Part of the SAC-2004

Note: Latcho Drom means "good journey" and is a traditional Romany farewell. There is a reason why Iím telling you this, honest.

The Ghosts of Christmas

Angyl

December 2004

Disclaimer: Every single person mentioned in this fic belongs to DC Comics. I simply borrowed them to write a Christmas Tale.

Christmas Eve, Wayne Manor, seven years ago

"Címon, Bruce, just one night, please? Itís Christmas Eve, and we havenít even gone Christmas shopping yet," Dick Grayson pleaded with his friend, guardian, mentor and, of late, unrequited love interest.

"There arenít any decorations up; we donít even have a tree yet. Itís Christmas, Bruce!"

"I told you, you and Alfred can festoon the place as you like, but Iíve got work to do. Batman and Robin have work to do, although it seems like the younger half of the pair has more important things to think about, like tying ribbons onto the banisters and hanging mistletoe," Bruce growled as he worked his tie loose, heading towards the entrance to the Batcave, which also doubled as the Wayne family silver closet.

"Damnit, Bruce, canít you just shed the cowl and cape for one night and be a family with Alfred and me?" Dick asked hotly, his hand coming out to catch one of Bruceís arms as he tried to regain the older manís attention.

Alfred Pennyworth, Wayne family retainer, friend and confidante to Master Bruce, and surrogate grandfather to his ward, Richard Grayson, came out of the kitchen just in time to see Bruce push Dick away hard enough to send the teenager flying backwards onto his posterior. Whirling around, Bruce glared down at the young man, already more Batman than not.

"I donít have time for this idiocy, Robin. Gotham needs me... no, Gotham needs Batman!" And with that Bruce was gone.

"But you obviously donít need me, Bruce," Dick whispered painfully as he picked himself up from the floor, a look of pure grief on his handsome, young face. "You donít even seem to need Robin. I wonder if you ever did?"

Alfred winced at the pain he heard in the young masterís voice and started to go to him, the movement causing Dick to startle as he suddenly realized he hadnít been alone. "Itís alright, Al, Iím used to it by now," Dick smiled painfully, trying to reassemble what Alfred now knew to be a mask just as artfully created as the one that Master Bruce wore. "Iíll get over it, I always do. ĎNight, Al."

"Goodnight young sir," Alfred replied sorrowfully. Perhaps all would be better in the morning once Master Bruce had worked out his demons and Master Dick had had time to regroup so as not to appear quite so vulnerable.

The next morning when Alfred went to rouse the young master up for brunch with himself and Master Bruce, all he found was an empty bedroom stripped of all personal belongings but one, a Robin costume left neatly folded in the center of the bed. Richard Grayson was gone.

Gotham, present day

Bruce Ďthe Billionaireí made his tipsy way to the front door of Wayne Manor, waving at his date for this eveningís Wayne Industries corporate Christmas party, yet another vapid bombshell, this one a blonde, in a long line of vapid bombshells. Blowing the ditz a kiss and a wink, the apparently drunken man rang the bell and let Alfred usher him inside. The minute the door closed behind him, Bruceís alter ego disappeared and the real man emerged, colder than ever, unemotional, detached and completely dispassionate.

"Has Timothy arrived yet, Alfred?" he asked as he shrugged out of his Armani tux jacket, handing it to his faithful friend.

"Iím afraid young Master Drake has been delayed, Master Bruce. His mother felt the urge to go to midnight mass tonight, so Robin will try and join you as soon as he is able."

Bruce grunted, "Call his pager and leave a message; tell him not to worry. I can take this patrol alone. Itís not like Iíve got anything else to do, other than attend those damned social functions. Thereís only so much mindless chatter one can take and still retain sanity. However, make sure to tell him I expect to see him the night of the twenty-sixth. This is Gotham, after all; we canít afford to be anything less than vigilant."

"As you wish, Master Bruce," Alfred replied quietly, taking Bruceís tie as well. "You... received a card today, young sir; it had a New York City postmark on it," Alfred informed Bruce gently. "It was Master Richardís handwriting."

Bruceís jaw clenched, and his muscles tightened to fight mode. Refusing to acknowledge Alfredís last statement, the crime fighter stalked towards the Batcave and yet another night of self-inflicted torture and loneliness.

"Thereís no need to wait up for me, Alfred; you deserve a decent nightís rest. Enjoy your day with Leslie tomorrow."

Alfred sighed as he watched Bruce disappear into his cave. "And a merry Christmas to you too, young sir," the gentlemanís gentleman sighed, shaking his head in sorrow. What would Martha and Thomas say if they could see their son now? Alfred couldnít help but feel as if heíd somehow failed his old friends and their only son.

