Not A Wonderful Life
Characters: Superman, Batman, Damian!Robin
Summary: World's Finest go to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus. And it's exactly as classy and mature as you'd expect from this summary. XD
Warnings: Silly names, shameless Christmas kitsch. Not beta-read.
Notes: Written for 120_minuten. I somehow wanted this to be much crackier, it turned out way more melancholic as I thought it would. No slash, though you could probably gleam some mild Superbat flirting from it. And of course Superman would know where Santa lives!
As he lands, he tries to do it as softly and silently as the snowflakes falling around his friend's flowing dark cape.
Despite that, and not unexpectedly, Gotham's solemn protector whirls around right away. His movements look heavy to the arriving man; they would look swift and deadly to anyone else.
His warm, greeting smile goes unanswered, simply hanging there in the freezing winter air.
The Dark Knight looks very serious. Well. He always looks very serious, but Superman thinks he can spot something new. A level of … discomfort, as it were. He can't quite parse it yet, but then, he's only arrived three and a half seconds ago.
"You were coming from there," Batman remarks in his rumbling voice, like gravel dropping down a deep well, and gestures in the opposite direction. "I saw you."
The reprimand is barely noticeable.
Superman grins. He should know better, and it's probably not appropriate, but he can never resist disappearing into the clouds at the last minute, then touching down behind him.
It's … fun.
He tries to make it sound authoritative, as if he hadn't shed his suit and glasses the moment the message had arrived, and taken off in a whirl, which he had.
They don't see much of each other around this time.
Batman wastes no time, as usual. "I'm looking for someone. And I believe you know where to find him."
Perhaps that's the source of his subtle, but visible uneasiness. Batman doesn't like calling on his Kryptonian friend. It usually takes an entire building collapsing around him, an open fire and a trained monkey assassin with razor teeth at his throat to do it, at the very least. Superman doesn't understand it – the point of a personalized alert wristwatch seems to be to use it before all of that happens – but he respects it.
So whatever it is, it has to be of the utmost importance.
"Sure." He crosses his arms over the big "S" on his chest. "I'm glad to h – "
He remembers how little Batman likes the h-word; it takes him only a nanosecond to adjust his words. "- lend a hand, if I can. Who is it?"
Batman shifts in his bulky winter suit. He always seems to move so much weight around, yet you would never know by the way he conducts himself. Then, he does something very uncharacteristic: he stalls.
"How much time do you have?" He asks, teeth clenched.
Superman gently tilts his head. "How much time do you need?"
In the silence that follows, he wonders if he sounded patronizing. He's been told (very timidly, at that) that it sometimes happens when he aims to sound friendly or generous. But somehow, that still doesn't seem to be the matter that really bothers the Batman.
The Caped Crusader morosely huffs through his nose, sending out little clouds of condensed air, and says: "A male, 65-70, by my estimate. No medical records, no birth certificate, no known address."
He stops, and sighs so quietly only Superman can hear it.
"White beard," he stiffly continues. "Full-figured. Red suit, red … hat, white fur lining, black boots, rides an airborne sleigh that seems to be pulled by eight to nine antlered grazers – "
Superman nods along with his description; he lets him finish, anyway, because it'd be rude not to.
"I see." He then says. "Kringle."
A chill runs down his steely spine as he says that name.
Batman nearly does a double-take, but of course he doesn't really, since he's Batman. "You do know him," he hisses, sounding almost scandalized by that revelation.
Superman shrugs. "Yes, he's my neighbor," he explains. "Not at my regular place of course," he then adds, probably unnecessarily. "The other place."
Under his cowl, Batman seems to glower.
Now he knows what the emotion is. He's embarrassed. The Dark Knight is embarrassed to ask about this. That's why he couldn't identify it right away, because he has never seen it before.
Ah. He gets it now.
It's Batman's turn to cross his arms. "I knew it," he grumbles.
Superman leans down to face the shorter vigilante. "Well," he says earnestly, "You could've simply asked if I know Santa Claus. I would've told you, you know."
He likes how Batman never flinches, never inches away from him when he gets close, as many do, because they know he could kill them with his pinky finger; even though he never would.
"Superman, I need you to take me to see him," Batman says, and then, after a short pause: "Please."
