bradygirl_12 (bradygirl_12) wrote,

Fic: The Raven And The Nightingale Book I: Jeweled Nightingale (10-14/26) (2014 DCU_Bang)

Title: The Raven And The Nightingale Book I: Jeweled Nightingale (10-14/26)
Author: bradygirl_12
Pairings/Characters: Bruce/Dick, Alfred Pennyworth, Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton, Ollie/Dinah, Steve/Diana, Queen Hippolyta, Various Historical Figures And OCs
Continuity: DC Comics/Marvel Comics (The Avengers (2012)
Genres: Angst, AU, Drama, Historical, Holiday, Mystery, Romance
Beta: The Sparkling silvertales! :)
Artist: The Amazing ctbn60! :) Link to fanworks: Here
Artist: The Fantastic veinards! :) Link to fanworks: TBA
Rating : NC-17
Warnings: (Ch. 8, Anti-Semitism), (Ch. 8, 13: Racism, racist language (ethnic slurs)), (Ch. 13, 14, 17: Violence) (Ch. 17, 19 & 25: Use of the word Gypsy) (Ch. 20: Allusion to sexual assault) (Ch. 25: Memories of death by burning)
Spoilers: None
Summary: In Edwardian Europe, young American millionaire Bruce Wayne becomes enamored of a beautiful and brilliant ballet dancer, Dick Grayson, who falls for his charming suitor, but Dick’s mysterious past threatens to tear them apart.
LJ Dates Of Completion: October 11--June 23, 2014
A03/LJ Dates Of Posting: October 24, 2014/October 27, 2014
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, DC does, more’s the pity.
LJ Word Count: 45,852
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author’s Notes: Written for the 2014 dcu_bang.
All chapters can be found here.

 photo russia_zpsca5a0343.jpg


Chapters 1-4

Chapters 5-9

Chapters 10-14

Chapters 15-17

Chapters 18-20

Chapters 21-26




“There is nothing more American than Thanksgiving.”

Senator William Bradford
1892 C.E.

“I see that you are quite chipper this morning, sir.”

Bruce looked at Alfred. He felt like sighing or laughing and chose the latter. “Quite chipper, Alfred.”

Alfred smiled knowingly.

The two of them went down to breakfast. Bruce noticed Dick talking to Magda, a pretty brunette maid. For a moment he was jealous but quickly shook it off. His possessiveness could cause trouble if he was not careful.

Dick took his leave of Magda and joined Bruce in the dining room. The sideboard was filled with covered dishes of eggs, sausages and pork. Each place setting had a small bowl of fresh fruit by its plate. Pear juice was poured in each glass.

“Breakfast is always top-notch around here,” said Bruce as he scooped out some eggs.

Dick chose some plump, juicy sausages to put on his plate. “You enjoy good food.”

“Who wouldn’t?”

“Some people don’t. Some people don’t care about food at all.”

Bruce moved on to the sausages. “Shows what they know. Food is essential, and not just to keep the body going.”

“Oh?” Dick lifted a cover and took some pork.

“Yes, sharing a meal is important in every society.”

“Very Freudian.” Dick smiled saucily.

Bruce shook his head fondly.

They finished perusing the sideboard and sat down. “You told me about your American holiday of Thanksgiving,” Dick remarked.

“First Halloween, now Thanksgiving. I’m giving you a crash course.”

Dick cut into his sausage. “Thanksgiving sounds like a great excuse for feasting.”

“It is. It’s also a time to reflect on what to be thankful for in our lives.”

“An admirable holiday,” said Drusilla as she entered the dining room.

Bruce and Dick stood until she was seated, and Dick said, “Yes, very admirable.” He sat down and ate a piece of sausage.

“It was started by Pilgrims?” The Countess drank her juice and a maid came in with a hot plate of food and set it before her, silently returning to the kitchen.

“Yes, a joint celebration with the Indians.” Bruce took a bite of his egg.

“A pity the Pilgrims ruined the neighborhood .,” Dick teased.

Bruce lifted an eyebrow. “I suppose from the Indian point-of-view, it was.”

“Let me guess. Your ancestors came over on the Mayflower,” said Natasha as she came in and went over to the sideboard.

“You’d be correct.”

Natasha rolled her eyes as Dick laughed. Bruce coolly sipped his juice.

& & & & & &

The Opening Night in St. Petersburg was a smashing success. Bruce felt a swell of pride as he watched Dick dance, the applause long and loud. He was also pleased to watch Natasha, who deserved the title of prima ballerina.

In the days that followed, Dick and Natasha rose later in the mornings and rehearsed in the afternoons in town, performing at eight o’clock. For the first few nights they went out on the town with patrons-of-the-arts who supported ballet in St. Petersburg, but gradually they simply returned to the estate with Bruce each night after the performance.

More than once Bruce saw Dick and Natasha whispering. He said to Alfred, “Those two are up to something.”

“Perhaps, sir. Then again, you might just be paranoid.”

Bruce huffed. “Even paranoids have enemies.”

& & & & & &

Bruce awoke on Thursday, enjoying the warmth of Dick’s body beside him. Dick snuggled closer in his sleep.

Bruce regretted leaving the comfort of the bed, but he had to go down earlier than Dick. If they both came down at the same late hour, tongues would wag.

Good thing I can take a nap if I’m too tired. The house is quiet in the afternoon. Too quiet.

He missed his beautiful dancer, but at least he had Dick in his bed every night.

There was an exercise room downstairs that Drusilla had set up for her niece years ago. There were exercise bars for stretching and mirrors for the dancers to watch their movements, and mats rolled up against the wall. He had often watched Dick and Natasha go through their exercises, stretching strong, limber bodies and then rehearsing their routines for the ballet. Both had worn skintight costumes that showed off their bodies and Bruce had found himself a little flushed.

He smiled as he cracked open the door of Dick’s room. The hall was empty. He exited the room and sauntered down the hall as if coming from the water closet.

Very quickly he grabbed his toothbrush and tooth powder from his room and headed toward the water closet for real. He showered washed , brushed his teeth, and dressed in his room. As he went downstairs he could smell wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. He asked Magda what was going on.

The pretty little brunette answered, “It is a light breakfast this morning, sir.”

“Wait, I want to know…”

But Magda was already back in the kitchen. Puzzled, Bruce went into the dining room.

Magda had been right. Toast, fruit and light, fluffy pancakes the size of silver dollars were set out on the sideboard along with an urn of hot coffee.

He filled his plate, poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. The smells from the kitchen had not been that of breakfast food.

He could hear whispering out in the hall. Perhaps it was time to make like Sherlock Holmes and find the answer to this mystery.

Dick and Natasha entered the dining room and got their breakfasts. As soon as they sat down Bruce asked, “Okay, what are you Bobbsey Twins up to?” At their blank looks he sighed. “What’s going on?”

“Going on?” asked Dick.

