Bruce turned the page, scanning the International News. In the hearth a fire crackled. The silence was beautiful. The calmness was what Bruce had been longing for the last few days.
It was Christmas Eve. Thanks to Damian, Wayne Manor looked like something out of a department store. No expense had been spared to decorate the interior or exterior of the Manor. The decorating itself had been a team effort. Joy, laughter and arguments had been the order of the day. Now, Bruce sat alone enjoying the solitude.
In the centre of the huge open family room stood a magnificent Christmas tree. According to Damian the ‘best tree in the known world’, which of course meant it was the most expensive tree on the market. Despite the fact it was an artificial tree it had the distinct odour of pine, so the smell of Christmas permeated every corner of the house.
Dick had done an amazing job with Damian in Bruce’s absence. The boy had mellowed considerably and the way he had embraced Christmas was a surprise to all apart from Dick. Dick had simply smiled and said, “He has a lot of catching up to do. Underneath that hard crust is a little kid who’s never been allowed to be a kid.”
Bruce’s eyes drifted to the tree. There were no presents under it... yet. Everyone had completed their Christmas shopping but no one had found time to wrap anything. Apparently that was where everyone was now. Bruce had paid to have his gifts wrapped at the point of sale.
It had been a number of years since Bruce had celebrated Christmas. Usually he avoided the festivities, but this year, he’d seemingly had no choice. It just sort of happened around him and he was included – conscripted… rather like the old days when Dick had been a boy. Strangely, Bruce hadn’t complained. He’d allowed himself to be drawn in and he was pleased. He was actually looking forward to a quiet Christmas with his three boys.
A momentary flash of pain threatened to ruin the mood as an image of Jason filled Bruce’s mind. He’d hoped that... but it wasn’t to be. Dick had tried to convince Jason to join them. He’d promised a temporary amnesty if he did, for while Jason had traded information for a total pardon and was technically a free man in the eyes of the law, he was still on the run both from those he’d double-crossed and from Dick who was determined to see him put away so he could get the psychological help he needed.
Bruce sighed. No one ever said family was easily.
Dick entered the room, looking back over his shoulder furtively. Without a word he set to work.
Bruce’ brow furrowed as he watched. “What are you doing?”
The determined man struggled.
“Do you want some help?”
“Best you’re not involved.”
Bruce grinned, shook his head and went back to his reading.
Ten minutes later...
Bruce glanced up from his newspaper as Dick casually rose from his lounge chair, walked across to the fireplace where five stockings hung, adjusted one and then wandered back toward his chair, his eyes searching out the open door.
Apparently noting he was being watched, Dick flicked his lazy, relaxed gaze to his companion and beamed... like a child who knew his trap was about to be sprung. His eyes flashed with mischief. “He’s going to have a cow.”
Abruptly Dick leapt into his chair and opened his motorcycle magazine instantly doing an Emmy award winning performance of a man deep in thought.
His eyes doubled in size. His head snapped across to Dick. “Dick...”
Dick looked up and blinked with oozing innocence. “Wasn’t me.”
Damian spun on his heels and dashed out of the room roaring, “TIM!”
Bruce shook his head, happily. So much for the quiet Christmas he’d hoped for. He flicked his gaze to the thousand dollar tree which Dick had somehow managed to turn upside down and get to balance. Since he’d returned from his exploits through time, Bruce’ life was like that tree. It had been turned upside down and despite how odd it may appear to those on the outside...and even to Bruce himself... his life was now balanced. All thanks to Alfred and his boys, and specifically due to a young man with a devilish sense of humour whom Bruce considered both son and friend.
With great affection Bruce looked at the culprit who had placed his feet on the coffee table, his fingers laced behind his head, a self-satisfied grin splashed across his face. Dick was a man now, a man Bruce was very proud of, but despite everything, Dick had an inner positivity – a genuine love of life and adventure… and that rare quality of being able to forgive without a hint of rancour.
From outside, Bruce heard uproarious laughter, Damian’s indignant snort and the sound of a stampede approaching.
