The smell of food drifting from the kitchen makes Roy’s stomach grumble, loud enough that Lian turns away from the TV to give him a look of deep annoyance. Roy offers an apologetic grin, which does little to endear him to her, so he decides to leave the room before he ruins She-Ra and the Princesses of Power any further. The scent is even stronger in the kitchen, and now Roy’s mouth is actually watering.
“God, that smells good,” he mutters, peering over Jason’s shoulder. He will never cease to be surprised that Jason Todd, the notorious Red Hood, scourge of Gotham City’s worst neighbourhoods, is actually something of a domestic god. Jason turns with one sardonically raised eyebrow that is painfully similar to the looks Lian has started to give him and he realises, with a pleased jolt somewhere around his heart, that Jason has insinuated himself into this little unorthodox nucleus and isn’t leaving any time soon.
“It better, or I’ve done Alfred a disservice,” he says, still stirring the pot.
“How long?” Roy asks.
“Few more minutes. Get me the spaghetti?”
Roy does as he’s told, handing the jar to Jason and leaning against the counter to watch him salt the water and dump a more-than-generous handful of pasta into the pot, because Jason has rules about pasta that he says he picked up in Italy when he was also learning something else that was decidedly less innocent than cooking.
They have a jar specially for spaghetti. And a pot specially for pasta, with a built-in colander. And Jason is setting a timer for ten minutes and stirring the spaghetti as it begins to soften.
Roy wonders when his life had become so domestic. When had things settled, taken the shape of a home rather than just existing day-to-day? It makes no sense, and yet all the sense in the world, because despite the outside still looking like a pair of devil-may-care antiheroes, inside, in this sanctum… it’s just the three of them. A family, a home. God, it’s surreal.
Roy blinks. Jason is holding out a wooden spoon, hand cupped beneath it, looking expectant. Roy leans forward, lets Jason tip the spoon up slightly, and flavour explodes on his tongue, a rich, delicious burst of garlic and oregano that has him letting out a soft groan.
“So damn good,” he says, and Jason smirks triumphantly, turning back to his cooking. “You just gonna keep using that spoon?”
Jason rolls his eyes. “Lian has half your DNA and I’m pretty sure you and I have shared spit enough times that I’m immune to whatever nasty shit you’re contagious with,” he says, stirring the pot pointedly before replacing the lid. “Table. Set it.”
Roy snorts. “So bossy,” he said, planting a kiss on Jason’s cheek before he can lean away. “Lian, wash your hands!”
He’s halfway through placing the glasses when the intercom buzzes, breaking the domestic idyll. He meets Jason’s eyes, and they both go for the weapons kept in strategic places out of Lian’s reach but well within their own. An ambush is unlikely to be foretold by the damn doorbell, but… hey, you never know, bad guys are fucking weirdoes.
Crossbow nocked, Roy presses his back to the door and pokes the button for the video feed. He breathes a sigh of relief.
“It’s Dinah,” he says, though now he’s wondering what exactly she wants and why she didn’t call ahead – it’s not as if she can just drop by on the way home, after all. Jason nods, returning his gun to its place on top of the cupboard, safety on.
Lian appears from the bathroom, eyes widening as the door opens and Dinah appears.
“DINAH!” she squeals, practically launching herself into the older woman’s arms. Dinah’s breath is knocked out of her, because even a great martial artist is never prepared for the sheer unpredictability of childhood enthusiasm, and she wheezes out a laugh.
“Hey there, sweetie!” she says, getting a better hold on the squirming little girl and settling her in her arms. “Jeez, you’re getting heavy.”
“I swear she’s a beanstalk,” Roy says with a grin, folding his arms and leaning against the wall. “She’s taller every time I look at her.”
“Jayjay says I’m gonna be strong,” Lian says proudly, flexing her muscles with a giggle.
“Oh, does he? I’m sure he’s right, honey,” Dinah says with a chuckle. “However, I’m going to have to put you down.” And she does, despite Lian’s pouting.
“Hey, baby girl, go ask Jay if he needs any help?”
Lian sighs, as if it’s the worst, most horrific thing she could possibly do right now, but she does as she’s told, leaving Roy and Dinah alone. Dinah looks good, serene enough, which is always a rarity in their line of work. Roy smiles.
“So, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
Dinah smiles back, sticking her hands back in the pockets of her leather jacket. “Actually, I came here to extend an invitation,” she says. “For, uh, Christmas.”
Roy frowns slightly, rubbing his chin. “Christmas, huh?”
She nods. “Yeah, I thought it would be nice if you and Lian could… come by. Spend it with us.”
Roy looks down, stares at the floor, at the toes of Dinah’s Doc Martens.
“And Jason, too,” she adds hastily. But that’s not what Roy is thinking about.
“Does Ollie know you’re here?” he asks softly. Her eyes dart to his face and away again, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, and he probably would have if he wasn’t, you know, an archer. That tells him everything he needs to know. He sighs. “It’s ok, Dinah, you don’t have to keep trying to drag us into the same room. I appreciate it, but… he doesn’t want it, I don’t want it. It’s fine.”
He wants it to be fine. It’s really not fine, not in the slightest, but maybe if he keeps saying it his fuckups won’t be so cumbersome anymore. They’re weighing less on him, but Ollie has never been one to allow him to get back up without commenting on how he tripped.
Dinah makes a face that looks ridiculously sad and Roy feels like shit when he sees it. She sighs. “Maybe next year?” she asks mildly, reaching out and straightening the collar of his shirt (it’s one of Jason’s, he picked up the wrong thing that morning). It’s a painfully maternal gesture, makes Roy’s heart hurt.
“Maybe next year,” he concedes. A lot can happen in a year, after all, although he won’t be holding his breath for an apology from Ollie. He’d die of suffocation doing that. She forces herself to brighten, straightening her shoulders, hitching on a smile over that disappointment.
“I do have presents for Lian, though!” she says. Roy grins at that. At least Ollie remembers his sort-of granddaughter, he’ll give him that. “They’re in the car.”
When Dinah returns with a large box and a smaller pile perched on top, Roy whistles. “You spoil her,” he says, shaking his head. Dinah snorts.
“You say that like you don’t,” she retorts, grinning. The presents are piled in the hallway, and Roy now has to figure out where to hide them for three weeks lest Little Miss Inquisitive find them.
Dinah claps her hands together. “Well, I’ll be going,” she says.
“Wait, uh… do you wanna stay for dinner?” he gestures back at the kitchen, and Jason steps out, arms folded, giving Dinah an appraising look.
“There’s plenty,” he says, and Dinah looks mildly surprised at that.
“Thank you, but I have to decline,” she says with an apologetic shrug. “I have a dinner date later.”
Lian gets a hug and big kiss goodbye, which results in a large, black lipstick mark on her cheek and furious, disgusted rubbing. Jason gets a polite nod and Roy a warm embrace, and then she’s gone, and they can finally sit down and eat.
Jason looks thoughtful during dinner, like he wants to say something. Roy keeps glancing at him, trying to coax it out of him, but Jason pulls down the shutters and focuses on his food and Lian’s rousing monologue on the first three episodes of Hilda. He always engages with her, makes her feel heard and appreciated… God, he’s the best with her. It puts a smile on Roy’s face, makes his chest swell with warmth.
It’s much later, Lian’s been in bed for ages, the warehouse is quiet except for the side door opening and closing. Roy usually sleeps when Jason goes on patrol – he trusts him, deeply, knows he’ll call if he needs help, knows he’ll come back in one piece – and tonight is no different, but the weight shifting the bed, the pressure of lips on his own wakes him up. He hums into it, raising a sleep-heavy arm to weave his fingers in thick, shadowy curls.
“Roy…” Jason purrs, voice hot and rough and just that is enough to send shivers down Roy’s spine, enough to wake him up and pull Jason closer and flip them over, pressing him to the mattress insistently.