Superman can feel a nervous twitch on his own face, which is something that's never happened to him before in front of the Dark Knight. He clears his throat. Before he can help it, he's sheepishly scratching his neck. "I. Look, old friend, I hate to deny your request but, Chris is … he's a very private guy, very focused, not unlike you really –"
Batman scowls at that.
"And it's not a good idea to disturb him around this time, believe me," Superman closes with an apologetic look on his face.
He has no choice in this matter. He has to tell it like it is.
Chris Kringle is not a man to be trifled with.
"Superman." The vigilante's voice is a low, incredulous growl. "Are you intimidated by this man?!"
The Man Of Steel's big blue eyes grow wide. "No," he claims unsuccessfully.
"Hrm." The visible part of Batman's face looks baffled for a second, then goes hard. "Is he an enemy of yours?" He asks dangerously, with only the faintest pinch of concern to it.
That is so patently absurd that Superman has to laugh, though it's a little more fluttery and nervous as he'd liked. "Oh dear, no! It's not like that. But we've reached an agreement eons ago. He does his thing, I do mine, and we … we respect each other. You see, not unlike – "
"I understand," the Dark Knight hurries to say. "Superman, I wouldn't ask you this if it wasn't very important. I need to speak to him. That's all I want…"
"… for Christmas?"
He can't resist. They've exchanged gifts before, but very irregularily, and depending on whether or not some severe crisis brings them together over the holidays.
This seems to offend the Caped Crusader deeply. "I'm doing case work," he insists in a biting voice. "Here."
He pulls out a photograph and presents it to him.
Superman takes one look at it and whistles through his teeth. "Is that what I think it is?"
"Exactly. That's why I need to see him personally about it."
Superman hesitates. This seems like a serious matter, and if he's honest, he's always sort of wanted Batman and Santa Claus to meet. The mixture would be … explosive.
"All right," he nods, hands on his hips, "Under these circumstances, I don't see how I could turn you down. I'll …" A small, mischievous smile flickers across his face. "I'll introduce you."
"Thank you. I knew I could count on you." Batman doesn't show it, but Superman can sense how relieved he is. Relieved, and maybe the faintest, tiniest particle of excited. But then, he goes straight from that into looking like he's experiencing toothaches.
"There's something else." He almost winces. "Since this is a time-sensitive matter, I'll … have to get to the North Pole as fast as possible. And none of my planes are as fast as … you."
He sounds very disgruntled admitting that. Superman smirks at him.
Oh, you'll get there.
"You do know his address!" He quips, to no reaction whatsoever. "And yes, I'll take you."
Batman grunts. He seems equal parts annoyed and pleased, like always when these situations happen. Superman takes a look around, but he can sense nobody's presence except the two of them and a couple pigeons. Not the bird he was looking for. "We're bringing the kid, aren't we? Where is he?"
Superman blinks at him, dumbstruck. "Robin!"
Batman looks surprised, then flustered. "Robin has tasks of his own, I didn't think – "
Superman sternly shakes his head. "You're not going to the North Pole to see Santa and don't bring the one child you know, Batman, come on."
He's Superman. He cannot possibly let a tragic thing like that happen.
"He's not – " His friend mumbles. Then he seems to consider what he'd said, and puts his wrist communicator to his lips. "Robin. Change of plans. Meet me for pickup on the rooftop at 43rd." He pauses and listens. "Well, if you've already gagged them, lock them in the freezer and leave a note for the police!" he then barks. "And really leave a note this time. There've been complaints. Fifteen minutes."
"You should have told him I'll be there," Supermans says with a grin once the call ends. "I don't want him to fall off the roof out of shock."
He hasn't met the new Robin yet, and these first meetings always tend to be … lively. Superman cherishes them.
"He's not – " Batman grumbles again, but gives up. "Shall we go?"
"Sure," Superman says, but when he tries to scoop Batman up in his arms, the vigilante moves out of his reach.
"We're not on our way to the North Pole yet, Clark," he points out, though not unfriendly, accompanied by the twang of his grapple hook shooting off. "Follow my lead."
Superman hasn't met the new Robin, but he sure is fast. They've made it to their destination in under three minutes, but they barely have to wait for ten until a nimble little shadow hurls itself over the edge of the building.