“That’s right, going on.” Bruce frowned. “And why are you two up so early?”

“We do not have a performance tonight,” said Natasha as she cut up a piece of fruit.

Bruce continued eating but his mind was racing. “That smells like chicken cooking.”

“Lots of chicken,” Dick said placidly as he speared a pancake.

“So why is Verda cooking chickens in the morning? Shouldn’t she be cooking them later for dinner instead of for luncheon?”

“Maybe the Countess wanted to switch things around,” Dick said as he chose fruit next.

Bruce’s suspicions were not allayed. “What else is cooking?”

“Potatoes, turnips, beets, stuffing, and salad.”

“Stuffing?” Bruce felt the Thomas Edison light bulb dawn over his head. “Is this Thanksgiving dinner?”

“Give that man a kewpie doll,” Natasha said smugly.

“We’re having Thanksgiving dinner?” Bruce repeated.

“That’s right, Sherlock.”

Bruce looked at her sharply. Could she read minds now?

I wouldn’t put anything past her.

He realized that he was smiling. Even after the deaths of his parents, Alfred had insisted upon observing the holidays. At first he had resisted, unable to face the two empty chairs at the table, but gradually he appreciated Alfred’s efforts and did his best to take part.

He admitted to himself that he was a little homesick. He and Alfred had been on the Grand Tour since spring. There was no more of an American holiday than Thanksgiving.

“That’s quite a menu.”

“Sorry no turkey, but there are none in Russia,” said Natasha regretfully. “I would have liked to try it.”

“Tastes like chicken,” Bruce joked.

Dick grinned. “No pumpkin, either.”

“Ah, well, it’s the meal itself that’s important. And there will be potatoes and stuffing.” He would miss cranberry sauce, but the celebration itself warmed him.

There’s also the first time celebrating with Dick.

“I’m very pleased at this. Thank you.”

“Our pleasure, Bruce.” Natasha cut another apple slice.

“Alfred was in on this,” Bruce declared.

“Most assuredly, sir.” Alfred was standing in the entryway to the dining room.

“You look entirely too smug, old friend.”

“Quite so.”

Natasha and Dick exchanged amused smiles.

& & & & & &

Bruce was very excited about the dinner, touched that his friends had come up with the idea. The staff took care of setting the table but Bruce asked to help in the kitchen, accustomed to helping Alfred when a big holiday dinner was involved. At first Verda, the head cook, did not think it proper, but Bruce won her over with his charm.

The large kitchen was filled with bustling cooks and scullery maids. The great cast-iron stove was filled with golden-brown chickens and bubbling pots on the top as the maids scrubbed the pots already used. Verda ran an efficient kitchen.

Alfred took charge of Bruce and directed his young charge to take the potatoes off the stove and place them in a bowl and start mashing. Dick came in and happily set to work with rolled-up sleeves. He shared a smile with Bruce as he worked on the salad.

He wondered what if would be like to be all working together preparing Thanksgiving dinner in the Manor kitchen. It was a nice daydream, though he was not sure if it would ever come true.

The tasks went quickly, and Bruce and Dick were finally shooed out of the kitchen. They put on their suit jackets and went into the dining room where Natasha and Drusilla were already seated. Bruce was pleased to see the pink rosebud china set, as it was ‘the good china’. He shook out a plum-colored linen napkin and draped it over his lap after sitting down.

“Happy Thanksgiving, gentlemen,” Natasha said.

“The same to you, Red,” Bruce said with a wink.

She smirked as she shook out her napkin, too.

The staff began serving the first course of vegetable soup, hot and savory with red pepper flakes. Bruce pronounced it perfect.

“Just one thing missing.” He stood and went into the kitchen as everyone at the table exchanged puzzled looks.

Bruce returned with Alfred and pulled out a chair and asked the elderly gentleman to sit. Alfred looked at the astonished Countess. “With your permission, Countess?” Bruce asked.

“Why, yes.” Drusilla sounded confused and a bit taken aback.

Alfred took his seat and Magda came out with a place setting. Another maid followed her with a bowl of soup.

“Since the death of my parents, Alfred and I have always celebrated the holidays together.” Bruce resumed eating.

“Ah, yes.” Drusilla still sounded off-balance.

Natasha began a conversation and Dick joined in, for which Bruce was grateful. The last thing he wanted was for Alfred to feel uncomfortable.

Other courses came out served by smiling maids, who would enjoy their own feast later. Bruce was delighted that they would partake of the dinner as well.

“All wonderful,” he said as he surveyed the table. “The chicken makes a fine substitute for turkey. I love the spices added to it. Tender, moist and flavorful.”

“I am glad you approve,” Drusilla said.

“Very creative. No pumpkin, but turnip. And the potatoes are magnificent! Creamy with chives and butter. Mmm.”

“Buttery peas, too,” Dick said.

Bruce knew that Alfred had done his best with no pumpkin, cranberry, or turkey available. He was pleased to see a platter of green beans come his way. The serving of family-style had been suggested by Dick in the spirit of the holiday, and Drusilla had not objected.

“Such an interesting custom,” Drusilla said as she lifted her wineglass.

“Thank you. It’s a good chance to reflect on what to be thankful for in our lives.”

“Not a bad idea,” Natasha said as she added more butter to her mashed potatoes.

“Well, I thank you all for coming up with this.”

“Actually, it was Dick’s idea.”

Bruce looked at Dick, who suddenly looked shy. “Thank you.”

“You’re more than welcome.” Dick picked up his wineglass as he stood and held it out. “I wanted to make you feel like you’ve got a little piece of home.”

Everyone but the Countess stood and they clicked glasses as she raised hers.

Bruce looked at Dick and the younger man smiled as they drank their wine and gave silent thanks for their renewed romance.



Shadows fall
Across the snow,
As the lake
Ices over
And the kulaks sing,
As winter
Sets in
And the shadows
In the dark.

Andrei Mikovitch
“The Russian Soul”
1905 C.E.

Shadows fall
Across the snow,
As the lake
Ices over
And the kulaks sing,
As winter
Sets in
And the shadows
In the dark.

Andrei Mikovitch
“The Russian Soul”
1905 C.E.

Bruce blew out a ring of smoke as he stood outside the grand Winter Palace. The impressive structure dominated Palace Square with its imposing façade of richly-decorated Ionic columns. The stone decorations had been replaced by lighter metal, but it was difficult to tell at this distance.

Moonlight shimmered on the Neva River, creating a beautiful nighttime scene. Bruce walked back-and-forth to stretch his legs. If he missed the opening of the third act it was all right. He had seen the ballet several times and would not miss Dick. He knew exactly when his lover appeared in the program.

He had to give the Russians credit, their architecture was breathtaking. He looked forward to seeing the Kremlin Palace in Moscow when they left for the capital city next week. He walked back to the opera house as the intermission began to wane.

“Hello, Bruce.”

“Duchess, good to see you again.”

