questions and whatnot. Yes, I do know that I had metal and wood stuck in my eyes; it hurt like hell, thank you very much. The long and the short of it is my corneas are shot to hell, and I have too much scarring to even consider doing surgery right now.
“We’ll assess your level of vision, although, I’m pretty sure it’s fairly low if not completely blind. There are some options. Corneal transplants, we haven’t come that far with lasers yet. In cases where blindness is total, there’s the option of physical reconstructive plastic surgery, which is strictly an aesthetic option. It has nothing to do with ophthalmology.”
I don’t want to hear all this now. I just want to go home. “So Doc,” I ask, “When do I bust out of this joint?”
I have to imagine her disapproving frown. However, I do get a sigh from her. “Dick, you’re on heavy antibiotics right now. We have to make sure any infections don’t set into the surgery. If they do, it would mean more complications. Usually we like to keep patients for at least two or three days for observation.”
“But you’re going to make an exception in my case, right?” I say with a forced grin.
“You know the set up Bruce has. And I promise we’ll call the moment anything happens. Please? After all, aren’t blind people supposed to be kept in familiar surroundings.”
“Only if they’re up and about, which you should not be, young man.”
“So I promise I’ll stay where I belong, like a good little bat boy.” I change tactics and almost start pleading. “Please, Leslie. I’m so tired. I just want to go home.”
“If you do fine through the night,” she sighs, hating herself for going against her better judgment, “I’ll see what I can do to get you released tomorrow morning. Now behave, and no flirting with the nurses. I’ve got to do rounds.” She shuffles off leaving me with my family.
“Thanks.” I say before she’s out of the room. I hear heavy footsteps follow hers outside. Then the door closes behind them. Looks like Bruce wants to talk to Leslie privately. Most likely about me.
“By the way, what time is it?” I ask.
“It’s five o’clock,” Babs supplies. “You’ve been drifting in and out since around ten this morning.”
“You’ve been here all that time? Have you eaten?”
“I haven’t been hungry. I’ve been worried about you.”
“I’m okay. Why don’t you take Tim down to the cafeteria? I’m just going to, you know, sleep.”
“Are you sure?” Tim asks. “We can bring the food back up here.”
“And eat in front of me?” I pretend to be offended. “Nah, go eat, dance in the hallways, build a snowman, just take a break. I’ll still be here when you get back.”
“If you’re positive?”
“Absolutely. Now go. You can commiserate with me on a full stomach.”
I hear them moving out. I hear the door closing. I wait until I hear them shuffling down the hallway. I stop sitting up and collapse against the bed. Gingerly, for the first time, I reach up and run my fingers across the bandages. My fingers go numb, almost in shock. I grip the bed sheet tightly making a fist out of frustration as my mind runs over everything Leslie’s told me. This isn’t fair, I think to myself, aware of the self-pity in the statement.
After a few minutes I relax my grip. I rest against the bed in resignation. I hope to be fast asleep when they get back. I focus on sleep, using it to hide from the world and my new reality.
* * * * *
"See Amid the Winter’s Snow"
The buzzing of the proximity alarm from the speaker next to my ear wakes me up. It’s nine a.m. I’m at my terminal, the browser still rooted to an eye care website. The printer has stacks of paper and is still spooling. The last thing I remember was researching corneal transplants.
Quickly, I reviewed the events of the night before. I got back home at nine-thirty. Leslie had finally got around to kicking us out. Bruce had left sometime before Tim and I had returned from dinner. He disappoints me, but, regretfully, doesn’t surprise me. Neither of us has seen him since, apparently just knowing Dick is awake and coherent is enough for him.
It’s not enough for me.
The moment I got back home, I hopped on the net. I looked into all the material Leslie gave me. Somehow, I doubt Dick’ll go for the rehabilitation clinics. The idea is almost laughable; after all, they’d only be able to help the man behind the mask. Dick seemed to be taking this in stride. Personally, I think he was just putting on a good show for our sake. That’s Dick Grayson for you, he doesn’t know how to disappoint an audience.
I’ve run through all the names and places Leslie gave me. Did my own searches, cross referenced, looked up case histories, I’m looking for hope. Some concrete evidence to support my stubborn optimism. I guess I lost track of time because one minute I’m tracking an ophthalmologist, the next moment I wake with someone’s at my door. I look at the monitor expecting to see Tim or Alfred. It’s Jason.
I’m not really in the mood for company, and that’s exactly what I plan on telling him when I get downstairs, yet I reconsider by the time I reach the ground floor. I could use someone to talk to. Dick didn’t want to discuss it. Every time I brought it up, Dick would just shrug it off. I usually let it drop because Tim seemed uneasy with the subject also. I wonder, as I’m opening the door, if Jason would be a better or worse candidate to discuss this with. My thoughts cease as I open the door, all mental processes get devoted to putting on an civil disposition.
And failing miserably at it.
“Hello Jason.” My voice sounds weary, tired. He immediately picks up on it too.
“You said you were going to call, I figured I’d save you the dime. Is it a bad time?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know. It’s been a bad few days.”
“I can listen if you need to talk about it.”
I want to, I realize, desperately. I need to let this out. It’s not fair to Jason though. “I do, but I don’t want to offend you.”
“Why would you offend me?”
I trip over the phrasing and end up going with the so-called political correct version. “Because of your condition.”
“My blindness. Like you said, it is temporary. I mean, it’s me that should be worrying about offending you. After all I get to walk around, I should be worried about resenting you.”
I scoff. I’m insulted. “That’s insane.”
“Yes it is. So is your reasoning. Do you see my point? Let’s get some breakfast and we can sit down and talk.”
The air is still outside, not a snowflake in sight. The temperature is bearable so I head out without a coat. Somewhere in the back of my mind I realize that I’m still in yesterday’s clothes. We head down the sidewalk and eventually stop to eat at a little outside café. I quickly recount the tale embellishing here and there. He listens silently. After I’m done speaking the silence doesn’t end.
“Was it hard?” I ask suddenly, needing to connect to their pain. “The transition I mean.”
He shrugs. “It was. Probably easier than your own.”
“It’s different,” I say too quickly and sharply.
"No it’s not. We just had to come to terms with our limitations so we can move on. Do you want me to talk to him? I can relate to what he’s going through.”
I seriously think about it. Dick and Jason aren’t on the best terms. So that’s a factor against. On the other hand, Jason intimately understands what Dick is going through. Then I correct myself. Jason’s never flown through the air at night. He’s never tried to juggle two personas. He’s never thought a midnight jaunt across rooftops is a great date. He’s never dressed up in red and green or blue and black. He’s never lived that life. So, no, he can’t relate to that. I sigh. Not many people can.
