Batman's muscles bunched tightly. He forced them to release and gave a grunt of pain. He exhaled deeply, sweat dripping from his hair, which had recalcitrantly refused to remain within the confines of his cowl. He again put all his weight behind the rock and shoved, yet though he put all the force he could muster behind his efforts, the great stone refused to budge.
Finally, he slumped against the rock, panting heavily. He sank to his knees and shook with muscle spasms as he tried his best to force his body to relax. Nightwing bounded up like a stag, stopping before Batman with a pant. "I checked all the walls", he said, "no ways out that I can find. If you'd like, I'll look again."
Batman shook his head, still out of breath. Nightwing remained standing where he was, waiting patiently for Batman to regain the power of speech. "I trust you", Batman murmured, "We'll just have to wait and see if something comes to us." Nightwing stepped foreward, concern lighting his features.
"You're going to catch a chill if you work yourself to a sweat and then cool off so quickly", he said gently. Batman shrugged.
"It doesn't matter", he replied. Nightwing cocked his head, gazing at him with confusion.
"The situation isn't really all that bad, is it?"
"Well", Batman said, sitting up, "it is pretty bad." Nightwing held out a hand. Batman took it gratefully and allowed the younger man to pull him up. "I was hoping I would be able to move one of these boulders", Batman continued, "but they're too heavy. For the time being, we're trapped." Nightwing giggled. Batman gave him a quizzical look.
"It's just", Nightwing chortled, "you're a bat, and you're trapped in a cave." Batman rolled his eyes.
"Never without a pun, are you Nightwing? You should join the Joker." Nightwing giggled again.
"Don't be so worried", he said, "I'll betcha Santa will come and save us." And on that note, then sprang off. Batman always marveled at how he carried himself, with the elegant pride and grace of a young deer. He was light and airy like the wind, seemingly free from the bonds of the earth, but fought with a fierce earthy joy that came with the understanding of battle as a dance, and one, which was desirable to take part in. Batman wished he had Nightwing's elegance.
Batman moved slowly into the depths of the cave, gazing around himself as he searched almost unconsciously for a way out. He came to the main part of the cavern, having turned up nothing, and allowed his eyes to rove over the others within it's confines.
Robin paced like a caged leopard, muscles tight with unrest while Red Robin tried his best to help Nightwing search for any small opening the young hero might have missed on his first pass over. But, Nightwing was always through and Batman doubted they would turn up anything.
The Red Hood had not moved from the corner in which he had taken up residence. He eyed the rest of them like a cornered wolf. He knew he didn't fit in, as did they all, but there were more important things to think about than fighting now.
When Batman and his allies had chased the Red Hood into the hill country outside of Gotham, none of them had expected any hardship. The snow had been falling heavily, sure, but then again, around Christmas time, it always did and it troubled none of them. The Bat clan had gone out with the resolve of finally ending a deadly problem and the vigor, which comes of a job that is guaranteed success. None could have anticipated the turn of events that allowed for their incarceration within the bowels of the earth.
They had all been expecting to go home after a short chase at eat Christmas dinner with Alfred after which lounging on the couch would ensue, Dick snuggled up against Bruce in a cheerful red and green sweater as the two watched Damien chase Tim around the tree, roaring death threats.
It had been fate, and fate alone that had pushed Jason to land on the unsteady piece of turf, which caused him to slip and fall. It was simply bad luck that Damien should land near enough to be swept down into the cavern with him. But it was Batman's careless footing that caused the rocks to tumble down on top of them after they had all descended into it.
When the Dark Knight had awoken, for he had been knocked unconscious by the rockslide, he found himself lying with a comatose Nightwing and Red Robin in a heap on top of him. After he had gently eased the boys off, he began to investigate his surroundings. Robin was lolling a little ways off, close to Jason, both of whom were unconscious as well.
The cave was dark and cold with an aura that defined creepy. Water dripped slowly from the walls and ceiling in predictable patterns which Batman had grown familiar with during the thirty minutes during which he had been within the confines of the cavern. There were eerie echoes from every noise made and dark shadows danced over the walls as if with lives of their own.
There was just enough sunlight streaming in from the cracks in the rocks to allow everyone to see, but not enough to suggest a viable escape route. Nightwing had since searched for weak places in the walls and had so far come up dry. Red Robin, too, had assisted, yet they had both been unable to provide any reason to hope.
So Robin paced and the Red Hood sulked, dark eyes surveying them from the corner. But, Batman didn't think about him. He was thinking, at that moment, about Robin, who was already racked with chills. The temperature was going down with the sun.