Roy can never get enough of how Jason feels, around him, beneath him. The way he sounds, the way he moves, the way he touches… everything is a kaleidoscope of rough, hard bliss. Jason moans into the pillows, back contorting gloriously in the light from the streetlamp outside, knuckles white against the sheets as Roy pushes deeper, gasping against Jason’s neck, tasting the salt of his sweat as he chases the high they’re both after.
Roy worms his hand beneath Jason’s hips, gets a hand around his cock, grins against Jason’s skin as he arches with a choked growl. Jason bucks into his touch, looks over his shoulder with eyes that burn in the darkness.
“Harder,” he demands, his voice sin, and Roy bites down where neck meets shoulder, his hips snapping forward at a greater pace now.
Jason stills, tight as fuck around him, and Roy strips his cock through his orgasm, his come painting the towel beneath him. Roy’s hips jerk erratically, his balls tight and his groan deep as he comes, deep inside Jason, deep as he can go.
He collapses to the side, panting, one arm thrown above his head. For a moment, Jason just lies there, a vampire grin of wicked satisfaction on his face, before he realises he’s on a wet patch and half-rolls onto his side.
“Do your job,” he demands, and Roy sighs.
“No rest for the weary, huh?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Jason waves a hand dismissively and rolls back onto his stomach when Roy’s finished cleaning up, having tossed the dirty towel into the corner unceremoniously.
As much as Roy would like to just be blissed out for a while, Jason’s got that thoughtful look again, arms buried beneath his pillows as he scrunches his nose ever-so-slightly.
“What’s up, Jaybird?” Roy asks. Jason looks to the side.
“Well… I didn’t wanna say earlier. Not in front of Lian, because she might get excited, and I didn’t want you to feel pressured... Especially because, you know, Dinah…”
Roy chuckles. “Out with it, Jay,” he says, poking him in the shoulder gently. Jason groans, sits up, runs a hand through his hair (which just makes it messier and Jason is distractingly hot like that, all sex-mussed and loose-limbed and covered with hickies…).
“Ok, so, uh… Bruce.”
“Bruce,” Roy echoes, allowing Jason his time, and wondering where the hell this is going because he doesn’t exactly want to think about Batman while he’s still in the afterglow.
“Bruce called me, and, uh… well, he invited me back to the Manor for Christmas. Like, I know it was Alfred’s idea and possibly Tim and Dick’s? I’m not sure on that one, but it was Bruce who did the calling which was, uh, fucking weird…”
Roy blinks. He sits up, legs bent, folded arms resting on his knees. That, Roy had not been expecting. He’d been expecting something only quite serious but not super serious, because Jason was thoughtful instead of dark and brooding, but this… this is a complete unknown. Jason’s doing that thing he does where he sucks at his teeth while he waits for Roy to say something.
“So, uh… did… did you want to go?”
Jason is silent, head dipped, hiding behind the thickness of his locks.
“I… I kinda do?” he says in a small voice that sounds way more like the wayward boy in the spandex shorts and the cape than the infamous Red Hood, the most feared by Gotham’s criminal underbelly.
It’s Roy’s turn to be quiet now. Christmas with just him and Lian… But he can feel Jason’s gaze on him before his thoughts can go further.
“I’m not going without you and Lian, though,” he says, with unwavering certainty. “You guys have to come too.”
Roy rubs at his chin again. Ok, change of plans: Christmas with the Big Bad Bat and family, in that stuffy old manor that’s packed with old grey memories passed… It wouldn’t be like he’d be alone, there would be Jason and Lian, and Dick, of course, and he’s always liked Alfred well enough… He realises that he’d be there for Jason, too. That Jason is just as scared of going back to the Wayne fold for a holiday as Roy himself is of setting foot back in Star City.
He turns his head, gives Jason a lopsided smile. “Let’s do it,” he says. Jason breaks into a grin that’s like fucking sunlight, that strips away the years and the hardships and just makes him shine and God, Roy’s gonna have a damn heart attack because of that smile.
Roy hauls him in for a kiss, hunger and reverence, and it makes Jason hum against his lips, makes him enfold Roy in his arms and pull him back down to the bed.
So, here they are. Slowly pulling around a hairpin turn on a road with no fucking guardrails because fuck you, I guess, and there she looms, Gothic and dismal and looking like something a Brontë would write about (he’s actually quite proud of that, that he’s been absorbing Jason’s knowledge): Wayne Manor. The trunk is full of presents Roy wasn’t exactly thrilled about having to get and Lian finally comes out of the last two hours of car-induced torpor when Jason pulls to a stop at the huge black gates.
“It’s scary,” she says, peering from the window.
“You got that right,” Jason mutters, but Roy knows his fear isn’t for the same reason as Lian’s. He reaches over to the steering wheel, threads his fingers through Jason’s.
“Hey. We got this. It’s gonna be fine.”
He doesn’t actually believe that, but he’s become a master at saying it, over the years. Jason nods, and winds the window down. A light comes from somewhere in the stone gatepost on the driver’s side and the gates swing open on their own with a distinctly ominous creak. It’s still as horrific as when he’d visited before, on Ollie’s heels for some fancy party where Bruce Wayne was a whole other type of terrifying.
“Ghosts?” asks Lian, a tremor in her voice as Jason pulls forward. He chuckles.
“No, princess, biolocks. There are scanners for my retinas and other vitals.”
Lian nods, appeased. She understands what those are, and Roy can’t help but puff out his chest with pride. His baby girl is so smart.
They pull up the driveway, past the front gardens laid thick with untouched snow, and Lian gasps.
“Daddy! Jayjay! We can build a snowman!” she exclaims. Her seatbelt is off as soon as the car stops and she’s practically vibrating in the backseat, unable to get out because of child locks. Roy laughs.
“Just a sec, baby girl,” he says, shaking his head, and the door is hardly open before she’s outside with a joyous shriek, running across the snow. Roy shuts the door, taking a few steps after her before folding his arms and just watching, a broad smile on his face.
Then he notices Jason still hasn’t gotten out of the car. His arms are on the steering wheel, his forehead pressed against them. Roy opens the driver door, crouching beside him.
“Hey,” he murmurs, a hand on his thigh. “You got this, ok? You can do this.”
“I can fucking jump off a building and shoot some fucker between the eyes without a problem,” Jason grits out, “but I can’t face my own fucking family.”
The self-loathing is thick, the rage directed inside.
“Jaybird, babe, look at me.”
Jason, to Roy’s relief, does, but his face has a bitter twist to it, which Roy hates seeing. It reminds Roy of the broken, unhappy man that tumbled through his window, bleeding in more ways than one, and Roy never wants Jason to go back to that emptiness.
“It’s gonna be fine,” he says, vehemently, with a certainty he wasn’t feeling earlier but now kind of does. Jason obviously doesn’t believe him for a second, and is about to scathingly voice that opinion, when a thump makes Roy’s head snap forward with a yelp.
“Bullseye!” Lian yells, arms thrown up in the air in triumph, and it takes a moment of disbelief before Jason bursts out laughing, his head thrown back against the headrest, slapping his thigh. Roy scrubs at his hair, getting the snow out, and whips round with a predatory grin.
“Firing at your poor old dad, huh?” He grabs his own fistful of clean snow, keeping it looser so it doesn’t hurt on impact. Lian sees what he’s doing, lets out a scream that’s more glee than fear, and scampers away, her escape hindered by the thick snow and her tiny legs. Roy gives chase with a roar, deliberately missing with the snowball by a hair’s breadth, and easily catches up with her, snatching her up in his arms. She kicks and squirms, still shrieking with laughter, but that abruptly stops when he dumps her in a snow drift.
“That’s child abuse, man!” Jason calls, still laughing, but now out of the car, and halfway towards them. Roy turns, eyes narrowed, smile shark-like, and the laughter falls away from Jason’s face. “Don’t you freaking dare, Harper…” he warns, holding up his hands defensively, taking a few steps back. Roy ignores him, scooping up snow and lobbing it with deadly precision right in Jason’s face.
