Author's Note: Here you are, lovely readers; the final story of this season. For those of you who have been clamoring for more Jason, he's here, as is the rest of the family. I hope you enjoy reading this last piece as much as I enjoyed writing it, and all the others too; it's been a fun way to get into the holiday spirit, and I may very well do it again next year. For now, thanks to everyone who's come this far, and thanks twice over to those who have reviewed; your kind words and attentiveness are the best presents any author could hope for. Happy holidays to you all, and as always, happy reading.
"Well," Alfred straightened from tucking the last scrap of torn paper into a garbage bag, "that's another Christmas morning wrapped up, I suppose."
"Yeah," Bruce grimaced, glancing to where a sizable stack of presents still sat. "...Sort of."
"He told us to go ahead without him if he wasn't back from his mission yet," Barbara, seated on the couch beside him, reminded. "I don't like it either, but...you know how he is about holidays."
"I know he likes to participate in them," the billionaire said dourly. "Especially since this is only Johnny's second Christmas."
"I took copious photographs, sir," the butler assured. "It may not be quite the same, but he'll at least be able to see the youngest master's excitement second-hand."
"And I got video, too," Tim revealed, holding up the digital camcorder he'd received early on in the proceedings. "I only got the second half of the presents, but this way he can hear him squealing, too."
"Tiny won't even remember that he wasn't here," Damian threw in from the opposite corner of the room, where he was busily bolting the wheels of a plastic pedal car in place. "And he didn't even really seem to get the whole presents idea until halfway through, anyway."
"That's not the point," Bruce grumbled.
The toddler, who had been hovering around his uncle and watching pieces and decals being added to his new mode of transportation, turned his head at those words. Frowning, he abandoned his overseeing and closed the distance between himself and the speaker, raising his arms when he drew near. "Up?"
"What do you say, Johnny?" his mother asked immediately.
He looked at her, then back at the man who was already bending towards him. "Peas up?"
"Close enough, chum," Bruce swept the boy into his lap. "Decided to come see me, huh?"
"You talk sad," was pouted back. Stretching up, small fingers pushed at the sides of the billionaire's mouth, trying to force them upwards. "Why?"
"Well..." He sent a hesitant glance towards the woman beside him, not sure if she wanted her husband's absence discussed with the child. When she merely shrugged with a 'what are you going to tell him but the truth?' look, he went on. "I'm a little sad because your dad's not here today. That's all."
"Oh..." Johnny turned around, seeming to search for the missing figure. "Where daddy?"
"He's off doing...something important," Bruce answered. "I just wish I knew what, exactly," he added in a mutter. "He'll be back soon, I was just hoping he'd be here today."
"No daddy today?"
"...No, no daddy today."
"Soon. I don't know when."
"I don't know," the man repeated with a level of patience he had only ever shown to the boy in his arms. "I wish I did know, but I don't."
"When soon? Want daddy!"
"Here, Bruce, let me have him before he pitches a fit," Barbara requested, reaching for her son. "Come here, Johnny."
"No! Want daddy!" With a nimble slither that everyone who saw it agreed he had inherited from his father, the child slipped from Bruce's grasp and ducked that of his mother, tumbling to the floor and climbing to his feet. "Daddy home!" he proclaimed stubbornly. "Want daddy home!" Then he bolted for the hallway as quickly as his feet could carry him, dodging Alfred's one-handed attempt to snag the back of his pajamas and disappearing towards the front door.
"It's okay," she sighed, making to get up. "He's been like this all week, dashing for the door every time he notices Dick's absence. I'm starting to get used to being disappointed when I chase after him and find out that he doesn't have any better radar than I do."
"Please, Miss Barbara, allow me," the butler offered before she could rise. "I imagine a cookie will distract him from his distress."
"Yeah," Damian snorted as he set his project upright. "It always works on Grayson, so why not on Tiny G, too?"
"That is the stupidest nickname," Tim shook his head. "'Tiny G'? He's a baby, not a rapper."
"Says the uncle who hasn't bothered to come up with a nickname for him at all," the teen retorted.
"I don't have a problem using people's actual names, so..."
"Anyway," Barbara broke in, "that would be great, Alfred. I hate giving him sugar to make him stop crying, but I hate him crying because his father's gone on Christmas even more."
"Daddy!" a sudden, joyous shriek echoed down the corridor.
Everyone in the living room paused. "You don't think...?" Tim ventured.