"Alright boys", Batman said, "that's enough. We'll search a little more later. For now, lets find a way to keep warm. When the sun drops below the horizon, the temperature is going to plummet and we're going to freeze." Nightwing nodded and ghosted back over to Batman on silent feet, Red Robin in his wake. Robin trailed behind, gazing suspiciously at the Red Hood as he passed.
"What are we to do father?" he asked. Batman looked at him.
"You're shivering", the Dark Knight said, "how cold are you?"
"I'll be fine", Robin replied stoically. Red Robin knelt and placed a hand on his cheeks.
"He's freezing Batman", Red Robin said. Robin scowled and shooed his hand away.
"I'm fine", he snapped.
"Come here buddy", Nightwing soothed, "I'll warm you up."
"I'm fine", Robin muttered again, but he allowed himself to be shepherded into Nightwing's arms, where he remained, trembling violently. Nightwing picked him up and held him close, pressing the side of Robin's head to his cheek with a look of worry painted across his features, something which wasn't missed by Batman.
"Robin, come on, we'll go look and see if there's anything worth using to start a fire with." Batman took off his cape and draped it over Robin. Nightwing wrapped it tightly around the young, trembling boy and rubbed his back.
"I'll take care of him", he murmured softly.
"I don't nnnnneed to beeeee taken care oooof", Robin stuttered sourly. Nightwing's features flooded with even more concern and he hefted Robin onto one hip.
Batman walked off. Though he would have rather stayed and done his best to help his son, he knew having a fire would do Robin a world more of good than anything he would be able to accomplish at his side. He glanced over at the Red Hood.
"Come on Jason", he beckoned, "you might as well make yourself useful, since we're all stuck here anyway."
"You could just kill me now, be rid of one more problem", the Red Hood said darkly, getting up from his crouch and walking over to Batman with the swaying, arrogant gait he had adopted since becoming the what he was now.
"I don't kill", Batman replied flatly.
"Of course", the Red Hood sniffed, following Batman as he descended into the cave.
"We'll need to find something to burn", Batman said, as he led the boys down a side cavern. "We're looking for wood and plant matter, the drier the better." Red Robin nodded and moved towards the left wall. The Red Hood took the right and Batman went down the middle, eyes trying to make use of what little light was left.
"I found some wood", Red Robin called. He jogged over to Batman with an armful of sticks.
"It's not all that dry", Batman said, "but it'll have to do."
"I found some too", the Red Hood said, returning with more sticks. "You know", he continued, "these must have come from somewhere, a hole in the wall perhaps."
"Perhaps", Batman said, "but it's too dark to search now. Lets head back." They hiked back to the main cavern and found Nightwing, sitting on the ground with Robin cradled close. He was whispering softly to the boy and rubbing his back. "How is he?" Batman asked.
"I think he's getting a fever", Nightwing said, " Though I can't imagine how it came on so fast." Batman knelt and gazed at his son. Robin's eyes were tightly closed and sweat beaded on his forehead. He shock with chills and clung tightly to the front of Nightwing's costume. Nightwing took off his own mask and the boy's, trying his best to soothe him, but it seemed there was nothing he could do.
Batman piled all the sticks they had gathered and picked the driest ones for the fire. He dug around in his belt until he found his bat lighter and quietly coaxed a flame into being over the wood. It danced eagerly as it consumed the wood. A stream of gray smoke twisted and tumbled over itself as it snaked up towards the ceiling of the cave.
Dick came over as close as he dared to the fire, which waltzed rapidly over the wood, and cradled Damien still closer. "Here", Bruce said, pushing off his cowl as he knelt beside the fire, "give him to me." He held out his arms to receive his son and drew him close.
He took off his glove and touched his fingers to the skin on the small boy's forehead. He could feel the heat raging there beneath the skin. He lowered his head and brushed his lips across Damien's forehead. The boy blinked blearily and gazed up at Bruce with a quizzical. "Father?" he asked softly.
"Yes", Bruce said gently.
"I…I'm so cold father", Damien said softly, his normally commanding voice sounding so oddly deflated.
"I know", Bruce said, "we're doing our best to warm you up."
"Please", Damien said softly so that only Bruce could hear, "please hold me close." Bruce was surprised by the request, as Damien normally shunned such coddling with anyone, the exception, of course, being Dick, whom he tolerated. The Dark Knight lifted Damien up and held him close to his chest. Damien's eyes closed again and his breathing fell into a soft, sleep pattern. Yet still, Bruce was worried.