Roy whoops, but his victory isn’t sweet for long. Lian, with a ferocious snarl, fucking hamstrings him with her whole body, knocking him backwards into the drift she’s just clambered out of. She’s packed with snow, breathless and red-cheeked, but that doesn’t stop her. She leaps onto Roy with a roar of her own and begins burying him with single-minded intensity.
“That’s it, Lian, kick his butt!” Jason yells his encouragement and kicks the sole of one of Roy’s boots with a vicious laugh. “Suffer, Harper!”
“Revenge!” Lian cries, reaching up to Jason for a pair of high-fives which he happily gives.
Roy rises from the snow, spluttering, rubbing it out of his face and hair. “God, you two suck!” he complains, but he doesn’t mean it, could never mean it. It’s worth it, honestly, to see how good they look together, how happy Lian is when the both of them are there. It must show on his face, because suddenly Jason’s expression softens as well, and Lian makes a gagging noise.
“Have your moments where I can’t see them,” she says, flouncing off melodramatically, and Jason snorts his laughter.
“Come on, Royboy,” he says, holding out a hand. Roy is almost on his feet when Jason lets go, dumping him back in the snow.
“Aw, man, screw you,” Roy says with absolutely no edge, but Jason dodges the kick aimed at his legs with a cackle and heads after Lian, walking backwards with a wicked glint in his eye.
It’s good to see Jason like this. It’s good to see him loose and carefree, having fun, when he’d been so tightly wound for the last few days Roy was sure he’d burst a blood vessel. Roy hoists himself up from the snow, shaking it off, and follows his boyfriend and daughter to the front door of the Manor.
Jason’s nerves return once they’re there, but he doesn’t have time to stew in them before the door opens. Alfred is practically beaming.
“Welcome home, Master Jason,” he says, and Jason’s breath hitches. Roy places a hand on the small of his back, steadying him, grounding him, stopping the world from spiralling. It seems to snap Jason out of whatever he was getting lost in, and he relaxes ever-so-slightly.
“Hey, Alf,” he says, and Alfred’s arms are around him, Jason’s around Alfred, and Roy smiles.
Once they part, Alfred’s attention goes to Roy and Lian. “And I must say it is a pleasure to have you here as well, Mr Harper. This must be Miss Lian. I trust you enjoyed your little romp in the snow?”
Lian sticks to Roy’s legs, hesitant like most children are with strangers. Jason grins.
“Lian, this is Alfred. He’s awesome.”
“I do try, Sir,” Alfred says amiably. “I took the liberty of preparing some hot chocolate, which I am certain Miss Lian will be in requirement of. Also, gingerbread biscuits.”
Lian perks up at that, emerging from her safe haven close to Roy, and Roy helps her out of her boots and coat.
They’re still at the front door when someone else comes their way, from the direction of, Roy vaguely remembers, the kitchen.
“Uncle Dick!” Lian cries, immediately glowing because Dick has that effect on pretty much everybody in existence. Dick swoops down on her, lifts her up and spins her easily.
“Hey there, jelly bean!” he crows, planting a big kiss on her forehead as she giggles.
“What the hell are you wearing?” Jason asks with a snort, and Dick has the gall to look offended. He spreads an arm, propping Lian up with the other.
“This is haute couture,” he says, sounding perfectly indignant, and Roy lets out his own bark of laughter. He’s wearing the ugliest Christmas sweater Roy has ever seen, but it’s so perfectly Dick that he can’t help but find it endearing. It has a penguin wearing a Santa hat, and holding a microphone, which gives Roy the horrible suspicion it might even play music. As if to confirm that terrible hypothesis, Dick presses the front of his sweater, and a cheap, tinny rendition of Jingle Bells starts to play. Alfred looks decidedly unamused, but Lian looks delighted.
“Bruce hates it!” Dick announces happily. Jason rolls his eyes.
“I can’t begin to fathom why,” he says, his voice dripping with sarcasm, and Dick scoffs in reply. He places Lian down and pulls Roy into a hug.
“Great to have you here, man,” he says, and damn, it’s good to see Dick again too. Dick turns to Jason, and there’s a moment of tension, taut like a bowstring.
It doesn’t last. Dick tugs him into a hug and slaps him on the back, smiling that bright, trademark smile. “Hey, little wing!” he says. “Glad you showed up.”
Jason nods, a little flustered, but he seems pleased enough, even with that nickname. Alfred presents them with slippers, leaving their boots by the door on a large rubber mat, takes their coats and leads them to the kitchen, in the direction of the delicious smell of baking and spices.
The kitchen is way more packed than Roy expected. It seems the entire Batclan is here, or at least most of it, gathered around the kitchen island which is littered with cooling racks, all laden with gingerbread cookies, enough to feed a small army – which, Roy supposes, this is. Tim notices them first, perched on a stool with one leg up (not quite hiding his Stormtrooper Christmas sweater – is this a thing?) and he salutes them with his mug. Damian is intent on decorating a bunch of cookies shaped like reindeer, a look of intense concentration on his face, and it seems Stephanie Brown and Cassandra are giving directions he isn’t appreciating. Roy doesn’t actually know who the black kid in the light-up sweater is, he’s new, but he supposes they’ll be introduced eventually. There are people missing – there is a conspicuous lack of the Bat Patriarch, for instance – but Roy will take small blessings where he can find them, for now.
Jason stands still in the doorway, and when Roy looks down, he sees his fists clench. It’s not anger, though… it’s nerves. Roy slips his fingers around Jason’s wrist, feeling the thud of his pulse, worms his fingers through Jason’s. Jason remains tense, but responds to the touch.
“Everyone say hi!” Dick orders, picking up a tray with its own collection of mugs on it.
Stephanie and Cassandra wave. Damian gives them a withering look before returning to his decorating, which, now Roy takes a look, is actually pretty good. The new kid holds his hand out to Roy.
“Duke Thomas,” he says.
“Roy Harper,” Roy answers. Lian, he realises, is once again behind his legs, the presence of so many unknown faces incredibly intimidating.
“Hey, sweetie, I’m Steph!” Stephanie is there now, crouching down with a smile. “Wanna decorate some cookies?”
Lian looks longingly at the island, the piping bags calling her name. Roy strokes her head.
“Go on, baby girl, I’m right here.”
“No biting,” Cassandra says with great seriousness and confidence. Lian looks confused.
“She means we don’t bite,” Tim says with a wink, and Stephanie heaves her onto a stool between Damian and Duke. Cassandra hands her a piping bag and a rack, and Lian starts intently copying what Damian is doing.
“If you want somewhere quieter, we’re in the den,” Dick says. Jason nods quickly, before he can catch himself, and Alfred immediately places two more mugs on the tray Dick is carrying.
Roy hesitates, glancing back at Lian, who now seems immersed in her artistic pursuit, her little tongue stuck out in concentration. Damian, he notices, is making the exact same face.
“Hey, kiddo, me and Jay are gonna be in the den, ok?” he says, kissing her on top of her head.
“If she needs you, we’ll come get you,” Tim promises, and it puts Roy at ease – Tim is trustworthy. He nods, and together he and Jason follow Dick down one of the Manor’s gloomy corridors to the den.
Roy remembers this room, he’s pretty sure he’s been in it with Ollie, although back then it wasn’t occupied by the biggest Christmas tree he’s ever seen, its foot absolutely stuffed with presents. A fire crackles in the fireplace, and Dick was right that it’s quieter here, even though the human presence is pretty similar: the conversation is muted, and there’s the sound of traditional carols wafting from an expensive hi-fi system, barely loud enough to hear.
“Hey, look who’s here!” Dick says with a grin, placing the tray on the coffee table. The first to greet them is Koriand’r, rising with her usual powerful grace from her seat and pulling Roy into a hug.
“It’s so good to see you!” she says, beaming. To Jason’s visible shock, he gets a hug too. “And you too, Jason.”
He nods stiffly. There are greetings from Barbara, Kate Kane – who nods graciously from her place on an armchair – and they’re introduced to Luke Fox, who has a really strong handshake, and then the room goes quiet. Jason meets Bruce’s eyes, the coffee table between them, like a necessary barrier. They’re both incredibly still and tense, Jason’s jaw tight, Bruce’s face like granite.
