Air of December, part 6

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"

Barbara cleared the almost too narrow elevator doors and wheeled around to reach a hand to the door, holding it for Dick. He peered over the stack of parcels in his arms, moving carefully so as not to upset the carefully balanced pile. "Thanks, Babs."

"De nada," she replied, letting the doors go closed behind them and retaking the lead down the hall to her father's condo. The fragrance of apples and cinamon permeated the air, and she breathed deeply. "Mulled cider," she commented as she knocked on the door.

"It smells wonderful," Dick acknowledged.

"Hi, Baby," Jim Gordon greeted his daughter, leaning down to kiss her cheek. "Come on in. Hey, Dick."

"Mr. Gordon," Dick nodded, following Barbara through the door.

"The tree's set up in the family room," Jim directed, then smiled down at Barbara. "You made pie!"

She smiled back at him, holding out both the pie and the tupperware of cookies that had occupied her lap on the trip up. "And Christmas cookies," she informed him. She hadn't intended to be so industrious, but when Dick called to say he had pulled an extra shift? The relative quiet of the Oracle lines and the restless need to do something had prompted her to fire up the oven.

"This is great," Jim enthused, setting the offered goodies on the sideboard for a moment. "Let me take your coat. Yours, too, Dick," he added as Dick reentered sans presents.

Both Dick and Barbara complied.

"You two just go into the family room," Jim called back to them from the closet. "Can I bring you anything to drink?"

"That cider you're mulling would be great if it's ready," Dick requested, and Barbara gave a little smile. Her father was inordinately proud of his cider recipe.

"Make that two," she said. "You sure you don't need-"

"No, no," Jim fussed, shooing them toward the living room as he crossed back toward the kitchen. "Go sit by the fire and listen to some Christmas music. I'll be in a minute."

The young couple obeyed, Dick settling into the deep sofa and Barbara parking her chair by his side. A heavy sigh escaped Dick. "This feels nice," he said.

Barbara twisted her torso to lean toward his cheek and give him a quick kiss. "Poor baby," she murmured sympathetically. Then her eyes were caught by the view through the sliding glass door onto her father's rooftop garden. "Is it snowing again?" she asked incredulously.

Dick straightened up and squinted toward the doors. "Sure looks like it."

"What's that?" Jim asked, handing a mug to Barbara and then carefully shifting one of two mugs in his right hand to his left in order to hand it to Dick.

"Thanks," Dick said. "We were just saying it looks like it's snowing."

Jim turned toward the doors, then walked closer to them to inspect the night free from the glare of the low light of the room and the glittering bulbs from the tree. 'It is," Jim announced.

"That's just incredible," Barbara remarked. "I don't think I've ever seen this much snow by Christmas. And it just keeps coming."

"Nothing like one year we had in Chicago," Jim noted, returning to the cozy array of furniture around the fireplace and settling into a straightback chair. "It was right after Barbara and I had gotten married and we had this dinky apartment near Back of the Yards. Landlord never did shovel the steps - we just slid down them. I don't think all the ice thawed off them until June."

"Dad, why don't you sit on the couch? It'd be more comfortable," Barbara suggested, eager to get away from the subject of her father's first wife.

The attempt backfired. "Too hard to get up from there with my back if I've got stuff to do," he pointed out matter-of-factly. "Dinner'll be ready in less than a half hour."

"This cider hits the spot," Dick commented, steering the conversation to easier territory. "Do you share your recipe?"

"It's nothing really," Jim averred, although his face wore a pleased expression. "Just an old family thing."

"It's perfect," Dick declared. "Just the thing to warm up on a cold winter's day."

Jim nodded. "I take it you had to work?"

"Christmas double," Dick confirmed. "You know how it is."

"Yeah. One thing I don't miss. You gotta go back tomorrow?"

"4 o'clock."

"PM, I hope."

"Yeah."

The sound of pinging from the kitchen brought Jim to his feet. "Dinner's just about ready," he announced.

Dick started to rise. "Can I-"

"No, no - keep Barb company. You kids should relax."

Dick hesitated, and Barbara put a reassuring hand on his. It wasn't going quite swimmingly, but it wasn't going too poorly for a first Christmas. At least her father had resisted the urge to comment on the Bludhaven PD. "You're doing great," she said encouragingly.

He gave her a wan smile, and his exhaustion surfaced in his eyes for a moment. Then he cocked his head slightly as the music playing softly through the speakers changed. His expression become slightly misty. "This was my mom's favorite Christmas carol," he told her.