Far below the main floor of Wayne Manor where Alfred Pennyworth went about getting the house ready for the night, feeling every inch his age this night, Bruce Wayne was being buried deep inside a creature known only as Batman, one full of anger and darkness and rage, a creature intent on punishing the world for those sins visited upon the innocent.

"You know, even Superman takes tonight off," came the wisecracking voice of Oracle over the Batcaveís speakers. "Hell, even the bad guys take the night off, Batman. There hasnít been one incident, one police car sent out, not even a 911 to report. You could stay home, you know."

"Thank you for the sitrep, Oracle, but I prefer to judge the level of criminal activity myself. Keep me posted if you hear anything," Batman ordered in his frozen voice, sliding into the seat of the Batmobile as he fired it up.

"Well, I tried to get you to relax and enjoy the night. Like every other year," Barbara Gordon, AKA Oracle, sighed from where she sat in front of her monitors in the Clocktower as she registered the Batmobile entering Gothamís core and heading straight for Crime Alley.

Now if only she had the same sort of news to deliver to Nightwing. He would have taken Christmas Eve off if he could, would have been here with her at the Clocktower, watching Christmas cartoons over mugs of spiked cocoa, trying desperately to forget the one place he truly wanted to be, the one person his heart ached to be with.

Oh, they had tried the couple thing, and it had worked for a while. Dick had been a solicitous lover, and her handicap hadnít deterred him one iota from showering her with the full force of his sensual knowledge. That boy could give the ancient writers of tantric sex a lesson or ten, Barbara remembered with fondness.

The trouble was that Dick and Barbara had been friends for far too long for Ďtrue loveí to sink in, and while the sex had been stellar, Dickís heart just wasnít in it. So Barbara had gone back to being his best buddy and Dick had gone back to nursing his bruised and battered heart, taking occasional lovers of both sexes and having a myriad of one night stands while burying himself in his chosen career and his true calling, protecting those that needed it most.

And the unfortunate fact was that even though the criminals of Gotham had the good sense to stay off the streets tonight, if only to piss off the Bat, it was not so in Gothamís seedier sister city, Bludhaven. The streets were alive with crime tonight, and the young hero of the Ďhaven would be hard-pressed to make it home before dawn broke.

An alarm went off next to Oracle, and another hotspot flared to life on her view screens, another incident in the Blud, this time at Fear Cay. Nightwing was needed again.

Sending up a silent prayer for her friend that he make it through one more night, Oracle went to work, helping her best friend and the former Boy Wonder survive another night on the streets of the Blud.

Hours later Batman became Bruce once more, and the weary vigilante made his way into his study, pouring himself a glass of brandy and settling into his favorite chair in order to spend the remainder of the night staring into the fire and struggling with his personal demons. Bruce would then crawl into bed come the dawn and sleep Christmas away, having no desire to celebrate a holiday which to him was simply a waste of time, ignoring his heart which whispered that once upon a time he hadnít thought so.

Watching the flames dance, Bruce couldnít help but wonder what it would take to thaw him out and allow him to live once more. In many ways he was colder than even Viktor Fries, and he didnít have the excuse of an experiment gone wrong to hide behind. Slowly the crackle and pop of the logs, the gentle heat of the flames and the relaxing properties of the brandy lulled him into a light doze.

"Bruce? Bruce, wake up, love; I need to talk to you."

Bruce came instantly awake, every muscle in his body tensed. Turning his head slowly, he blinked once, twice, and shook his head to clear it. "Ves? But you... youíre..."

"Dead?" Vesper Fairchild laughed, her long titian hair swaying with the shaking of her shoulders. "Oh, but I am, love, deader than a doornail. I wouldnít recommend exhuming my coffin; it would be pretty messy by now."

"This is a trick, an illusion. The Scarecrow..."

"Is safely behind bars, and itís no trick or illusion, so stop with the Batman routine and listen to me. The wall between your plane of existence and mine is thinner at certain times of the year. Holy times, unholy times, equinoxes and the like. Iím here because I love you and Iím worried about you. A lot of us on the other side are.

"Thing is, itís easier for me to slip through because Iím in limbo right now, due to being murdered and all. I wonít be able to ascend until my murder is solved, but so far itís been pretty okay. I get to watch you and all the other people I still love, and there are some really fascinating people to talk to... but Iím getting off topic.

"Youíre in a bad place right now, Bruce, and if you donít start making changes to your life, youíre going to end up going to a worse place. Batman used to be the champion of the downtrodden, the oppressed and the weak. Yes, he was created out of the need for vengeance, but between the work he did cleaning up the streets and the work you did through your charities and such, you were moving in the right direction.

