A/N: On the "Ask the Squishykins" tumblr, Twinings and I are currently offering ourselves up for two full weeks of filling fic prompts for our readers, varying in length from a hundred to a thousand-plus words. The project has been dubbed the Free For All Fic For All—or FFAFFA for short. This is one of those stories—and this is the boilerplate author's note you'll see on all of 'em. The current round of FFAFFA runs until July 16th, so if you want a custom fic written to any particular specifications, drop by and ask for it!
Prompt: Kid!Jonathan Crane
Warnings: Slut shaming
Five days after his birth, Mary Keeny wonders, not for the first time, if she should have just thrown her great-grandson out on the compost heap with the rotting corn husks from the last failed harvest. She is not a young woman anymore, and his existence has reminded her of that fact more than all the arthritis and bifocals in the world ever could.
Though she keeps the child in a separate room from her own and feeds him at much longer intervals than any doctor would recommend (but what do doctors know, anyhow?) being roused from a sound sleep in the middle of the night is already taking its toll.
Jonathan is pink and puffy and terribly unattractive, screaming at the top of his lungs, when she turns on the light in the sewing-room-turned-nursery. He's a scrawny thing, undernourished by a mother who did her best to starve herself for nine months, trying to hide her pregnancy as long as possible, and his birth was difficult, but his cries tell her that he's strong despite his sickly appearance.
With the grace and economy of motion of a hawk swooping down on its prey, she scoops him up from the antique cradle and holds him close to her chest. He quiets, but does not settle until she takes to the rocking chair in the corner and gives him a bottle of buttermilk, those doctors and their push for formula feeding be damned.
He drinks greedily, and she begins to hum.
"O brother wind, air, clouds, and rain, by which all creatures ye sustain," she sings quietly, watching the bottle empty "O praise ye, Alleluia…"
Jonathan opens his watery steel blue eyes to look up at her. She pointedly ignores that they are they are the same shade as her late husband's.
All babies have blue eyes, she reminds herself.
There is no Christmas tree in the Keeny house. There is no snow on the ground, no cookies for santa, no holly hanging from the mantlepiece. All the trappings of a traditional Christmas are curiously absent. The proper upstanding ladies of the church find this scandalous and whisper behind her back that she is either too poor to afford them, or a bad Christian. Mary is content to let them believe whatever they want; she knows their precious traditions are rooted in the rituals of pagans. She will have no part of them.
On this Christmas Eve, she sits in her chair with an embroidery hoop, moving a needle back and forth through the fabric of her sampler. Her boot rests on the foot of Jonathan's cradle as she rocks him gently, waiting for him to drift off to sleep.
"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.," she continues embroidering, reciting from memory, "And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
Jonathan shifts and the blanket he is wrapped in starts to come undone. In the length of a few heartbeats, he becomes upset.
With a sigh, Mary puts her embroidery aside. She wraps the blanket around him again and doesn't notice when her fingers drift to his cheek long enough to stroke him comfortingly.
"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying," she continues, trailing her fingers over his tiny delicate eyebrows, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
Jonathan yawns sleepily.
Mary holds the letter clutched in her hand, crushing it in her fist.
Dear Grandmother, I hope this finds you well…
Karen Keeny, her good for nothing granddaughter, has decided, at last, to check on her son for the first time in three months.
I am sorry that I have not written sooner. I have been busy with school.
For seven pages Karen goes on, explaining in painstaking detail the minutia of her day to day life with a full page devoted to the festivities of her eighteenth birthday.
Please write back soon, Love always, Karen
And then, on the final page…
P.S. How is Jonathan?
The words may as well have been written in acid, their meaning is so vicious. Her knuckles are white and her chest burns with fury.
The child is nothing more than an afterthought to his mother. Mary's struggle to make up for Karen's mistake does not even merit acknowledgement.
"In the last days perilous times shall come," Mary says to the air, trying to keep her voice even, "For men shall be lovers of their own selves, without natural affection."
She turns to look at Jonathan, who sits in a tiny bouncy baby seat, looking intently at the small stuffed bear that hangs suspended in front of it.
