Bruce was aware of the stares they were receiving as they passed by. Usually this wouldn't have been surprising; he was Bruce Wayne after all, and this was his family, and being the richest man in Gotham/related to the richest man in Gotham meant that gawking and staring soon became fairly mundane things.
Right now however, he was fairly sure the staring had less to do with their status, and more to do with the fact that Jason was still wearing the Santa Claus costume, and those goddamn horns.
They walked up to the receptionist's desk. He could hear his children bickering in the background, but at this point, he really didn't care. He was worried about Damian, furious at Jason (who had yet to explain what the hell was going on), and just sick of Christmas in general. If they got back to the manor and Dick insisted on finishing those godawful movies, he was locking his eldest son in the Batcave. He was sure he'd receive plenty of help.
"We're here for Damian Wayne," he told the receptionist. The woman glanced at Jason, and raised her eyebrows.
"I'm here to spread Christmas joy," Jason said, deadpan. The woman quickly glanced down at her desk.
Tim winced. "Oh god. Please shut up."
"I'm his Father," Bruce pressed, when it looked like the woman was close to calling for security. "Just…ignore them. Please."
If he could manage it on a daily basis, surely she could deal with them for a few minutes.
The receptionist glanced up, and looked like she was about to argue. Then her gaze settled on Bruce, and her eyes widened in recognition.
Bruce inwardly sighed in relief. She rattled off the directions to Damian's room, and they headed off towards it. Bruce had no idea what to expect. He'd been told that Damian had been shot, and the bullet had grazed his arm. All Bruce had been able to think was, 'Damian, what in God's name were you DOING?!' Because gunshots, and injuries, and whatever the hell else, sadly weren't strangers to him or his family, but Damian was supposed to be tucked up safe in bed tonight, not…out doing whatever he'd been doing.
He rounded the corner, and hurried into his son's ward, with his family following in suit. Inside, Damian sat on the bed, scowling. He looked fine, save for some heavy bandaging around his arm, and Bruce felt himself relax.
They crowded into the room — it wasn't a private room, unfortunately, and other families milled around. Damian glanced up, and his eyes widened in disbelief.
"Little D!" Dick cried, hurrying forward.
Bruce followed close behind, trying to keep his anger and worry in check. "Damian, what the hell were you thinking?"
"Does it matter?" Damian's eyes were glued to Dick. He sounded angry and frustrated. Bruce felt a tinge of annoyance at that, because if anyone had a right to be annoyed, it was him. Not Damian, who never should have snuck out in the first place; not Jason, who had probably caused this entire mess; not Dick, who'd made them sit up watching those terrible movies, when they should have been out patrolling — he didn't care what Alfred said, crime never stopped, so neither should he.
Bruce was done being oblivious. He was the world's greatest detective — he didn't earn that title by being clueless.
"How dare you let him come here!" Damian yelled. It took Bruce a moment to realise that the accusation was directed at Jason. "You of all people knew what would happen and you still — you still — "
Well, that confirmed that Jason was involved.
Dick frowned. "You don't want me here, little D?"
"Of course I don't!"
Damian continued, undeterred by Dick's wounded expression. "The whole reason I ran away was to get away from you!"
"Damian!" A part of Bruce was stunned that Damian was saying these things to Dick. Had it been Tim, or Jason, he wouldn't be surprised; disapproving, yes, but not surprised. But Dick? He was the only sibling Damian admitted to tolerating ('tolerate' being code for love of course).
Dick sat still, staring at Damian with wide, hurt eyes.
"Master Damian," Alfred said disapprovingly, "Master Dick has been very concerned for you. To speak to him in such a way is simply cruel!"
"Yeah brat!" Tim nodded. "Even if you're a little shit, Dick cares about you, so you could at least — "
"Shut up! How is it that after all this time, you still don't understand?! I'm doing this because I care about Grayson, you air headed fools!"
And then there was silence. The occupants of the ward stared at them in confusion and shock, but Bruce was preoccupied with that familiar feeling of not knowing what the hell was going on.
God, he hated that feeling.
"Alright, that's it! Damian — we are not 'air headed fools.' We are not idiots. No matter how hard I try, I cannot piece any of this together, and that's because there is no possibly way to do that!"
Tim coughed. "Er, Bruce — "
Bruce ignored him. "Let me tell you exactly what we've understood from all this. First, you try to marry me off to Diana. Then you attack an innocent man at the shops, then you try to marry me off to Stephanie — and let's not forget your strange correspondence with Jason, where he claims you're struggling with the absence of your mother — "
"Todd said what?!"
" — and then you run away and end up in the hospital! So Damian, just tell me right now — what is this all supposed to mean?!"
There was a moment of silence.
