DISCLAIMER: The following borrows characters developed by DC/Time Warner which don't belong to me and which are used without permission. This is intended solely for entertainment purposes and not for profit. The opening quote is from Tori Amos - also borrowed without permission.

Rating: PG

Note: While this story could technically exist in comic continuity, it has been more or less officially been placed within the Potatoverse. In fact, pretty much anything that can be properly called "fic" from me takes place in the Potatoverse (and if you are reading that to mean there is more Chicago fic out there, you'll have to talk to the HBIC of the Potatoverse [Smitty]).

WINTER

by Chicago


(frontispiece)

"I get a little warm in my heart when I think of winter.
I put my hand in my father's glove ...
I hear a voice "you must learn to stand up
for yourself cause I can't always be around"
he says when you gonna make up your mind
when you gonna love you as much as I do

-Tori Amos
"Winter"

*************************

Right place, right time.

He was there because he can spot a criminal trend three months in advance and knew where to keep vigil. I was there because Alfred didn't notice (or chose not to comment) when I plugged the data from our latest case into my matrix homework. When I realized where and when the Parovda gang was going to hit, I decided to risk Batman's disapproval and help him with the bust. After all, he hadn't ordered me to stay home. But he did request it.

Alfred wasted no time in reminding me of "Master Bruce's request" when he saw me suiting up. Then, in classic Alfred fashion, he found some flesh colored tights for me to wear under the shorts. Alfred logic - when you can't stop 'em, do all in your power to minimize the damage they'll suffer while they're gone.

It was a lousy night to fight crime. It was a lousy night to commit crime. The air temperature stood at 5 below, and with the wind gusting to 40 miles per hour, it felt like -60. He'd never say it, but that's why Batman wanted me to stay home. It was one thing to deal with the risk of me being harmed in a fight. It was another to sit on a stakeout and watch me shiver.

When I hit the roof tops, I was also reminded of the wind problem. Funnel 40 mph gusts down the canyons of skyscrapers of midtown Gotham and even Bruce's solid frame gets pretty well buffetted around. My 98 pounds were nearly smashed into the side of the GSO building when a sudden wintry blast took all the tension out of my jump line and tossed me like so much loose paper. The pause that I let myself have to calm my startled brain and reconfigure my route meant that I reached Batman a minute after the fight started.

Thirteen to one, although by the time I dropped down beside him (taking a thug out with my descent), he'd already dropped two of them. As he smashed his fist into another jaw, he grunted, "Homework done?"

That was all the acknowledgement I'd get, I knew, but I was dodging a blow from a sap and taking a different hood's legs out from under him with a low sweeping kick before I could answer. A well thrown bolo left a third startled mook bound and flopping like a fish on the rooftop. Of course, Batman had five down to my three by that point, and one of mine was getting up again, but who was counting?

While Batman caught the crook behind him with an elbow to the throat, I danced between two huge men in ski masks, tempting them to strike me. Not all the big ones are dumb and slow, but one of this pair was. When his buddy leapt at me with startling quickness, he took a swipe at where I had been and caught his surprised partner in the temple. I had to dive away to avoid getting pinned under the unconscious weight of the man who'd made the grab for me.

I spared a glance at Batman as I skittered away from the slow one. The remaining four bad guys - all that were left aside from the one chasing me - were circling him cautiously. Correction. Three of them were circling cautiously. The fourth had pulled out a gun. In a crowd that big, there was always at least one that was packing.

"Batman!" I warned, reaching for a batarang.

I barely got the word out before the mook behind me tackled me. The force of the body blow carried me past the lip of the roof. Luckily for me, the thug stayed topside. I doubt I could have saved us both.

I heard the gun go off above and then a strangled cry. It wasn't Batman's voice, and the cry was followed by Batman calling, "Robin!"

"Up in a minute!" I yelled back, hoping he could hear me over the wind that ripped the words from my mouth. I pulled myself onto the stone lintel I'd snagged with a fingertip grab. If I hadn't been fighting the wind, I would've noticed that my earlier assailant had heard me answer Batman and was waiting for my head to appear within striking range. As I prepared to flip back into the fight, I found him suddenly grinning into my face. Then everything went black.

I regained consciousness with the sound of two hearts hammering in my ears. One was my own. The other was Batman's as he cradled me against his chest and carried me toward the Batmobile. His body was chilled from the long stake out, and his heart was racing - from exertion, I'm certain.

He'd pulled his cape around me to shelter me from the biting wind, so when I opened my eyes, I saw only dark. He didn't notice that I'd awakened.

I let those strong arms continue to hold me until I heard the tell- tale hiss of the canopy of the Batmobile opening and Bruce opened his cape to settle me into my seat. Even under the cowl, he looked dimly startled to see my eyes looking up at him.

"Dick?" he whispered.

"Sorry," I murmured, apologizing both for defying his request and for letting myself get taken down. It seemed like I was always doing that. I saw his jaw tighten as he fell silent and fastened the seat belt around me. I could see that he was trembling.

"You're cold," I observed.

He did not reply, instead swinging into his own seat and closing the canopy. He cranked the heat as soon as he started the car, and the warmth and the shelter - and probably my throbbing headache as well - made me feel sleepy. At least until the Voice ordered, "Don't fall asleep, Robin."

There was a long silence before I thought to ask, "We get them all?"

He nodded once. "Bagged and tagged and Gordon's men on the way," he confirmed.

"Good."

Another long silence in which I realized he probably could've taken them all without my help - probably exactly what he was thinking.

"Sorry," I said again. My jaw hurt, too. Had the mook hit me twice? Or had I fallen on my face after he dropped me?

Again I saw his jaw tighten, but he didn't respond beyond that. He just stared out the windshield at the road, now being obscured by a multitude of tiny snow flakes which must've represented the last of any moisture in the winter air.

I followed his gaze. Winter sucks, I thought to myself.

"Don't say that again," Batman said, and I turned to him, bewildered. Had I said that out loud? Why did Batman care what I thought about winter?

"Huh?" I asked.

"Sorry. Don't say sorry again. I was glad you were there."

And that was it. No more words from him that night. Just those precious few that come back to me every time the arctic wind whistles through the chimneys and rips the air from my lungs. Isn't this just the best time of year?

-end-


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