Mirelle smiled. The middle-aged woman was stylishly-dressed, as always. “Here to see Swan Lake?”


“You seem to be quite enamored of this particular ballet.”

“It’s very well-done.”

“Yes, perhaps one of the lead dancer is your main attraction, eh?” Bruce’s stomach tightened. Did the Duchess know? “That Natasha is a skilled dancer.”

Relief swept over him. “Yes, she is. Lovely, too.”

Mirelle smiled knowingly. “Come, Egbert, intermission’s almost over.”

A small, balding man standing a few feet away nodded and escorted the Duchess inside.

Bruce grinned as he blew out another smoke ring. He would finish this smoke and head inside, too.

“Well, look who is here.”

Bruce turned to face Vladimir Molotov. The Russian smiled a smarmy smile.

“Hello, Molotov.”

“Looks like you are taking in the ballet.”

“Looks like.” Bruce puffed out another ring and peered at Molotov through the smoke.

“How long will you be in town?”

“Oh, for awhile.”

“Trying to soak up culture?” Molotov flicked an imaginary speck of dust from his shoulder.

“There’s a lot of it here in Europe.”

“In Mother Russia there is much of it and none better.”

Bruce finished his cheroot and dropped the butt into a receptacle. “I’ll agree with that.”

Molotov’s smile was unnerving. Bruce yawned and said, “I’ve got to go inside. Intermission’s almost over.”

“Oh, do not worry. They rarely start on time. This is Russia.”

“Yes, well, I’m an American and like to be on time.”

“Ah, yes, rush, rush, rush! You people miss out on so much.”

“Some do, but keeping note of time builds fortunes.”

“Yes, what the French call nouveau riche.”

“Money is money.”

“Now that is an American thing to say."

Bruce turned up the collar of his dress coat. The wind was icy off the Neva. “I suppose it is.”

“All you think about is the acquiring of money. It is so crass to talk about it. A true gentleman never talks about money or thinks about it.”

“No, you just live the high life while scorning the men who make the money for your fortunes.”

Malotov’s smile grew brittle. “Spoken like a true merchant.”

Bruce shrugged. “Better an American merchant than a Russian noble who lives off the sweat of the serfs.”

“High talk from a man whose countrymen kept slaves until a generation ago.”

“Well, that’s true. But we freed them in 1863, the same year you did your serfs.” Bruce pushed past the Russian. “And, now I have to get inside.”

Bruce walked into the opera house. He was galled by having to concede the slavery point to Molotov. And the Negroes at home were not much better off than the Russian serfs.

He was too unsettled to return to his box. Instead he went backstage.

No one gave him a second glance. They were accustomed to seeing the rich, young American roaming around backstage. He had directed Alfred to make a sizeable donation to the troupe to cover his interest in Dick when he wanted special access. Besides, it was a company worth his donation. They were very talented and he enjoyed playing patron-of-the-arts.

Bruce was careful not to get in the way and become a nuisance, money or not. He watched the stagehands hustle to get the scenery in place as the curtain was ready to go up.

“Hi, Mr. Wayne.”

“Oh, hello, Clint.”

Clint Barton was a muscular man in his early twenties with short brown hair and piercing blue eyes. He and Bruce had hit it off since he was an American. Those eyes looked quizzically at Bruce.

“Everything okay?”

“Oh, yeah, just a little aggravated by meeting Vladimir Molotov outside.”

“I can understand your reaction.”

“You know him?”

“Let’s say I’ve had encounters with him.”

Dancers hurried out onstage. The curtain rose and the audience applauded. Clint and Bruce watched the routine for a few minutes and Clint said, “Molotov was behind one of the worst pogroms last year during the Revolution.”

“Did the Revolution change much?”

Clint shrugged. “They set up what they call a Duma, but who knows if it’s got teeth? They’ll be meeting after New Year’s in Moscow.”

Bruce smiled as Dick walked past him with a wink. He went onstage to thunderous applause and pride swelled in the American’s chest.

“He’s sure got talent,” Clint observed.

“Very much so.” Bruce crossed his arms. “I take it Molotov isn’t very fond of Jews.”

“No, not very.” Clint glanced up at the catwalk. “He’s not very fond of Gypsies and Poles, either.”

“Unfortunately, he’s got a lot of company.”

“Yeah.” Clint smiled as Natasha appeared. She smirked and went out on cue, a vision of loveliness in her glittering tutu and crown. “Nat can’t stand him. She’s says he’s the worst of a bad lot.”

Clint and Natasha were close, but not in a romantic sense. Bruce was impressed by Natasha’s lack of snobbery. As a member of Russian nobility, she could have ignored Clint, a mere stagehand, but she would have none of that.

I’d love to see her debate Molotov over politics.

He remembered some of the livelier conversations around the dinner table at Oakwood when Natasha and Drusilla had clashed over politics…

& & & & & &

“But, Aunt, the peasants deserve to live lives free of scraping for food and shelter.”

“Of course, dear, and we of the aristocracy give of our largesse to see that they get it.”

“But why should they have to depend on us? Why not give them decent wages and land that is truly their own, and not a noble landowner’s? Or why not give them better lives in the factories? The Industrial Revolution is still in its infancy here compared to Europe and America, but there is enough abuse already of the workers. Children as young as eight years old are working fourteen hour days in dirty, dangerous, noisy factories! And it’s not good for adults, either.”

“I have no idea about industry, my dear. I am concerned with the land and how the peasants work it. They need direction. They do not have the intelligence to plan out its use for optimum benefit.”

“Then we must educate them! They are dullards because they have no time to read or think while chasing the few rubles they can make in a stinking factory or eking out a hardscrabble existence on a rocky patch of ground.”

& & & & & &

“Nat would read Molotov the riot act,” Clint said.

"I have no doubt.”

The stagehand laughed. “She would cut him to ribbons with her stiletto if he ever threatened her.”

“Her stiletto?”

“Yeah, she’s quite the markswoman. Pistols and rifles, too. Excuse me, I’ve got to go topside.”

Clint climbed up onto the catwalk over the stage.

Bruce would have reason to recall this conversation in a few days.

& & & & & &

Bruce rode Strawberry as he enjoyed the fresh air. The bridal path had been cleared of snow through melting as they had experienced an unusually warm day. Dick was taking a baking lesson from Alfred so Bruce had decided to go riding.

He slowed Strawberry down. He could hear voices off in the distance. He dismounted and peeked over a hedge.

Below him in a snow-covered field, Natasha and Clint were using a crossbow to shoot at a bulls-eye target several yards away. Clint appeared to be teaching Natasha.

Bruce recalled Clint’s words about the ballerina’s skill with various weapons. He took out his field glasses from his saddlebag.

She’s certainly a woman of many facets.

He watched the target practice. Natasha was really good. Clint fired off a few arrows, hitting the bulls-eye dead center.

A man of many talents.