Finally, I make my decision. “Thank you. I think he needs some time alone though. You can help me out though, I’m trying to do research-”
“I’ll give you every name and stitch of paper I have. In fact, I’ll come over sometime and help you research.”
I grasp Jason’s hand. “That would mean so much to me.”
“What are friends for?”
The conversation dies off after that. I’m thinking of so many things. I don’t know what’s on Jason’s mind though. When the food comes we don’t have to keep up the pretense. Gradually, the conversation eases into small talk. He walks back with me to my apartment.
“I’ll dig up those names as soon as I can, I’ll call you when I do.” He gives me a supportive hug before he leaves.
“He’ll get through it you know. He seems too stubborn not to.”
I have to smile at that statement as I watch Jason walk away. When I get back upstairs, I’m going to put a call into the manor. It’s later than I thought; Dick, should be coming home soon, if he isn’t there already. First things first, I bathe and change my clothes. I’m toweling my hair dry as I reach for the phone. It’s only been two rings when a crisp English voice comes over the phone.
“Hi Alfred. I was just wondering what time Dick gets released because I’ll meet you down at the hospital.”
“I’m afraid Master Dick won’t be coming home until tomorrow.”
“Is everything all right? What happened during the night? Is he okay?” In the space of about three seconds a thousand fears and problems flicker through my mind. I forget to breathe in those few moments while my imagination creates the most gruesome and dire possibilities. What could have happened?
“He’s fine Miss Gordon. Doctor Thompkins was showing some concern at his rise in temperature and thought it best if he was kept for one day more.”
“He must be upset about that.”
“I haven’t spoken with him, although I’d imagine his reaction to be less than pleased.”
“Well then,” I respond, “I suppose I’ll just have to cheer him up.”
“I think that would be most beneficial. I’m going to be paying the young master a visit shortly. I just have to wait until the soup and cookies finish. Would you like me to pick you up on my way?”
“That would be great. Give me a ring before you leave.”
“Not a problem. I shall talk to you later then.”
I pick up the phone as I’m organizing the papers I printed last night. I finish sorting the papers. I’m creating three piles: expository, experimental, and experts. I dial and grab a paper from the expository pile as I wait for Dick to pick up. He picks up on the sixth ring, but his voice doesn’t come through the line immediately. Rather, I hear a string of mumbled frustrations and the sound of the receiver clattering about until finally I’m greeted with a terse and breathless voice.
“Hey Dick!” I greet enthusiastically. “How you holding up?”
When he speaks again, his voice is calm and pleasant. Almost normal, I realize uneasily. “Can’t say it’s the best time of my life. Did you hear the news Babs?”
“Uh huh. Alfred told me you’re trapped in prison. How are you feeling now?”
“Better. My temp’s been down all morning so I’ve been trying to talk Leslie into releasing me.”
“Not a bit. She’s as stubborn as certain people I know. She wants me to get rest, but it’s pointless here. I mean the nurses kept waking me up last night.”
“In demand, are you?” I tease. He laughs.
“Trust me. This is not the type of attention I like receiving.”
“The bandages come off today don’t they?” There’s no response, for a moment, I wonder if he heard me. When he next speaks the happy current in his voice is long gone. He sounds weary and resigned.
“Yeah. This afternoon.” He pauses. “So you coming to visit today?” His voice is lighter but the ease is forced. “ ‘Cause if you don’t, I suppose I’ll just have to make do with the candy stripers.”
“You’d like that, Grayson.”
“Oh yeah,” he purrs seductively into the phone. I chuckle lightly. “That uniform is so sexy.”
The words are out of my mouth without consulting my brain. “No ogling the nurses, boy wonder.”
The silence that stretches between us reaches ominous proportions, while the full implication of what I’ve just said filters into my weary brain. Only the sound of his heavy breathing assures me that he is still listening.
“Thanks Babs, I love you too.” His voice is bitter and scornful. I can’t say I blame him.
“Dick, I didn’t mean-”
“I’ll talk to you later.”
“I’m sorry. I-”
“I’m tired Babs. Later.”
He hangs up without waiting for a reply. I hang my head in misery. Numbly, I move to stop the dial tone from buzzing in my ear. I’m damning my senseless remark. I, of all people, should be more perceptive. I want to condemn myself for my thoughtlessness. But I’m too concerned for Dick.
He’s floundering between two extremes: denial and avoidance. As much as it might seem like an easy idea, you can’t hide from something like this. If you hide from it, it wins. I know it from experience. And damn it, Dick, I know you can overcome this. I move to redial his number but stop. It’s too soon for me to push.
I’m wondering what to do when the phone rings. I pick it up, emotionally drained. Whoever it is will just have to call back because now I don’t feel like talking.
“It’s okay, boy wonder. Don’t worry about it.”
When he doesn’t respond, I wonder what I’ve said this time. His voice sounds nervous when he speaks again. “Could you do me a favor? Could you not call me that anymore?”
I’m stunned. I’m shocked. I’m …disappointed? “Not a problem,” I manage to choke out.
Don’t do this to yourself Dick. The bandages come off today. Then we’ll take it from there. It’ll be all right. It has to be.
* * * * *
"The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot"
I'm going home!
Leslie just gave me the news, she's going to discharge me when Babs gets here. Babs. I felt physically sick after our phone conversation. The worst part was hearing her apologize. It wasn't her fault. It was mine. New resolution for all has been superheroes: No depressing the people you love. That being said, I have thirty minutes to get myself out of my self-deprecating state.
Alfred just called to say he was coming down and bringing Barbara too. Tim would have come down too, but he has a good excuse, he's in school, and Bruce is conveniently occupied. That's okay though. He's been watching outside my window the past two nights. He doesn't think I know, but I do. I thank him for that small notion of comfort, but for his sake, I won't tell him that. He can be the brooding bat, he's showing he cares in his own way. But still, I'd rather him be inside than keeping his distance from the outside.
I sigh. I wish he was coming. I need my dad.
My emotions are reeling out of control. One second I'm happy to be heading home, the next I'm nervous about the bandages coming off. Some small part of me doesn't want them to come off, the part of me that doesn't want to grasp the concrete realization that I can't see. I'm not dense. I've overheard Leslie talking. I know what happened. And what's more, I can't forget the pain of the event. The searing metal shrapnel as it flew towards me, the bits of wood cutting not only into my face but also into my eyes. It would be a miracle if I could see. One, I'm not about to hold my breath for. Right now, I have hope. In a few hours, I'll lose that too. After that, I don't know what I'm going to do.
I hit the call button to get the nurse. With a great deal of luck and good timing I can pull this off.
Twenty minutes later Leslie's standing in front of me asking, "Are you sure you don't want to wait until they get here?"
She and her ophthalmologist friend, Doctor Carton, are in my room. I managed to talk Leslie into taking the bandages off now, rather than later.
I hear the light switch being flipped and the blinds pulled shut. Doctor Carton tells me not to move as he cuts the gauze tape. Not a problem, doc. I don't want a haircut out of this deal. It's a slow process. Until Carton says, “There's a lot less scarring than I had expected.” His fingers brush my cheek and eyebrow that’s when it hits me.
“They’re all off, aren’t they?” I ask feeling like I’m about to break down. My world is still black.
“Tell me what you can see, Dick,” Leslie asks, but she already knows. She heard it in my voice. I shake my head miserably, not able to find my voice.
They run through different tests, but my reality never changes. It remains that miserable cloak of darkness enveloping me. Beside me Dr. Carton drones on and on.
“Get out,” I say my voice deadly even.
I hear Leslie gasp then try usher Dr. Carton out making apologies for my behavior. He stands his ground.
“I know this will be an adjustment for you. I’d like to let you know that with time you can lead a full and normal life.”
I don’t respond. Sure. This is it for my normal life, not that it was that normal to begin with. I guess that’s what I’ll be reduced to. A normal, albeit sightless, life. This former bat boy has no delusions on what his life will be like. I can’t change it. Any of it. No matter how hard I want to. No matter what I’d trade. But it isn’t going to go away. Carton is going on and on about rehabilitation and therapy. Seeing eye dogs and other inconsequential details.
“Get out.” I repeat, trying for the same tone. No one is more surprised than me when my voice breaks.
“Dick, honey,” Leslie breaks in. She puts her arm around my shoulder.
I shrug out of her embrace. “I…need some time.”
“I suppose, I could come back in an hour,” Carton huffs, then leaves.
Leslie pats my shoulder then leaves. She gets as far as the hallway then her footfalls stops. “I don’t know if now’s the best time, Bruce. We just removed the bandages.” There’s a pause but I don’t hear anything. “He’s very upset right now. He needs support.”
Bruce comes in and closes the door behind him. He’s being courteous because I can hear his steps.
“I thought you were at work,” I say miserably, as I hang my head. I don’t want him to see my vulnerability. I don’t want him to see me as weak.
“I realized I had something better to do.”
“Well, it sure was a waste of time, wasn’t it?” He doesn’t respond. “I mean this isn’t like it’s a time pressing ordeal. I mean my situation isn’t changing.”
He sighs. His hand ghosts across my face, trying to clear my errant hair away. I stop the motion by grabbing his wrist. If I could see I’d probably give him that well practiced glare. As it is, I put pressure on his wrist until he moves his hand away.
“So that’s how it’s going to be then,” he says no longer pushing.
“What do you expect from me Bruce?” I say wearily. “Do you want me to sing and dance? Do you expect me to joke and laugh, to just pretend everything’s all right? Do you expect a happy show so you won’t feel guilty? Do you expect me to just forget that I can’t see a damn thing! It’s kind of hard to forget that little detail! It’s only a big part of my life! My whole life has changed!” My voice nearly breaks. When I speak again all the thunder has left me. I’m too tired. I don’t want to deal with this. “So what do you expect from me? Is it that you want? Do you?”
“No I don’t. I don’t expect you to do any of those things. I want you to be yourself. You’re Dick Grayson. You’re my son. None of that has changed, and it could never change.”
He brushes my hair away from my forehead. I don’t stop him. His hand moves away. I can’t. I just can’t meet his gaze. I shake my head in misery. I just can’t.
“We’ll work it out.”
I lift my head at that statement. I nod mutely. I want to believe that. I want to believe that so badly it hurts.
“Do you…do you really believe that?”
“Let me tell you what I know about Dick Grayson. He’s my best friend and my deepest pride. He’s been through so much pain and heartbreak, but in the end he’s still smiling, he’s still laughing. His happiness is always genuine. And what’s more is that he doesn’t know how to fail. He doesn’t know how to give up. So that’s how I know he’s going to get through this. This isn’t the end Dick, you can overcome this. You need to believe that.”
“Because you do?”
“No. Because it’s true.”
* * * * *
"What Child is This?"
It seems to be genuine too. There’s no more mood swings. There’s no undertone. There’s no sarcasm. His entire mindset is different. Considering the circumstances it should be exactly the opposite. It’s almost as if the situation doesn’t matter any more.
Dear lord, don’t let him be suicidal.
Dick’s been pleasant. Almost elated when Alfred gave him the cookies. I’ll admit I was a little bit shocked to see Dick without the bandages, I thought he was waiting for his family. He did, however, just not all of it. The Ray Ban sunglasses look great on him. At upwards of five hundred dollars, they could have only come from Bruce. These are the little things everyone misses about Bruce. He may not scream his feelings from the rooftops but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.
“So how have you been Babs? Any new crises in the superhero world?”
I’m taken back and don’t know what to say. It isn’t just his casual tone it’s his subject matter. What happened since I talked to him earlier? This can’t be the same guy that snipped at me before.
“I haven’t really been online much,” I admit. “How are you doing?”
“Me? I’m good. So when do I get to leave? You guys came to bust me outta this joint, right?”
“Alfred’s talking to Leslie now. She’s getting the paperwork.”
“Are you sure you’re okay? Is there anything you want to talk about? This is probably going to be hard for you, and I’m here if you need me.”
“Thanks Babs. That really means a lot to me. I’m good right now though. You know what you could do?”
“Don’t laugh now.”
“Why would I laugh?”
“Because I really have a craving for jell-o.”
“Jell-o?” I echo skeptically. The guy just found out he can’t see, and now he wants jell-o. Either this is the fastest emotional recovery I’ve ever seen anyone pull or Dick has packed his bags and moved to Egypt and set up residence on that famed river, denial. I’m betting on the latter.
“Yah. Jell-o. You know those cut little wobbly squares. All the hospitals have them. It’s the latest rage.”
I sigh. “Sure Dick, red or green?”
I’m about to head out and get this insane request when Alfred and Leslie come back.
“So doc,” Dick says, “can I leave yet?”
I turn back to him. “How do you do that?”
“Do what?” he looks confused.
“How can you tell who it is?”
“Oh. Well, Alfred’s shoes make a distinctive sound, and he has a crisp stride. Leslie’s shoes squeak slightly. Not to mention I can smell her perfume, and yours. But in this case, I cheated. I heard them talking.”
“Eavesdropping, young sir?” I can’t help but smile at Alfred’s response on etiquette.
“Not me old chap. You raised me better than that.”
“That I did. So are you ready to depart?”
“Does this mean I don’t get my jell-o?”
Leslie and Alfred exchange looks.
“It’s home or jell-o. Dick,” I challenge, playing into his humor. “What are you going to choose?”
“Well, if you’re going to force me to choose…”
“I’ll get a wheelchair,” Leslie says as she heads out.
She whirls back around to face Dick, shocked by his vocal reaction. Before any of us can ask, Dick continues.
“I don’t need a wheelchair. I’m perfectly capable of walking out of here by myself.”
“It’s policy,” Leslie says going with the time-honored scapegoat.
“This isn’t a hospital,” he says firmly. “Besides, there’s no way we’d sue.”
Leslie frowns. “Dick, this isn’t up for discussion.”
“Fine,” he says petulantly his arms crossed. “Then I’m not going anywhere.”
She walks out of the room; I follow her. “Leslie,” I call getting her attention. “Can’t you make an exception? I just know from experience that it would mean a lot, psychologically.”
She looks down at me, her eyes flickering over the chair. Fine, if guilt is what makes her agree, that works too. “It’s the feeling of independence,” I continue. “The feeling that your whole world hasn’t been yanked out from under you. He needs this Leslie.” I give her a pointed stare. She meets my gaze steadily but then looks away. She knows she can’t win with the stubbornness the bat clan has.
“I’m not going to win this one am I?”
“Not if I can help it. Come on, let’s go get some jell-o.”
* * * * *
“Hey! Babsie! Where are ya?”
Ever since Bruce’s talk with me, my reality has a new focus. I’m too stubborn to give everything I love up, including my nightlife. It definitely took some adjusting but nothing I couldn’t get the hang off. Bruce has been talking to Leslie every night about procedures without success. With Bruce’s connections and money, if an answer existed you figure they would have found it by now.
I needed to get away. Everyone hovers over me. Alfred is constantly buzzing about. Well, more so than usual. So I did the same thing, I hovered, annoyed, distracted and bantered until he suggested that I visit Miss Barbara. He even promised to make food to bring if I would leave him alone to do it.
So here we are. I wander further into her tower. It’s not snowing so I don’t have to worry about leaving a mess behind me. Now if I could only find her. I know she’s home. Okay, I didn’t call in advance. Alfred did. Besides, somebody obviously buzzed us in. “C’mon out! Alfred made jam. But it’s nothing without your bread.”
No response from her, but beside me Alfred does a little disapproving harrumph.
“Okay I admit it,” I call out again, “that was a shameless hint. I want bread. It would be a tragedy for good jam to go to waste.”
I walk through her place, poking my head around each doorway. The sunglasses slip from the sudden action; I push they back up firmly. Of course, considering, the effectiveness of my hunt is cut down dramatically. But the mischievous intent is still there.
“If you don’t need me anymore master Dick, I shall depart.”
I wave him off. “Nope, I’m good Alfred.” I wait ‘til the door closes before I call out, “Yoo hoo! Barbara! Olly olly oxen free!”
“I’m in here Dick.” Faintly from the back hall.
“Hey what are you doing all the way back here?” She’s in the storage room doing who knows what.
“We’re just trying to find some numbers.” We? As if she reads my mind, she continues. “Dick, I think, you know Jason.”
“Yeah, Hi,” I say dismissively. That was civil enough wasn’t it? “So Babs, what’s up? Didn’t Alfred tell you I was going to be stopping by?”
“He did. I’m sorry we just got caught up in research.”
“Anything I can help you with?”
“Nope, we’re just about done. Why don’t you guys move it into the dinning room and I’ll grab some drinks. We’re about done here anyway.” With that proclamation she wheels out leaving us alone.
“So…” I say uneasily in the silence.
“So. How have you been Dick?”
I shrug out of reflex. Then I remember he can’t see either. What a pair you have Babs. “I’ve been okay. Trying to work around this. It’s not as hard as I’d thought it would be.”
“Look, I just want you to know, if you ever want to just talk about it. You can let me know.”
“Thanks. But I’ve got my own support groups.” I’m about to go out the door to find Babs when he says, point blank:
“She thinks you’re in denial.”
“Is that what she said to you?”
“She didn’t have to. It’s obvious.”
“Look, I don’t need to be analyzed by her ex. If she wants to say something to me she can come out and say it, and I know she knows that. It’s never stopped her before, and it’s not going to stop her now. She doesn’t need you to speak for her.”
“I’m only here because she asked me to help.”
Some small objective part of my brain realizes he doesn’t want to fight. That he’s trying not to get into an argument. Of course, that just makes me push even harder.
“With me?” I ask amazed. “Thanks, but no thanks.”
“Dick, listen, I’m just trying to-”
“I don’t care. I don’t need your opinion on how you think I should be reacting.”
He scoffs, “So you don’t care about what she thinks either.”
“Oh, screw you. She knows me better than that. I’m doing fine. Just trying to do what passes for normal around here. You know, just dropping in on a friend.”
“Do you always get defensive when people try to help you?”
Do I? “I don’t need help.” End of discussion. I stalk off. His voice catches me at the end of the doorway.
“Do you know what she’s been doing ever since you got in the hospital?”
The question catches me by surprise. “No. Should I?”
He shoves a bunch of papers at me, I barely manage to catch them all. “What’s all this?” I ask perplexed.
“On?” I’m fumbling to find a solid area to put the papers down. Just when I thought I found one, it slips, so I’m resigned to holding them.
“Oh, the usual. Corneal transplants. Laser surgery. Optic Trauma.”
“What?” I manage to ask.
“This is what we’ve spent every night doing. I thought you should know. So don’t you dare hurt her with your stupid pride because all she wants to do is help.”
He pushes past me and is out of the room. I stand there shocked.
“Bard, wait a sec.” I need to ask. I need to know. “Did she find anything?”
“No. Not yet. Research just hasn’t come that far.”
No surprise there. Strange. Even with that declaration I don’t feel like my world’s been upended. After all, I’m still not going to let a little thing like this stop me.
He moves into the next room. I hear him telling Babs that he’ll see her later.
“Are you sure?” she asks.
“I’m sure. I have some other things to do.” Then he whispers something I can’t quite hear. “Bye Babs.”
I wait another few minutes before I leave the back room. I drop the papers in a nearby recycle bin.
“So, Babs?” I say casually, “Where’s my bread? C’mon we can make a picnic out of it.”
* * * * *
"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"
Dick grunts as he falls on the mat yet again. His hair is matted down with sweat. The dark blue tail of the blindfold is whipping behind his head. Sunglasses do not a sparring tool make. I’ve never realized before this but I still haven’t seen his eyes. I asked him about it a few days ago, but he just brushed it off. He said, “Hey if you get to be stubborn and not have handles on your chair, I can be stubborn and wear the glasses.” Dick had told me that his new resolution was that nothing in his life was going to change. I wasn’t sure how much of his life he meant until now.
The match isn’t going too well for Dick. He’s breathing heavily. It’s been almost forty minutes and Dick has landed exactly two punches. He gets up and lunges again; Bruce sidesteps him with ease. Dick uses his momentum to somersault away defusing most of the force of the fall.
This is far from a good idea. Tim’s next to me watching the scene tensely. He refused point blank when Dick asked him to spar, so Dick just shrugged and asked Bruce.
Dick is on his feet again. He and Bruce circle around the mat keeping distance as polar opposites. Bruce moves forward trying for a sweeping kick, which Dick barely avoids. Dick’s next move is a roundhouse kick, but Bruce sees it coming and easily catches his ankle. Bruce sweeps him off his feet and Dick hits the mat solidly. The air expels from his lungs in an audible rush.
He doesn’t get up. He just stays on the mat breathing hard.
“That’s enough for today,” and with that Bruce throws a towel at Dick. “Hit the showers.”
Dick springs to his feet in frustration. He pauses, uncertain for a moment.
“To your right,” Tim supplies.
Dick’s head whirls around viciously. “I knew that boy wonder.”
“I-” Tim starts to respond, but Dick has already stalked off. “-was only trying to help,” he finishes quietly.
“Don’t worry about it Tim,” Bruce interjects. “You should head home, you’re Dad’s probably waiting up.”
Tim nods and heads off.
I wheel over to Bruce whose doing cool down exercises. He notices me but doesn’t acknowledge my presence.
“What do you think you’re doing Bruce?”
He stops momentarily and raises and eyebrow, but other than that his performance is seamless.
“Do you think you’re helping Dick this way?”
“What are you talking about Barbara?”
“This.” I motion around the cave with my hand. “Encouraging him.”
He stops, generally perplexed.
“He’s going to want to get back into his nightlife,” I explain, spelling it out for him.
“Don’t be ridiculous Barbara. He’s in no condition to be-”
“Exactly my point. So why are you encouraging this behavior?”
“He’s his own person, I can’t change his mind.”
“Bruce, you have a bigger influence on him then you’ll ever know.”
“Let’s suppose you’re right. Now, let’s imagine I tell him to sit and pout and be a good little rich kid. He’s not breakable, and I can’t treat him like that. He’s going to have to accept his limitations in his own time. Personally, I think it’s something he can work through.”
I look at him dumbfounded. “Something he can work through?” I repeat incredibly. “Bruce, he’s going to push himself so hard trying to convince himself that it doesn’t matter. Trying to convince *you* it doesn’t matter.”
“He knows better than that,” he says dismissively and he walks off. Heaven forbid someone besides Bruce ever gets the last word.
I watch his retreating form and think bitterly, you know Bruce, for the world’s greatest detective you can be pretty damn dense.
* * * * *
"Let it Snow"
“What the hell do you mean ‘No.’!”
I can’t believe this bullshit.
“I can’t believe this bullshit!” I say aloud, “What the hell are you trying to pull Bruce?”
We’re standing in the hallway. I’d call it a face off, but with the circumstances it would be pretty ironic and sadistic. And there’s nothing funny about the situation.
“I said no. End of discussion.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me! I’ve worked my ass off for you. Where do you get off by telling me no.”
“You’re crazy if you think I’m just going to let jump back into a suit.”
“That’s what you practically told me to do! Why the hell do you think I’ve been doing this?”
“Dick, look, why don’t you calm down. We can talk about this.” That’s Tim, putting in his two cents.
“Stay out of this,” we both snap.
“You’re not going out and that’s final.” Here we go again, back to this pedagogical crap.
“What right do you have to dictate my life?”
“I have every right if you’re being irresponsible.”
“So all of the sudden you want to protect me? Is that what this is? You couldn’t protect me before? So why the hell do you think you can do it now? You couldn’t stop this, could you Bruce?”
I can feel the tension as silence envelops the room. Suddenly, I realize I’ve gone too far.
“Stop being childish. You’re not going out and that’s final.”
“Now, whose being childish,” I challenge. My mind is telling me to just ‘shut up’, but I can’t let it go. I can’t lose this. God, please, I can’t lose this. I’ve worked so hard. It can’t be over, I refuse to think -
I feel a rush of air go by my face. I hear a solid thud as something embeds itself in the wall behind me. My hand goes up and grasps the cool metal.
“You didn’t even know that was coming did you?” He sounds weary.
“That’s not the point,” I say childishly.
“It’s exactly the point. And what’s more Dick, you know it.”
Stupid bat logic. Always has to be right, always is right.
I’ll be damned if I give in. I’ve worked too hard for this. I’m so frustrated I’m not thinking straight. I yank the batarang out of the wall and hurl it at the ceiling chandler I know is there. Glass shatters as it impacts. Tiny crystal shards fall down around me. It’s an artificial snowfall.
This isn’t the end. I won’t let it be.
* * * * *
“Sorry to come here,” he says timidly from outside my window. “I didn’t know where else to go.”
“How are things at the home front?”
“Do you count exploding chandeliers as good things or bad?” Tim climbs inside the tower in Robin attire. It’s not snowing outside, but it still has to be cold.
“What happened?” I ask handing him a blanket. For a moment he looks offended, as if no superhero would ever need one. Then his ego leaves and he takes it, draping it around him. He shrugs, playing with the little unwoven threads of the blanket.
“Oh, you know the usual. Dick wants to go out as ‘wing. Bruce says ‘No way.’ They get into a fight, and the next thing you know it’s raining glass.”
Damn it Bruce, you couldn’t leave him alone. You and your damn standards, I think angrily.
Tim continues, “Do you want to know what’s worse? Watching them do this to themselves. Not being able to get them out of this evil cycle. You probably know exactly what I’m talking about don’t you?”
I nod. I’ve been there many times.
“What do you do when they yell at you?”
I pause. Thinking back on everything I’ve done.
“Most of the times, I bite my tongue. Sometimes, I yell back. More often than not I just get quiet. It’s good to be silent sometimes. It stops the anger from going around. I try to be patient. Both Dick and Bruce are going through a lot. You are too, you know.”
“Me? No I’m not.”
I smile sadly. “Sure you are.
“Dick has been through a tragedy. Bruce is in denial. They’re your extended family. Then there’s you. Tim Drake. You’re trying to be this calm, patient, little center. But you can’t do it all. You can’t save them from themselves. You’re watching as they’re self-destruct and no matter what you do, they don’t want to be helped. And it’s tearing you apart inside.”
He nods, drawing the blanket tighter around him.
“How do you deal with it? How can you just watch when you know what’s happening to them.”
“The only way I can, one step at a time.”
“It’s just so damned hard. I mean Dick has barely spoken to me since it happened. It seems like every time he has, it’s been to yell at me.”
“Don’t take it personally. I’m sure he doesn’t mean any of it. He has to be frustrated with the situation. Dick can be very stubborn, and he’s very hard on himself. He’s more like Bruce than he’ll ever admit.”
“You can say that again,” Tim interrupts.
I can’t help but smile at that.
“Why don’t you talk to him about it?”
“He’s so defensive. He doesn’t want any help. Which normally would be fine. But he can’t do it all by himself.” I nod in sympathy, he continues. “He thinks we don’t catch the little things. The hesitation, the uncertainty. Hell, half the times I wish I didn’t catch it. So I could just go back to deluding myself everything’s all right.”
“Like he is.”
We fall into a companionable silence. After a few minutes, Tim picks up the tiny little Nightwing doll. He looks it over with care then sets it back down on my monitor. I watch silently as he looks at the Batgirl doll, then over to me, then back to the Nightwing one.
“It’s going to take time isn’t it?”
I nod, but my gaze firmly fixed on the two plush toys. They’re only memories now.
* * * * *
"Up on a Rooftop"
“What are you doing?”
I whirl around in the cave. Looks like I got caught with my hand in the proverbial cookie jar. I thought he was out for the night. Or the morning, now.
“Nothing, kid, go away.” He doesn’t listen and instead comes to stand closer.
“You know Bruce would kill you if he found you down here again.” After the incident upstairs, Bruce forbade me to set foot near the cave, or anything related. You break one measly chandelier.
I make it a point to ignore him. I start suiting up waiting for another objection.
"Look, Dick. I'm sorry.”
What? Okay, way to catch me off guard Tim.
He continues, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you hate me now-"
"What the hell are you talking about?” I spin towards him, in a state of half dress. I still have my khakis on. I’ve just finished pulling the top of my suit over my head. I hear him gasp, that’s when I realize I don’t have either the glasses or the mask on. I fumble for a few seconds until I grab the specs, cursing myself for my stupidity.
I shift his focus back to the issue. “Where did you get this crap about me hating you from?"
"From you!" he shouts. His voice so forceful one minute, so tiny the next. "From you. The way you avoid me, the way you don't talk to me. You've probably said maybe three words to me since it happened. And I know I deserve it. I'm sorry, Dick. It's all my fault."
Damn. "Tim. Kid. It's not your fault. And I don't blame you." I place my hand on his shoulder, then move it to the back on his neck. I pull him closer to me, I push his chin up so he's looking up at my face. I don' t mean to do it, but I can't stop the gesture. "And I certainly don't hate you. I'm an idiot, I'm sorry. I was trying to spare you pain?"
"Spare me pain?" he says incredibly. "I'm not the one who’s hurting! Geez, will you drop the stoicism. I'm concerned about you. Yes, I do feel guilty. Do I know logically, that it's wrong? Yes, but it doesn't change it.”
“I’m…sorry. I didn’t know you felt that way. I guess I’ve been so caught up with everything.”
“That’s another thing,” he says forcibly moving out of my grip. “You are not alone,” he punctuates each word with a stab to my chest. “We all want to help you, you know that?”
I don’t respond.
“Don’t you?” he asks.
I shrug. “Bruce doesn’t, he just wants to stop me.”
“He cares about you. He feels so guilty about the accident. Frankly, I do too. I mean, I hadn’t distracted you…”
“Tim, kid, listen to me. And I mean really listen. It was not your fault. I never want you to believe, even for a second that it was. Are we clear?”
“We do have one problem though.”
“What’s that?” he asks uneasy again.
I gesture around. “You obviously know what I’m doing down here. You going to tell?”
“Nah. I mean, by the time I go and get Bruce you’ll be gone right.”
“So I guess I’ll just have to let you do this. As long as I tag along.”
“Couldn’t think of anyone better.”
Twenty minutes later we’re swinging from the rooftops, landing from roof to roof, leaving footprints in the fresh snow. I can feel the tail of the blindfold whipping behind my head. I want to solo, but Tim’s sticking on me like glue. Finally, I convince him to let me stop in on a friend, alone.
He agrees and drops me off at Babs. He leaves after making me promise to be careful, call, write, don’t insult fat men in red suits, yadda, yadda, yadda. I really owe him now. Gotta do something to show my gratitude and my apologies. I’ll think about that later. Right now, I’m concentrating on my footing. The falling snow is making it even harder that I thought this would be.
I shouldn’t have tried this. Too late to back down now. My foot slips on a patch of ice, I quickly try to regain my footing, before I fall off this damn roof. I regain my purchase, ta dah! The Boy Wonder's still got it.
I counted the paces, which means that the window should be right about here. So I can dangle head first in front of the window grasping the edges with my hands.
"Nightwing! What are you doing here?"
"Hi, Babs. Nice to see you too."
"What are you doing out there?" she hisses almost violently.
"Are you by yourself? Please tell me that you've got someone with you."
She's not impressed with my triumph. I figured out of all people she would be. Hmph. "I think I left Robin a few rooftops back," I kid. He won’t be coming around to get me for a while. I pull myself up unto the roof and change my grip so I can roll into the window. I tense my grip, as get read to swing down into the window. I can do this, it's just a backwards somersault to swing in. Child's play.
"Watch out, I'm coming in."
I start the roll just as my grip slips. I reach out, and my hand wraps around a tiny cord. The Christmas lights. I still have a firm hold with my other hand but I'm falling sideways now. I'm going to miss my mark. I pull upon the lights to right my descent. I can hear the tiny plastic mounts snapping free under my weight. It works, barely; I bang hard into the side of the window but manage to land on both feet as I drag half the lights in with me.
"Dick! My god, are you alright."
"I'm good Babs. Don't worry." I say dismissively. "Sorry about the lights though. I'll get you a new set-"
She slaps me across the face. "How dare you tell me not to worry? Jesus, Dick, you scared me. What the hell did you think you were doing?"
"It's okay, Babs-" I start, only to be cut off again.
"No, it's not. What where you trying to do?"
I keep my voice level but I can't stop the chilly tone that comes out. "What did it look like I was doing? This is my life."
"It looked like you're trying to get yourself killed."
"I'm fine aren't I? I've got to learn to work around it somehow."
"Don't you get it?" Her voice takes on a new tone. It's softer, gentler; I don't like where she's going with this. "Don't you see? This isn't something to work around. You said it yourself; it's your life. You have to accept it. You can't just work around it."
I cut her off, tersely. "I've been doing fine so far."
She starts her lecturing tone again. "Dick-"
"What do you want from me Barbara?” I nearly yell. Before I can stop them, all those frustrated and hurt filled words flow out of my mouth. "It's not like I asked for this! No matter what I do now it's not good enough. I'm sick of everyone's concern; I'm sick of their protection. It's so damn hard to give up everything you love! To let go of it and still try to get on with your life! If I accept it, my life will have changed."
My voice nearly cracks at the end. The harder I try to hold on to everything the more it slips out of my grasp. I collapse on the floor in frustration. When I find my voice again, it's too soft and small. "I can't lose it Babs, I just can't. I can't. What will I have then?"
I wait for her to yell, to leave, to scream, to cry. I shouldn't have said that. It's not fair, and it's not right. She's been through all this and triumphed. I just destroyed her success with my frustration. I hate myself and my situation even more for that. It's better you leave now Babs, before I blow up and hurt you again. I listen but she isn't saying anything. Then I feel her hand behind my head, drawing me close. I can feel the wind starting to whip around and gust forcibly inside.
“You’ll have what you always had.”
“No I won’t,” I say miserably. I know she knows exactly what I’m referring to.
“Just because you have to hang up the mask doesn’t mean that your worth has changed. Take it from someone who knows.”
I nod. “It’s just so damn hard. Letting go. Why do things have to change huh? It’s just not fair. Oh God, why me?”
She holds me closer, sheltering me from the storm that’s coming both inside and outside. I know, I’m breaking down. I turn my palm face up, feeling the broken glass from the tiny bulbs in my flesh as my hand moves.
“I can’t do this anymore, can I?”
I already know the answer. In my soul, I know. There are just too many variables for me to factor. Too much complexity in this life. Too many things happening on the fly. I could get killed, or get someone else killed. I can’t do it anymore, and it’s going to kill me to give it up. I can feel the wind and snow raging around me, almost as if the storm is being projected from my pain.
“No, you can’t,” she says softly. “But it isn’t the end of your life. You’re still the same person. Just with limitations. You just have to live with them.”
“I don’t know if I can.”
“Of course you can. You’re not a quitter Dick. You’ll work you’re way through this. Simply because you don’t know how not to. It’ll take some time. But you’ll do it. I know you will.”
I shake my head. “I don’t know how to start.”
Gently, I feel her reach up and take the blindfold off. Next, she removes the mask, I sit their stunned and drained. Her fingers brush away the tears I didn’t even know were there.
“Babs, I can’t-” I stammer, not even know what I’m protesting to. I can feel her lips brush my eyelids. She pulls away slightly, but is still holding me close.
“You can’t see. It’s not the end of the world. You can get through this.”
“I don’t think I can. Not alone.”
“You’re not alone Dick. You’ve never been.”
“Do you promise?”
“When have I ever lied to you?”
She holds me tightly. The storm outside has stopped. Soft gentle snowflakes waff inside as she continues to hold me in the night.
* * * * *
"We Wish You a Merry Christmas"
“I have a lot of regrets, Babs. I’m sure you do too. Hell, I know you do.”
“Do you want to talk about them?”
We’re in Dick’s room in the manor. Emotionally, he’s been through a lot. He’s finally thinking clearly though. After everything he’s finally accepting his limits. What’s more important, he doesn’t feel guilty for doing so.
“You know what I regret? I was up in Gotham a few weeks ago, and I was downtown in the shopping district, and I passed by this display window with this sweater. It’s light blue with tiny silver snowflakes down the sleeves. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Babs would look great in that.’ So I bought it. I didn’t have enough money, so I put it on one of Bruce’s charges. First time, I ever used the damn thing. I kept telling myself it would all be worth it to see your expression when you opened it.” He falls silent. Refusing to comment on what I knew was eating at him.
“It’s all right Dick.” I pause, letting the words sink into his being. “What did you do with the sweater?”
“I-I think I threw it away. Right after….”
“No, you didn’t Master Dick.” I hear Alfred’s voice near us. “I took the liberty of saving it. I saw it and thought that it must have been a disastrous mistake. It’s on the bottom shelf of your bureau.”
“It is?” He’s up in a moment and rummaging through until he finds it. He runs his fingers across the nylon ribbon. “Um, the bow is a little smushed.”
“Don’t worry about it Boy Wonder.”
His mouth quirks into a half smile at the return of the nickname.
“Here you go Babs, remember don’t open it ‘til Christmas.”
The conversation gains a lighter tone after that. We decide to go for a walk on the paved area of the manor grounds. There’s only a light snowfall; nothing big enough to give my wheelchair problems. We stroll along. We reminisce about the old days. Batgirl and Robin flinging themselves into the fray. We laugh at the old times and the old jokes. We sit in silence with shared pain. He breaks the silence.
“You know I love you, don’t you Barbara?”
“Of course I do.”
“I just wanted to tell you thanks so much for always being there for me. I just wanted to say it, to make sure you know.”
“I know Dick. I always have. And I always will.”
His hand reaches down to stroke my face. He leans down and we kiss. It’s not perfect. In reality, it’s a little bit awkward. However, it doesn’t take away from the tenderness or the sweetness of it.
“Thank you,” he says as he pulls away. “For everything.”
* * * * *
"Little Drummer Boy"
“I just wanted to let you know you were right.”
“Geez, you’re going to make me say it?”
I shift my weight nervously. We’re in Bruce’s study; I had Alfred call him up. Alfred, my co-conspirator, in this case. Bruce hasn’t responded. I shift again before I continue.
“The last few days have really opened my eyes, so to speak. About a lot of things. There were a lot of firsts. And lasts.”
He waits for me to continue and I do, after the dramatic pause, “I know I didn’t get a chance to get you a Christmas gift. With everything that’s happened, not that it’s an excuse, but you know. It wasn’t like I was just procrastinating, like I usually do. Not that I had figured out what to get you anyway, but if I had more time I probably would have. You know there’s a store down at the center that sells Bruce Wayne C.E.O. type clothes, but wait, isn’t that a division of Wayne Enterprises. That would explain why-”
“Stop. I’m just glad you’re all right. There’s no need to give me a gift.”
“Too late. I already did,” I say, revealing the box that’s hidden lamely behind my back. He knew it was there the second he came into the room. “I don’t know if I’d call it a gift. But I want you to have it.”
He sets the box down, and I hear the rustling of paper until finally it stops. I would give anything to see his expression when he sees the familiar blue and black uniform. He doesn’t say anything. I’m uncomfortable with the silence so I break it.
“I’m…uh…officially retiring from the superhero gig. I wanted you to be the first to know. I figured you could hang that in the cave or some-”
His arms wrap around me in a non-threatening gesture. A few seconds later, I realize it’s a hug. I return the sentiment, albeit a little delayed.
Bruce finally lets go. “I’m so proud of you.”
I can’t stop the giant smile that comes across my face.
* * * * *
"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"
Everyone is socializing in the main room. It’s an incognito superhero thing. The word has officially trickled down the wire. It won’t be long now until it hits the streets. Nightwing is retired. Dick doesn’t know it, but Bludhaven’s been well looked after. If it’s not the Titans stopping by, it’s been the bat clan wandering down. Then of course, there’s a certain super reporter that has been down a handful of times.
I slipped discreetly away. Far be it for a hostess to desert her party. It’s a light happy snow outside. Just perfect for Christmas. Dick’s been on the balcony almost all night. He loves standing out there with the snowflakes falling on him. If he only knew how silly he looked with flecks of white in his hair, he still wouldn’t care.
He and Tim are roughhousing out on the balcony. At least he’s behaving better than before. Earlier, he had my two dolls in, achem, unsavory positions atop his head. He swore that Roy had spiked the eggnog. I eventually, managed to get one of them away from him, but the Nightwing doll stayed firmly seated upon his shoulder going with him wherever he went. Until Tim, shot it off with a snowball. Thus prompting the snowball fight that was going on when I excused myself.
I’m in my bedroom. I’ve spent at least the last ten minutes looking at the carefully wrapped box. And the last two hours before that thinking about it. It just sits there on my bed. It's a symbol of before and after, love and loss. It's also the last symbol before the storm. It would be a tragedy to let it go to waste.
I wheel towards the bed, and pick up the package. It seemed wrong, but yet so right. I turn it over in my hands watching as the light plays upon the blue and silver metallic paper. I set it down, and untie the delicate knot that holds the silver bow together.
I run my fingernails underneath the tape carefully peeling it away. I don't know why the paper is so important to me. It's part of Dick's gift. I can't desecrate any part of it. I finally peel the paper away from the box. I open the box gingerly, and unfold the tissue paper.
The blue fabric sits serenely. I run the tips of my fingers over the surface, feeling the softness. I take it out of the box and hold it up to me. The tiny silver strands catch the light and reflect it.
A soft smile comes over my face as I feel a teardrop fall. Dick will never get to see me in his gift. His regret. It's perfect. So soft, so lovely.
"Barbara?" I hear him call from the other room.
It’s so perfect. But I won’t wear it. I owe it to Dick. I won’t wear it until he can see it. That’s my promise to him. “I’m coming, Dick,” I call out.
“Do you want some punch?”
“Sure.” I say wiping a stray tear. “That would be great.”
I place the sweater back into the box, carefully wrapping it again in the tissue paper. I still have hope.
* * * * *
"Jolly Old St. Nicholas"
“Hey kid, time out.”
Another snowball whacks my arm.
“Whoops.” Tim says mischievously from across the room.
I tsk him. “Keep that up and you won’t get your Christmas gift.”
I toss a small box over to him.
“Earrings?” he asks puzzled, shaking the tiny box. “Wait a second. I know what this is. Dick are you proposing?”
“Keep it up and I’ll take my gift back.”
“All right, all right. Geez, I was just kidding.” He tears into the paper. Thank god, I wrapped it, otherwise he’d never get the tape off. A few seconds later I’m greeted with a familiar jangle. He stammers. “Is this? Are these? Dick, are these what I think they are?”
I nod satisfied. “It’s all yours kid and in a few years you’ll have the license to drive it.”
“Puh-lease. I’ve driven the batmobile. Seriously, though, thank you.”
“Hey, what are big brothers for?”
* * * * *
"Auld Lang Syne"
Dick's doing a lot better now. He moved in with me. He wanted to be close to home, but he wanted to be distanced too. Personally, I don’t think he was ready to go to sleep every night knowing that Bruce was down in the cave getting ready to go out. Not that I’m much better as Oracle. At least, he can help me with my job.
I remember Clancy’s reaction when we went to move Dick out. She, like everyone else, was sad to seem him go. It seemed as if the entire apartment building community stopped in to say their goodbyes. Some even ended up offering to help us pack. That’s Dick Grayson for ya, he can’t help but leave a lasting impression.
He knows the tower as well as the manor or his apartment. He hasn't been to the cave; he avoids it. He won't admit it though, but I know. Ever since he had his emotional breakthrough he's avoided places he knows are dark.
I wish I could say, he’s all right, that he can see. I wish I could say Leslie and Bruce came up with a Christmas miracle, but they haven’t. Bruce has allocated a bunch of money for research. Dick doesn't know. I don't think Bruce wants him to know.
During the day, Dick's lively. Close to his old self. Whenever people are around he never fails to be cheery. But at night, when it’s just us, he sits in front of the window. Facing the skyline. He never moves until dawn. Then, he sleeps in the soft glow of the sunlight.
Most nights he looks so serious. Others, contemplative. Sometimes somber, sometimes reflective, sometimes filled with resignation. At night, he only smiles when it's snowing. He’s recovering, he just needs time.
Tonight, just like every night, he turns to me and asks, "Is it snowing, Babs?"
Sometimes, I miss that smile. I look outside at the white curtain slowly falling.
"Yeah, Dick. It's snowing."
He smiles, and I know he’ll be all right.
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