The boys piled into the room followed by Alfred, at a more appropriate pace. Laughter abounded.
“It is an engineering feat,” Alfred chuckled.
“Why haven’t the decorations fallen off?” Tim asked curiously, touching the nearest tentatively and noting it had been super glued.
“I want it returned to its previous splendour,” Damian demanded, though the smile on his face belied his apparent annoyance.
“Master Tim, how did you get it to balance?” Alfred asked, circling the tree.
“Me? It wasn’t me.”
They looked around at each other and their gazes collected upon Bruce. Slowly a smile claimed Bruce’ face... and they all knew.
“Dick!” three voices chorused as one.
Dick blinked innocently. “What?”
Laughter again filled both the house and Bruce Wayne’s heart as he sat back and watched the wrestling match that ensued.
“It’s going to be a wonderful Christmas,” Alfred whispered. He inclined his chin towards the door.
Filling it was…“Jason?”
“Master Dick has worked tirelessly to provide this first step along the road of reconciliation. May I suggest refraining from giving advice, tonight, Sir. We have a lot to be thankful for this year,” Alfred declared in a hushed and emotional voice. “Let’s focus on that.”
The wrestling trio rolled apart as Jason’s presence was noted.
Bruce rose to his feet and watched as Dick strode across to the newcomer and offered his hand. For a single heartbeat everyone froze. Dick’s greeting hung between the pair, neither accepted nor rejected by Jason.
“Thank you for coming. I mean that,” Dick stated sincerely.
Jason stared at the hand and lifted his gaze. “A month ago, I tried to kill you.”
“And I tried to have you committed. We take sibling rivalry to a new level.”
“We’re never going to see eye to eye, Dick.”
“Agreed. But as I said to you this morning, you don’t always have to agree to find common ground.”
“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” Jason murmured, his gaze sweeping passed Dick to Bruce.
“Let’s be honest and agree it’s not,” Dick stated. “There’s a lot of hurt and fault on both sides. But whether we like it or not, we’re family and it’s Christmas Eve. For one hour we’re calling a ceasefire and we’re all going to at least try to act like a normal family. No one is going to mention the past or the future… Damian, you got that?”
Damian made a disgusted sound in the back of his throat.
Dick’s hand still hung between him and Jason. “Tonight, is about common ground. Tomorrow, we can go back to trying to destroy each other. Agreed?”
“You always were a sweet talker, Dick,” Jason chuckled. He glanced at Dick’s proffered fist, snorted and accepted it, shaking tentatively. As they dropped hands, Dick placed his hand in the middle of Jason’s back and ushered him further into the room.
Jason stared hard at Bruce.
“Merry Christmas,” Bruce whispered in a tight voice. Never in a million years did he think he would be given this chance.
Jason licked his lips but finally responded, “Merry Christmas, Bruce.”
Bruce strode forward and placed his hand on his lost son’s shoulder. The young man looked uncomfortable and muttered under his breath, “I can’t believe he convinced me to come.”
“But you did.” Encouragingly, Bruce patted Jason’s shoulder and then swept his gaze from Jason, to Damian, to Tim and finally to Dick.
Dick met his eye and smiled. “Merry Christmas.”
“Christ was born to show us how to forgive and to give the world hope,” Alfred preached softly. “Tonight, we have the opportunity to follow his example - to forgive what took place in the past and to focus on the hope for a future for this family.”
Dick slipped his arm across Alfred’s shoulder. “We’ve taken the first step and I know it wasn’t an easy one for you, Jason.”
Jason shrugged. “I’m here. Can’t promise anything beyond that.”
“Like Dick said, it’s a first step for all of us,” Tim encouraged.
“Now we just have to hope we all survive the night without killing each other,” Damian declared.
Groans, shoving and tempered frivolity followed and while Bruce knew it would only last a short time, he was thankful for the opportunity to have all of his boys under the one roof for Christmas.
All in all, he had a lot to be thankful for this year… and he had hope for the future.