Damian blinked. "I…was truly that unclear?"
Tim gestured at the doorway. Bruce turned, paused, and inwardly cursed. Outwardly, he forced an awkward smile onto his face, and nodded politely at the two cops standing in the doorway.
"Mr. Wayne?" The female officer glanced at him uncertainly. "I'm Officer Willis, and this is my partner, Officer Davis. We're here to talk to your son, Damian, about what happened tonight. This should be quick, so I hope we're not…interrupting anything."
Davis, a tall, bulky man, had his eyes glued on Jason.
Jason raised one eyebrow. "What? I'm just trying to spread Christmas joy to the world."
"Oh Jesus," Davis muttered.
Willis shook her head and strode forward, pointedly staring away from Jason. "Damian?" She came to a stop in front of Damian's face, a gentle expression on her face. "How are you feeling honey?"
Well, it was a lot kinder than Bruce had been expecting from his youngest, although he still shot Damian a disapproving glance. Judging from the look of incredulity on the male cop's face, he probably should have done more, but…right now he really wasn't in the mood. Besides, Bruce Wayne was supposed to be an air-headed idiot, so this was just playing into that facade.
Damian turned to Bruce, his expression changing from annoyed to serious. "I'll tell you everything, if you promise to subdue and apprehend the old man."
"Sweetie?" Willis interrupted, apparently not willing to give up. "Is everything alright? Look, this will only be brief — we were talking to the workers at the 7/11, and they said you claimed that man was following you?"
"Yes," Damian said, glaring. "The old man sent him after me to lure me back to the manor."
"Oh?" Willis frowned. "And why would he do that?"
"So he could have his way with Grayson." Damian paused. "The old man, not his ridiculous lacky."
"The hell?" Davis muttered.
"Sweetie," Willis said, interrupting Bruce's, "Damian, what — ?", "who do you think sent him?"
Damian's expression darkened.
Yes, nothing in Bruce's life made sense.
"Santa Claus," Davis said flatly. "You think Santa Claus sent a gunman after you?"
"Okay, I did not see that coming," Tim said, blinking incredulously. Beside him, Cass and Dick nodded slowly.
Willis turned to Bruce, her eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"I didn't tell him that!" Bruce cried, when he realised that they thought he was the one who'd been filling Damian's head with this insanity. He may not be father of the year, but he sure as hell wasn't that bad.
"He's a serial molester!" Damian's fists clenched tightly at his sides. "He goes around kissing the unsuspecting mothers of young children. That's what Fields said. And since I don't have a mother, he'll come for the next best thing — Grayson."
Damian turned to Dick, shooting him an angry scowl. Bruce heard Tim murmur, "oh my actual God," and silently echoed that sentiment.
Cass nodded slightly. "Makes sense."
Bruce was almost glad when Damian continued his rant, only so he didn't have to ponder that. He was already worried about the mental stability of his youngest son — he didn't have to question his daughter's mindset too.
"No one has apprehended the old man to this day — not Batman, not you useless people — " He gestured at the two police officers, who were staring at him, their eyes wide and incredulous, " — so I've been trying my best to keep him away from Grayson. But, for some reason I cannot fathom, you people can't seem to understand!"
There was a moment of silence, punctuated by Damian's heavy breathing.
"Dami, where did you get that idea from?" Dick asked quietly.
Damian shot a glance at Jason, who winced, and let out an awkward laugh. "It was a harmless prank?"
Willis squeezed her eyes shut, and let out a small, exasperated huff. "Alright — clearly this is a family issue, so we'll be off now. We've already taken statements from the other two witnesses."
Davis, meanwhile, stood still, staring at the scene with a mixture of horrified fascination.
"Come on!" Latching onto his arm, Willis gave him a forceful tug, and proceeded to drag him out of the room.
Davis let out a noise of protest. "Wait, can't we just — ?"
"I said come on!"
The two cops disappeared out the door, with Davis giving one last, desperate look towards the group. Bruce immediately relaxed, relieved that they were finally alone (well as alone as you could be in a public ward, full of prying eyes).
"Oh, thank God those imbeciles are gone." Damian shot a venomous glance at the ward's open doorway. "Now, will you please help me?! He will come after Grayson, and by tomorrow morning, we will never se him again! We need to do something — "
"Master Damian," Alfred interrupted, "what exactly did Master Jason tell you?"
Damian scowled, clearly not pleased about being interrupted. "He told me the old man was coming for Grayson."
Bruce's jaw clenched. "Jason…"
Jason stared at him for a moment, his expression solemn. Bruce stared back, because if he actually believed Jason was sorry about this, then he was a complete idiot and didn't deserve to be Batman.
A moment passed, and then — there it was. A slight twitch of the lips, and then Jason broke down laughing.