"Tim", he said, "will you find some way to bring me water?" Red Robin discarded his mask and nodded wordlessly, getting up and moving towards some of the puddles that littered the floor of the cave. The Red Hood stalked towards the fire and settled himself on the other side of it. He tossed off the red veil he always wore over his face and closed his eyes for a moment, breathing in the air tingled with acrid smoke. The flames cast dancing shadows over his face and, in the flickering firelight, his expression was unreadable.
Dick was sitting a little ways away from him, but once Jason was settled, he crawled over to where Bruce was and curled up by the Dark Knight's side, placing his head on the older man's shoulder and closing his eyes. Bruce put an arm around him, drawing him close, and Dick gave him a small smile in return. He reached out and touched Damien, his expression swiftly turning to a frown of concern.
He straightened up, still pressed to Bruce, and stroked Damien's cheek tenderly with his hand. "What's gona happen if we don't get him out of here soon?" he asked. "How badly does he need medical care?"
"I don't know", Bruce replied softly. "All we can hope is for the fever to break during the night. If it isn't at least a little lower by morning, it'll be a cause for concern." Dick gave a whistling sigh and leaned up against Bruce again. "Get some rest", the Dark Knight said, "I'll watch him."
"Wake me if there's any change", Dick said, and closed his eyes. Tim came back over, drifting within the shadows almost by instinct more than anything else, with a small vial in his hands.
"It's all I've got", he said apologetically, "I usually use it to take samples. I guess I left the bat water bottle at home." Bruce gave him a small grin and took the vial.
"You did fine", he said, "good boy." He crushed an iodine pill from his belt and dropped it into the vial. The water took on a sickly shade of yellow. "Well", Bruce said, "it's unappetizing, but at least we know it's free of parasites." He allowed a few drops to fall between Damien's lips and used the rest to wet a cloth and mop at the boy's sweaty forehead.
Tim curled up by Bruce's side and put his head on the Dark Knight's lap. Soon, his breathing eased it was apparent that he too, had fallen into slumber. Bruce sat, gazing at the flames as if they held some deep secret, with his three around curled up around him. The fourth gazed into the flames as well, hypnotized by their dancing. The fire burned lower as the hours passed and Damien tossed and turned in his sleep.
Whenever the flames became too lethargic, Jason would toss a few sticks onto the fire and they would flare with life again, eagerly consuming their sustenance. But, Bruce grew more anxious as each cycle of the flames passed, for Damien seemed to simply grow worse. Though Dick and Tim napped peacefully by his side, his youngest son received no such restful slumber.
He moaned in his sleep and his eyes flickered wildly beneath tightly closed tightly closed lids. He gripped at Bruce as if the Dark Knight were all that kept him tethered to earth. Bruce's arm grew tired, holding him up, for Damien remained most quiet when held close to Bruce's heart, but it didn't occur to the man to lower him.
When it was well past midnight and Bruce's shoulders sagged as much as his eyelids, Jason got up. Bruce was instantly on the alert and watched him warily. Jason walked around the fire and squatted in front of Bruce. "Why don't you let me hold him for a while", he muttered in a rasping whisper. Bruce gave him a quizzical look. "You're arms are getting tired and you look exhausted. I'll hold him." Bruce blinked warily. "I won't hurt him, I promise."
Perhaps it was the sincerity shinning in Jason's eyes, or the memories of their partnership so many long years ago, but whatever it was, it convinced Bruce to gently hand his youngest son over to Jason, who held him as gently as if he might break. Damien gave a tiny moan in his sleep, but other then that, made no complaint.
He gripped the shirt of his new protector and buried his head in Jason's shoulder. Jason held him closer, shifting his weight a little to a more comfortable position. Bruce relaxed more fully than he had all night and ran a hand over the length of Tim's slight form, who was positioned with his head on the detective's lap. "Bruce", he murmured softly in his sleep.
"I'm here son", Bruce said gently, "don't worry." Tim fell silent, a tiny smile creeping over his slumbering countenance. Bruce turned to Dick and fondled his eldest's hair for a moment and then looked back up at Jason, who was gazing into the flames again with Damien cradled close to his heart.
"He might not survive the night", Jason said softly, so softly, Bruce practically couldn't hear him. "Would you blame me for his demise? Would you kill me, though you failed to kill the Joker after I passed from this earth?" Bruce was silent for a moment. Then, he stood up, gently moving the boys off, and walked a little ways away from the fire to stretch his legs, which had become cramped as the night had worn on.