He watches the boy approach, and can't help the huge grin on his face. He likes to think that the kids are excited to meet him, which is mostly the case, but the truth is, he's excited to meet them. He's always loved interacting with the Robins; not because he likes to be fawned over, but because it offers a short departure from the crushing loneliness that comes from knowing he'd never be able to have offspring of his own. It casts the brooding man standing next to him in an interesting light as well; it's as if Batman is building himself a large family without realizing he's doing it.
Anyway, he really likes it.
"Ooh, he's a tiny one," he merrily remarks to Batman. "I haven't seen one this tiny in a while!"
He can see the small shift in the boy's step, and realizes that he's heard him. The look of cautious excitement on Robin's face is quickly replaced by a harsh scowl that would've done his mentor proud.
He walks straight up to the Man Of Steel, looks him up and down, then puts his little fists on his hips in a perfect reflection of his stance. "I imagined you taller," he declares.
Superman can hear Batman utter one of those sub-audible sighs again.
"Well." He bends down to the kid with a warm smile. "That makes two of us, then."
His friendliness seems to knock some of the wind out of Robin's sails, but he's still glowering when he turns to his boss. "What's he doing here?" He sneers, as if Superman isn't worthy to be included in their conversation. "We don't need him. This city's our expertise."
"Robin," Batman hisses, "Manners."
"He's right, though," Superman says amiably, "I wouldn't know where to start with the type of deviant you have running around here."
"Exactl – " Robin begins, finger in the air, then falls silent, obviously blindsided by Superman agreeing with him.
"Superman is taking us on a special mission," Batman now explains, "And we'll be leaving Gotham for the night. I want you to go get your warm cloak."
The boy tugs on his vest in protest. "This is doubly-enforced Kevlar, I'll be fine."
"It's cold where we're going. Do as I say. Do it now."
Superman gazes from one to the other, and somehow – perhaps it's a nuance in Batman's voice, perhaps it's something about their facial features he picks up on – he knows, at once, that they are actually father and son.
A small smile plays around his lips. He's not going to mention it, of course, at least not unless the Dark Knight brings it up.
The boy looks displeased, but then barks out a "Yes, Sir!" He marches towards an inactive chimney that must contain one of their countless hidden stashes, rummages around in it, finds a heavy snow jacket, and throws it on.
"Restrict my movement," Superman hears him mutter very softly while he zips himself up, "Terrific."
Superman gives Batman a little nudge. "Aren't you going to tell him where we're going?" He enthuses. That'll cheer the kid right up; it has to.
When Batman turns to Robin, Superman realizes that he dreads telling the boy just as much as he'd dreaded telling him earlier. How peculiar.
"We're going to the North Pole to see Santa Claus," he mumbles gruffly, in a "there's no good way to say it" kind of way.
Even despite the domino, he can tell that the kid's eyes go wide, but not in a joyful fashion, at all. He looks … even more offended than Batman did when Superman suggested he'd want something for Christmas. That family sure is something.
He gives both men a wary examination, then scrunches up his nose. "Not to overstep my bounds here, but, if this is a set-up to coax me into enjoying the holiday season, I will be very disgruntled."
Superman stares at him in shock. "He doesn't … he doesn't enjoy Christmas…?" He inquires, voice failing.
"Of course not! It's – " Robin turns to him, and Superman can see him debate whether or not to share his thoughts with him after the start they've had, but then he rants on anyway.
"It's the worst season of the year," he says, flashing his teeth in a fashion that's very reminiscent of his dad, "All the civilians are either angry or distressed, organized crime is having a field day because everyone's so distracted, every imbecile with a lock pick thinks it's the right time to stage a home invasion or two, suicides are through the roof, and every year, you get at least three or four deviants who think it's funny to dress up as Santa - " he shudders with disgust at the word, "To lure in unsuspecting citizens, it's a mess. It's A Wonderful Life?" He bangs his fist into his hand, much grimmer than Superman has ever seen a Robin do it, "Tt. Please."
A few seconds pass in stunned silence (coming mainly from Superman), until Batman turns to him and says, "He has a point. It's a brutal season."
He doesn't show it, but Superman notes how the kid's pulse skips a beat when he hears his father agree with him.