Barbara listened for a moment, long enough to identify the strains of "O Holy Night." "It's a good one."

"She always said it was one of the few that seemed big enough for the occasion," he remembered. "She believed in showmanship."

A corner of Barbara's mouth quirked. "So that's where you get it from."

Dick chuckled ruefully. "Comes from both sides, actually." His gaze drifted to the fireplace. "It's nice, to have the fire going."

Barbara nodded, watching the way wistfulness played across his features, his emotions relatively unshielded in his weariness. "Dad burns a yule log every year."

"We used to - me and Bruce and Alfred. Then we didn't celebrate for a while, and now..."

"Now there are other compensations," Barbara reminded him gently, not wanting him to get maudlin. Not that she really thought he would, but the holidays were hard enough for all of them.

He refocused his eyes on her and forced a little chuckle. "Yep. More greenery."

"Ugh," she groaned, snatching a pillow from the easy chair beside her and swatting him over the head with it. "You and your puns."

"You love them and you know it."

"Dream on, Dickie-boy," she snorted, then laughed at his theatrically hurt expression and leaned in to kiss him. He returned the kiss with interest until an "ahem" sounded behind them.

Dick jerked back, his face flaming in a rare blush, and Barbara laughed. "Daddy, don't do that to him."

Over Jim Gordon's stern expression, his eyes were dancing, and his voice countered both emotions with plain civility. "Dinner's ready," he announced. Then he added with a smirk, "If you two can part long enough to get to the table."

Dick rose to his feet, looking flustered, then surprised as Jim gave him a wink. Barbara saw the wink and hid her smile. It was a good sign.

Dinner was pleasant if not fancy; lamb and mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables and rolls, followed by Barbara's pie and egg nog back in the living room. The conversation turned to Jim's Christmas day flight to Florida, where he would visit some old friends and then tour the Keys, filling the hours, he didn't say, that led to the anniversary of Sarah's death. Avoiding that landmine carried them to cop stories, and when it looked like jurisdictional loyalties were threatened, Barbara filled in with weird discoveries in the archive and odd library requests.

Present opening relieved them of the pressure of finding safer topics of conversation, and they all finally relaxed as they appreciated books and sweaters and hand tools and the usual assortment of stocking stuffers. The wrapping paper was fed into the fireplace, changing the color of the flames to green and red and orange and blue in a pattern it took them some time to discern. Barbara and Dick speculated on the chemical components of the dyes in the papers, trying to analyze the combustion, and Barbara saw Jim studying Dick speculatively as he held up his end of the conversation. He did not dislike Dick, she knew, but he was paternally protective of her, worried for Dick's lack of a college degree and his job in 'that armpit.' So Dick's unsuspected knowledge of chemistry surprised her father. Good, she decided.

By the time Jim proposed watching some Christmas classics on TV, the mood was comfortable enough that Dick and Barbara agreed, happy to keep the evening going.

They eschewed "It's a Wonderful Life" for lighter fare, settling on "A Christmas Story." "The father kinda reminds me of you," Barbara remarked mischievously.

They laughed easily through the movie, until halfway through, Barbara felt Jim nudge her arm. She followed his gesture and saw that Dick had fallen asleep in the easy chair that he had claimed in the den.

"His double was 20 hours," Barbara explained in a near whisper, although louder tones would likely not have woken him.

"And on the beat the whole time I bet," Jim grunted, disapproval dripping from his tone. "That damned embarrassment they call a department-"

"Daddy," Barbara pleaded.

Jim met her eyes, and his expression softened. "I know, Barb." He glanced back at the sleeping man and sighed. "It just reminds me too much of me, back in the day."

Barbara touched his hand and looked at him enquiringly.

"I slept like that more nights than I can count. Barbara complained I was more married to the job than her." His voice was distant in memory. "She just couldn't see that the city needed good cops - or that's what I told myself. Chicago needed me, and then I needed Gotham, to make up for my failure..."

"Dad-"

"Barbara," he forestalled. "I like your young man. I do. But sometimes I worry you found someone a bit too much like me, and I wasn't much of a husband."

"Oh, Daddy-" It took some doing, but she was able to turn in her chair enough to put her arms around his neck. There were no words to reassure, so she just hugged him as he stroked her hair and stared at the TV.

After a few moments, Barbara released him and returned to watching the movie, but she wasn't really seeing the action on the screen. She was thinking about Christmases past and future and how lucky she was to share this one with two men she loved so much.

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