“This would be way more dramatic if you weren’t holding a baby, Bruce,” Kate says drolly, nudging the man’s knee with her foot, and Roy can’t help but chuckle at that, because, well… the terror of Gotham’s criminals, he who is vengeance and the night, the Batman himself, is indeed holding a baby, and a particularly adorable one at that. The baby giggles, and there’s no way any tension can resist a baby laughing. It drains from the room like someone’s pulled a plug.
Bruce clears his throat. “Glad you could make it, Jason,” he says, and Jason shrugs.
“Gotta be somewhere for Christmas, right?” he says, and perches on the arm of the sofa where Dick and Kory are, arms folded. Roy rolls his eyes at his attempts to look cool and aloof and takes a seat next to Kory.
“How is she getting on?” he asks, nodding towards the baby in Bruce’s arms. Kory’s smile is so bright it rivals the sun.
“She’s doing wonderfully!” she says. “I wasn’t expecting her to start floating so soon, but she is!”
As if on cue, Mar’i Grayson, the world’s first Tamaranean/human hybrid, floats out of Bruce’s arms with another happy giggle. Bruce gently tugs her back down with a deep, rumbling chuckle Roy definitely didn’t expect from someone like him.
“She’s definitely a Flying Grayson,” Dick says proudly, and that earns him several groans from around the room.
Roy’s halfway through his hot chocolate – which is sinfully delicious, Christ, he can already feel it on his waistline – and watching Jason sip his own when he hears excited footsteps stampeding down the corridor.
“Daddy! Jayjay! Look!”
Lian rushes in, dragging Tim behind her. Tim is precariously balancing a plate, which Lian demands from him and eagerly shows the two of them. It’s stacked with gingerbread Christmas trees, decorated in bright green and red and with small edible baubles stuck in the icing. The success of the execution is… questionable, but the sentiment is definitely there. Lian is extraordinarily proud, her chest puffed out.
“Wow, princess, they look amazing!” Jason exclaims.
“Have one, Jayjay!” she urges, holding the plate up. He takes one and bites into it, nodding.
As Lian offers her pride and joy around the room, shyness gone since her mission is too important, Dick leans forward with a grin that’s pure mischief. Tim is trying to stifle laughter with the sleeves of his sweater. Jason looks like a deer caught in headlights, all colour drained from his face.
“’Jayjay’?” Dick echoes. Jason groans.
“Only Lian calls me that,” he mutters.
“You realise we’re all gonna call you that now, right?” Dick says, dodging the kick aimed at him with a laugh.
“This is fantastic!” Tim wheezes. “This is glorious!”
Roy leaves Jason to be teased – because he kind of deserves it, honestly – and looks for Lian. She’s stopped near Bruce and is gazing at Mar’i in fascination.
“Can I see the baby?” she asks, and Bruce nods, lowering her so Lian can get a better look. Kate leans forward, propping her chin on her hand with a smile.
“Her name is Mar’i,” Bruce says. Lian peers at her.
“She has funny eyes,” she says.
“They’re like mine,” Kory states, and Lian nods solemnly.
“Is this your baby, Auntie Kory?”
“I helped too, Lian,” Dick says, leaving the Roast of Jason Todd just to sound far too proud of himself. That earns him another groan.
Lian, however, has no time to bother with Dick’s questionable sense of humour. She’s too enraptured with the tiny baby with the ridiculous amount of hair and huge green eyes. Mar’i stares back, a hand in her mouth, laughing around it. There’s the sound of a camera shutter, and Tim straightens up from where he’s snuck round to Kate’s side.
“Thank me later,” he says magnanimously, with a small bow.
Roy chuckles, and looks to the side. Jason is watching, closely, intently, and he’s… smiling. It’s small, and soft, and it melts Roy’s heart.
“Hey,” he murmurs, and Jason seems to come back from somewhere very, very far away. He shakes his head, folds his arms.
“Yeah?” And those walls go right back up. They’ve been up since they set foot in the Manor, and Roy just wants to tear them down, scrabble at the bricks until his fingers are raw and bloody. Jason is so fucking far away right now, and Roy doesn’t know how to reach him.
“Nothing,” Roy replies, and turns back to Lian and Mar’i.
Barbara and Luke leave a little while later – it’s the Gordons’ first Christmas with the Foxes, apparently, and the Commissioner is having trouble adjusting to something that’s not just him and Barbara and needs all the help he can get – and that’s when Roy notices Jason has disappeared. Lian has settled in, not shy at all anymore, and is now being shown how to play dreidel by Kate. Roy is surprised at how… domestic everything feels. He’d been expecting heavy, distant, cold; instead he’s gotten warmth and familiarity and open arms. It’s a bit of shock.
But there’s someone missing, so he leaves to find Jason. He gets help from Alfred, who jerks his head subtly towards a corridor that leads to the back of the Manor.
Across a dark… ballroom? Is this actually a ballroom? Roy sees one half of a pair of French doors open, the greyish end-of-the-day light only just casting a familiar silhouette against the glass. The door leads to a huge patio, and on that patio is Jason. He’s halfway through a cigarette, blowing out smoke into the pallor of early dusk.
Jason doesn’t jump, but he does quickly stub out the cigarette against the wall, stuffing the butt in his pocket. He doesn’t say anything.
“Taking refuge?” Roy asks, stepping outside. Jason’s shoulders tense, rising guiltily.
“No,” he mutters. Stubborn as ever, and Roy gives him a pointed look, the look he always does when he’s being like this. Jason huffs. “Fine, ok. Maybe a little.”
Roy shrugs. “I get it, you know? It’s overwhelming. There’s a fuckton of people and this is your first time back in the fold. This is scary, Jaybird.”
Jason perches on the tall stone edge of a flowerbed, hands in his pockets. “I… I guess I expected something a bit more like Christmas was… before.” He huffs again. “I kinda forgot just how different everything is. How much time has… has really gone by.”
Roy takes a seat beside him. He can smell the smoke, acrid and sharp, smell the nicotine, and, as always, is now caught between revulsion and the deep, keen desire for his own. He represses it, but it’s now Jason’s turn to give him a pointed look, the one where Roy feels like he’s stripping away layers to reveal the small, desperate creature inside Roy that will always, always, want another fix, just one more.
“Sorry for smoking,” he murmurs. Roy shakes his head.
“S’fine. We’re talking about you. How different was Christmas before?”
Jason tilts his head back, staring upwards. Roy follows his gaze to a virtual labyrinth of chimneys and rooftiles and jutting windows and gutters and a mess of other architectural elements he can’t name. He half-thinks Jason might not answer, he’s quiet for so long.
“It was… just me, Bruce and Alfie,” he says eventually. “Just the three of us. Dick wasn’t here. I… I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had an actual Christmas. Hell, I don’t think I ever did have one. We decorated that huge Christmas tree together, and there were presents – things that were just for me… and stockings. I had a stocking full of stuff…” He shakes his head. “I didn’t think I deserved it. You know, I think… I think I remember crying?”
Jason’s voice trembles slightly. Roy inches closer, presses their arms together. Jason leans into it, stretching his legs out.
“Alfred will be pissed we went outside in slippers,” he muses, and it’s clear the reminiscing is over. Roy snorts.
“He’ll live,” he says, and Jason gasps in mock outrage.
“How dare you be so blasé about disappointing Alfred?” He presses a hand to his chest. “Mr Harper, I thought better of you!”
Roy stands and stomps about, just to be bratty. “Fuck the police!”
“That’s my line, goody-two-shoes,” Jason says, laughing.
It’s good to see Jason laugh, Jason is so handsome when he laughs. It’s good to see him relax again, a little less closed-off, a little less far away. Back within reach.
“Sometimes I want to be the bad, corrupting influence,” Roy announces. He stands right in front of Jason, twines his fingers in those messy curls, leaning in for a brief kiss. When he pulls away, he makes a face. “You taste like an ashtray.”
“It was only one!” Jason protests, bumping Roy’s leg with his own in the world’s most pathetic kick.