He stood in the darkness, running a hand through his hair. The pale moonlight flickered through the cracks in the rocks and a little lost snowflake landed lightly on his hair. "Ohh, what am I gona do", he groaned.
Then, he heard Damien's pitiful cries again and was about to go back over and see what he could do to help when Jason's gentle voice drifted through the night air. "Hush little one", Jason said tenderly, "everything's gona be ok."
"Where's father?" Damien whimpered, through tears.
"He's just taking a little walk", Jason said, "he'll be back soon. Don't you fret."
"What about Dick?" Damien asked.
"He's asleep", Jason replied, "but don't worry. I'm here."
"Who are you?"
"A friend, little one." Damien gave a cry of pain, which cut through the night like a dagger.
"It hurts", he sobbed, "I ache so bad."
"I know", Jason said, "and I'm so sorry. But you just have to be brave. Can you be brave for me?" Damien nodded slowly and then closed his eyes. Jason rocked the boy gently, humming something Bruce couldn't quite hear. Then, he lowered his head and kissed Damien's brow. Bruce moved back over towards the fire.
"Thank you", he said softly to Jason. Then, he did something he had not done in many, many long years. He put hand gently on Jason's shoulder and squeezed it. Jason looked up at him, surprised. "You're injured", Bruce said suddenly, indicating the red hood's side, which was caked in a thin layer of dried blood. Jason nodded.
"Fell on a sharp rock when I hit the bottom of this God forsaken cavern. But, you should be happy I fell first. Your little one fell on top of me. He would have been impaled through the chest." Damien mewled and turned to one side. Jason shifted his grip. Bruce moved off and wet a rag in a puddle near by.
He knelt next to Jason and said, "Let me see."
"I'll have to put the kid down", Jason replied. Bruce nodded.
"Put him on Dick's chest. He'll be fine there for a few minutes." Jason got up and placed the boy on Dick, who's arms instinctively closed around him. Then, Jason squirmed out of his shirt and stretched out his side as much as he could, grimacing in pain as the dried blood cracked and fresh blood seeped out from it. Bruce gently cleaned away all the blood and dirt. "You'll need stitches", he said. "But for now, I'll wrap it up for you."
"If you don't mind", Jason said softly. They gazed into each other's eyes for a moment, neither speaking, before Bruce got up. He tore a large, long strip off of Tim's cape, which was still wrapped around his shoulders, and came back over to Jason.
"I'd use me own", he whispered, so as not to wake the boys, "but Damien needs it right now." Jason nodded and Bruce gently bound his wound, the firelight dancing over the two of them.
"You could have let me bleed to death you know", Jason said as Bruce tied the bandages.
"No", Bruce replied, "I could not have." He finished and moved back. Jason flexed his side, surveying Bruce's handiwork.
"It's not much", Bruce said, "but it'll be sufficient for now." Jason nodded.
"I've gotten by with worse", he said smoothly. Damien gave a whimper and Bruce was instantly alert. He got up and walked over to the boys. He gently pulled the Damien from Dick's embrace.
"Father", Damien sobbed, tears running down his pale cheeks, "father, I'm so cold."
"I know son", Bruce said, as gently as he could, "we'll go over closer to the fire, alright." Where's the other one?" Damien asked, "The only who was holding me before. he's over here by the fire." Damien nodded and Bruce moved as close as he dared to the flames, cradling Damien in tired arms. Damien relaxed a little and soon fell back asleep.
Bruce wrapped the cape more tightly around the boy, but even that seemed to give him no more warmth than before and a shudder ran through the boy's small form. Jason got up and held out his hands, offering once again to take Damien from the Dark Knight. This time, Bruce did not hesitate at all and handed his son over. Jason smoothed to boy's hair and rocked him gently, stooping down low and close to the fire.
"Bruce", Tim called suddenly, breaking the silence with a frightened cry. The firelight barely illuminated the slight form that sat upright in the darkness, but it guided Bruce to the boy's quivering form.
"Yes", he asked, placing a hand on Tim's cheek.
"I…I woke up and you weren't there", Tim said softly.
"Sorry", Bruce replied, "I got up for a bit. Are you ok, did you have a nightmare?" Tim nodded and then put his arms around Bruce's neck. Bruce hugged him tightly for a moment. He could feel Tim shaking in his embrace.
"Is Damien going to die Bruce?" Tim asked. Bruce gave a sigh.