Natasha clapped Clint on the back and mounted her horse, riding off to the edge of the woods. Bruce saw a man emerge and Natasha dismounted. He trained his binoculars on the newcomer.

The man was thin and hawk-faced with a goatee. Cold, gray eyes made Bruce shiver.

Something niggled at the back of his mind. He had seen this man somewhere before, but not in person. A photograph, perhaps.

The man was swathed in a black greatcoat with a fur collar and a typical Russian fur hat. Except for his mysterious appearance from the woods, nothing out of the ordinary.

Bruce watched the meeting. The man gestured and Natasha met him motion-for-motion as they argued. Finally, the man threw up his gloved hands and shook his head, disappearing into the woods. Natasha made a rude gesture and rode back to Clint. The duo rode off across the fields together.

Odd, but then, clandestine activities were practically the national pastime.

Bruce completed his ride before heading back to the manor.



Glitter and gold
Masking the cold
Heart of the Crown
Which will bring it

Irina Malenkiev
“Of All The Russias!”
1905 C.E.

Moscow displayed its best assets as the month of December began. The snow was still pure and the city was at its best, especially with Christmas coming up on the Russian Orthodox calendar in January. There were already wreaths on the lampposts and holiday displays in toy stores and fine jewelry shops. Russia’s nobility and merchant class would shop for expensive and grand presents for their friends and families while the serfs struggled to put food on the table.

The Kremlin Palace was impressive, as befit the home of the Czar. It was a set of buildings with over seven hundred rooms, four churches, and a grand splendor equaled only by Buckingham Palace. Bruce was interested in seeing the interior, but first he and Alfred would check into the Grand Hotel.

It was a splendid hotel, full of marble pillars and royal blue damask chairs and glass coffee tables. The polished floor gleamed as wire elevators clacked up to the upper floors. It was all quiet elegance, which suited Bruce just fine.

The ballet company was checked in at the Swarthmore Hotel two blocks away. Rehearsals would start at the Bolshoi Theater tomorrow afternoon.

The suite was eminently satisfactory. Opulent and tasteful, Alfred gave it his seal of approval. The sitting room contained comfortable furniture and two bedrooms were situated off the main room.

Alfred began unpacking and Bruce helped, putting his shirts away in the massive dresser drawer. He wished that Dick was going to share in that enormous bed, but except for stealing an occasional night together, they would be separated while in Moscow.

Just as Bruce started to feel frustrated, Dick sent word via note that the company was requested to give a command performance for the Czar and Czarina tomorrow night.

& & & & & &

As a patron of the company, you are included. Alfred can come as your manservant. Show the Czar Of All The Russias that you are true American royalty, Prince.

& & & & & &

Bruce could imagine Dick’s smile as he wrote those words. With a smile of his own, he said, “Alfred, what do you wear when you meet the Emperor of Russia?”

& & & & & &

As he handed over his homburg and greatcoat to the royal butler, Bruce was very pleased at the dashing figure he presented. After an extensive combing of his wardrobe, he and Alfred had decided on a deep-blue suit with exquisitely-cut vest and a white silk Italian-made shirt. He wore his father’s cufflinks, gold with sapphire chips and a stylized ‘W’. He carried his father’s gold pocketwatch on a matching chain with a diamond stickpin in a pale violet cravat. His shoes were polished and he wore a pin of his mother’s under his lapel: a gold leaf with a pearl setting.

Alfred was the epitome of English elegance: he wore a charcoal-gray suit with a matching waistcoat and the silver cufflinks that Bruce had given him last Christmas. Bruce was very proud of him.

The Palace’s splendor was breathtaking. Alfred whispered that not even Buckingham Palace could surpass it. Bruce had to agree, based on photographs he had seen of Queen Victoria’s palatial home.

The majordomo of the house led them down a red carpet surrounded by marble pillars, exquisite paintings and sculpture, and suits of armor.

They were escorted to a huge ballroom with a stage at one end. A wine-red curtain was drawn across it. Red damask chairs were set up in neat rows, with the first row consisting of more comfortable chairs. Several nobles were already seated and talking amongst themselves. The orchestra tuned up as they sat against the wall close to the stage.

Bruce and Alfred were seated and ten minutes later were on their feet as the Royal Family was announced. The Czar was a tall man with a trim mustache and beard. Czarina Alexandria was a beautiful woman with a slightly haughty air. Both were splendidly attired in silks and gold braid, a magnificent sapphire necklace resting on Alexandria’s bosom. Her yellow gown was elegant in its simplicity while Nicholas’ squash-colored shirt was a perfect complement.

It was the first time that Bruce had seen royalty up close. In a crowd they could have passed for ordinary, but they undoubtedly possessed regal bearing. Two of the couple’s older daughters trailed behind them, and all four took their places in the first row’s comfortable chairs.

The grand chandeliers were dimmed and the curtain was pulled back. The ballet began.

& & & & & &

After the bravura performance, there was a reception in another grand room. The nobility mingled with the ballet company, who had changed out of their costumes. Bruce saw Dick right away as the troupe entered the room.

Dick had carefully dressed for this occasion by wearing his dark-green suit with yellow vest and red cravat. The vest and cravat were bright but the suit subdued. Once again the bohemian look was accepted due to artistic license.

Bruce watched as Dick bowed when presented to the Royal Couple. He was the epitome of charm and grace and the young Princesses giggled.

“And now may I present Mr. Bruce Wayne, one of our patrons.”

The company’s manager introduced Bruce, who stepped forward and bowed as Alfred had instructed him. Nicholas showed a spark of interest. “I have not met many Americans. I should enjoy speaking with you at dinner.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty.” He smiled. “And may I present my manservant, Mr. Alfred Pennyworth.”

The two sovereigns were taken aback but murmured something polite while Alfred bowed, ignoring the gasps of the nobility.

After they had moved on, Alfred murmured to Bruce, “Quite an honor, sir.”

“Yes, it was.”

They headed for the dining room. Bruce knew that Alfred would not chide him for his breach of Court etiquette by introducing him to the Royal Couple, because he was accustomed to American brashness in general and Bruce in particular.

The dining room was as grand as Bruce expected: crystal chandeliers gleaming with soft lighting and a massive oak table dominating the center of the room, covered in a rose-pink cloth and gold dinner plates, goblets and silverware. Bruce blinked at the latter items. He was accustomed to expensive china but eating off gold was even beyond the House of Wayne.

The samovar on the sideboard was elaborate and most likely a hundred years old or more. The goblets twinkled with sapphires and rubies as cherry-red wine shimmered inside.

Bruce was immensely pleased to be seated beside Dick. Alfred discreetly asked a servant to lead him to the kitchen. Breaches of etiquette could only go so far.

Dick sparkled as he smiled, a light touch of glitter around his eyes. He was ‘on’, as he called it, but he genuinely seemed interested in the elegant surroundings. Natasha sat opposite him.