Mary tears the letter up and scatters the pieces in the fireplace.
Someday the boy may need to know what kind of callous monster birthed him, but that day is not today.
"He is just the sweetest little thing, isn't he, Mary?" Rotund Miss Dora Lee Martin says in a coo. "Hello, Jonathan, hello! Such a shame about his mother."
"Her judgment is coming," Mary replies ominously, stony faced. The first time in months that she has actually been able to leave the house with the child for Sunday services and all anyone can talk about is the baby. For good God fearing folk, they seem only tangentially concerned with how she wound up with a surrogate son in the first place.
"Ahem. Yes, well, of course," Dora Lee's jowls jiggle as she wags her stupid head, "but God is forgiving, and she is just a child. If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. "
"She has not repented." For some reason, Mary feels irrational hatred toward Dora Lee for daring to recite scripture she does not understand.
"Oh. Well…then…" Dora looks around for some avenue of escape. "Oh, Mary, there's the pastor. I hope you'll excuse me, we have to talk about my son's wedding."
Dora Lee waddles away, waving one flabby arm at him. Mary looks down at Jonathan in his carriage, clutching a ragdoll and staring up at her with interested eyes.
"She is a halfwit."
He hugs his ragdoll tighter, and she chooses to interpret that as an agreement.
"Let's go home."
Mary holds her great grandson in her lap at the kitchen table, grateful that he weighs so little for a baby his age. She holds him in one hand and scrawls in the margins of her checking account register in the other.
Another acre of her land will have to be sold off this year. Her husband's savings are long gone; the farm is her only income now, and most of that from selling parts of it off year by year. Jonathan reaches for her inkpen and causes a number one to become a seven.
"Don't do that," she says firmly, extracting the pen from his grasp.
He pats his little hand on the table and looks up at her with eyes the color of cornflowers—no longer the steely blue they once were—curious and attention seeking.
For the first time, Jonathan smiles. The toothless grin lights up his face because she is paying attention to him.
The feeling is not unlike being stabbed in the chest with an intangible knife, but more bittersweet. Mary drops her inkpen.
She smiles back at him uncertainly, uncomfortable with her own feelings. If at all possible, his eyes grow brighter, his smile wider.
Her arms pull him close without her permission, hugging him tightly to her bony old frame. He looks so like her Ephram that she can't help herself. It's an impulse that is impossible to fight.
For the first time in many years, Mary Keeny's eyes well up with tears and there is joy in even that: she thought she ran out of feelings years ago.
Jonathan gurgles happily and swats at her back before laying his head down on her shoulder. She feels his tiny searching fingers tracing the pattern of the lace of her dress and experiences a swell of panic in her breast.
This is not the way this is supposed to go. This is not what she planned. He is not her son, he is the bastard spawn of a selfish, wanton slut.
But…he so looks like her love.
"Mark my words," she whispers into the baby's hair, "you will be the death of me."
Author's Notes: In order to write this, I had to write Granny Keeny an entire backstory in my head (I already had the beginnings of it for another prompt, but this was more labor intensive) so here's the head canon I've got that has its basis in Mary's appearance in Scarecrow: Year One:
Mary Keeny was born in 1909 and married at the age of twenty-nine in 1938, which by the standards of the day made her an old maid. Her husband was quite possibly the best man in the world for her, but they were separated by his service in World War II; he returned home in 1943 with an injury and Mary conceived their first child—a son—who was born prematurely and did not survive. Their second child—Jonathan's grandmother—was conceived shortly after, but her husband died while she was pregnant. In the years between that event and this story (1977), she remained alone.
I've long theorized that Granny may have had Borderline Personality Disorder, given her demeanor and behavior in Scarecrow: Year One as well as evidence gleaned from Jonathan throughout his entire canon history that hints at his psychology and upbringing. Though she is portrayed in a sympathetic—if bittersweet—fashion here, do not take this to mean that she is not still mentally ill and does not have the capacity to be abusive to a child. Sympathetic does not equal good person.