Title: Christmas Traditions

Author: Simon

Characters: Dick/Bruce/Alfred/OC

Rating: PG

Summary: Dick's first Christmas at Wayne Manor

Warnings: none

Disclaimers: These guys aren't mine, they don't belong to me, worst luck, so don't bother me.

Archive: Fine, but if you want it, please ask first.

Feedback: Hell, yes.

Christmas Traditions

Fifteen Years Ago

"When are we leaving?"

Bruce up from his seat on the chesterfield sofa in from of the warm fire, disentangling himself from his companion of the evening—the last several evenings, in fact. "Excuse me?" He'd thought Alfred had put the boy to bed hours ago, it was after ten, Christmas Eve and they'd had the conversation over dinner about getting to bed early so Santa could come. All right, Dick's reaction had been an exasperated, eye rolling, "I'm too old for Santa Claus, besides, I've already seen all the presents and everything in the closet out in the pantry." Here he was, standing with his good clothes on, his hair combed and his jacket in hand. "When are we leaving for what?"

Karen, closing her blouse as subtly as she could, tried a smile for the boy. "Where did you want to go, sweetheart?" She wasn't a bad sort, really. In fact she was very nice, given a chance.

"Midnight Mass."

Of course.

Dick had been raised Catholic. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, it was probably a family tradition or something and it hadn't even occurred to him. Damnit—Alfred should have thought of it; he was better at things like this.

In fact, maybe... maybe Alfred could take the child and leave him alone with Karen for a couple of hours. That could be his Christmas present, in fact; they could skip the sweaters and scarves and gloves and cufflinks this year. Just give him a few hours alone in the house and they'd call it square.

"We should get going because the parking it always bad on Christmas Eve. That's the one everyone goes to, even if they don't go to church all year, they go to this one. It's going to be really crowded. Everyone likes to sing the Christmas Carols." Dick looked at him expectantly, in fact, he hadn't really stopped looking at him since he'd walked into the room and it was starting to get to Bruce. Those blue eyes staring at him in that too serious face were a picture. "She can come, too, if she wants."

Dick knew the second he walked into the room that he was interrupting Bruce and the lady and he even knew what they were doing, but so what? It was Christmas Eve and on Christmas Eve you went to Mass. That's what you did. Period. He'd been doing that ever since he as born. His parents even had a picture of him when he was a baby on the steps of some church somewhere. Dad was there and Mom was holding him with a blanket wrapped around him—one of those hand-knit baby blankets and some priest was smiling down at him—he'd been going to Christmas Eve Mass all his life and that was all there was to it.

Karen smiled again; she actually liked kids. In fact, if she mentioned once more to Bruce how much she was looking forward to settling down with the right guy... "So this is the reason you stopped calling me for a while, Bruce! I'd heard about this young man but I guess I hadn't realized he'd be right here living with you in the house and all." She smiled even more and sat up, moving enough away from Bruce you could actually get a piece of tissue paper between them now. "I don't believe that we've been introduced. I'm Karen Hillman. I'm an old friend of Bruce's and you must be Dick, aren't you? I've heard a lot of about you, you know; I was hoping I'd get to meet you." She turned to Bruce but kept her attention on the too serious child. "You didn't tell me about Midnight Mass—and Dick's right; we'll have to get going if we want to get decent seats. You know, St. Catherine's isn't really big enough and I'd rather not stand, especially if it's high Mass—sweetie, do you see where my shoes went?"

"You know bout Midnight Mass?"

This was not going the way Bruce had planned. "Well, of course I do, silly. You didn't know I was valedictorian at St. Clare's Academy for Catholic Young Ladies? Mother Mary Agnes loved me to death—I was her special pet all four years I was there, never got a single demerit; not many can make that claim, believe you me."

Well tonight's agenda were obviously out the window and there was nothing for it but to get up, find everyone's shoes, coats and the rest and pull the Jag around. It was freezing out, there'd been an early snow which had turned into ice and this was not the way Bruce had expected the evening to play out for even one minute. Hell, he takes one night off, one night for himself and ends up spending it in church? And not even his own church, but a Catholic church for some high mass? Didn't those take like about six hours?