"I'm going to find out," Bruce declared, standing and striding for the hall. "I'll be right back one way or the other."
"I'll join you, sir," Alfred volunteered, following him.
"Well, I'm willing to let my kid give me false hope one more time," Barbara sighed, pushing herself up.
"And I'm not staying here with you and a bunch of easily accessible glass hanging from the tree," Tim tossed at Damian.
The teen sneered. "Going to poison Tiny's mind against me, Drake?"
Tim hesitated in the doorway. "I wouldn't do that, actually," he commented. "Johnny likes you for some weird reason; if I tried to convince him not to, he'd probably just end up hating me. And I don't want that, because I love him, too."
Damian approached, stopping within striking distance and meeting his brother's eyes. "...You'd better love him," he all but threatened. "And if I ever find out you are trying to make him hate me, I'll...I'll sic Grayson on you."
"You wouldn't try to beat the shit out of me yourself?" Tim arched a curious eyebrow.
"No. Hurting you myself would just make Gordon resent me and not want me around her child. Besides, anything Grayson would do or say in that situation would be far more effective and painful than any beating I might give you."
"...Yeah, it would be," he said thoughtfully. "Speaking of, let's go see if he's actually home, huh? Bruce is right, Christmas is weird without his corny jokes."
Damian tilted his head to the side. "It's funny," he remarked. "There are moments when you aren't a complete idiot. That's unexpected."
"Gee, thanks. Now, can we go?"
They drew into the foyer and stopped, both of their minds immediately flying as they tried to work out exactly what was going on. Dick stood at the base of the stairs, Johnny in his arms; facing him were Barbara, Alfred, and Bruce, all wearing unreadable expressions of shock and caution. Behind him was the cause of the trio's consternation, a man who hadn't stepped foot inside Wayne Manor in a decade. His face was swollen in places and bore fading bruises, but despite that and the changes that the passage of time had wrought he was perfectly recognizable out of costume.
"Oh, shit," Tim breathed. "It's Jason."
"Jason," Bruce said unevenly. "What..."
"Relax," Dick urged. "It's okay. He's with me."
No one spoke for another long minute, and finally the figure at the rear grimaced. "I told you this wouldn't work," he accused, a note of pain lurking behind the words.
"Give it a minute, Jay," the older male shook his head at his brother's haste. "Here, Johnny-boy," he addressed the toddler buried against his throat, "can you look around for a second? There's someone I want you to meet."
"Daddy home," the boy said contently, not moving.
"I am home, you're right. But I really want you to meet this person, okay? C'mon, just for a second?" The child finally pulled back at the mild desperation in his father's voice. "There. Johnny," Dick turned so that his son could see the new arrival, "this is your Uncle Jason. Can you say hi?"
Johnny blinked at the battered figure for several tense seconds, seeming to take his measure. Then a beaming smile, blatantly stolen from the man holding him, spilled across his face. "Hi!" he exclaimed happily.
That single word, spoken in the joyous high voice of a little boy on Christmas, cut through the mounting tension, deflating it to a tolerable level. "Hey, kid...Jesus, Dick, are you sure he isn't a clone?" Jason asked, something that was almost amusement lacing his tone. "He couldn't look more like you if he tried."
"We're still trying to figure out where my genes went," Barbara contributed lightly, earning a grateful look from her husband. "Hi, Jason."
"He's got her stubbornness," Dick joked, "which means god help anyone who ever wants to date him."
"You've got it backwards," the woman countered, moving up beside him to take the still-staring and smiling child. "He might have my stubbornness, but he's got your charm, so god help anyone he ever wants to date. Especially if she says no at first," she added.
"And at second, third, and thirtieth," Dick teased. "You want to go with mommy?" he asked the boy.
"No! Stay daddy," Johnny latched back onto his father, somehow not turning his head away from his new acquaintance as he did so. "Hi," he repeated when Jason looked at him again.
"...Hi. Ah..." Reaching up to rub the back of his neck, the returnee glanced at the four still ranged behind Dick, his eyes lingering on Bruce for a beat longer than the others. "...Shit."
"Master Jason," Alfred, his voice heavy with restrained emotion, ventured as he took a single step closer, "we were about to have a little mid-morning snack. Just cookies and cocoa, but...there's plenty, if you'd like to come into the living room." It was halfway a lie – the only person who had been about to receive either cookies or cocoa five minutes before was Johnny – but no one who knew better objected.
The younger man met the butler's hopeful look for a moment, then looked away. "I don't think I really should."
