Disclaimer: DC owns them. Not mine, never will be. No money was made from this piece of fiction.
Wide awake, Bruce shot up in his bed. It's today! He scrambled out of bed, almost falling on the floor when one of his legs got tangled in the sheets. He ran to the door, then ran back to fetch his robe and slippers. No matter how special the day was, he was sure he'd get scolded if he wasn't properly attired. He haphazardly shoved his little feet into the slippers, not really caring if they weren't on correctly.
Running back to the door, he reached for the knob and barely stopped himself from flinging it open. He paused. Oh yes, it was still early and Mommy and Daddy were still asleep. He'd have to be very quiet. He tiptoed out of his room as silently as he possibly could, the thick carpeting and his covered feet muffling his steps. However, they failed to muffle his constant giggling, which was loud enough to reach his parents' door.
He crept out to the landing and gazed longingly at the polished wooden banister. He was still too short. He had once tried to climb upon it and slide to the bottom, but his legs couldn't reach the top of the rail, and, well, it hadn't been pretty. After Daddy had discovered him and stopped laughing, they managed to pry out his leg from between the carved poles. Seeing how wounded his son's pride was, Daddy promised him that he'd be tall enough next year. He sighed. Someday.
Finally, on foot, he arrived at the bottom and ran into the family room. He stopped abruptly at the sight which greeted him. There were even *more* presents under the tree! And the stockings were full! He checked the plate and glass next to the chimney. Empty! Wow!
"Good morning, young master. Merry Christmas."
The boy jumped and spun around. "Merry Christmas, Alfred!" he replied with a big smile. He pointed at the plate. "Santa ate the cookies!"
"That he did, sir," the butler replied with an affectionate grin. He bent down to smooth the boy's unruly hair. "Just get up, did we? Have your parents awakened yet?"
"Nope. I was real quiet." His back to the door, he didn't see his parents waving to the older man.
"Were you now?" The butler straightened up and smoothed his apron. "Well, I'd best be getting back to assisting in breakfast preparations. Would you care to accompany me, young man?"
"Uh, okay." He snuck one last glance at the tree and the brightly colored packages beneath it before trailing into the kitchen. Emerging from the doorway, his parents stood before the tree and thought about the delighted expression on their son's face.
"So, Tommy, what happened to the cookies?" the Lady of the House opened.
"I ate them, naturally. You know I love your cookies, sweetheart," the Master of the House replied warily.
She slapped his arm. "No, really, be serious. Where'd you put them? I don't want to have to explain why Santa's Christmas cookies were stuck in the flowerpot again. Remember last year?"
"Okay, okay, fine. You beat it out of me. They're in the garden, under the rose bushes. But I tell you, Mar, there're going to be some ticked off gophers out there. At least it's cheaper than using poison." He received another light slap on his other arm. He laughed, hugging his wife to him. "I hope to God he doesn't inherit your cooking skills."
She laughed along with him. "That makes two of us." They were interrupted by a light cough behind them.
"Sir, Madame, breakfast will be served shortly. The young master squeezed the orange juice, so please note the pips." He bowed and returning to the kitchen, he sent back out the youngest member of the household.
"Mommy! Daddy!" the young boy flew to his parents. "Santa ate the cookies we made! And everybody likes the presents I gave them!" Upon discovering the cookies to be inedible, they decided that the household staff could always use cookie-shaped paperweights. Forgetting his initial disappointment, Bruce had cheerfully wrapped and addressed each gift.
His mother bent down and kissed his forehead. "See, sweetie? I told you that it's the thought that counts." She held his hand. "Ready for breakfast?" He nodded.
His father took his other hand. "So, little man, I hear that you squeezed the orange juice."
"Yeah! An' then I . . ." Letting their skipping son lead them to the dining room, the couple smiled at each other as their little boy babbled.
Wide awake, Bruce remained in bed, staring at the ceiling. It's today. Just another day. Sleeping was too difficult because he always dreamt about them and That Night. Awake was no better; in addition to thinking about them and That Night, he had to continue living, existing without them. He squeezed his eyes shut, holding back tears that threatened to spill out. Days like today hurt the worst.
A soft rap on his door preceded Alfred's entrance. "Good morning, young sir. Merry Christmas."
Bruce mumbled a reply, rubbing at his eyes and viciously willing himself not to cry. Get a grip on yourself! Stop acting like a baby! He felt his companion's weight on the bed and felt a handkerchief being pressed into his hand. Strong arms sat him up, and a gentle voice encouraged him. "There, there, it's all right, just let it go." A hand smoothed his unruly hair. "It'll get better," Alfred whispered, "I know it hurts, especially today, but it'll get better, I promise."
Bruce couldn't stop himself, nor did he want to anymore. "I'm s-sorry," he choked out before he let the floodgates open. Sorry for not being able to control himself, sorry for being a burden, sorry for not being good enough, sorry for not saving them.
The two remaining residents of Wayne Manor spent Christmas Day in mourning.
Wide awake, Bruce sat up in alarm. A scream. Someone screamed. Danger? In his own home?
Then, he heard a rhythmic thumping. There was a pause. Another scream soon followed. Well, not a scream, really, more of a yell. Sighing in relief, he flopped back on his bed, willing his heart to stop beating so fast. Oh yeah, it's today. House rules were slightly more relaxed on days like these.
A soft rap on his door preceded Alfred's entrance. "Good morning, Sir. Merry Christmas."