He tilts his head and ponders Metropolis around the holidays, and the many times he's had to fly in from Smallville to stop some yuletide-themed maniac from tearing the crowded plaza apart with a death ray.
"Yeah," he then concedes. "I see what you mean."
Robin's head goes back and forth between them, and Superman can sense how pleased he is that two seasoned heroes share his opinion on something. He also concludes that he has trouble expressing when he's pleased about something.
"Exactly," he nods, careful to keep the excitement out of his voice, crossing his arms over his chest. "So whatever this is, I hope it's important!"
The kid has spunk. You have to give him that.
"It is," Batman assures him. "I have a lead on the Chimney Stalker, who as you know is our top priority, since his crimes are seasonal – "
Robin rolls his eyes behind his mask. "So seasonal – "
Batman shoots him a glare. "And for that, it is imperative that we talk to – " He scowls. "Santa Claus." He sounds so tormented uttering that name. "The real one." He gestures towards Superman. "And Superman is going to take us to him, which is very kind of him," he snarls, reminding the boy as well as, it seems, himself.
" I suggest that I'll fly you over there one at a time," Superman volunteers, rubbing his hands together. He isn't cold, but the upcoming adventure fills him with excitement. "I'll wrap you into my cape so the speed won't ..." He wants to say shred you into tiny pieces, because that's what it is, but it seems harsh. "… affect you negatively. Each round trip will take me about 8 minutes, so whoever goes first won't have to wait for long in the cold."
He smiles at them. That seems like a good deal to him. But the duo from Gotham stays quiet for a while.
"You can make it to the North Pole and back," the boy finally pipes up, "In 8 minutes?"
He sounds humiliated.
"I – well." Superman gives him a sheepish grin. "Why yes, young man, I can."
He can do it in much less. 8 minutes is the fastest he'd dare going without risking his friends vaporizing in his arms.
Robin ponders that. Then, he snaps, "Well, Batman has a sports car that can turn into a supersonic plane and a torpedo boat, and he's designed and built it himself. On a weekend. Bet you couldn't do that."
"Robin," Batman hisses again, seemingly repressing the desire to put his face in his hands.
Superman could do that, easily. But he doesn't have to tell the kid.
"Your…" He hesitates. "Batman is a great man," he tells the little guy, bowing down to him. "But even great men need help sometimes. He's helped me at least as many times as I've helped him, perhaps more. And it's a true sign of strength if a man knows when to turn to his friends for support."
He stands up straight again, invitingly spreading out his arms in Batman's direction, beaming brightly. "So hop on, old friend, and we'll be on our way!"
The silence his gesture is met with is downright chilling this time.
"You …" Robin's head snaps back and forth between them again. "You're going to ride him?" He asks his grownup partner, a clear note of mortification in his voice.
The Batman lowers his head. Superman's smile falters. Batman is rarely jazzed about this maneuver under normal circumstances, and performing it under the eyes of his son seems particularly non-thrilling to him.
"It's the fastest way," he mutters, almost incomprehensibly. "… have to … Chimney Stalker …"
He trots over to take his place in Superman's arms.
"Boy, those Gotham perps really don't quit with the colorful names, do they?" The Man Of Steel quips as he lifts up The Dark Knight, to distract everyone from the awkwardness of what's happening.
"The press gave him that name," Batman shoots back at him, and Superman can see the corners of his mouth twitch, their faces close together. "You know how ridiculous reporters get."
Superman looks at the boy, but Robin seems too wrapped up in watching the strange display to note the meaningful little jab. He knows how much the Bat hates hanging in his arms like this. They've tried several different positions over the years, but in the end, the bridal carry is simply the most practical.
Superman, personally, doesn't mind it.
"Take my cape, yes, like that," he advises him. "Wrap it around your body as tightly as possible. And please make sure it doesn't flap into my eyes, I need those to see where I'm going … yes, great."
He looks up and sees Robin staring at them. He seems unaware that his mouth is hanging open.
"It's really safe," Superman assures him awkwardly.
"Robin, hold position," Batman tells him, as sternly as possible for a man tucked into a red cape, in another man's arms, before they fly up and away.
Sixteen minutes later, they're all safely assembled in the icy desert, only minutes from Kringle's home.
"How was the flight?" Batman asks Robin as he clambers off Superman's arms. Voice as grave as usual, but Superman gets the distinct feeling that Batman is teasing the kid.
"It was all right," the boy shrugs, disentangles himself from Superman's cape and hands it back to him, but his cheeks are rosy.
He smoothes out his cape, then points ahead. "It's over there."
Batman and Robin turn around, and then there's an almost ceremonial silence as they both take in the sights.
"So the legends are true," Batman eventually mumbles, "He really lives in an idyllic little hut."
"Looks like something from a storybook," Robin adds, obviously unsure if he should love it or hate it.
Superman observes the two humans, a twinkle in his eye.
"So that's what it looks like to you," he mutters. "Interesting."
Batman gives him a quizzical look, but the Kryptonian doesn't get into it. "Please stay closely behind me as we approach," he suggests. "I have a fair idea where his booby traps are hidden, but let's not take any risks."
"Santa's estate is booby trapped?" Robin asks him as they get going, now clearly excited.
Superman snorts. "If you owned the world's greatest toy factory, would you not protect it?" He retorts. "Actually, there's probably half a dozen elves with slingshots on us right now."
The kid's eyes start to gleam as he fervently looks around to spot them; but elves are almost as stealthy as Bats. Superman also notes how Batman protectively moves closer to his boy.
"Don't worry." He straightens his shoulders to make the "S" on his chest pop, easy to spot. "They know who I am."
They move almost without incident; one cotton candy mine goes off, but Superman manages to throw himself in front of his friends before they get a face full of soaring hot liquid sugar.
It'll take forever to get that out of his suit, but it's worth it.
"Lovely guy," Batman snarls as they arrive at Kringle's door.
"Can't wait to meet him," Robin enthuses, not sounding sarcastic in the slightest.
"Yeah…" Superman cracks the joints in his neck before he knocks on the door, and takes another deep breath.
All right; bothering Chris Kringle around Christmastime. Boy oh boy, here we go.
He knocks, and immediately looks down to greet the tiny, elderly elf who opens. Alfarik looks like he's all out of sleep and gummy drops; his face is ashen, the tips of his distinguished mustache are drooping. He's about Robin's height; Superman can see the boy gaping at him while simultaneously tugging at his father's cloak.
"Kal-El, Sir," the elf squeaks tiredly, but not without warmth, "Please forgive me, but you couldn't have picked a worse time."
Superman opens his mouth to apologize, but before he can, he hears that familiar, awe-inducing, deep dark voice boom down from the top floor.
"Kal-El?! What are you on, son?! December's my no-touch zone, we've discussed this!"
Santa comes rushing down the stairs, open cloak swooping majestically behind him. He's in complete disarray, with deep bags under his eyes, white hair pointing in all directions, his beard a mess. Despite his jolly, big gut, you can see the sheer strength in his bulky arms and legs as he stomps up to them. He looks more like an angry Viking than the merry old man from the postcards. A moment later, he can hear Batman and son coughing and gargling as they get hit by a thick cloud of pipe smoke.
"And you’ve brought intruders?!"
He also looks like he's about to put Superman across his knee.
It's Robin who saves his extraterrestrial hide. Because as soon as Santa spots him, he changes gears with blinding speed.
"And you've brought a little one," he says, and at once, his voice turns into the warm, gentle, soothing tones from every Christmas commercial. His face relaxes, even his cheeks seems to turn a shade of rosy red on command. He bends down to beam at Robin, who eyes him warily.
"What a lovely surprise! That's a great little costume you have there," Santa tells him generously. "So bright and cheery!"
"These are my work clothes," Robin intones stiffly, seemingly tempted to hide between his father's legs. "And why is everyone going on about my height today?"
Despite himself, Superman has to grin at the whole scene. But Chris could probably stand to catch a break, and perhaps Robin would like to meet the real Santa. "Chris, it's cool," he assures him. "The boy's cool. You can drop it."
The merry smile washed off Santa's face immediately. "Thank you," he growls, groaning as he gets up again. "I have to do this with millions of kids in the next few days, I need to keep some of this on reserve."
"That was an act?" Robin pipes up. "Impressive."
Santa tilts his head at him. "Why thanks, my lad," he says with a friendly wink. "Didn't quite fool you though, did I."