“Wanna go back inside?” Roy asks. Jason looks at the door. It’s gotten far darker, the light almost entirely gone, everything blurry at the edges with the VHS-noise of a winter evening.
He stands, and Roy lets him go first.
Roy had been expecting a sit-down dinner, but it turns out that Christmas Eve at Wayne Manor is way less formal than he imagined. The ridiculously long mahogany table groans under the weight of more buffet food than even an army would need… but then again, this is a house full of people so athletically honed their metabolisms are ridiculous (for normal humans anyway – Roy remembers Wally’s appetite and he’s glad Wally isn’t here, he’d clear the buffet in minutes). And there’s an alien, too – Roy knows just how much food Kory can pack away when she actually wants to.
Perhaps the amount of food isn’t too much after all.
“What are these?” he asks, pointing at a plate full of small pastry parcels of some kind, as he’s picking stuff out for Lian.
“Sausage rolls, Mr Harper,” Alfred answers. That explains absolutely nothing.
“Just try one,” Jason says, rolling his eyes, and practically forces one into Roy’s mouth. Roy glares as he chews, but his expression brightens once he realises how good sausage rolls actually are. He valiantly ignores Jason’s smug look and instead hands a plate to Lian, who immediately rushes off to find Dick and Kory. He tries not to feel too unwanted. It’s fine.
He meanders, barely remembering this part of the Manor though he’s sure he’s probably seen it at least once because he does remember eating here, but… well, there wasn’t much to interest a bored fourteen-year-old back then except Dick’s PS2, and that was in a completely different room. This room is mostly more dark wood panelling and fancy sideboards, with a dash of stuffy portraits and an honest-to-God suit of armour. Bruce’s tastes are polar opposite to Ollie’s, but how much of that is because of actual personal sensitivity is a moot point, considering how much of a shrine to memory this place it.
Moved by the tide of general conversation, Roy finds himself washed up in front of the many paintings. This one is… very different from the others, the ones with obnoxious landscapes and insufferable-looking men in wigs and high collars. This one is a man reading by candlelight, more of a snatched moment in time than a portrait someone sat for. It looks peaceful, soft around the edges.
“It was one of my mother’s favourites.”
Roy nearly jumps out of his skin. He’s quite proud of the fact he doesn’t drop any food on the ridiculously expensive rug he’s standing on, and he clears his throat to hide the fact his heart’s still pounding from the shock. You never, ever get used to being snuck up on by Batman, even when he’s wearing a Christmas sweater with a reindeer on it. Dear God, the Christmas sweaters really are a thing, aren’t they?
Bruce takes a sip of his drink… which might be in a whiskey glass, but is most definitely not whiskey. It looks more like… Coke? It’s something dark and fizzy, anyway.
“I keep trying to offer it to Kate, but she says it looks better here. Apparently the Kanes were the only heirs left to it, though very distant. My grandfather fought hard to get it out of the Swiss vault it was trapped in, it was… the only thing left of the European side at all.”
That speaks volumes, and, again, that’s something Roy never expected to learn. He feels awkward, standing there holding a plate of food in front of a painting now as immeasurably sad as this.
“Not spending Christmas with Oliver?”
He’s not even trying with the Brucie Wayne persona, and the small talk – or lack thereof – proves it, but then again why would anyone be expected to wear a mask at home, surrounded by people who don’t need to see it? Roy considers not saying anything, but then he just sighs.
“Yeah. Dinah asked, but it came from her, not Ollie.”
“I see.” There is a long pause. “Oliver is less compassionate than he cares to admit, sometimes.”
Roy actually turns and stares at him. He can’t help it. “I’m sorry, but that’s a bit rich, coming from you.”
He didn’t mean to sound quite as icy – he is a guest in this man’s house, after all, and there is nothing but the tenuous connection of a romantic relationship to his once-estranged son keeping him from being thrown out on his ass – but he can’t help it. He thinks of Jason, he thinks of the rage and the need for vengeance and the sheer heartbreak. He thinks of Dick, of the months spent floating in a limbo between Robin and Nightwing, and the anger that filled those months. He thinks of what he knows just by rumour, about what the superhero community defines as the least functional of all their weird little familial conglomerates.
Bruce hums, a deep, gravel-laced rumble, and takes another sip of his drink. “That’s fair,” he says, and Roy feels slightly dizzy with relief. He’d half been expecting a punch to the throat. “I take it you weren’t expecting a warm welcome?”
That gives Roy pause. What had he been expecting? A warzone? It’s not like Bruce is wrong about Ollie, either: he tends to keep his mind broader, his concern spreading so far into the corners of the bigger picture there often isn’t any left for those closest to him. Bruce might be a hypocrite, but he’s a hypocrite with a point.
“I don’t know, honestly,” he says, shrugging. “Uh… no disrespect meant, Bruce, but I wasn’t exactly expecting… this.” He gestures behind him, to everything: the people, the table, the buzz of conversation and the occasional peak of laughter. He looks back, and Jason is… Jason seems fine. He’s holding Lian in his arms and is talking easily with Kory and it’s… Roy turns away before he can embarrass himself.
Bruce is quiet again for one of those long pauses that make Roy feel fifteen years younger. “Well, the birth of a child changes things.”
Oh. Oh. Roy nods. Mar’i, he realises, is in Damian’s arms, and he’s talking to her with a very serious face. She seems delighted with him, and Roy can tell that’s a favourite uncle right there. He looks at Lian again, at how whatever she says makes Jason laugh.
“Yeah, they do that,” Roy murmurs, unable to stop himself from smiling.
“Bridges that have been burnt can be rebuilt,” Bruce muses.
“That is the most enigmatic way to say something completely obvious,” Roy replies drily. Bruce raises a thick, dark eyebrow, and Roy feels like he’s being x-rayed by those ice-chip blue eyes.
“One was a fluke, but you got two of them. Not bad.”
Roy splutters, feeling his face going red, and Bruce leaves with a smirk that’s going to haunt his nightmares for the rest of his life. Somehow, the lack of a cowl made it even more pants-shittingly petrifying.
Jason is there almost immediately.
“You look as if you’re in pain,” he says without a hint of concern, and Roy lets out an honest-to-God whimper.
“Are you ok, Daddy?” Lian asks, reaching for him. He takes her, sighing.
“I just got the shortest, most terrifying shovel talk ever,” he mutters. “Including one that was about fifteen years too late.”
Jason frowns. “What?”
Roy shakes his head. “That’s the part I want to forget. The rest was, dare I say it? A heart-to-heart?”
Jason has never looked more sceptical and it makes Roy let out a snort of laughter.
“It’s fine, Jaybird. It’s actually completely fine.”
“Daddy, what’s a shovel talk?” Lian asks.
Oh, blessed are the innocent.
“I took the liberty of opening another suite for the both of you and Miss Lian,” Alfred says.
“Which one?” Jason asks. Roy is a couple of stairs above him, holding a barely-awake Lian against his chest. Today has been a lot for her, so full of new people in a brand-new place.
“The Burgundy Suite,” Alfred explains. Jason nods and Roy waits for him to lead the way.
“A whole suite, huh?” Roy says, grinning. Jason shrugs.
“It’s not like we’d both fit in my old bed, anyway,” he says. He stops and opens a door, revealing a room that doesn’t really have much burgundy in it expect for the couch and chairs in front of the fireplace. Jason sets down his and Roy’s duffel bags.
“So… what about Lian?”
Jason jerks his head at the door next to the fireplace. “Through there.”
Roy goes, and sees another, smaller room, probably designed entirely for the purpose of keeping guests close to their children. He’s reminded that occasionally the stupid things rich people build are actually convenient.
Roy pries Lian’s arms from around his neck and sits her down on the bed. She sways a little, rubs at her eyes, her face scrunched up with the tearful rage that comes when children are very, very tired.
“Almost bedtime, baby girl,” he says. “Teeth and jammies first.”