Alfred appeared with his usual psychic ability to know when he was needed, fully dressed and holding Bruce's camelhair overcoat and Karen's mink. "The car is warmed up in the front, sir, if you're ready to leave."

Trapped, cornered and with no choice, Bruce went to meet his maker.

The Mass was, just like he'd been warned, crowded. Every family had at least three or four kids with them, or so it seemed to him and the place was banked with poinsettias and close to the ignition point with candles. The stained glass was inspiring and the choir was in good voice as the entire congregation joined in with the classic hymns and carols—Silent Night and We Three Kings, Oh Come All Ye Faithful and the rest. When the time came, Dick walked up the aisle with Karen to receive communion, leaving Bruce feeling awkward and like he was the only non-catholic in the place. Sure, he'd been to Catholic masses before for weddings and funerals along the line, but this was different. He well may have been the only civilian in the house and he felt like he was sticking out like a sore thumb and he didn't like it. Sure, he was used to being stared at because he was Bruce Wayne but fawning and jealousy were part of that particular package. These looks were like, 'so how come you're here, Mr. Wayne? Is this going to be a regular thing with you?' It wasn't pleasant for him, though he did admit to himself that he liked the music well enough.

He especially didn't like how everyone else knew the drill—when to stand, when to sit, when to kneel. Okay, he was following along, but even an eight year old knew it all by heart and he was feeling like a barely tolerated guest at dinner.

That got him thinking about having Dick with him while the priest droned on about the Christmas story and the Manger and all of that—like the child hadn't been on his mind nonstop for the last four months, since the day the boy walked through the front door, all dark hair and blue eyes and apprehensive sorrow you could almost touch.

What did he really know about the boy? What did he know about raising a child? What did he know about how to help this child and, frankly, did he even really want to? Oh sure, yes he wanted the kid to be happy and well cared for and all of that, but the reality of raising Dick in the house, living just down the hall and around all day and night was a lot more than he'd planned on.

In fact, truth be known, he hadn't planned at all. He'd just sort of vaguely assumed that Alfred would managed with his usual easy perfection and that things would go on as they had for years with no interruption in the flow. Any parent on the planet could have told him he was living in fantasyland.

Nothing in the house was the same. All right, that was an exaggeration, but enough had changed to make that almost true.

He couldn't 'entertain'.

He had to sneak around to go 'downstairs'.

Going out at night as the Bat was a pain of logistics and waiting until the child was soundly asleep.

Oh, sure, Alfred did most of the day-to-day things, but he still had someone sitting at his table every morning when he came down for breakfast so he had trouble reading the paper and during dinner the boy seemed to chatter endlessly about whatever happened during the day until Bruce felt obliged to take refuge in his study with the door closed.

Then there were the weekends. Dear God. The child seemed to think—with Alfred's encouragement—that they should do things together, be it tossing a ball or getting pizza and ice cream or engaging in a play date with some other kid encumbered by a suburban housewife intent on seeing Stately Wayne Manor for herself so she could report back to her friends. Cripes.

Yes, he basically liked Dick, but this was a lot more than he'd bargained for, to tell the truth and he was starting to think the whole idea was a mistake. Of course, yes, of course he realized that to turn the child back over to Family Services or something would be the worst possible thing for him and he wouldn't do that, but…damn. Plus his training to become Batman's possible partner was going better than he'd hoped so Bruce didn't want to just dump that, either. The kid was smart as a whip and, to tell the truth, a better athlete at eight than Bruce would probably ever be, but still…

This was a whole lot more than he'd counted on. Yes, of course he realized the child's parents had been murdered in front of him less than four months before, and God knew it would take years—if ever, before Dick recovered but this was just so damn—what? It was so much harder than he thought it would be. It was everyday, day in, day out, week in and week out with no end in sight.

He hadn't counted on this. He thought Dick would respond quicker than this. Kids are supposed to be resilient, weren't they?