"Jason, don't," Dick said firmly. "Don't be like this. We talked about how it would be," his voice dropped in volume. "You know it's going to be awkward at first, but at least give it a chance, if not for you then for," his gaze dropped to the boy in his arms and then to the hallway behind the other man, "them."
"...'Them'?" Barbara, still at Dick's elbow, blinked in confusion. "What...?"
"Long story, pretty lady, that Jason will tell when he ready. Jay," he pleaded. "Please."
"Jason," Bruce's voice ventured as he approached. He halted midway between where he'd started and where his two eldest stood in conference, and then swallowed visibly. "...Don't go."
Jason kept his head up but averted his eyes, his lips pursing. "Why not?" he asked.
"Because this is your home, and it's Christmas," the billionaire answered shakily. "You should be here, today of all days. You don't...you don't have to say a word to me if you don't want to," he nearly stuttered, "but...just stay for a little while. Get to know your nephew; have one of Alfred's cookies. Please, Jason...stay."
"So what, we just let sleeping dogs lie?" He crossed his arms, not defiantly but as if he needed the protection of his old angry facade to keep from giving in too easily.
"If that's what you want, I'm fine with it."
"You're just going to let go of everything? I find that hard to believe."
"The past is important," Bruce answered slowly, "but it's not as important as the future. I didn't always see things that way, but...I do lately," his eyes darted to where Johnny was watching him raptly, one thumb in his mouth. "I'd just like to spend the day with my family. My entire family," he emphasized. "And I can't do that if you leave."
Jason could have turned the billionaire's final comment around into an accusation of self-centeredness, a barb that he hadn't held back from using in the past; he might have delivered a truly devastating blow and stated that he'd only come in order to remind his former guardian how much he resented the decision that had been the root cause of their estrangement. He did neither of those things, however, instead merely giving a slight nod. "...One hour," he conceded roughly. "And I reserve the right to leave before then if I feel pressured."
"Agreed," Bruce said immediately.
"I'll start the milk to heating," Alfred announced, eagerness underlining his tone. "If you'll all make your way back to the living room..."
"Wait," Jason stopped him. "...Wait." Ignoring the pain that flashed through Bruce's gaze at that suggestion that he might renege on the agreement he'd just made, he turned to Dick. "I'd better not regret this down the line," he warned.
"You won't, Jay. More importantly, when she's old enough to understand what this took she'll thank you for doing it for her."
"'She'?" Bruce asked. "...Jason?"
Taking a deep breath, Jason held up one finger and retreated to the hallway that led back to the clock. He ducked out of sight, and a tiny whimper escaped the billionaire. "Dick, he's not leaving?"
"No, he's not. At least I don't think he is. He's just...getting something."
"Daddy?" Johnny interjected.
"Where Unca Jason?"
"He'll be right back," Dick reassured him, smiling proudly at the boy's quick absorption of his relation's name and title. "See?" he sighed in relief as the younger man reappeared. "He's right there."
"What's that?" the child pointed at the apparatus that was being carried in just as all of the unprepared adults gasped.
"This," Jason answered as he set the carrier down and pulled back the cover to unveiled a tiny, sleeping face, "is Jayden. She's, ah...she's just a little younger than you are, Johnny." He colored slightly as Bruce gaped at him. "What?" he challenged uncomfortably.
The billionaire finally closed his mouth, blinking away tears before they could fall. "...She's beautiful, Jason."
"She's sassy, too," Dick put in. "Sassier than you'd think a six-month-old could be. Wait until she's awake, she'll blow your mind."
No one spoke for a moment as Bruce raised a hand to his mouth and watched his second and wholly unexpected grandchild sleep. Jason, in turn, watched Bruce, glancing surreptitiously between him and the baby. Eventually Barbara broke the silence. "Unless there are any other big surprises," she said quietly, "I could stand to sit down."
Dick was immediately attentive, shifting Johnny to one arm and offering her the other. "...Jason?" he queried. "Anything else you need to say out here?"
"No," he shook his head. "We'll...we'll stay a little while, I guess."
"Great. Well then," he jostled his son playfully, "let's get some cookies, huh?"
Much later that day, after Jason had departed with his daughter and some of the raw emotions his appearance had dredged up had eased, Bruce asked Dick a quiet question. "I think it's pretty obvious at this point," he began, "but...was what happened today the conclusion of your mission from this past week?"