Once she’s finally tucked up, she’s out like a light immediately. Usually she’s so excited on Christmas Eve it takes her forever to get to sleep, but tonight is a rare blessing. Of course, it’s not like Roy is feeling that hot either. Today’s been pretty long between driving and dealing with emotional turmoil.
He gives Lian a final kiss on the forehead and turns to leave, seeing Jason leaning against the doorframe, arms folded. He’s staring at Lian with a look of such unadulterated affection on his face Roy wonders how he got so lucky. Jason deserves a reward for that, so Roy pulls him into a slow, languid kiss, his hand on Jason’s waist.
“You doin’ ok?” he asks, leaving the door to Lian’s room slightly ajar, just in case. Jason sits on the edge of the bed, lets out a long sigh.
“I think so, yeah,” he says. “This… this is going better than I thought.”
“That’s good, Jaybird.”
He’s halfway into his sleeping clothes when he remembers. “Crap!”
Jason, now firmly ensconced in bed, lowers his dog-eared book with a raised eyebrow. “What have you forgotten?”
Roy tugs on a hoodie and pulls out the stocking from where it was expertly hidden in Jason’s duffel bag. “I’ll be back in a sec.”
The Manor is now surprisingly quiet, given just how many people are in it, and far spookier. Roy takes care to be silent as he heads down the hallway and down the stairs, back to the den with the gargantuan Christmas tree and the mantelpiece where he supposes the stockings are supposed to go. He’s surprised when he sees he’s not the only one who is doing the same job.
Dick pauses, orange – wait, no, too small to be an orange… a clementine? – halfway towards the stocking he’s filling. Roy might be surprised at his presence, but he’s not surprised that Dick isn’t wearing a shirt – some things never do change.
“Oh, hey!” Dick says brightly, starting up his job again. “For Lian?”
Roy nods. “Got a space for it?”
Dick points to a free hook. There are a few other stockings, mostly all for the younger Bats: there’s one for Tim, one for Stephanie, one for Duke, and a small one for Mar’i, but they’re all already full, and Dick is concentrating on Damian’s.
“Alfred does theirs,” Dick says. “I used to do Damian’s when Bruce… you know. So I just kept doing it.” He slides what looks like an actual, real life lump of coal in last. He chuckles when he notices Roy’s face. “It’s candy, dude.” He breaks a small piece off and throws it for Roy to catch.
“So, Damian’s kind of on the naughty list?” Roy says, taking a bite. It tastes like something generically sugary, probably not great for his teeth.
“It’s Damian, what do you think?” Dick says with a fond smile – Roy knows perfectly well how much he loves the kid. Dick throws himself back on one of the couches with a long sigh, propping his feet up on the coffee table as he watches Roy hang up Lian’s stocking. “I can’t believe it’s Mar’i’s first Christmas already.”
Roy laughs. “Wait until she’s five, you’ll be wondering where the fuck the time has gone. It’ll go in a blink.” He takes a seat next to Dick, not having the guts to imitate Dick and put his feet up on Alfred’s nicely polished coffee table.
“We’re getting old,” Dick muses. “We’ve got kids. We’re basically married. Jesus, all that’s missing are the white picket fences.”
Roy snorts. “We’re not really picket fence guys, though. More like… sophisticated alarm systems and weapons hidden in the umbrella stand.” He trails off, replaying what Dick said in his head. ‘Basically married’. Yeah, that’s… that’s what he has with Jason, isn’t it? “Wow.”
“Having an epiphany?” Dick asks with a smirk.
“Maybe,” Roy admits, shaking his head. “I guess… I guess I never expected him to stick around.” Ok, it had taken a little convincing, but… he’d stayed. Roy had wanted him to stay, headcount and reputation be damned. He rakes a hand through his hair, scrubs it down his face. “I’m spending a family Christmas at fucking Wayne Manor.”
Dick laughs. “Hey, it’s not that bad!” He gives Roy a light shove. “Honestly… you’ve done wonders for Jason,” he adds, voice softer now. “I didn’t… we didn’t exactly think we’d ever have this.”
Roy looks up. Dick isn’t looking at him, he’s looking at the ceiling, head tilted back against the back of the couch.
“We all kinda suck at this,” he says. “We’re a bunch of emotionally constipated idiots who rely on other, healthier people to fix us.”
Roy recognises that expression, with the tight frown and distant gaze. He recognises how Dick’s fingers are laced in his lap, but twisting, fingers almost tearing at each other. He’s blaming himself for shit that isn’t his fault at all, in true Dick Grayson fashion. Also, it’s damn rich of him to call Roy healthy.
“I honestly… didn’t think he’d have the balls to actually pick up the phone, you know?”
Roy rips his gaze away from Dick, concentrates on the coffee table. He’s not sure who Dick means: it could be either of them. Truth be told, he’s still shocked Jason even told him he’d gotten a call. He’s still shocked Bruce actually called. This whole situation is bizarre.
“But he did,” Roy says, crossing his arms. “He did, and that’s what matters.”
Dick sighs. “I know. I guess I’m just… worried it won’t work.”
Roy raises his hands defensively. “Hey, I’m just his emotional support archer, the rest is on you guys.”
Dick sniggers and throws a cushion at his face, and they lapse into one of those comfortable silences that remind Roy of times long ago, when they were younger, and the world was less heavy, and twenty-somethings were adults that had their shit together, people who knew what they were doing. God, they were wrong indeed, but he supposes that the attempts themselves are good enough.
He and Dick part ways with a quiet “Merry Christmas” not much later, Dick disappearing into the room he shares with Kory and Mar’i and Roy heading back down the corridor to his own. Jason’s asleep when he gets there, in that weird position he sleeps in where he’s on his side with his arms folded, almost like his expression should be grumpy instead of smooth. Roy smiles, but he doesn’t get in the other side. Instead, he heads to the window, which has a rather comfortable seat beneath it. He opens the curtains and then the window, breathing in the frigid December air. The ground is white and sparkling, and the sky is oddly orange, the way it always is when it snows, and when Roy breathes out he can see his own breath, like a ghost in the night.
He can also see something else. His eyes narrow and he sits up, as the shape takes a decidedly more human form.
His brain yells at him to grab his bow, and Roy is half-standing before the shape gets clear enough to be recognisable. He stifles a laugh. Makes sense. He waits until the figure is close to the side of the house before he clears his throat.
“Hey there, Conner,” he says, and the person suspended in mid-air actually does a full-body jump, and Roy half-expects him to just drop. It’s hilarious.
Conner is wearing his leather jacket, but the ripped jeans, sneakers and Ramones t-shirt are decidedly more casual than Roy can ever recall seeing him. His eyes are wide when he first sees Roy, but then they narrow, and his expression becomes decidedly more unamused.
“Dude, don’t do that,” he complains, shaking his head. Roy just laughs, pokes his head out a bit further. At least he now knows for certain who is in the room next door.
“I’m not the one sneaking in from Kansas for a Yuletide booty call,” he says drily, and he laughs again at the way Conner’s face turns brilliant red.
“Aw, man, don’t tell the Bat?” Conner pleads. Roy’s eyebrows rise.
“Oh? Afraid of what he might do to an unauthorised metahuman in Gotham?” His tone is casual, and it’s all just teasing, despite the way Conner’s face drains of colour. He might act cocky, but it’s Batman, after all.
That’s when the window next door opens, and Tim pops his head out.
“Why are you just floating outsi- oh.”
It’s Tim’s turn to blush as Roy gives a jaunty wave. He clears his throat, very pointedly not looking in Roy’s direction.
“You, uh… won’t tell, right?”
Roy snorts. “Sneaking around is a time-honoured Teen Titan tradition.” Ok, they’re not exactly Teen Titans but they’re still teenage superheroes and therefore will do exactly the same shit Roy and the other four got up to at their age. Snitching would be the height of hypocrisy. Conner deflates with a sigh of relief, but Roy’s not done with them just yet. “Just remember to use protection, kids!”
Tim splutters, and that’s Roy’s cue to duck back inside and close the window behind him, sniggering to himself.
