Author's Note: Hello, lovely readers, and happy December! To celebrate my favorite month, I've decided to write this little series. Every day between now and the 25th I will post a short piece revolving in some way around Christmas. Much as is the situation with 'A Spot of Tea,' none of these stories are necessarily designed to take place in the same universe, but if you are free to mix and match them as you see fit. There will be a lot of our favorite folks making an appearance, but the primary focus will be the Batfam. Tonight's offering is a little exchange between Nightwing and Red Hood, which I sincerely hope that you enjoy. Happy reading!
"...Merry Christmas, little brother."
Red Hood paused, one foot resting on the crumbling brickwork that edged the roof he'd been about to take off from. "What do you want?" he snarled, his voice carrying an ersatz vehemence.
"Aw, come on," Nightwing half-teased, half-pled. "It's Christmas Eve. Show a guy a little love, huh?"
"I don't care if it's Judgment Day. You're in my territory without an invitation."
"I didn't know you sent out invitations. Weird. Mine must have gotten lost in the mail," came a rejoinder. There was a hint of sadness about it that made the man under the hood grimace and drag himself around to face his visitor, who immediately smiled. "Like I was saying before...merry Christmas."
"...You about done? I have things to do."
"I know you do," Nightwing gave an understanding nod. "But whatever those things are will wait long enough for you to open your presents, won't they?"
...Goddamn it, Dick, Jason cursed to himself. You do this every year, and it never gets any less annoying. I swear, I'm going to arrange to be out of town for the holidays from now on. Even as he thought as much, however, he knew it was a lie; after all, he'd made that same silent promise every Christmas Eve since his return to Gotham, and he had yet to actually hold to it. Probably be pointless anyway; knowing you, you'd track me down on the fucking moon. I don't know why I put up with this, he added helplessly as the other man, taking his silence as assent, extended two closed hands. If anyone is watching...
"C'mon, bro," the elder vigilante urged softly. "Open your presents. I know they aren't really wrapped, but...well, you know how it is. I'd get some weird looks if someone saw me putting Christmas paper in my belt."
"...Yeah. Well." They'd forgive you. They'd forgive you anything. He looked away, his throat suddenly tight. Hell, even I forgive you for some things, and I...I'm not so good at that. Forgiving. You've always been better at that than me.
"Pick one," Nightwing encouraged. "...Please?"
Letting out a sigh that sounded more exasperated than it truly was, Red Hood conceded. "The left, I guess."
"Ah, you want the practical present first this year!" Four fingers, two black, two blue, unfolded to reveal a tight coil of ultra-thin black rope. "Good choice."
"...I have my own grappling lines, Nightwing," the younger man scoffed. Useless. You've stopped trying. Something pinched in his chest as he made to leave again. This has become an act for you, hasn't it? Got to make nice with Jason like the golden boy you are, even if it's just for show.
"I know you do. But are yours bulletproof?"
He stopped at that, and turned back once more. "...Are you shitting me?" The risk of a line being sheared during a full-on gun battle was something he was fully aware of but generally tried not to think about. While he himself was well enough armored to take a bit of lead, he had never quite managed to get a reliable rope that was thin enough to serve its purpose but strong enough to survive a direct hit. In close quarters, he knew, it could very well be one of his own bullets ricocheting back that spilled him earthward and spelled his demise. None of us have ever had bulletproof lines before, he mused, finally drawing closer to the only other figure on the rooftop in order to examine the gift. They always turned out too thick for the grappling guns. If you've got one now, then that must mean...no. Oh, hell no. "Did he create this?" he hissed, suddenly angry. I don't want gifts from him. Screw that bullshit.
It was too simple an answer to be a fib, but he pushed anyway, refusing to believe. "You're lying. He made it, and I won't take it."
"Batman had nothing to do with it," Nightwing insisted. "I...I knew you wouldn't use it if you thought he had any part in it, so...look, it took me almost six months to out how to get it thin enough, okay? I wanted to ask him for help, but I didn't," he revealed. "Look, I...I know how you fight, the situations you get yourself into, and I wanted you to be safe. That's all. We all use this type of line now that it exists – I'm not going to leave anyone to fall, obviously – but...I made it for you." With that, he closed the remaining gap between them and tucked the bundle into one of his brother's hands. "I just wish we could have worked on it together," he added. "It might have been fun, you know? Like the old days."
"...Those days are gone, Nightwing," Red Hood countered, making his voice hard in order to disguise the lump in his throat. "They died the night I did."
"I know." His lower lip disappeared between his teeth for a moment, a tiny sniffle that was audible only to the two of them sounding before he went on. "...But that doesn't mean we have to forget them, huh? Which brings me to your other present," he forged ahead, holding up a thumb drive. "It's not much, just...just a copy of A Christmas Story. I would have brought it on disc, but...space constraints."
'A Christmas Story'? Jason nearly cringed. Christ. The first Christmas movie we watched together. A memory, long repressed, flooded back. He'd never seen the film before his first holiday season at the Manor, but it had delighted his much-younger self when he finally did. The den had smelled like butter and sugar, he recalled, because Alfred kept bringing them fresh cookies and cocoa and Dick considered watching TV without popcorn a crime. The friendly, confident figure who kept referring to him as 'little brother' and who had laughed right along with him had only served to elevate his mood even further, buoying him up that night and right on through...well, right on through until the end of what he thought of as his 'first life,' if he wanted to be honest with himself. I think...I think Bruce carried me to bed after the movie ended, he gulped. I think he had to, because I'd fallen asleep leaning against Dick and he couldn't get up without disturbing me... "Jesus, Nightwing, sentimental much?" he choked out.
The other man shrugged. "I've never considered sentimentality to be an insult, Jay," he whispered.
He should have ordered him not to use his real name, not here, not in costume, not ever. Instead, he reached up with the hand not holding the specialized grappling line and gently took the jump drive. "...Yeah. I know." They stood for a moment more, each lost in his own thoughts, neither speaking. "...You should go," he said finally, the suggestion paining him as he made it. "They'll wonder where you are."
Nightwing nodded sadly. "You're right. I don't want to worry them. Not tonight, especially." He gripped the hooded figure's elbow for the briefest of instants. "...Merry Christmas, little brother. I love you." Then he turned, walked to the nearest precipice, and leaped off.
Red Hood watched him indulge in a single airborne tumble and then swing away into the light snow that had begun to fall while they were talking. In the space of a blink his own personal Santa was gone, leaving only the two small objects clutched desperately in his fingers and the heaviness in his eyes and heart as evidence of his short visit. Clearing his throat, he glanced around to ensure that he was still alone, and then gazed just a moment more towards the glittering sections of the city he knew the other man was headed for. "...Merry Christmas, big brother," he whispered. I...I love you, too.