"But lately youíve lost your way. Weíre scared for you, Bruce, for the first time in a long time. And so Iím here to warn you. There is a heaven, Bruce. I may not be there, but Iíve seen it. And that means thereís a hell too. If you donít change your ways, get off the road youíre traveling down, youíre going to have a first class ticket straight to the deepest circle of it."

"What are you talking about, Ves? Iím saving people; Iím taking care of Gotham," Bruce growled, his voice gone icy. "What more do you want of me?"

Vesperís ethereal hand literally ghosted over her fiancť's face, lingering on his cheek before falling to her side again. "I want you to live, Bruce; I donít want you to simply exist. I love you too much, Bruce, your parents love you too much to see that happen. Weíre dead but youíre not even though youíve been acting like youíre a dead man walking. Youíre on that slippery slope, love, and youíre out of gadgets to get you out of it."

"What the hell can I do about it? If Iím damned, thereís nothing I can do to change it."

"Thereís always a loophole, love; you should know that better than anyone. And Iím here to tell you yours. Before the church bells ring in Christmas dawn, youíll be visited by three spirits whoíll be playing ĎBruce Wayne, this is your lifeí. Listen to them, Bruce, understand them. See what they need to show you, and get off the road to hell. Learn to live again, Bruce, for Thomas and Martha, for me, for you."

Vesper bent forward, her ghostly lips passing over Bruceís for the last time. "Goodbye, love, I truly do hope Iíll be able to catch you on the flip side." And she was gone.

"Vesper, wait! Donít leave me," Bruce called and then sat straight up with a start, the sound of breaking crystal echoing through the room. "A dream, it was just a brandy-induced nightmare," the shaken man sighed, looking down at the shattered remains of his snifter. "Last time I fall asleep holding a glass." But he could still smell Vesperís perfume in the air, and when he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and looked down, it was stained with her lipstick. "Itís also the last time I try reading Dickens again, even if it is supposedly the season."

With a frown of distaste Bruce levered himself up out of the chair, carefully sidestepping the glass and making a mental note to clean it up in the morning. Bruce headed upstairs for the comfort of his bed, the dream of Vesper already forgotten.

"Kiddo, hey, Brucey, time to get up."

Bruce sat up abruptly in bed to find himself staring at the face of a man long dead, his uncle and guardian, Philip Wayne. Glancing at the clock, Bruce realized heíd been asleep for a little over an hour. Then again, if he was seeing his uncle, he was still dreaming. Bruce made a mental note to take that bottle of brandy down to the lab and analyze the contents for hallucinogens.

"Look, Iím exhausted, and youíre a figment of my imagination caused by bad brandy and a guilty mind. Iíd rather be dreaming about Selina if itís all the same to you," Bruce growled as he rolled over and punched the pillow before settling back down to sleep.

"Sorry, kiddo, no can do. Iím your first spirit, and you need to get your sorry ass up out of bed so we can get this show on the road. Youíve got some things you need to see, Brucey. Now címon," Philip replied mildly as the covers of Bruceís bed flew off and landed in a pile on the floor.

Bruce was up and swinging before Philip could blink, honed reflexes causing him to strike like a snake. Except the blow passed straight through the older man. "What the hell?" Bruce gasped as he stumbled through the spirit and felt his entire body turn to ice. "Son of a..."

"Hey, watch the cussing, kiddo. Alfred and I didnít raise you so you could swear like a fisherman. Thomas and Martha would be rolling in their graves if they heard the filth coming out of you," Philip cautioned. "And Iím dead, remember, old chum? Canít hit a non-corporeal being unless they want you to. Iíve been watching you, kiddo; youíre no slouch when it comes to knocking a block off. Iíd prefer to keep mine where it is if itís all the same to you," the older man laughed warmly.

"Now stop with the over analyzing, and just accept this for what it is... a gift and a lesson all rolled into one. You may want to throw on that robe; youíre a little too old to be prancing around in your skivvies, after all," Philip continued calmly.

"If you think Iím going to go with you without..." Bruce began.

"When you were a kid, just before your mom and dad died, you were playing in the back end of the garden when the ground caved in beneath you. You fell into a series of caves and catacombs located under Wayne manor and scared the bejesus out of your mom, dad, Alfred, Leslie and me because we couldnít find you. Those caves were full of bats, and after we did manage to find you, for years you kept dreaming of a huge bat looming out of the shadows," Phil interrupted. "It was in those caves you eventually made the Batcave, and it was because of that bat you kept seeing that you took on the mantle of Batman.