Roy turns, sees Jason’s form stir in the bed, rubbing at an eye.
“Get your ass over here,” Jason mumbles, reaching out a hand. Roy’s honestly never seen anything so inviting. He tugs off his hoodie and pulls back the covers, sighing when Jason wraps sleep-clumsy arms around him and pulls him into a lazy kiss.
This is, honestly, more than fine.
“DADDY! JAYJAY! WAKE UP!”
Roy jolts awake when the bed starts bouncing violently. He rolls over, his brain still catching up with the whole ‘being awake’ thing (it doesn’t like it), and there’s Lian, doing a very good impression of a kangaroo.
“It’s Christmas!” she cries, still bouncing.
“Yes, it is, yes. Happy Christmas, baby girl.” Roy sits up, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes in the vain hope of getting them to stop wanting to close. Next to him, he notices with a mix of envy and profound hatred, Jason has simply covered his head with a pillow and doesn’t seem particularly inconvenienced by Lian’s energetic wake-up call. Bastard.
Lian finally comes to a stop, bouncing into a kneeling position. She’s practically vibrating from excitement.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” she demands. “I wanna open presents!”
“Honey, I’m not sure anyone else is awake yet…” Roy says. Lian’s face falls.
“Oh. We have to wait?”
She shifts into sitting cross-legged, now looking utterly miserable. It would be heart-breaking if Roy’s braincells hadn’t been kicked awake by her a minute or so earlier.
“Alfred’ll be awake,” Jason mumbles from under his pillow. Roy scowls, and snatches Jason’s pillow before the other man can realise what’s going on.
Jason simply covers himself with the remaining pillow, head now resting on the mattress.
“Disgusting,” Roy says, shaking his head. Lian giggles. “C’mon, baby girl, let’s get dressed.”
Roy isn’t exactly sure how things are done here in Wayne Manor on Christmas mornings, but it’s probably best to be prepared for pretty much anything – then again, that’s generally the right philosophy to have when dealing with anything bat-related. Jason had said to bring something nice for Christmas dinner, but it seems too early to be putting Lian in a party dress, so he settles for leggings and, as he is ordered, the sweater with the pink kitty on it.
He’s brushing her hair, careful not to tug at any knots, when Jason finally rolls out of bed, stretching (which is an action Roy can appreciate, as cliché as it might be, since it reveals a good amount of Jason’s abs and Roy knows from first-hand experience just how good they taste) and yawning.
“Mornin’,” he mumbles, leaning over to kiss Roy on the lips and then Lian on the top of the head. “I take it we’re going for ‘presentable’ this Christmas morning?”
“When exactly are you ever presentable, Todd?” Roy teases.
“I’ll have you know I clean up pretty nicely, Harper,” Jay retorts, sticking his tongue out. Roy knows this perfectly well, but he’s not about to admit that to Jason right now. Lian groans melodramatically, slumping in disgust.
The first person they encounter is Tim, in the hallway, and he looks like the he’s been caught doing red-handed trying to hide a body. His fingers instinctively go to the collar of his sleep shirt, but it’s far too big to even try to hide the hickies with. It also doesn’t help that his sleep shirt is black with a large, familiar red ‘S’ on it and very obviously wasn’t his to begin with.
Jason blinks, before a wicked smirk stretches itself across his face. “Ooh, someone had fun last night, huh, Timbo?”
“Shut it, Jason,” Tim hisses, both hands now clapped on his neck to hide the evidence as if that could ever work in a million years.
They make their way downstairs, and all the while Jason teases Tim something terrible. It’s honestly damn hilarious, because Tim has the sort of vampiric paleness associated with someone who spends most of their time in front of a computer monitor, and therefore his blushes look like his face is literally on fire, and it’s also good to see Jason actually act so relaxed. There’s history between these two, nasty, complicated, vicious history, and that this is even happening is an achievement in and of itself. It’s friendly ribbing, it’s… brotherly.
When they get to the den, everyone is already gathered. Damian’s eyes immediately narrow when he sees Tim.
“Late as usual, Drake” he scoffs. Tim scowls, but Stephanie, of all things, raises her leg in what Roy assumes is a bizarre gesture of placation.
“No hair-pulling on Christmas Day, girls,” she warns, yawning. Oddly enough, it works, because Tim and Damian limit themselves to vicious glowering at each other. Tim sits next to Stephanie, who immediately pokes his hands – still on his neck – away with a socked foot. Her grin is practically demonic.
“Oh my God, Timberley!” she says gleefully. Duke snorts.
“Dude, you could’ve worn a turtleneck,” he says. Tim sinks down into the couch and actually pulls his shirt over his head, leaving only a tuft of messy black hair exposed.
“Early morning Tim is such a dumbass,” Stephanie says, shaking her head in fond disgust.
Bruce is massaging his forehead like he’s about to be nursing a strong headache, which Roy supposes is par for the course when you have a house full of teenagers – he’s not looking forward to when Lian hits thirteen. Roy takes his customary seat next to Dick, who is feeding Mar’i. There’s a lot of milk in the bottle, and Mar’i is nothing but enthusiastic.
“She eats that much already?” Roy asks. Dick shrugs helplessly.
“She’s got the appetite of an elephant. I mean… I’ve known elephants.”
“She needs energy for flying,” Kory explains absently, as Lian bounds over to the tree impatiently. Kory quickly grabs her, plucking her off the ground.
“Not yet, little one!” she says. “Stockings first!”
“Stockings!” Lian whoops, and Kory sits her on the floor next to Damian. Lian fidgets, barely able to sit still.
Jason hands Lian her stocking, looking around as he sits on the arm of the couch next to Roy.
“We’re forcing him to sleep in.” Dick says. “He deserves it, after all.”
“You gonna take him breakfast in bed?” Jason asks, in the sort of tone that states that if they don’t, he damn well will, and he’ll snitch on them, too.
“Of course, he deserves it.”
“Will it be edible?” Is Jason’s next question, and Roy has to lean back into the couch when Dick manages, with that eerie flexibility of his, to twist in his seat and aim a kick at Jason’s arm. Roy smacks his leg away.
“Christmas spirit, jerks,” he admonishes. Roy is only mildly surprised and mostly exasperated when the two stick their tongues out at each other like children.
Presents are opened, and it seems to take hours because, well… this is a billionaire’s house and Roy knows that billionaires like to compensate for their emotional inadequacy with materialism. Superhero Barbies, a whole city of Calico Critters and playsets and a huge set of something called Meccano do, however, make Lian ebullient, and that’s enough to make Roy happy as well.
Jason’s gift from Bruce, however, is something else entirely.
He picks it up with an extremely confused expression. It’s oddly round, and when he squeezes it there’s give, so it’s something squishy. Roy looks at Bruce, but the man is steadfastly concentrating on the mug of coffee he’s holding, courtesy of Kory and Tim’s trip to the kitchen earlier (Tim conspicuously returning with a turtleneck on). If Roy didn’t know any better, he’d have said he was watching an attempt at hiding a smirk.
Roy takes a sip of his own coffee as Jason opens the package, and stares at it. Roy promptly almost dies of suffocation from the coffees that goes up his nose as he splutters into his mug.
It’s a plush robin, but not just any robin. It’s modelled after Red Hood. It’s pretty adorable, round and fat with the same grumpy expression as the one moulded onto Jason’s helmet. It even has his little bat-symbol on its chest. Jason is holding it up, and still staring at it.
“What the fuck?” he says, and Lian gasps.
“Jayjay said a bad word!” she exclaims, pointing. Roy nods, his nose sore from the coffee.
“I know, baby girl,” he wheezes, and he’s trying so hard not to laugh that his ribs are actually hurting.
It also seems that Dick, Tim and Stephanie can’t control themselves anymore. They’re openly laughing, Dick slapping his thigh, Tim keeling over sideways onto the rug. Bruce clears his throat.
“Well, I was told that you were sort of… annoyed, at all the Robin merchandise that didn’t include you.” He takes a sip of his coffee, and Jason gives him a long, unimpressed look.