"No," the boy confirms. And he smiles. Despite the stress he's under, Santa does have a way with kids, no doubt.
Santa beams back at him, but then becomes all business again as he sets his eyes on his other guest. "You brought the Bat," he remarks, crossing his massive arms over his chest.
"You know who I am?" There's the slightest hint of unease in the vigilante's voice.
The man in the red cloak leans back and gives him one of those deep, rumbling belly laughs. "Ho ho ho, I know who everyone is," he declares, and it's a testament to Kringle's charisma that it doesn't sound as creepy as it could.
He nudges Superman, which at least means he's foregoing kicking his butt for the intrusion right now. "This one was a veritable geek when he was little," he explains to him and Robin, pointing at The Dark Knight. "Never was one for the cowboy hats and the pea shooters, always with the chemistry sets and the big books on history. Great kid. Until he – "
There's a shift in his voice, as if he remembers something. "Until he stopped writing," he then mutters, a note of sadness and compassion in his voice.
It's not something the Batman seems to appreciate. "What's with the booby traps, Kringle?" He hisses, on the defense. "What if it's defenseless children out there? It's endangerment!"
That sets the large bearded man right off. "I know what I'm doing, Bat," he roars back, "The children don't come here, they write to me, that's the deal. Oh and by the way, on the topic of you and child endangerment, buddy – "
Superman leans down to Robin. "Yep," he whispers, "This is how I imagined it'd go."
"Uh-huh," the boy is completely captivated by the proceedings. He leans into Superman. "You think Batman could take him in a fight?" His eyes are gleaming.
Superman smacks his lips. "Boy, I don't think anyone can …"
"You come into my house," Santa booms, his massive fists shaking, "On my turf, lecturing me about how to do my business – "
"You turn candy into a deadly weapon," the Bat bites back, "And nearly spray my s-partner with it – "
"I'm in the middle of a large scale cross-continental gift distribution operation – "
"I'm in the middle of an investigation – "
Superman steps in between them. He's aware that Kringle could punch him into orbit if he wanted to, but he also knows that he's all bark and no bite. Easy to enrage, especially during Christmastime, but a really, really sweet guy underneath.
And as much as it'd amuse him to see Batman spread across Santa's knee, it'd probably scar Robin forever.
"Batman," he turns to his friend, desperately, "Please tell Santa what you want."
That seems to bring them both down a few notches.
"Right." Batman clears his throat, apparently embarrassed by the earlier kerfuffle. "I come here on business," he tells Santa, and pulls out that photo. The large man immediately becomes professional again, and moves beside him to look at it.
"This was taken at a crime scene, as you can clearly see," Batman explains to him. "And I think the rest explains itself …"
Santa takes one look, and his beard starts to shake furiously. "Holy f – " he starts, then glances at Robin and doesn't finish his thought. "Good grief, that rat bastard uses my techniques to squeeze himself down chimneys and scare families?"
"Scare them," Robin cuts in gravely, "And worse."
"This is an outrage! Someone must've stolen it from me. Batman, I would never let this happen otherwise!"
"I believe you." The vigilante folds the grisly photograph back into his pocket. "But I was hoping you'd let me take a look at your chimney squeezing technology, so we can determine who utilizes it."
Santa shakes his bushy head. "I can't," he says. "Technology, that's your thing. I use magic. And besides," his eyes narrow, red-hot anger smoldering in them. Superman, Batman and Robin all take a small step back, almost subconsciously. You wouldn't like Santa when he's angry.
"I know who did it." He growls, then closes his coat with a marvelous swoosh, "That … no good … stealing … narcissistic … conniving elf I fired last month. Butternut."
In the corner, Alfarik the elf glowers at that name, then spits on the floor.
"HA!" Santa barks, "It has to be him. Believe me, Batman, I don't fire my people easily, I feel responsible for them, they're like family to me."
"I know what you mean," Batman relates.
"We've tried everything with him, counseling, therapy, trust-building exercises, but he was impossible to work with. Entitled, manipulative, dishonest, downright cruel to the other elves …"
Alfarik shudders, and nods.