“Such a grand performance,” Nicholas said as he lifted his goblet. “To beauty and talent!”

Everyone lifted their goblets and heartily echoed the Czar’s toast. Bruce was proud of his lover.

Praise for Swan Lake continued as other ballets were commented upon and then conversation branched out into other topics.

Bruce was enjoying the fish course when Count Viktor Khrushenko, seated next to Natasha, mentioned the Revolution. A handsome aristocrat with glossy dark hair, goatee, and a slender build, he smiled and said, “Russia is entering a whole new era with the calling of the Second Duma next year.”

“We shall see,” said Natasha.

“Is this Second Duma like Congress?” Bruce asked. “And I thought it was to be called after New Year’s for the first time?”

“The First Duma already met in April through June this year but the Second will be in February. As for being like your American Congress, it is more like Parliament,” Viktor answered. “It is the lower house that serves with the upper house, the Council of State.”

“That is an ambitious description,” Nicholas said.

“How would you describe it, Cousin?” Natasha asked.

“More of an advisory board.”

“Advisory? Will they advise you on improving the lives of the serfs?”

Bruce was surprised by Natasha’s boldness, but as a relative of Nicholas, he supposed she felt safe in voicing her opinion.

Though I wouldn’t be surprised if she did it, anyway. That girl has fire.

“They might.” Nicholas’ reply was terse.

“The inequality of the classes will cause unrest, Your Majesty.”

“Classes are the way of things, Cousin.”

“Wealth was not meant to be held by a few while the rest starve.”

“Bold words for a woman who is a member of the ruling House,” said Viktor.

Natasha scowled at him. “Being rich does not mean one cannot see the signs.”

“What signs?”

“That the proletariat will not continue to starve while we dine on Faberge eggs, so to speak.”

Bruce could feel Dick tense beside him. Nicholas was known for gifting his wife with the beautiful pieces of art.

“Such a viperous tongue for one so beautiful,” said Viktor.

“An honest tongue, Count.”

Viktor scoffed. “Honesty is overrated, my dear.”

Natasha pointed her fork at him and Bruce remembered Clint’s words about the redhead’s skill with knives. He wondered if he would have to make a lunge across the table to save Krushenko.

“Honesty is all we have, Count. Intrigue will trip us up in the end.”

Bruce was startled to hear this opinion from the ballerina. She had not been bothered by intrigue when meeting the mystery man back on her aunt’s estate.

He sipped his wine and watched her over the rim of his goblet. Could it be that Natasha was deliberately obscuring her true feelings on the matter?

Dick dropped his napkin and leaned down to retrieve it. He whispered, “Is she putting on an act?”

Bruce had told Dick what he had seen. He whispered back, “I’m not sure.”

They kept their ears open as the conversation grew more heated.

“Are you one of those Bolsheviks, young lady?” Viktor asked.

“I am a member of no party. I simply see what is to be seen.”

“Well, the Bolsheviks are rabble-rousers and would not know how to govern if they were given the keys to the kingdom wrapped up in a pretty red bow.”

“Little need to worry about that with the Czar in power,” commented a young noblewoman seated next to Viktor.

“Thank you, Duchess Maria.” Nicholas shook his head. “The twentieth century is fraught with danger, but the old ways will prevail. Civilization and the right of kings must be preserved.”

“But what about the right of the people?” Natasha asked.

“The people will endure, as always.”

“Really? I must disagree, your Majesty. The people are sturdy and will endure, but why should they suffer? They must…”

“Nicholas, darling, time for another toast!” Alexandria called from the other end of the table.

Nicholas raised his goblet and said, “To the strength of the Russian people!”

“Hear, hear, to Mother Russia!” Viktor said in a deep voice. Natasha added her voice to his with fire in her eyes.

The toasts were successful and then Nicholas turned to Bruce. “Mr. Wayne, what is Gotham City like?”

“Ah, nothing like Moscow in grandeur or age, but it has its Gothic charm. The architects were fond of gargoyles and flying buttresses.”

“Oh, my, sounds like Notre Dame.”

“Actually, I hope to see for myself soon. Paris is on my itinerary during the Grand Tour.”

“You will find the city to be quite charming. I was there for a time as a student and thoroughly enjoyed it.”

“Is Gotham a major city?” asked Viktor.

“Yes, it is. It’s a major player in the financial markets as well as a cultural center.”

“What kind of culture?” Maria asked.

“Oh, the Art Museum and the Public Library and the Mellon Art Gallery, to name a few. We have several newspapers and events like the Gotham Grand Prix.”

“And what about theater?”

Bruce cut a piece of fish. “World-class. We have a noted theater company, opera house, and ballet troupe.”

Dick perked up and listened raptly as Bruce talked about Gotham’s cultural treasures. Even Natasha listened with genuine interest.

After dinner the company took their leave and Dick walked with Bruce as Alfred walked up ahead with Clint and Natasha. Alfred and the stagehands had enjoyed a hearty meal in the kitchen.

“Natasha does sound like a Bolshevik.” Dick turned up the collar of his greatcoat as the wind blew.

“She does.” Bruce brushed his gloved hand against Dick’s. “Surprising since she is a member of the nobility.”

“Maybe not as surprising as you think.” At Bruce’s quizzical look, Dick continued, “Think about it. On the surface, you’d expect a noblewoman to support the status quo, but she’s also will-educated. His aunt insisted that she be educated beyond the usual needlepoint and other female subjects.”

“Interesting.” Bruce grinned. “I bet the Countess regrets that now.”

Dick laughed. “She might.”

Bruce looked ahead at a laughing Natasha. “I have the feeling that our beautiful ballerina may surprise us in many ways if the Bolsheviks really stir things up.”



The glitter sparkles
While the carolers sing,
The glitter tarnished
While song turns
To cursing.

Snow falls,
Pristine and clean,
Covering the grime
Of empty bellies
And emptier souls.

Vladimir Puschenko
“The Great Divide”
1899 C.E.

“Silent night/Holy night…”

The carolers sang down on the street outside the Grand Hotel. Bruce looked down at the group, dressed in Russian fur hats and coats.

“I didn’t know that caroling was popular in Russia.”

“Natasha said it has been for awhile.” Dick was lounging in bed as Bruce stood at the window in his dressing gown. Bruce glanced back at his lover, appreciating his lithe, naked form on silk sheets. “Come back to bed, Bruce.”

“Oh, you don’t have to ask me twice.” With a grin Bruce started to remove his robe, then shrugged it back on. “Just a minute.” He reached for his coin purse on the dresser and opened the window.

Dick pulled the covers up with a squawk of protest. “What are you doing?”

Bruce tossed some coins out the window. “Showing my appreciation.”

“Very generous.”

“Back home we’d offer hot chocolate with peppermint sticks in addition to coins.” Bruce waved to the carolers as they smiled up at him. He shut the window, a few snowflakes starring his dark hair. He removed his robe, proud of Dick’s appreciative look. He climbed into bed, his chilled skin welcoming the warm sheets and blankets.