"Okay fine! I did it! But God do you know how good it was, just imagining your reactions to Demon Brat acting more crazy than usual?! I just wish I could have seen them!"
Jason's body shook, and tears of laughter ran down his cheeks. Bruce inhaled sharply, and closed his eyes, counting to ten.
"I'm going to kill him," Tim said. Bruce silently cheer him on.
"I can't believe you'd do that!" Dick glared at Jason. "He's a child!"
"Yes," Jason agreed, grinning, "and the perfect vessel to torment all of you."
"What are you talking about, Todd?" Damian demanded.
The look of anger on Dick's face faded as he turned towards his youngest brother. He sat at the foot of Damian's bed.
"Dami, Jason was being…unkind." He shot Jason another sharp look; Jason simply shrugged, appearing unconcerned. "Santa isn't going to do any of that stuff."
Damian let out a frustrated groan, and scooted away from Dick, so that his back was pressed against the wall behind him. "But he will! It's not just about what Todd said — there's so much evidence pointing towards it! Even Colin has seen it!"
"See?" Jason grinned triumphantly. "It wasn't all me."
"Dami — "
"Oh for gods — that's it!" Bruce slammed his fist against the wall, which, all in all, had absolutely no affect on his family, and a profound affect on everyone else in the ward, who hurriedly turned away, pulled at hospital curtains, and pretended they hadn't been eavesdropping.
Bruce ignored all of this. Instead, he focused solely on Damian, and found himself speaking the words he had never imagined he'd ever say to a child ever again (not unless he wanted Alfred to take away his cookie supply for the rest of the year).
"Santa Claus doesn't exist."
There was a moment of silence.
"Santa doesn't exist, Damian," Bruce repeated, his voice firm. "He's made up! We just tell kids that, because it's supposed to be special."
Damian continued to stare at him, his eyes wide, his mouth open. It was almost cute, although Bruce wasn't really in the mood to appreciate that right now.
"No." Bruce met Damian's eyes, his gaze unwavering. "Santa Claus isn't real. Think about it logically Damian — one man, with the ability to travel around the world in a single night, delivering presents to every child in the world? Or how he carries all those presents with him? Or those flying reindeer that can supposedly handle all that weight?"
Damian's fists clenched. "Animal abuse."
"No Damian. There are no flying reindeer. They don't exist, and neither does Santa Claus."
"Oh, this is not going to go well," Tim murmured, staring at the horrified faces of parents, as they tried to distract their children (some even going as far as to physically block their ears).
"He must exist," Damian argued stubbornly. "People have seen him — "
"No — they've seen people dressed up as Santa. Like that man you attacked at the mall."
"But — that man was simply a decoy! The old man knew I was coming, and he — "
"Damian." Bruce placed his hands on his son's shoulders, and ignored the "hey, why don't you just SHUT UP, huh?!" from one angry father. "Do you honestly think I would ever let some strange man sneak into our home every year? Me?"
"…It would be rather…out of character," Damian admitted reluctantly.
"Santa wouldn't be able to take two steps inside. I wouldn't allow it." Damian stared at him, his eyes wide, hopeful, and more childlike than Bruce had ever seen them. "He isn't real, son. I promise."
For a moment neither of them moved.
Then, the next thing he knew, Bruce found himself with an armful of tiny, ex-assassin ten year old.
"Oh Father!" Damian cried. "You have no idea how happy I am to hear you say that! And all this time, I thought that old fool would be taking Grayson to his dungeon in the North Pole — "
"His dungeon — ? JASON!"
Dick took a step towards Damian, and placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. Damian immediately let go of Bruce, as if suddenly remembering that this was not normal Damian-behaviour. It spoke volumes about how worried he'd actually be, and even with all the insanity and confusion, Bruce had to admit it was somewhat touching.
"Damian," Dick said quietly, while Damian avoided his gaze, scowling uncomfortably at the floor, "are you telling me you did all of this…because you thought I was in trouble?"
Damian flushed, and shrugged. "I didn't — I just thought — look, knowing how naive you are, the old fool would have eventually coerced you into…marriage or something similar. And that's the last thing I need! Santa Claus will not become a member of this family. I have enough to deal with with Drake and Fatgirl hanging around!"
Bruce rubbed his forehead furiously.
"Right." Alfred took a step forward. "Master Damian, how are you feeling?"
"And Master Jason — " Alfred turned to Jason, his eyes narrowing. "I think, after everything you've done for us, the very least you could do was spend Christmas with us."
A small part of Bruce let out a scream of horror, because for God's sake, he couldn't deal with much more of this. On the other hand, he really wasn't in the mood to argue, and was Jason really any worse than the rest of this insane family?