"You were always such a serious kid, but you had a few little secrets. You gorged yourself on Alfredís chocolate chip cookies when they were still warm; you were a huge fan of that old TV show ĎThe Shadowí, and you had a stack of Playboy magazines hidden under a loose floorboard in your closet."

Bruce felt the shiver run through his body, as if someone had walked over his grave. "Uncle Phil?" he gasped, the truth finally sinking in. "Itís really you. This isnít a dream, is it?"

"Nope, Ďfraid not, kiddo. Now címon, the clockís ticking, and there are two more after me, so we gotta fly. Grab your robe; take hold of my arm; and letís hit the road."

Shrugging into his robe and telling himself that what he felt was not fearóafter all he was Batman, and Batman was afraid of nothingóBruce took hold of his uncleís arm, and suddenly he was in his family room... no, his parentís family room, and there they were, and there he was as a small child.

"No... oh God, no," he whispered in horror.

"Whatís the matter, kiddo, donít you like seeing when you were happy and a family?" Philip Wayne asked quietly as he watched a young Bruce being hoisted up by his father to place the angel at the top of the tree with his mother watching with adoring eyes. "This was their last Christmas before they died, wasnít it?"

"Three weeks later Father took Mother and me to see The Mark of Zorro and... God help me, they died," Bruce whispered harshly as his eyes tracked the movements of the room.

"Look at them, Bruce, with grown up eyes," Philips instructed his nephew. "Look at the love they had for each other, the love they had for you. Thomas and Martha lived each day to the fullest; they loved passionately and deeply. I can guarantee you that they had no regrets, Bruce. Not a single one. And look at the joy in your face, Bruce. You were loved, and you knew it. You loved. What more could you want?"

"I have enough regrets for us all," Bruce ground out, not willing to accept just yet. "And what good was all that love? They died and left me alone. I was so damned alone."

"Is that so? Then why donít we see something else," Philip suggested casually, and with a wave of his hand the scene before them blurred and then refocused to a point in time some years later.

"Hereís the last of the decorations from the attic, Master Bruce," came a voice from behind the two visitors to the past.

"And here comes the dynamic tree decorating duo!" a younger Bruce Wayne crowed as he came zooming into the family room with a ten-year-old Dick Grayson on his shoulders laughing happily.

Bruce couldnít help but smile at the antics of his younger self and his ward. "He was so full of life, even after what he saw. How could I have done anything less than be happy too?" Bruce mused aloud.

"He loved you, Bruce; you gave him a home and loved him and made him safe. And when he was older, you gave him guidance, rules, and you gave him an outlet for his own rage and anger towards the injustices in the world. You gave him Robin."

"He gave himself Robin; I just gave him a way to use him," Bruce refuted.

"And thatís what counted, Bruce."

"Then why did he leave?" The question came from the depths of Bruceís soul. "Why did I drive him away?"

"Donít you know, kiddo? Donít you remember?" Philip asked gently, taking Bruceís arm and leading him out the study and upstairs. As they walked, the Manor changed around them, as if they were going in slow motion while the world sped on by around them.

"No. Weíre done here, Uncle Philip. Enough!" Bruce ordered in his best ĎBatí voice, but not even all his trained and street-hardened muscles could stop the irresistible force moving him forward.

When they reached the landing that led to the family wing where Bruce and Dick slept, Bruce felt his heart beat faster. He knew. He just knew what was coming next.

There, outside the door of the then seventeen-year-old stood Bruce, listening to his ward, the child heíd raised from the age of nine, masturbate and call out his, Bruceís, name in the throes of passion. He watched his younger self react to the stimulus, saw the pupils dilate, heard the increase in respiration, saw the sheen of sweat break out. And most damning of all, he witnessed the telltale bulge appear in his pants.

Heíd fought against it so hard, had tried so desperately not to be what all those gossip magazines had whispered about while hiding behind thinly veiled pseudonyms to ensure that Wayne couldnít sue for slander even though everyone knew that Wayne was the topic of conversation.

Heíd struggled not to be the bachelor billionaire raising a nubile young man for nefarious purposes. Bruce had trained both Dickís body and mind, not to make a perfect mate for himself but to give the young man every possible advantage he could, knowing that Dick was as determined to don a costume and wear the mantle of vigilante as he had been. Heíd only wanted Dick to survive. Hadnít he?

"You didnít do anything wrong, Bruce. You loved him as a child when he was a child, and you became his friend as he matured. He turned himself into who and what he was. You may have nudged him a time or two, may have given him guidance, but he was on that path from the moment his parents died. Just as your destiny was to be Batman so too was his to be who he is now. It was preordained, kiddo. Donít beat yourself up over it."