And the real bitch was that he could relate so well. He'd been there and he'd done that and he knew in every cell he had just what Dick was going through and feeling and that was another problem. That raw, open and bleeding wound in the boy was too much like the one he carried, still barely scarred over. It brought his own pain sharply back and he'd just begun to bury it.

The boy would seem fine—laughing, joking, running around the place and then with no warning he'd shut down or disappear for a few hours to go into a funk Bruce was helpless to deal with, if he was even home at the time.

He'd just sort of assumed Alfred would do most of the child care and then he could step in for the Bat training which Dick would be suitably grateful for and they'd work together like any other well oiled part of his life—no friction, no problem.

It wasn't working out like that.

Hell. Alfred had raised him after Bruce's parents had been killed and done a fine job of it. Why couldn't he do it again with Dick and let Bruce get on to do his work at the company and the JLA and patrolling Gotham?

The last hymn was finally over, the greet your neighbor thing, shaking hands with the strangers around you was finished and they'd been thanked for coming by the priest who had stationed himself by the front door.

They walked out to the car in a snow flurry, to both Dick and Karen's delight.

Dick immediately grabbed a hand full and heaved it at Karen who fired back. Dick returned a salvo and the two of them used cars in the parking lot for cover as they escalated the fight with snow ball after snow ball, shouting, laughing and sliding on the slick pavement. Other parishioners smiled at the game, a couple of them joining in and Alfred, walking beside the Master, saw the deepening scowl. "You know, sir, I recall a time you had quite an arm for snowballs."

"That was years ago. I was a child."

"Bruce, Master Dick still is a child."

"Dick! Stop that. You'll scratch one of these cars or get hurt. It's late and it's cold—get in the car." The game ended.

Back at the house, close to two in the morning and with a light snow still falling, Bruce was surprised to feel jealous that Dick and Karen were talking like old friends, telling funny stories about different Christmas Masses they'd gone to, different priests, the different churches—sacrificial wine gone rancid, a priest who spit every time he blessed someone, a snoring nun in the back of the pews. When Bruce did try to have some kind of conversation with Dick it always petered out after a few stilted exchanges but here was the boy chattering away and Karen seeming to be really enjoying herself.

"Master Dick, I would suggest straight upstairs for teeth and bed if you plan to be up before noon tomorrow."

"Noon? No way!" Smiling running, he started up the main staircase but turned back for a second. "Thanks Karen, that was really fun. G'night, Bruce."

Bruce gave Karen a small smile and held out his hand. "Want to play some grown up games now?"

She picked her coat up from the back of the couch where she'd put it a few minutes ago and shook her head, clearly annoyed about something. "I should be going, but thank you." She slipped her arms into the sleeves. "He's a terrific little boy, Bruce. Don't blow this, okay? For his sake, don't mess this up." She opened the front door and stepped over the jam, pausing, "I'll call you after the holidays. Good night, Bruce. Merry Christmas."

This was not the way he'd planned on spending the evening.

He was about to go up to his room when he noticed the small glow of light coming three rooms away from the direction of the kitchen. "Alfred? Why are you still up?"

He was sitting at the kitchen table, cup of decaffeinated tea in from of him, complete with lemon wedge. With a look that in anyone else would have been complete exasperation but in Alfred appeared as mild disapproval that said volumes more, "Master Bruce, forgive me, but I must say I was disappointed with your behavior this evening in regards to the young master. I hope most sincerely that you will do better in the morning. Now, if you'll excuse me, I recall Christmas morning comes rather early with an eight year old in residence."

No, not at all the way he'd planned on spending the evening.