The younger male sent his wife a guilty look. "Yeah. I'm sorry I missed Christmas morning, but...I saw an opportunity, and the potential reward was too great to pass up."
"It's all right," Barbara smiled. "Johnny got a new cousin to obsess over out of it, so I think he'll forgive you." The toddler had been fascinated with the baby that Jason had been convinced to pass around when she woke up to eat some two hours into his visit. Kneeling next to whoever was holding her at the time, he'd examined her fingers and toes, comparing them to his own, and had finally grown bold enough to poke her stomach to see if she would giggle the way he did when he was prodded. She had, and had then swatted at him, smacking his hand away. Every time he attempted to repeat the feat, she waved his hand away, and before long it had turned into something approximating a game between the two children, both making happy noises when Jayden made contact.
"How did you manage it, Dick?" the billionaire pushed for the details he hadn't dared to ask for while his second son had been in earshot. "After all this time, how?"
"It was intense," he confessed. "I'll tell you, but try not to let him know, okay? He didn't ask me not to share – he had to have known you would ask, he's not an idiot – but I didn't exactly go looking for permission, either. Anyway...I was out on patrol last week, the night I called in and told Babs I had a mission and wouldn't be home. Everything was normal until I circled around and pushed into Hood's territory. I wasn't trying to be invasive or anything, I just...usually swing by around this time of year, you know, to wish him Merry Christmas."
"Wait, you do?" Tim boggled. "Since when?"
"Since he's been back," Dick shrugged. "He not usually nice about seeing me, but I know it makes him feel good that someone makes the effort. So I thought I'd go ahead and try to see him, since I was alone on that side of town. I had just crossed one of his usual routes when I heard what sounded like a mugging."
"Is that why his face was all fuc-" Damian stopped, glancing at Johnny, "-fudged up?"
"Yeah. I dropped down, and there were a bunch of the usual suspects from that neck of the woods just beating the utter crap out of him. We're not talking low-grade minions, either, we're talking other masks, people we," he indicated the room at large "have tussled with in the past and who he's been considering as on his side for a while now. He'd managed to take down a fair number before they got him on the ground, but there were still three standing."
"Who?" Bruce growled.
"Don't worry about it. I sent them home regretting the day they went after my little brother," Dick replied. "Once that was done, I realized that there was no way he was getting home on his own. He realized it, too, because once I got him to stop trying to crawl away from me he told me how to get to his place. It wasn't until we were inside and I'd cleaned him up a bit – he fought me on that, too, but there wasn't much he could do about it in his state – that I found out about Jayden.
"Well, that changed things. I had tried to get him to come to the cave, just to make sure he didn't have any serious injuries, but when he kept refusing I figured I'd just get him comfortable, leave, and find some way to check on him every night. Once Jayden started crying in the next room, though, I saw my in. Jason being attacked by his cronies and having a baby seemed like the kind of combination that might have weakened his walls enough for me to get behind them and drag him back with me, but I knew that one night wasn't going to do it. I needed more time, but I didn't dare leave and give him a chance to shore up his defenses.
"That was where Uncle Clark came in. I called him and asked him to cover for me, say I was on a last-minute JLA trip that he couldn't talk about. He didn't ask questions once I told him that it was important, and he obviously kept his word, so..." Seeing the scowl that had been drawn on Bruce's face by that information, he hustled forward in the story. "After that...after that it was a lot of talking. A lot of talking. I tried to focus on Jayden; it was obvious that he loves her long before he told me that he found her on his doorstep and has no idea if she's his biologically,. So I pitched things to him in terms of her. I told him that she deserves to grow up with a loving support group, and to have people she can fall back on who won't kick her when she's down. He got really ticked at me a couple of times, but between still being sore and stiff and worrying that someone would attack in the middle of the day – some of the rats I caught busting him up knew where he lived, he said, and we both knew that he was too weak at that point to repel them if they came – he needed me there.
"Last night I caught him watching her sleep, and I could tell just looking at him that he was turning over all of the things I'd been saying for the last six days. So I pushed him. I asked him how he would feel if Jayden grew up and, for whatever reason, decided to act towards him the way he's been acting towards you for so long, Bruce. That was dumb, I knew immediately, and if he'd had a gun within reach at that moment I don't know that he wouldn't have shot me.
"He didn't have, though, and after a second of his screaming at me Jayden started to cry. I think something clicked for him then. I don't know what, exactly, but he was silent the rest of the night. Early this morning he started asking me what it might be like if he, you know, made an effort. I didn't give him any false hope; I told him it wasn't going to be easy. I knew he'd turn and walk out the door if he came along and found out I'd inflated anything at all, so I was as honest as I could be. Somehow, he agreed to give it a try anyway."
He laughed weakly, shaking his head. "I don't know how it all worked out, to tell you the truth, Bruce. Looking back on it, it was insane. But it worked," he grinned. "It worked, and he came, and...I can't believe it."
"Nor can I, Master Dick," Alfred, who had been misty-eyed for the entirety of Jason's visit and was so again after hearing the story of how it had come about, said. "I suppose one might chalk it up as a Christmas miracle, if one believed in such things."
"It was luck," the billionaire countered. "Luck, and quick thinking on Dick's part. You took advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime situation, and it played out in your favor. Thank you," he said sincerely.
"I'm just glad it seems to have ended...well, better than awful," Dick replied. For all that things had still been strained between Bruce and Jason when the latter had left late in the afternoon – the few exchanges they'd shared had focused entirely on Jayden – the extended visit and the promise of another trip to the house sometime early in the new year suggested that progress was not only possible, but imminent. "Although...you two were awfully quiet today," he turned to his other brothers. "How do you feel about all of this?"
Tim's mouth tightened. "Honestly, Dick, I just tried to stay clear of him," he confessed. "I didn't want to screw things up by reminding him I was here, since I know how he thinks of me, but I didn't want to leave, either, just in case he...I don't know, was pulling a ruse or something just to get in the house. There was a lot going on, and I didn't really think it necessary or wise to put my two cents in."
"...I understand, but I hope it doesn't stay like that forever," Dick sighed. "I'd like to see you two at least on civil speaking terms at some point. I know there's a lot of other things that have to be worked out before then, but...well, hopefully his being able to come to terms a little with Bruce will help his opinion of you. What about you, Dami?" he queried of his youngest brother.
"I had nothing to say, so I said nothing."
Dick gave him a long look. "You're still trying to read him and balance your own opinion out with everything you've heard said about him and seen of him in the field?" he made an educated guess.
"...Yes," the teen admitted grudgingly. "Maybe."
"That shouldn't be a surprise," Bruce contributed. "Damian's never really met Jason as a civilian before."
"Which means he can offer a fresh opinion. So, little D, what did you think?" Dick inquired.
"The baby is acceptable. She kind of looks like Tiny did when he was that age, so...maybe more than acceptable. Her father might turn out okay." He paused. "...That's up to him at this point."
"Well, that's better than his first opinion of me was," Tim snorted.
"...I was younger then," Damian stated slowly. "In any case, parts of my original assessment of you still stand today as correct."
Before Damian could retort, Johnny slipped from his father's knees to sit on the floor, the ball he had been silently playing with clutched in his hands. "Unca Tim!" he called. "Ball!" With that he pushed it towards the man he'd addressed, looking disappointed when it stopped only partway there. "...Oh."
"I'll get it, Johnny," a corner of Tim's mouth tilted up as he, too, moved to the rug, sitting where the toy had stopped. "Here," he prepared to roll it back.
"No!" the boy protested. "Unca Dami want ball!"
"...Whoa, little boy," Barbara whistled. "You don't know what you're getting into there."
"John B. Grayson, future UN peacekeeper," Dick joked. "Two countries get feisty, he sits them down and makes them play ball."
"Nicely, I hope," Alfred directed pointedly at his two continually sparring charges.
"Yeah," Tim said, glancing over as Damian dropped into a spot equidistant from himself and Johnny. "I don't think he'll let them get away with anything that isn't nice."
"...Pass the ball, Drake, you're holding up the game," the teen said with only half the usual distaste in his voice.
Bruce watched them play for a long moment, Johnny laughing happily every time they completed a circle without incident. "...Just aiming to mend all of the family fences today, are we?" he nudged Dick's foot.
The younger man smiled broadly. "Made a pretty good start, I think." He glanced to where his son was forcing his brothers to cooperate, and his grin grew. "...Did you have a good day today, Bruce? Honestly?"
The billionaire sighed. "It was a hard day, chum," he replied. "But yes, it...it was a good one, too. A very good one."
"Then it was all worth it," Dick judged.
"...Merry Christmas, Dick," Bruce wished him, a proud smile shining in his eyes.
"The same to you, Bruce," a sunny grin shone. "The same to all of us."