"I don't know son", he said, "Why don't you go back to sleep."
"Will you stay?" Tim asked softly.
"I'll come back over in a little while. If you don't want to be alone, go lie with Dick. He won't mind." Tim nodded and, after being released from Bruce's embrace, moved over next to Dick. He laid his head on Dick's chest and closed his eyes, relaxing once again. The soothing sounds of the fire crackling and the water dripping from the ceiling were enough of a lullaby to ease him back into slumber.
"I remember those days", Jason murmured, "the nightmares." Bruce nodded and swayed back over, almost as if he were drunk. Exhaustion dictated his every movement and he wanted nothing more than to fall into slumber, but he had responsibilities, responsibilities he could not ignore.
"Would you like me to take him", Bruce asked when he reached Jason's side. He settled down next to him, their shoulder's barely brushing. Jason shook his head and trembled at the contact.
"He's fine", the young man replied. He gazed back over at Tim, who was sleeping silently now. "Your relationship is so easy with them now", he murmured softly, more to himself that anyone else. "I remember things being so strained, at least between Dick and you."
"We made up", Bruce replied flatly.
"Nothing like a death in the family to bring people together", Jason commented, a sardonic note creeping into his voice.
"It wasn't until we stopped mourning you and took on Tim that we started to heal. You're death drove us all to the brink. I almost went insane with grief." Jason blinked softly.
"I miss it sometimes, you know", he said softly. "I miss having you near. The smell of your breath on my face when I crawled into your bed at night, the touch of your hands as you bandaged my wounds, the sound of your croon when you comforted me and the wind when it carried your laugh along with it." He looked away.
"You know", Bruce whispered, turning so that his forehead leaned against Jason's, "we could have all that again." Jason gazed into his eyes.
"Things have changed", he replied, "too many things. And I've changed, in too many ways. There's no place for me any more. I don't need you any more. I'm fine on my own."
"You're lonely", Bruce replied, holding Jason's face in his hands. " I can help you, things don't have to be this way." The Red Hood's gaze darted to his feet and Damien's small form. He gave a sigh.
"You can't change the past Bruce."
"But the future is malleable." Jason looked up at him.
"You'd never trust me."
"I handed you my son, what more trust could in possibly have in you."
"They'd never accept me", Jason said, indicating Dick and Tim.
"In time they would. They trust my judgment."
"I'd spend years in prison for all the crimes I committed."
"The Red Hood is a criminal, but Jason Todd has done nothing wrong, save being out of my life for far too long and causing me more heart ache then I ever thought I could bear."
"You'd really be willing to forget everything I did, just like that." Bruce nodded.
"It doesn't matter what you've done, I still love you. You can still come home. You're my son. You'll always have a place at the manor, and in my heart." A tear sprang from Jason's eye and trickled down his cheek.
"Someday", Jason replied, "I promise you, someday, I'll come back. But Jason Todd is lost. I'll have to find him first. Come to terms with who he is, who I am. Will you wait for me?"
"Until the stars fall from the sky." Jason smiled and pressed himself to Bruce's chest. Bruce put his arms around him and Jason leaned against his strong form. Then, the red hood closed his eyes and gave a sigh of utter contentment before falling gently into sleep. Damien too, finally relaxed and when Bruce felt his forehead, he could almost believe it had cooled.
The snow meandered lazily down the side of the manor as Bruce gazed out the window from his position on the couch. His green sweater kept him quite warm, as did the roaring fire, in contrast to the chill outside. Dick was nestled up against him, blinking blearily as he watched Damien chase Tim around the tree, yelling angrily as Tim giggled.
"Give me that back Drake, or I swear, I will rip off your testicles and feed them to the bats in the cave." That elicited a roar of glee from Tim, who redoubled his efforts to get away.
"Come on Dami, I wanna see what you got for Dick. Did you finally learn the word love, or is that still missing from your vocabulary?" Dick snuggled his head into Bruce's arm, who put it around the young man.
"What're you thinking about?" Dick asked sleepily. Bruce shrugged and remained silent. He longed to share his pain with the young man, but he didn't want to trouble him and, quite frankly, Dick wouldn't understand anyway. How could he possible know that Bruce had hoped to have his whole family here tonight, Jason included.
After they had been rescued from the cave (which put dark shadow over Bruce's Christmas, as it had been Superman who had done the rescuing, and not, unfortunately, Santa Clause), the Red Hood had disappeared into the night. So, Bruce had taken his family home, hoping that having them all together for food and rest might ease his sprit.