Even better was the warm body of his lover, long limbs wrapping around him. Dick lavished kisses on his face and neck as Bruce slipped his arms around his dancer.

“Delicious,” Dick murmured.

“Aww, you flatter me.”

“I hope so.” Dick’s fingers carded through Bruce’s hair and cupped the back of his head. He nuzzled Bruce’s ear and whispered, “Love me.”


Bruce rubbed against Dick, the friction pleasurable as they kissed and caressed each other with ardor. Bruce lapped at Dick’s throat, feeling his pulse throb. Dick was alive with passion, whether as a ballet dancer or a lover. His blue eyes glowed with that passion as he laughed and teased, “You need warming up, my friend.”

“True, standing by the window chilled me.”

“Well, no one told you to open it!” Dick giggled as Bruce tickled him. “All right, all right, let’s see what I can do about that.”

Dick’s flurry of kisses warmed Bruce’s skin. He mapped Bruce’s body with an eager tongue, sending shivers of pleasure through him. Agile hands caressed and cupped his buttocks, squeezing and teasing as only Dick could.

“You’re beautiful,” Bruce whispered.

“You’re not so bad yourself.”

“Mmm, flatterer.”

Dick rolled them over and was on top, a mischievous smile on his handsome face. He caressed Bruce’s chest and worked his way down to his companion’s stomach. He touched Bruce’s cock and grinned as it twitched.

“Don’t be a tease,” Bruce said as he thrust his hips up.

“But teasing is what I do best.”

“Well, I can’t argue with that.”

Dick snickered as he rubbed his thumb up the hard column of flesh, Bruce shivering.

& & & & & &

Dick was pleased at his lover’s reaction. He knew that the bigger man reacted well to his touch. He had learned very quickly what Bruce liked and what got the biggest reaction from him. It was a pleasurable game to play, and Dick was good at both pleasure and games.

He had missed being in Bruce’s bed. Natasha had chided him for getting too involved, citing his romantic history, which was littered with failures.

Failures of the heart, though even ‘Tasha has to admit I mined a lot of gold out of rich admirers.

It was a lot safer to go the latter route. Aristocrats liked to dally with showgirls and ballet dancers, but love was for their own kind.

Bruce is kind and thoughtful, but there is zero chance he wants a long-term relationship. And if he ever found out what I am…

He ruthlessly shoved away those thoughts. They were definite mood-killers.

Instead he concentrated on bringing Bruce to orgasm. The older man was moaning and writhing beneath his expert touch, and that was just the way Dick liked it.

He could feel the heat radiate off Bruce. The organ he held was warm and throbbing. Dick ran his thumb up-and-down the column of flesh, fascinated by how much was represented by one body part. He went down and tasted Bruce, exulting in the act. He sucked and tasted and felt his own cock harden as Bruce groaned. He dug his fingers into Bruce’s thighs as after several pleasurable minutes he felt Bruce reach the brink and spurt down his throat. His own cock spurted its seed onto Bruce’s belly.

After a minute or two of trying to catch their breaths, Bruce observed, “You made a mess.”

Dick laughed. “I’ll clean us up.”

He was as good as his word, cleaning them both with a washcloth. He washed it out in the suite’s bathroom, glad they were not sharing one down the hall. He returned to bed and turned off the lamp, then curled up beside Bruce as the millionaire pulled up the covers as they settled in for the night.

“Do you have a rehearsal tomorrow?” Bruce put his arm around Dick.

“No, we’re so booked up that Pierre doesn’t want to overwork us.”

“Would you like to go shopping?”

“That would be great.” Dick yawned. “I have to get ‘Tasha her Christmas present.”

“Is she Russian Orthodox?”

“Probably. She’s never really said.”

“I suppose non-religious people can celebrate Christmas, too.”

“Are you non-religious?” Dick traced his finger around Bruce’s nipples.

“I’m not sure.” Bruce started up at the ceiling. “After my parents were killed, I found the notion of a loving God to be absurd.”

“And now?”

Bruce shrugged. “I suppose I could be labeled an agnostic. I find there’s too much evil in this world to sing hosannas.”

Dick bit his lip. Bruce rarely spoke about his parents. Clint had told him the details, having heard about what had happened when he still lived in America. Martha and Thomas Wayne had been coming home from a performance of Die Fliedermaus with an eight-year-old Bruce in tow when they were accosted by a gunman demanding cash and Martha’s pearl necklace. The gunman shot and killed them. Whether they resisted or did not comply fast enough, only young Bruce knew, and he never said.

Dick slid his arm across Bruce’s stomach. He could feel his companion’s tense muscles, which gradually relaxed as Dick gently rubbed his stomach. Bruce kissed the top of Dick’s head and they fell asleep, though not before a shadow fell across Dick’s face as his own memories crowded in. Sleep was a blessed escape.

& & & & & &

Bruce was delighted at Dick’s bright-eyed cheer as they shopped. Dick wore a stylish red velvet coat with white fur trim and a jaunty matching cap. He wore a sprig of holly on his lapel.

Dick chattered about ballet gossip and exclaimed over glittering displays in store windows. Bruce followed along in Dick’s wake, amused and happy to watch as his lover flitted here and there. He did some shopping of his own, buying a pocketwatch for Alfred and an emerald pin for Natasha.

He already had Dick’s present bought. He had carried it with him all the way from Italy, but he wanted to get him a few smaller things, too.

He was careful not to go overboard. He had just gotten Dick back in his bed. He was not about to scare him off again.

They enjoyed a delicious lunch at a busy restaurant, commenting on people they recognized among the patrons. Dick pointed out some nobility and a few artistic types. He seemed to know everybody of importance and quite a few who were not.

“How do you know all these people?” Bruce asked as he drank some good mint tea.

“By talking with people.” Dick ate a piece of his chicken salad sandwich. “Besides, I don’t know them all, but I know of them.”

“You would make a fortune in business with all these contacts.”

“I would, wouldn’t I?” Dick’s smile sparkled. “I’ll keep that in mind when my legs give out and my dancing days are over.”

“I think it’ll be a long time before that day comes.”

Dick merely smiled. When they left the restaurant, he looked around and said happily, “Oh, look, a toy shop! Let’s go inside.” He pressed his nose against the window. “Trains!”

Bruce joined Dick at the window and saw a Lionel train set on display. A shiny new engine glided along the tracks, followed by passenger cars lovingly painted and detailed.

“Dad had a train set like this,” Bruce said quietly. “He would set it up around the Christmas tree every year.” He touched the window. “After he died, I didn’t take it out again. I would guess it’s boxed up in the attic.”

Dick squeezed Bruce’s arm. “Let’s go.”

“No, you wanted to go inside.” Bruce’s smile was a little sad. “I want to go inside, too.”