“What, did a little birdy tell you?” he asks, and Tim is wheezing now, like he’s about to have an asthma attack. Stephanie actually falls off the arm of the couch she was perched on, still cackling even after a sharp “ow!”.
“Something like that,” Bruce admits. “That’s the first of a new line, by the way.” Jason shakes his head in disbelief.
“You’re something else, old man,” he mutters, but once the room’s general attention is diverted elsewhere, Roy catches him staring at the plush bird, a thoughtful look on his face.
“Seems like a peace offering,” he says softly. Jason looks at him, then back at the Red Hood robin. Roy plucks it out of his hands – God, it’s absurdly soft – and holds it up, lips pursed critically. “I can see the resemblance.”
“Jackass,” Jason replies with a grin, snatching his robin back. Lian is eyeing it hungrily, and Roy has a feeling it probably won’t last the day in Jason’s ownership. They might need to get another one.
Alfred appears, impeccably dressed, a little while later, and immediately starts preparing dinner. Roy is acutely aware he wouldn’t want to be a butler, but he’s also certain that Alfred does way more than he should. However, he’s not alone – Jason is instantly by Alfred’s side in the kitchen, helping with the preparations. Cassandra and Duke help as well, though they’re more on the preparation side of things than the actual cookery part – that, it seems, is Alfred and Jason’s domain. Roy isn’t surprised, considering how good at cooking Jason is. He wonders if Jason did this before.
He notices the large table that was used for the buffet yesterday is now being set, Stephanie and Damian passing him with a pile of plates.
“Need any help?” he asks. Damian tuts.
“You’d only be a hindrance, Harper,” he replies scathingly. Stephanie rolls her eyes.
“What he means is, ‘no, you’re a guest, don’t worry!’. Dumbass.”
Damian gets a half-hearted foot to the calf, which earns Stephanie a glare in return, but Roy drops the subject. He feels sort of… out of place in a way he didn’t yesterday, as if he’s a spanner in some well-oiled works that Jason manages to just fold himself back into.
“I suspect we’ll be allowed to help eventually.”
He turns, and then has to crane his head up: Kory has always been tall, but she’s floating right now.
“How far down the line do you think that will be?” he wonders, wriggling his fingers in front of a wide-eyed Mar’i in Kory’s arms. She giggles in that way babies do, that way that lights up everything and can make even the hardest heart soften, and Roy remembers when Lian would laugh like that, face full of radiant joy.
“I have no idea,” Kory admits. “I sometimes worry I’ll always be a stranger here. This place is… odd. It’s so full of life and yet it doesn’t seep into the walls like you’d expect it to.”
He knows what she means. Wayne Manor is a house, and the home is the people inside it.
“It used to be much worse,” he says. He remembers a time when it was bleaker, the shadows stretched farther, whole swathes of the house shrouded in literal and metaphorical darkness, a time when the only candle to light the way was Dick. It’s much lighter than it was then, even though it will never be bright, never be fully healed.
“I imagine it was,” Kory muses, her vivid green eyes wandering over wood panelling and fancy carpets. “But I do like it here.” She’s smiling now. “I like having a reference for the stories Dick tells.”
“Like the chandelier?” Roy asks with a grin. She nods with a laugh. When Kory laughs, ethereal and summery, sometimes Roy wonders how the hell Dick got so lucky. But, he supposes, as Jason finally steps out of the kitchen, wearing a freaking apron and wiping sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand, he got very, very lucky too.
If Roy had thought last night’s buffet had had a lot of food, well… he was a naïve fool. The table buckles under the weight of so many dishes: a huge turkey, a ham, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, green beans, carrots, parsnips, stuffing, and even a couple of things Roy’s never seen. There are small, very round… things heaped on a plate, and small green vegetables chopped up with bacon.
“They’re not boiled?” Is the first thing out of Damian’s mouth when he notices the small-green-veggies-and-bacon.
“Oh, thank God,” Tim says, earning himself a sharp look from Alfred.
“If you didn’t want Brussel sprouts, Master Tim, you could have simply said.” He sounds offended, and Jason chuckles behind his hand.
“Sorry, Alf,” he says. Alfred sniffs.
“I suppose you are forgiven… but only because it is the season of good will.”
Bruce chooses that moment to clear his throat. He stands, holding his wine glass, and that’s when Roy realises something: he hasn’t seen a drop of alcohol since arriving at the Manor. He’s seen soda, and coffee, and hot chocolate and tea… but not alcohol. He’s certain there’s alcohol here somewhere – it’s impossible for there not to be at least two or three well-stocked bars in a place like this – but Roy hasn’t seen it. He lowers his head, barely listens to whatever Bruce is proposing a toast for.
He’s honestly fine around it, even when walking into a bar or a convenience store, or just standing next to someone with the whiff of alcohol on their breath is pure torture. He can resist, he’s been resisting for years, and he doesn’t exactly like taking the enjoyment from other people. He wouldn’t resent them drinking. But this… this is the first time he’s seen people actively forgo it entirely. Just because he’s there.
Is it because Bruce doesn’t trust him? That… doesn’t feel right. There’d be some form of resentment in the air, some pointed look or comment. No, this… this is because it makes it easier for Roy. It’s not there, so Roy can’t miss it, can’t be tortured by it being dangled in front of him.
He hurriedly picks up his own glass as Bruce says, “Merry Christmas” and takes a sip of his Coke.
“Are you ok, Daddy?” Lian asks. Roy nods, smiles at her, and leans over to kiss her on the top of the head.
“Yeah, pumpkin. I’m fine.”
After dinner, which already makes Roy feel like he’s put on fifty pounds, there’s a goddamn Christmas pudding monstrosity which Alfred serves with cream and actually doesn’t taste that bad – though he’s half certain that the cream helps a lot with that. And after that, as Alfred puts his feet up in the den with a small pie and what looks like the first alcohol Roy has seen since he arrived, the rest of the family do the dishes. Roy and Kory aren’t excluded from this affair. The organisation of leftovers is a mammoth task, as is the washing and drying since Alfred, it appears, refuses point blank to allow a dishwasher within ten miles of his precious kitchen. There’s a rota, which is eternally surprising, since Roy expected chaos and arguing and broken plates because these are Bats, after all, and they thrive on chaos, but even Tim and Damian’s legendary rivalry seems to have been put on hold.
Roy has finished his turn washing and Jason his turn drying, and they’re standing by the door, allowing the operation to continue around them.
“You ok, Jaybird?” Roy asks. Jason looks down at the floor, arms folded, leaning back. It takes him a long time to answer.
“If you’d asked me yesterday morning, I’d’ve said no,” he confesses. He glances up. “I… think so?”
Roy steps closer, reaches out, rubs his arm. “That’s good,” he says. “That’s really good.”
Jason lets out a sigh, runs a hand through his hair. “Dick… Dick said something, earlier.”
“What was that?”
“He said…” Another pause. “He said I’m allowed to want things to be ok.”
He’s right. Dick is absolutely right, and he should damn well say it.
“It’s true. There’s nothing wrong with… things getting fixed.” Roy moves his hand from Jason’s arm, to over his heart. He’s going to sound sappy as fuck, but he doesn’t really care: it’s Christmas, and he’s talking to the man he loves, he can be allowed some sap. “You don’t have to hold on forever. Things can be ok.”
Jason looks at him, sort of lost, but mostly hopeful. “I think I want things to be ok,” he murmurs. Roy nods, and pulls him into a kiss, ignoring the crowd of people present not so far away.
The peanut gallery makes itself known, however.
“Get a room, you two!” Heckling from Dick, of course.
“Just because you’re under the mistletoe,” Tim says, rolling his eyes. Roy glances up, and lo and behold, there it is, green and white, the dumbest parasitic plant in the universe.
Jason grins, wicked, and Roy knows what he’s thinking because he’s thinking it too. It’s lucky, he muses, that Lian is currently in the den with Alfred, because she’d be disgusted at such an open display of affection as Jason pulls him in for another kiss, just to be obnoxious.
Yes, things are, and are going to be, fine.