'Why couldn't this all be enough?' he thought to himself as Damien bounded after Tim and Dick dozed by his side. He had so much and he knew he wouldn't part with it for the world, but somehow, there was still a hole. Damien bounced back over triumphantly, holding the present in his hand, and placed it under the tree. Then, he crawled into Dick's embrace. Dick grinned and kissed his cheek.
"I hope you didn't kill him", he murmured.
"No", Damien said stoically, "we don't kill, right father." His turned to Bruce, hoping for approval. Bruce nodded and smiled at him, ruffling the boy's hair. Damien allowed a shy little grin of pleasure to inch it's way up his face and buried his head in Dick's chest.
Tim hobbled, stiff-legged, over. "He kicked me", he whimpered. "That little demon child kicked me right between the legs." He lowered himself gingerly onto the couch and leaned up against Bruce, who put an arm around him, the other still draped over Dick.
'Why isn't this enough', Bruce thought to himself distraughtly as Damien bashfully nuzzled his fingers, asking to be petted. Bruce stroked his hair, desperation blooming inside of him. He was practically bursting with love for his small family and joy at them being all together, safe and sound, well, all but one.
He got up, walking off into the master bedroom. Three pairs of blue eyes followed him quizzically, but Bruce made no move to explain to them what was occurring with in him, the longing for the one part of him that was missing. He moved over to one of the windows, gazing out of it at the snow on the ground outside. He didn't even bother turning on the lights. He just stood in the dark and the silence.
Bruce was staring so intently at the land outside east window, he almost didn't hear the soft creak of the southern one. "Merry Christmas Bruce", a voice said softly. Bruce swung around and saw Jason there, covered in snow and shivering. "I've come home", he murmured.
Bruce gave a cry of joy and threw his arms around him, hugging him tightly. The other three raced into the room at Bruce's shout, wondering what was going on. Dick flicked on the light. "Jason", he breathed. Bruce lifted his head to gaze at them, a big grin painted across his face as he held Jason close. Jason, for his part, gazed at the rest of them hopefully, as if willing them to accept him.
"So you've come back", Dick said softly, walking up to him. Jason nodded. "For good?" Dick asked.
"For good", Jason affirmed. Dick grinned and hugged Jason tightly.
"I've missed you", he murmured fiercely. Jason nodded. "And I you."
"You were the one who held me last night, weren't you, the friend?" Damien said softly, coming foreward.
"Yes", Jason replied from within Bruce and Dick's arms, "I was."
"Thank you", Damien murmured.
"Doth my ears deceive me?" Dick said with mock surprise, "Is Damien actually acknowledging that we don't, from birth, owe him our services and undying allegiance?"
"Shut up Greyson", Damien said sourly. Dick giggled and hoisted Damien up into his embrace. He nuzzled his neck affectionately and then handed the boy to a surprised Jason.
"Welcome to the family bro", Dick said, "King Damien should be quite pleased we've added another servant for him to our ranks." Damien scowled and wrapped his arms around Jason's neck to steady himself.
"So", Jason said, facing Tim, "You were my replacement?" Tim nodded wordlessly. "I'm honored", the Red Hood spoke, bowing his head in Tim's direction. Tim remained where he was.
"Aww, come here Tim", Dick said, "we're not trying to replace you. Yeesh, you are so paranoid." Tim came foreward and Dick trapped him in his embrace, cuddling him fondly. Tim couldn't suppress the grin that inched over his face and he smiled at Jason, who smiled back.
"Now", Bruce said softly, eyes locked on Jason's, "now, I'm at peace."
The fire burned low that night, the dancing of the flames getting slower and slower as the hours wore on, yet no one attended to it. All the occupants of the house were dozing silently, save one.
The one awake was not Bruce, who was fast asleep stretched out on the couch. Nor was it Tim, who was wrapped up in a blanket and Bruce's warm embrace with his head on the Dark Knight's shoulder. It was not Dick, who dozed with his head on Bruce's other shoulder and had his arms tightly around Damien, who slept, clinging to the older man as if he were the last creature on earth.
It was Jason Todd who lay awake in the darkness, his head over Bruce's heart and his back pressed up against the detective's broad chest. He gazed up at the ceiling, wondering what was to become of him. But, surrounded by family, at that moment, it didn't really matter.
The last awake breathed a single word before closing his eyes and drifting into slumber, "Home." For indeed, Bruce's final child had returned. The fourth had come home.