Pleased, Dick led the way. A bell jingled over the door as they entered the shop.

It was a delightful shop filled with giant Nutcrackers and wooden soldiers, more trains and hoops, balls, jacks, tops, building blocks and dolls. An elaborate dollhouse occupied one corner while a chalkboard decorated with Mother Goose figures was set up next to it with colored chalk in the tray. Board games of all types were displayed next to exquisite china dolls and stitched-together Raggedy Anns and Andys.

The elderly shopkeeper smiled. “Anything I can get you, gentlemen?”

“No, we’re just looking,” Bruce replied.

The shopkeeper nodded, adjusting his wire-rimmed glasses. “Just call if you need me. I’ll be in back.”

Dick smiled at a wooden rocking horse and picked up a gaily-colored ball. He balanced it and bounced it lightly before he searched further. “Hey, look at these books!”

The bookcase was filled with books that were lavishly-illustrated. There were folktales and fairytales and so many other types of stories that Dick barely knew where to start.

“These are beautiful, Bruce.”

“Hmm, yes, Russian folktales. These should prove interesting.” Bruce flipped through the bright pages. “I loved books like these as a kid. Stories of magic and derring-do.” He chuckled. “I loved the Knights of the Round Table and the Gray Ghost and Robin Hood.”

“All great choices. I have to admit, I admire Robin Hood’s sense of style.”

“I bet you’re a Douglas Fairbanks fan.”

“Guilty as charged.” Dick put the book down. “Moving pictures are really amazing. I hear that they will be of longer duration eventually.”

“I look forward to that. Hollywood should be able to come up with something.”

“Ah, yes. Hollywood sounds like a fascinating place.”

“I’d like to go there someday.”

As Dick continued his poking around, Bruce reflected on how he was interested in seeing new places again. The Grand Tour had been suggested by Alfred to pull Bruce out of his brooding and to get him away from his nights at the club where he drank and gambled too much. Now he was enjoying life again, thanks to Dick.

“See anything you like?”

Dick laughed. “Everything, but I’ll settle for a walk back to the hotel.”

“Okay, let’s go, Robin .”

Dick smirked and they left the shop. It was beginning to snow. Fine carriages rattled past them on the cobblestones and tradesmen’s wagons mixed in, swarthy men cursing at other drivers.

The snow muffled most of the sounds, but not enough to blanket shouts from a nearby alley. Bruce and Dick ran and were greeted by the sight of three shabby street toughs pummeling a ragged boy.

{<”Filthy Gypsy!”}

{”Stinkin’ pig!”}

{”Go back to your wagon, baby-stealer!”>}

The boy cried out as he was viciously kicked in the ribs.

“Hey! Knock if off!” Bruce yelled.

{<”Look, it’s a fancypants!”>}

Bruce was only able to pick out a word here or there, but he got the gist. As the boy scrambled away, the three toughs converged on Bruce and Dick. They smiled gap-toothed smiles and flexed meaty fists. As they encircled the duo, Bruce and Dick went back-to-back.

As the first thug lunged at him, Bruce put his Harvard boxing experience to good use and jabbed him in the shoulder, quickly followed by a punch to the stomach. The thug fell to the pavement and Bruce whirled to see Dick deliver a powerful kick to his assailant. The third attacker was ready to bring his joined hands down on Dick’s head when Bruce punched him in the jaw.

The toughs fought back and Bruce let out a whuff of air as a punch connected with his stomach, but he shook it off and went on the offensive again. He knocked the man out and saw Dick slam his attacker into the peeling brick wall.

“You okay?” Bruce gasped as he staggered over to Dick, holding his stomach.

“Yeah. How about you?”

“Just the wind knocked out of me.”

They went over to the boy, whose dark hair tumbled into his brown eyes. The light from the streetlamp glinted off a tiny gold ring in his ear.

“Are you all right, kid?” Bruce asked.

The boy chattered in a language he could not understand. The child flinched as Bruce reached for him and darted away, babbling in that incomprehensible tongue.

“Let him go,” Dick said.

Bruce looked him in confusion. He followed Dick out of the alley as the boy disappeared into the swirling snow.

“We’d better stop at the police station and report this.”

“Don’t bother.” Dick picked up the shopping bags they had dropped and began walking toward the hotel.

Bruce scrambled to catch up with Dick’s powerful strides and took one of the bags. He remained silent until they were up in his suite, but then he broke his silence.

“What happened back there?”

Dick had taken off his hat, coat and boots and tossed his gloves onto a chair. He began emptying the shopping bags. “A poor street urchin was unlucky enough to run into three thugs. End of story.”

Bruce was shocked. “All the more reason to help him.”

“We did.”

“But shouldn’t we notify the police?”

Dick opened a dresser drawer and placed his gifts inside. “Trust me, they would have taken the information and tossed it. I don’t know what American big cities are like, but here in Europe the police only care about the upper classes. The poor fend for themselves.”

Bruce was about to object but closed his mouth. He thought about the Gotham Police Department and its similar attitudes. One of these days he would have to put his family name behind a progressive clean-up. He would have to find the right man for the job.

“I should go back to my hotel.” Dick put his hands on his hips as he stared down at the drawer.

“Why bother? You brought some stuff over here already.”

“Yes, and I hadn’t meant to bring quite so much or certain things,” Dick muttered as he poked a small black box shoved into a corner of the drawer.

“Don’t worry, I won’t snoop, especially at Christmastime.” Bruce assured him jovially.

Dick snorted as he shut the drawer. “Gentleman’s honor?”

“Why not?”

Dick shook his head fondly. “I’m hungry.”

“You’re always hungry.”

“Hey, I’m a growing boy.”

“Boy you’re not.”

They exited the suite to go down to the dining room, Bruce asking Dick where he got the fighting moves.

“Oh, you learn things knocking about Europe. What about you? You had some fancy moves.”

Bruce flexed his hands and feinted. “Harvard Boxing Champ, ’03 and ’04.”

“You should enter the Olympics. Your countrymen have done well so far.”

“As long as you’re in the Games, too, and we do it the Greek way.”

“The Greek way?” For a moment, Dick was puzzled, then the light dawned and he smirked. “You’re quite evil, Mr. Wayne.”

They both laughed as they entered the wire elevator and it clacked downstairs.

Hear the nightingale sing,
Delicate yet strong thing.
Watch as his feathery wings
With abandon so gay,
Listen to his song
On this special day.

Beatrice Blankenship
1901 C.E.

The holiday season was always more glittery and gay, with sprigs of holly and Christmas trees shining and people smiling, and a general feeling of goodwill in the air. When Bruce attended the ballet, the audience was a sea of red and green and all was well with the world. He knew that the latter was not true but he was willing to indulge in the spirit of the season, especially since Dick was in his life. The man was made for Christmas.