The next morning, at seven, Bruce dressed casually in khakis and a cashmere sweater went downstairs to the 'family' tree in the study. Dick and Alfred had dressed it a few days before (as opposed to the 'big' tree in the main entrance, standing over twenty feet and professionally decorated) and though it was a little lop sided ornament wise, Bruce had to admit it had charm if not perfection. Two stockings were hung up on the mantle, Bruce's and Alfred's—Dick's being a brand new one sewn by Dr. Leslie when they'd learned his 'real' one, as he called it, was somewhere in the his family's small house in Florida and no one was really sure where, though some neighbors down there had looked after Alfred had called. Then the place had been sold, the contents liquidated and the stocking was likely gone for good though the money from the sale was now in trust for Dick and Bruce was going to turn its management over to Lucius after the New Year in an attempt to build on the small legacy.

Alfred was in the kitchen, judging from the breakfast smells and Dick was sitting by the tree with the empty stocking between his outstretched legs, it's contents spread out around him.

"Merry Christmas, good morning! Good Lord, what a haul—what all have you got there?"

"Alfred said I could open my stocking before you came down, is that all right?"

"Of course it is—family tradition going back to the pilgrims, I suspect. Kids always open their stocking waiting for the grownups to wake up. So, what have you got there, hmmm?" Dick shrugged, obviously not happy and close to tears. Bruce was at a loss, but was determined to try. He got down on the floor, looking through the things Alfred had filled the stocking with—a new Game boy with several games, a cool looking commando watch with a lot of buttons and dials, a fancy yo-yo, some candy, a small Lego set. "This looks like some great stuff you have here."

He nodded and shrugged at the same time.

…All right. "What do you say we get Alfred in here and see what else Santa brought, okay?"

Three minutes later Dick was opening the dozen or so presents; the new bike, a VHS player for his room and a new TV to use it with, two enormous Lego sets to go with the small one in his stocking—a pirate ship and a medieval castle complete with all the weapons and men and God knew what all. He had some needed clothes and a full set of leather bound classic children's books illustrated by NC Wyeth along with the skis, boots and poles he could use when they left for the Aspen place tomorrow. It was enough to make a nice pile without completely spoiling him, or so Bruce and Alfred hoped. The two men exchanged their own presents as well, thanking one another for the tasteful and thoughtfully chosen gifts.

"Well, we've all seemed to have made out like the proverbial bandits, if I may say so." Alfred said that every year, to be followed, like clockwork by," Now, if you'll pardon me, I'll finish with the breakfast preparations and you two may join me in ten minutes—no more or it shall go to the dogs." Kitchen sounds and smells began again. Dick was sitting on the floor and didn't seem happy. Well, understandable of course, but still…

"What is it, Dick?"

"There's supposed to be an orange at the bottom of the stocking." He seemed to have trouble getting the words out over the tears in his voice.

"…Your parents put an orange in your stocking for you?"

"So I would have something to eat if I got up a lot earlier than they did. They liked to sleep in sometimes so I was allowed to open my stocking and eat the orange in the bottom."

"I'm sure Alfred has oranges in the kitchen."

"It's not the same."

And it never would be again for him. Bruce knew that just as he understood that this was his first Christmas without his parents, in a new house with new people and nothing was—or would ever be—the way he remembered it other years. Bruce sat on the floor where Dick was absently putting some Lego blocks randomly together in no particular order and angrily wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand.

"I want my parents." He could have been talking to himself, it was so softly said. He dropped the blocks, his hands gently wringing in his lap, his chin quivering. "I don't want all this stuff. I want my Mom and Dad. I want it to be like it was before."

Bruce knew this, too, but there was nothing he could say or do to make this better; not right this minute. He slid a few inches closer to Dick and pulled him close, holding the boy as he cried quietly against Bruce's shoulder just as Bruce had done twenty years before with Alfred.

Bruce had been here before, this was familiar and he knew what to do to make it better.

In a few months, when Dick was ready he would fly in a costume again and then, maybe, with luck, he would start to heal.

The Present.

Seven o'clock, Christmas morning.

Bruce walked downstairs into the study where they always set up the small tree. He'd heard the whining roar of Dick's motorcycle coming in late last night but hadn't actually seen him yet.

Approaching the open study door, he was greeted by the smell of fresh orange as Dick quietly ate while waiting for his family.

12/9/05

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