Not bothering to sit up, Bruce merely turned his head. "Good morning, Alfred. Merry Christmas," he answered with a smile. Another yell. He looked at the older gentleman accusingly. "You never let *me* slide down the banister."
"Yes, well," Alfred coughed lightly, "Master Dick never got *his* leg stuck in the railing." Before Bruce could respond to the barb, a small, dark-haired boy bounced into the bedroom and landed on top of Bruce's blanket. Which was still on top of Bruce.
"Oof! Mornin', chum," the reclined billionaire wheezed out. Unseen, Alfred rolled his eyes at the atrocious nickname.
"Merry Christmas, Bruce!" Dick scrambled off the bed and pulled on Bruce's arm. Bruce propped himself on his free arm and fondly watched his ward. "Good! You're awake! C'mon! I've been up for hours! Let's go downstairs!" Alfred cleared his throat. The tugging stopped for a moment.
"Master Bruce, breakfast will be served in the dining room. Master Richard assisted in the preparation." Alfred gave the boy a nod of recognition. "He did quite well."
Dick beamed at both men. "Mom's famous French toast," he declared proudly.
Bruce felt himself smiling so hard his cheeks were starting to hurt. It felt good. "You know what? I'm starved, and French toast would really hit the spot." He threw back the blanket and grabbed his robe. "Let's go. And, chum, you have *got* to show me your dismount." Bruce let the eager young boy lead him out by the hand. Alfred stayed behind to tidy the room a bit. As the couple approached the landing, he heard Dick explain, "Y'see, Bruce, it's all the way you bend your . . ."
For the first time in years, Alfred truly believed that Christmas would indeed be merry.
Barely awake, yet too exhausted to fall asleep immediately, Bruce lay upon his makeshift bed. It would be dawn in a couple hours, and the cold winter sunlight would only serve to reveal how badly damaged his city really was. He glanced around at his own spartan dwelling, knowing that it was far more than most people had.
In truth, he didn't want to fall asleep, but he knew he needed to rest. He wanted to stay awake and be out there, saving his people, saving his city. He wanted to do something, anything, because he knew that if his body stopped, his mind would start remembering the people who died, how they died and how he had failed them. Unbidden thoughts of other people he had failed crowded his tired mind: Dick, Barbara, Jim, Jason (Oh God, Jason!), his parents, so many more . . .
Abruptly, he stood up and stumbled to the radio, trying to distract himself from his train of thought. Flicking it on, he heard the strains of a traditional Christmas carol. What? It's today? He sat next to the radio, listening intently to the music play. Some were cheerful, some were reverent, but all spoke of hope. He closed his eyes, trying to remember the words to each song, trying to remember the last time he had sung them and actually meant them.
Ah yes, last Christmas. He smiled. They had decorated the tree, Dick had started a snowball fight, Alfred had baked cookies, they had exchanged gifts, Tim had started a paper-ball fight, Alfred had ended it. They were all home, they were all safe, and they were all happy. Lost in his warm memories, he felt himself nodding off. Time to rest.
He turned off the radio and made his way back to bed, feeling more relaxed than he had for a long time. As he drifted off, the last song he heard came to mind.
"Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace."
Wide awake, the dark haired boy shot up in his bed. It's today! He scrambled out of bed, almost falling on the floor when one of his legs got tangled in the sheets. He ran to the door, clad only in his pajamas.
He crept out to the landing and gazed longingly at the polished wooden banister. Well, why not? Everybody else was still asleep, so he wouldn't get into trouble, right? He stretched out a leg and swung it over the top of the rail and . . . his leg was stuck. Shoot, too short. He tugged on his leg, believing that if it got caught so easily, well, then it should come out just as easily. But it didn't. No! What if he was stuck there forever? No presents, no breakfast, everybody's gonna laugh. He wanted his mommy and daddy.
Something woke Grandpa up. Feeling slightly uneasy, he slipped on his robe and stepped out of his room. Oh oh. Seeing the little red-faced boy in a familiar position, Grandpa immediately came to his side before he could scream for his still-sleeping parents. He put a large, reassuring hand on the boy's back and another on the captive leg.
"Hey, pal," Grandpa whispered, "let me help you out." Was I ever that small? he wondered to himself.
The leg came free, and the boy wrapped his arms tightly around his Grandpa's neck, still whimpering at his imagined fate. "There now, all better, see? Don't worry, pal. You'll be tall enough next year, I promise," he said with a slight catch in his voice. Reasonably sure he wasn't being observed, he kissed the top of the sniffling boy's head. "You wanna go see Alfred? Maybe he'll teach us how to make your Daddy's favorite French toast." The little head nodded against his shoulder. The whimpering stopped. "Maybe we'll surprise Mommy and Daddy with breakfast. Think how happy they'll be! How would you like that?" The little head nodded again, and the arms loosened.
Giving the boy a quick hug, Grandpa stood up and held his hand out. Reassured, the boy reached up and grabbed a finger. Grandpa kept up his comforting chatter as they made their way down to the kitchen. "Did you know that a very long time ago, when I was about your age, I got my leg stuck there too?" Big blue eyes stared at him in disbelief. "Oh yes, it's true. But you can't tell your daddy, though. It's a secret." The little boy nodded solemnly. He knew about secrets. Seeing the boy's response, Bruce continued to regale his grandson with tales of his childhood.