(Of course he loved them all the same, but he wasn't really in the mood to admit that at the moment).
"What?" Jason's triumphant grin faded. "Wait, hold on — "
"That's completely ridiculous," Damian spat. Apparently whatever truce he and Jason had formed was well and truly over.
Tim nodded. "Yeah Alfred, I really don't think — "
"No, you're coming," Bruce said, and noted afterward that his voice had neared a Batman-like growl. "And as soon as this is all over, we are talking about what you've been doing."
Jason snorted. "Oh yeah sure, just go around pretending that you're dad of the year — "
"…Fine. Whatever." Jason scowled. "But don't think I'm happy about this!"
"Well I think it's a great idea," Dick interjected. "This is Christmas, and we should all be together — especially since Santa has already been ruined for another child, thank you Jason."
"…Yeah, I think you have a few issues with letting go, Dickhead."
Dick glared. "I do not have issues — I was nine and Santa was magical."
"That's it!" A man stood up, shooting a furious glare at the Wayne family. "I'm going to go talk about having my kid transferred to a different ward. Thanks so much, you grinches!"
The family watched him leave, expressions ranging from awkwardly apologetic to bored.
Tim shuffled uncomfortably. "Ah, maybe we should go check when Damian can leave this place."
"…Yeah, good idea."
"…Okay seriously, who's smart idea was it to watch these crappy movies?"
"Oh my god, do you people have no Christmas spirit? Just watch the damn movies!"
"I'm just saying Dickhead — "
"Both of you be quiet, I'm trying to watch the movie!"
"Aww, Dami — "
"Not because I'm enjoying it Grayson! It means I don't have to listen to your incessant chatter!"
Bruce leaned back and gazed at his family. Dick, Jason and Damian continued to bicker amongst themselves. Tim and Cass sat nearby, sharing a bowl of popcorn. Alfred stared next to him, gazing at the kids (most of which weren't kids, but a part of Bruce would always think of them that way. He supposed that was part of being a father — not that he'd ever admit it out loud) with a fond expression on his face.
"Okay, can I leave yet?" Jason asked, and then coughed and looked away when Alfred's eyes narrowed.
None of them were perfect. And since these were his kids, Bruce had no doubt that something like this would most likely happen again. And again. And again.
But they were still his kids. His family. And Bruce supposed that there was nothing wrong with spending a bit of quality time with his family on Christmas eve.
"…Hey did you hear that? I think it came from inside the chimney."
"Shut up Todd!"
They were all idiots. Every single one of them. Well, perhaps not Father; after all, the man had ended this silly charade. It had taken him awhile, but Damian supposed it was better than nothing.
Still, Todd would have to be dealt with. There was no way Damian would allow this to go unpunished. Lying to him…making him out to be a fool…making everyone think he cared about Grayson (despite how many times he tried to tell those idiots that he was only trying to preserve the honour of this family!). Oh yes, Todd would suffer.
…But that would wait until after Christmas. Only because Pennyworth would be mad at him, and Grayson mope and whine, and that was the last thing Damian wanted. Also, now that the horror of Christmas movies and 'family bonding time' had passed, and morning had arrived, Pennyworth had brought out all the Christmas treats he'd prepared. There was Christmas cake, and cookies, and minced pies, and after last night's fiasco, Damian was starving.
He sat down next to Grayson, and didn't argue too much when the older male draped an arm across his shoulders. Only because if he heard the words "but Dami, it's Christmas!" one more time, he'd probably end up maiming someone. And besides, at least this way he could keep an eye on Grayson. Lord knows, the fool needed it.
They sat together, and Damian observed the varying expressions in the room. Todd scowled and shoved cookies into his mouth, Drake shot suspicious glances around the room, Cassandra smiled approvingly, Grayson acted like his usual obnoxious self, and Father…well, he looked strangely content.
Damian sighed, and relaxed. He'd get his revenge, and re-establish his reputation in this family. However…he supposed it could wait until after Christmas.
So…this is finally over. Sorry about how long it took me to finish this chapter. I initially intended to finish this around Christmas but…obviously that didn't happen.
Better late than never though, right?
I can't believe this story is actually over…I honestly can't remember if this was the first Batman fanfic I wrote or not, but it was definitely the first idea I ever had for a Batman fic. And god, it's changed so much from it's initial design. When I first came up with this idea, I wanted this to be a oneshot. Jason wasn't even going to be in the story, I'd only really planned to include the moments at Damian's school, Dami trying to marry Bruce off to Steph, and him attacking Santa at the mall.
And then…this happened. And it turned into a full on chaptered story.
I have enjoyed writing this so much. Thank you for supporting this story, for all your lovely comments, and to everyone who has taken the time to read this :)