"And ultimately, I couldn't let him stay. But I should've known he'd snap." Santa makes big fists again, looking tortured, and for a moment, he really reminds Superman of another busy creature of a night that he knows. "I should have never let this happen!"
"It's not your f – " Batman begins, then falls silent when Santa faces him and puts one large, warm hand on his shoulder. Despite the graveness of the situation, Superman can see him relax almost in real time. It's like some considerable weight is dropping off of him. Even his face suddenly looks softer, looser, younger. He's helpless against it. For this is what being comforted by Santa is like.
"Thanks for bringing it to my attention, son," Kringle tells him. "But your involvement ends here. This is Santa Claus business. And trust me," his jaw line grows hard again. "I'll bring that mother down. ALF!" He snaps.
"Prepare the sleigh. Tell Crunch and Munch I want them with me, with their slingshots and at least two candy cane rapiers each, this' gonna get ugly." He sighs. "Do you think that you and Flic Flac can handle East Asian distribution and the Canadian division on your own while I'm gone?"
The elf steps closer, brimming with pride. "We have prepared ourselves years for this, Sir," he says merrily.
"Great." He takes a look at his guests, and sighs again. "Get these good people at least a hot cocoa and some cookies before they leave," he says, "Normally I'd hang out, but I need to deal with this first."
Batman looks almost heartbroken that Santa isn't holding him anymore. "We … we understand."
"Too bad." The big bearded man shrugs, then slaps his belly. "Tell you what, why don't you guys drop by another time? I do next to nothing in August." His face lights up, and he wraps one arm around the Man Of Steel, hugging him. "Keep telling this guy to come by for barbecue, but he's a little scared of me …"
"I – hm not – " Superman insists as all air is squeezed out of him.
"I can count on you to get these fine folks home safe, Krypton?" He asks sternly. Superman nods, while his skull is filling up with blood, which is a very rare experience for him.
"Great. And by the way, you'll get a real treat this year." Santa lets go of him with another kindly nudge. Then he turns to Robin. "And I'll see you outside," he declares, "You can meet my reindeers while we wait for takeoff."
"I could do that, I guess," Robin shrugs, then nearly bowls over both his father and Superman as he speeds out the door.
They watch as Santa buttons up his cloak – struggling a little with the upper buttons – and gets ready to leave. But before he does, he snaps his fingers in Batman's direction. "Hey, Batman, come over here, let's have a talk. And Supes, none o' that super-hearing, all right? This is between him and me."
"I never eavesdrop when it's private," Superman pouts. "You have a list of who's nice, you know that." But then, he goes outside to join Robin with the reindeers, leaving Santa Claus and The Dark Knight to their business.
"Well," he asks, a while later, as they are sitting around Santa's fire, drinking devastatingly good cocoa that tastes like hope and happiness, "What did he say to you?"
Batman sips from his mug in silence. Next to him, Robin is nibbling a gigantic Christmas cookie, a bandage around his fresh reindeer bite, which he described as "one of the coolest things that happened to me this year".
It's … nice.
"You don't have to tell me, of course," Superman adds, lowering his gaze.
Even Batman looks relaxed. The warm, fragrant fire is coloring his cheeks. "He told me that I'm on his good list, always were," he explains. "In case there were any doubts. He says I'm toeing the line sometimes, but that ultimately, I'm a good …" He pauses. "…kid."
Robin chuckles at that.
"He's said a very similar thing about you, too," Batman tells him, but it doesn't sound condescending at all, and it makes the boy smile only wider.
Batman lowers his head, and stares into his mug. "He also said that he was sorry," he says quietly. "That he could never give me what I asked him for in my last letter to him, all those years ago. Because it's not in his power."
Superman puts a hand on his shoulder, and Batman lets him. From the other side, the kid tentatively puts a hand him, too.
Sadness hangs over them for a little moment, but then Batman himself purses his lips and adds, "And he made me promise we'll come to his barbecue in August. There'll be vegetarian options," he tells his son, "And he's assured me, there'll be no reindeer steaks."
"I'm not against it," the kid decides. "You know, when he was being all nice, I found him kinda creepy, if I'm honest," he reports, and Superman can see him minimally snuggle up to his father. "But then he started yelling, and now I think he's delightful."
"He can be," Superman agrees, looking at Batman.
And The Dark Knight smiles back at him.