"But they said... and I... What kind of a monster would develop these feelings for a child in his protection?" Bruce railed in anger. "I was sick, no better than the criminals that I hunted. He deserved better... he..."

The scene abruptly shifted again, this time to the foyer of Wayne Manor seven years ago to the very night. The night his life came to a grinding halt and heíd lost the one thing that mattered most to him. "Havenít you finished torturing me enough, Uncle Philip?" he snarled, his fists clenched in impotent rage.

"Not quite, son. Thereís one more truth you have to know," Philip Wayne replied kindly, his hand gripping Bruceís shoulder in support. "Look, Bruce. And this time listen."

Bruce stood to the side, his heart slowly breaking all over again as he watched the scene play out until... "I donít have time for this idiocy, Robin. Gotham needs me... no, Gotham needs Batman!"

Bruce felt his face go pale at his own cruelty. "I never knew I could be so cruel," he murmured, watching the scene continue to unfold before him with a feeling of dread churning in his gut.

"But you obviously donít need me, Bruce," Dick whispered painfully as he picked himself up from the floor, a look of pure grief on his handsome young face. "You donít even seem to need Robin. I wonder if you ever did?"

Bruce watched as Dick pulled himself to his feet, the weight of the world seemingly weighing him down like Atlas. Climbing the stairs with a look of profound sorrow, Dick disappeared from sight.

Time fast forwarded again, and Bruce saw Alfred lock up and turn out the lights, not even waiting up for Bruce this night. Then the house was quiet until the early hours of the morning when a red-eyed young man slunk down the stairs, utilizing all the skills heíd learned as Robin and, like a ghost, disappeared out into the pre-dawn of the Christmas morning.

"No. Oh God, please, no," Bruce groaned. "Itís my fault, isnít it? I drove him away. I drove Dick out of our house because of my own cowardice, my inability to hide my feelings. I did this."

"Consider it a lesson learned, kiddo. Youíve definitely got some fences to mend there and some pain to heal. You need to take responsibility for that, Bruce, for your actions and the reasons behind them. He was happy here once, Dick, I mean, just like you were. And he was loved. That kind of love isnít forgotten, but the anger, itís always forgiven. Learn, Bruce, and donít make the same mistakes over and over again."

"What do you..." But the room swirled, and Bruce found himself back in his bed, just sitting up. Scrubbing his face with his hands, Bruce sighed.

"A dream. It was just a fucking dream. Christ!" Bruce snarled in disgust, turning to punch his pillow hard before lying back down and centering himself, willing himself to fall back to sleep.

"Bruce. Damn, for a bat you sure do sleep like the dead, joking! Címon, B-man, wake up; gotta get this show on the road. You got one more waiting in the wings," came an obnoxiously cheerful voice from the foot of the bed.

Sitting up, bleary eyed, Bruce came awake faster than ever before in his life when he realized who was sitting at the end of his bed. "Jason?" he whispered, voice tight with guilt and restrained emotion. "Fuck, God damnit, this canít be happening!" Bruce raged in disbelief as yet another of his myriad of regrets took shape in one of these so-called spirits. "This has got to be hell..."

"Chill, will ya, Bruce," Jason sighed, shaking his head. "It isnít hell; youíre not dreaming; Iím really here; and just for the record, itís my own fault Iím sprouting a halo and wings. Itís because of you that they are a halo and wings instead of horns and a pitchfork. You saved me from my elevator going down when you took me in and made me Robin. You redeemed me, Bruce. Now let me help return the favor, okay?" the young man grinned at his former mentor.

"You...?" Bruce reached out, and his hand connected with solid flesh. "Fuck, youíre real," he whispered as his mind finally got with the program and accepted the obvious. "And you donít hate me for dying?" he asked, needing some sort of absolution even in this dream he seemed stuck in.

"Oh hell, oops, I mean heck, no. I got to be a hero because of you. I got to... be with my mom in the end. I died with honor, and I died knowing that Iíd done the right thing. You gave me that, Bruce, the dignity, the strength of will, the courage to face death knowing that no matter what, Iíd fought the good fight. Clichťd, I know, but there it is. Now címon, up and at Ďem. Got some stuff to show you, and we donít have a lot of time. Time to fly, boss man."

Bruce sighed, got up, and grabbed his robe, tying it securely as he took the proffered hand and let Jason take him where he needed to go. This was getting ridiculous, but Vesper said he needed to see, and what heíd glimpsed with Philip had been... disturbing. