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Copyright November 2000

Silent Knight, Lonely Knight
By Syl Francis

Batman allowed himself a small half-smile. Dick had sounded so disappointed, his voice impossibly young. But this was for the best. The storm front would hit soon. It was better that Dick postponed his trip home until daylight.

He thought of their Christmas Eve family tradition of tree trimming, hot cocoa, and carols. He felt a little disappointed himself that Dick wouldn't be home tonight, but warmed at the idea of seeing his son in the morning. Batman turned to the job at hand.

Earlier, the GCPD dispatcher had reported a robbery at Grimalkin Gifts, located in the historic Tri-Corner shopping district. Apparently, crime wasn't taking a holiday tonight.

"Oracle?" he spoke softly in the comlink.

"Here," Oracle answered instantly. "I thought you were going home, Bruce."

"Later. I just picked up a 211 at Grimalkin Gifts. Located in the 2000 block of Kitling Drive. Do you have anything on that?"

Oracle gave a short laugh. "You're kidding right?" His cold response told her he wasn't in a joking mood. She quickly cleared her throat and got down to business. "Okay... Grimalkin Gifts on Kitling Drive... an emerald crystalline figurine of a Maltese cat reported missing. Nothing else."

"A crystalline cat? Interesting that they'd go to all that trouble and not take anything else."

"Uh-huh," she said, sounding a bit distracted. He could imagine Barbara Gordon's serious features as she busily scanned over the myriad information available at her fingertips.

"Don't you see?" she asked. "'Grimalkin'--that means an old female cat. And 'Kitling'--"

"--Is British dialect for cat," Batman finished. "I know. I was raised by an Englishman, remember?"

Oracle snorted. "Yes, now if only you could cook and clean like him."

"Catwoman," Batman said shortly, ignoring Oracle's attempt at light banter. She sighed.

"Catwoman," she agreed. "Bruce, it's Christmas Eve. The wind chill must be 20 below. Dick will be home in the morning. Let it go for tonight."

"Can't," he said curtly.

Batman cut communications and stood in the freezing wind, holding his heavy cape a little closer. He thought of the beautiful jewel thief known as the Catwoman. Three months ago he'd caught her on the roof of the Gotham City Museum of Gemology, which was displaying the priceless Russian Siberian Eye of the Tiger, a rare blue diamond...

"Can't a girl go for a walk at night without being stalked?" Catwoman pouted. She looked pointedly at his hand, which was tightly gripping her upper arm.

"Most girls don't go for walks twenty stories straight up," Batman growled. She gave a throaty laugh.

"I thought you knew by now that I'm not like most girls." As she spoke, Catwoman purposely moved closer to him, her hand reaching up and softly caressing his cheek.

"I *like* a man with a close shave," she said huskily. Batman grabbed her wrists and in a single, swift motion, twisted her arms behind her back.

Catwoman gasped involuntarily at the unexpected pain. Batman saw her eyes widen in uncertainty as she looked up at him. She was effectively a prisoner in his arms, their bodies tightly molded against each other.

Batman glared at her, his emotions raging within. He was furious with himself for yet again allowing her to affect him, furious at her for being so beautiful and desirable, yet so casual about stealing from others. Abruptly, her expression went from fear to anger.

"You can't hold me," she hissed. "I haven't done anything--"

"--Yet!" he finished coldly. "I think you'll find that trespassing on public property with intention to commit grand larceny is still considered a crime in this city." But as he spoke, his hands somehow loosened their grip on her wrists and of their own accord moved to her narrow waist.

Catwoman leaned against him, her head on his chest, her arms encircling him. "You say the most fascinating things," she whispered.

Batman could feel her rapidly beating heart against him, a mirror to his own, he knew. He held her closer, their cheeks caressing, neither speaking. Her delicate whiskers softly tickled his face. Batman breathed in her scent while his hands ran down the contours of her body, memorizing every detail.

Catwoman gasped involuntarily, and they suddenly locked gazes. He saw desire and open willingness in her wide emerald eyes, and realized that she saw the same in his. He knew that he was dangerously close to losing himself. For the briefest moment, he almost gave in. Their lips so close that he could almost taste her...

Batman jerked himself back to awareness.

"You're acting like a teenager with a hot crush," he said severely. If Catwoman broke into Grimalkin Gifts and stole the emerald figurine, then beautiful green eyes or no, it was his job to bring her in.

Without further hesitation, Batman immerged from the shadows, crossed over to the rooftop's edge, and leaped.

She watched from a safe distance. As always, her heart rate increased noticeably as she studied each of his careful, deliberate movements--a minimalist's dream. She wondered why he was out on this particular night. The frigid temperatures were such that her whiskers showed a distinct sheen from a thin layer of ice. Her exposed skin felt numb.

Who could Batman possibly be after on Christmas Eve? She checked her shoulder carryall, and pulling out an exquisite emerald crystalline cat, smiled in self-satisfaction.

"I guess he knows already," she said softly. "And he'll be coming after me. Purrrfect..."

Carefully wrapping the figurine in a soft chamois cloth, she placed it back in her leather case. Inexplicably, she wondered what a Christmas Eve would be like sitting by a roaring fire, safely snuggled within the warmth of his cape. Thinking about his intense stare and extreme masculine nearness the last time he'd caught her, she suddenly shivered.

"Time to go home, Selina," she murmured. Hearing a muffled roar of a high-powered engine from several floors below, she grinned suddenly as an idea took hold. The night was young, the Bat was on the prowl, and she was just the cat to give him the chance to be naughty or nice.

She was suddenly suffused by a warm tingle as she remembered his touch. "I *definitely* prefer 'naughty,'" she added.

Giving a throaty laugh, the Catwoman cracked her whip, caught a gargoyle, and swung into the night.

"No, please!" the woman cried. "Those presents are for my children!"

"Presents, huh?" the young hood asked. "We *like* presents! Don't we, Davey?"

"We sure do, Tony. This lady sure is nice to be giving us presents."

"Yeah, man. A regular Santa's helper."

The two hulking thugs moved in closer to the cowering woman with each word. By now, she was trapped, her back literally against the wall, the two men blocking her.

"No, please," she whispered. "Please--"

"You like presents?" a low, menacing growl said from behind them. "Why don't you take *this* instead?"

Tony and Davey whirled around. A cold fist gripped their insides. There was no one in the shadows, just the cold whistling wind carrying the first few flakes of snow, indicating the arrival of the expected storm.

"Tony?" Davey whispered. "D-Did you hear s-something?" Before Tony could reply, he was struck on the temple by a hard, black object that seemed to come at him out of nowhere.

"Unngh--!" Tony cried, falling to the icy sidewalk below, unconscious.

"Tony--!?" Davey cried, frightened, beginning to back away. "Please! Whoever you are--look, I'm going, okay? Please--! Don't hurt me!" As he backed off, Davey's voice took on a whiny, pleading quality. About to turn and run, he smacked straight into a solid wall.

Tony squealed in terror. Before him stood a dark, towering figure--a monster from his childhood nightmares. The creature grabbed him by the collar and casually lifted him off the ground.

"I'm on Santa Watch tonight," the grim form growled. "I'm keeping an eye out for anyone who's being naughty. Santa *hates* 'naughty.'"

With that, Davey felt himself being powerfully flung backwards. Screaming in abject terror, he landed on his rear-end and slid out-of-control for several feet, until he slammed headfirst against a brick wall.

Davey's screams died instantly as he was knocked unconscious.

The woman meanwhile cowered along the wall, edging towards a recessed doorway. When she saw that the menacing, shadowy shape was now turned towards her, she froze in her tracks. Too frightened to move, too terrorized to scream, her knees suddenly gave way. She slid down, her back still to the wall, onto the ice-covered sidewalk.

"Please, don't hurt me," she whimpered. "My little girl's only two. My son--he hasn't gotten over his daddy's death, yet. Please... they need me."

"I'm not going to hurt you," Batman said softly. "I promise."

But his deep voice and intimidating form only served to frighten the poor woman further. As he took a step towards her, she began to sob quietly, pleading over and over for him to not to hurt her.

Batman hesitated. Sometimes he regretted his choice of symbol. While the Bat was intended to frighten criminals, it also served at times to horrify the very ones whom he had sworn to protect.

"He won't hurt you," another voice spoke. Batman and the woman turned towards the lithe figure that emerged from the shadows, the light flakes swirling around her.

"Catwoman," Batman growled. "What are you up to?" At his threatening tone, the frightened woman gasped again.

"Please," she called, addressing Catwoman. "Please, help me." Catwoman glared at Batman and then turned towards the cowering woman. She immediately crouched down to her level, and gently brushed the woman's hair back from her face as if she were a child.

"I know he looks pretty scary," she said, jerking her head towards Batman. "But he's really one of the good guys." She gave Batman a wry look. "Rats like *that*--!" She nodded towards Davey and Tony. "--They get what's coming to them." She smiled at the woman. "Nice ladies like you, he does everything in his power to help out."

"H-How do you know--?" the woman asked. "H-He's so-so--"


The woman nodded. Catwoman smiled reassuringly and asked, "By the way, what's your name?"

"Emily," she managed. "Emily Gondal."

"Emily," Catwoman repeated. "That's a lovely name. Emily Bronte is my favorite writer." Jerking her head in Batman's direction, she added wryly, "Of course, Heathcliff could've taken lessons from *this* guy on people-skills." Seeing the smallest flicker of a smile cross Emily's eyes, Catwoman squeezed her hand in gentle reassurance.

"In answer to your question, I know that our Dark Knight here likes to help people, because--well, you see... sometimes I'm one of the ones he chases." The woman's eyes widened. "Oh, it's all right. A girl's gotta have *some* excitement in her life."

"Catwoman!" Batman voice carried a warning. She laughed, a low, throaty laugh.

"Oh, don't get your Bat-thermal knickers all in a twist, Batman," Catwoman said dismissively. She turned back to Emily. "As I was saying, I know that he's a good guy, but not just because of the rats he's caught, or the people he's helped. I know he's a good man because of the people who follow him."

"I don't understand," Emily said, her voice shaking nervously.

"His boys," Catwoman said. "His boys would follow him to the ends of the Earth. Especially the older one. The way that older one looks at him--as if the sun rose and set around him--when I first saw that look, I thought the boy had a bad case of hero worship. Now--now I see that it's more than that. Much more." Catwoman turned and looked up at Batman.

"The older boy, the one you call 'Nightwing'--loyalty is *not* the primary reason he follows you, is it? It's *love*. That boy's your son, isn't he?"

Emily slowly looked up at Batman. "Is that true? You have a son, too?"

Batman took a tentative step forward. "Yes, Emily. I have a son, too. A long time ago, something happened to him, something terrible. Helping others is a way he's learned to cope with the pain of that tragedy."

She studied him, uncertainty lighting her features. Finally, a glimmer of understanding took hold of her. "And you? Do you help others to ease your pain?" she asked.

Batman held her eyes for a long moment, and finally, he nodded.

"Yes," he said softly. "Please, let me help you."

Nodding, the woman slowly held her hand out to him. When she'd regained her feet, she looked around to thank her second benefactor.

"She's gone!" she exclaimed. "I wanted to thank her." Taking her arm, Batman escorted Emily to where he'd parked the Batmobile.

"Don't worry," Batman said reassuringly. "She's around."

The blizzard was picking up. The super-turbocharged vehicle's wipers worked overtime trying to keep the windshield clear of the rapidly falling flakes. It was almost four. In a few hours, Dick would be home. As he headed back to the manor, Batman's mind went back over the evening's activities...

He escorted Emily home, seeing her safely inside. Back in the Batmobile, he remotely accessed the supercomputers in the Batcave and rapidly ran a check on Emily Gondal. Within moments, he found her bank account, and quickly made a funds transfer into it.

"Merry Christmas, Emily," he murmured.

Afterwards, he spent a couple of hours trailing Catwoman, retracing her steps, following every slim lead he could find. Not surprisingly, she'd already given him the slip. Standing on one of the twin gothic towers of Gotham Cathedral, his cape whipping around him, Batman finally decided to call it a night.

The dropping temperatures and winter storm had won out.

"Next time, Catwoman," he promised. He fired a jumpline and disappeared into the swirling snow...

Driving through the holograph that camouflaged the entrance to the Batcave, Batman thought about the enigmatic Catwoman. He was honest enough with himself to admit that he was glad he wouldn't be escorting her to jail that night. He thought about how she'd helped to dispel Emily's fears. How she knew that Nightwing was his son.

Parking the Batmobile in its hangar, Batman sat for a moment, staring at nothing, seeing Catwoman's emerald eyes smiling up at him. Inexplicably, he wondered what an evening might be like spent sitting by a roaring fire with her in his arms. He pushed back the cowl, instantly changing back into Bruce Wayne.

Remembering the Grimalkin Gifts' robbery that evening, Bruce suddenly felt very tired. No matter how he might feel abut her, it was his duty to bring her to justice. Sighing, he opened the driver's side door and climbed out. He was about to shut it, when something on the rear floorboards caught his attention.

Eyes narrowing, he reached into the narrow space behind the bucket seats and pulled out a well-worn carryall. It was black leather with an extra-long shoulder strap. A strange feeling washing over him, Bruce opened the front flap with numb fingers.

Searching the inside, he closed his fingers around something hard, wrapped inside a soft cloth. When he pulled out the object, a piece of paper fluttered out and landed between his feet. Bending down, Bruce picked up the paper and unfolded it.

A note was written on it in a lovely feminine hand: "Merry Christmas, darling. Perhaps another night."--C.W.

Holding the note in one hand, Bruce quickly unwrapped the object he'd pulled out of the bag. The muted lighting in the Batcave caught the ethereal beauty of the emerald crystalline Maltese cat. Bruce held it up, its many facets reflecting the light.

A half-smile playing on his lips, Bruce headed upstairs. It looked like today *would* be a Merry Christmas, after all.

"Yes, Catwoman. Perhaps another night."

The End

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

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