And tonight was Christmas Eve. If they were at the Manor, he would have waited to give Dick his present until morning, but he was restless. It just felt right to do it tonight. Of course, if Dick had to schmooze with patrons after the ballet, he would wait until morning.

There seemed to be special glitter on-stage, or maybe it was just his imagination. Every dancer seemed at their best tonight. Every turn, spin or leap seemed to sparkle and every smile brighter, and no one shone more brilliantly than Dick Grayson. He was strong and beautiful and sparkling, and Bruce knew that he was head-over-heels in love with him.

Someone hurt you badly. I’ll have to continue to go slow, but someday I will come out and let you know how I feel.

Applause thundered for the inspired performance, and Bruce joined in. The curtain lowered but lifted again as the cast held hands and bowed. They took several bows before the curtain came down for good, bouquets of flowers thrown at their slippered feet.

Backstage, Clint waved at him from the catwalk and he waved back on his way to Dick’s dressing room. He knocked on the door and Dick called out, “Come in!”

Inside was controlled chaos with costumes and accessories strewn everywhere, but it was what Dick called ‘happy clutter’. When he had first said it Bruce and Natasha had exchanged eye-rolls while Dick had laughed.

“So do you have to stroke the patrons’ egos tonight?”

“Nah, I get the night off. ‘Sides, I’d rather stroke something other than your ego.”

“Naughty boy.”

“I hope so.”

“And on such a holy night, too.”

Dick smirked. He tossed aside a yellow feather boa and found a red silk shirt. “I’ll be ready in ten minutes.”

“Okay, meet you in the hall.”

Bruce relaxed as he leaned against the wall, watching suitors come to find their paramours. Stagehands bustled to finish their tasks. They would have the day off tomorrow and they wanted nothing left undone.

Natasha emerged from her dressing room. “Ah, the stage door Johnny.”

Bruce laughed. “Merry Christmas, Natasha.”

“Merry Christmas, Bruce.” She took out a cigarette from her silver case. “Do you have plans?”

“Dick and I plan to have a late supper and a quiet evening back at the hotel.”

“Very sweet.” Natasha accepted the light that Bruce offered. She blew out a ring of smoke and he admired the attractive figure she cut in her green silk gown. “What about your plans?”

“Clint and I are going to a late supper at Dosteovsky’s.”

“Sounds nice.”

She shrugged. “It is better than midnight service. It is endless on Christmas Eve.”

Brice remembered long services, too. He checked his pocketwatch. “What’s the next stop on your itinerary for the company?”

“Who knows? That will be up to Antonio.”

“Well, he’s a good manager.”

“I agree.” She laughed. “I doubt we will end up in Budapest.”

“I hope not.” Clint appeared in what was probably his best suit. The material was inexpensive but it fit him well. The dark-green vest was a good match for the charcoal-gray suit. He even carried a pair of kid gloves with an evening cloak.

“Hey, Budapest was not bad.”

“You and I remember Budapest very differently.”

“Well, at any rate, it is doubtful that Antonio will book us there.”

“Thank God. C’mon, let’s go. I’m hungry.”

“Of course, dahlink. See you soon, Bruce.” Natasha took Clint’s arm and sashayed down the hall.

Bruce’s grin grew brighter as Dick emerged from his dressing room in his red velvet outfit. The sprig of holly was still in his lapel. They walked the short distance to the Grand Hotel as snow gently fell. It was all very picturesque. The outfit was the one Dick had worn on the day they had saved the boy in the alley. They had never spoken of that incident since that day.

At the hotel, they went into the dining room. It had been closed at its usual time but Bruce had arranged for a special accommodation. He had offered special pay for the staff willing to cook for and serve them. They dined on caviar, fish and baby potatoes with sparkling champagne and Black Forest cake for dessert.

After dessert, they went up to Bruce’s suite. Alfred had managed to procure a tree and decorations and there were gaily-wrapped presents under the tree.

“Would you like to open one present tonight?” Bruce asked.


“Okay.” Bruce bent down and picked up a box wrapped in gold paper and a green bow.

“Here, yours first,” Dick said as he handed Bruce a flat, square box. The paper was silver with a blue bow.

Bruce opened it and smiled. “Russian Folktales.”

“I knew that you took a fancy to it in the toy shop. Mr. Volchek is very nice.”

“Is he the shopkeeper?”

Dick nodded. “He and I talked very pleasantly. What a wonderful occupation, dealing in toys.”

With a smile, Bruce ran his hand down the cover showing a boy and a wolf in snowy woods. The illustration was beautifully detailed. “Thank you.”

Dick’s grin widened as Bruce handed him his present. He eagerly unwrapped it and carefully opened the box.

“Bruce!” Dick lifted the object out.

It was a music box in the form of a caged nightingale. The delicate bird was made of gold and studded with jewels. Rubies, topazes, emeralds and sapphires sparkled as Bruce wound the key at the base of the box and the nightingale sang a pure, sweet song.

“It’s beautiful, Bruce,” Dick said in awe.

“He reminds me of you.”

“But I don’t sing, except in the shower.”

“Yes, and you do some of your best singing there.”

Dick smirked as he carefully set the music box on the dresser. “Bruce, this is exquisite, but it’s too…”

“…extravagant?” At Dick’s nod, Bruce asked, “What good is money if you can’t make the people you care about happy?”

Dick lightly traced the wires of the birdcage. “Beautiful, just beautiful.”

“I agree.” Bruce walked up behind Dick, nuzzling his neck while putting his arms around his waist.

Dick smiled. He turned around and copied Bruce by putting his arms around his lover. They kissed and made their way to the bed, flopping down. Bruce was on top of Dick, continuing to kiss and caress. Dick arched up as Bruce licked his companion’s long, graceful neck. Moonlight shone in through the windows as church bells began to peal.

& & & & & &

Curses rang through the smoke-filled air as flames crackled. Screams mixed with the unrelenting curses as mocking laughter trapped them all as surely as the flames. He could feel the smoke filling his lungs and tried to cry out, his voice rasping and weak. Horses whinnied in fear as they broke away and ran in sheer panic. He was falling to the hard ground as the laughter swirled around him…

& & & & & &

Dick sat up abruptly, his heart hammering painfully in his chest. He looked down at Bruce beside him, who stirred slightly but did not awaken. Dick carefully got out of bed and by the light of the moon, went to the dresser. He paused in the act of opening his drawer as the music box tinkled. Breathing a sight of relief when it stopped, he finished pulling out the drawer.

Reaching into the corner of the drawer, he took out a small black box and opened it. Inside, a small gold earring glittered in the moonlight before he closed the lid and put the box back, closing the drawer.

Dick climbed back into bed and shivered until he curled up against Bruce and finally fell asleep.

Tags: alfred pennyworth, batman/robin, big bang, black widow, bruce wayne/dick grayson, challenge, clint barton, dc comics, dcu_bang, hawkeye, marvel comics, natasha romanoff, the raven and the nightingale
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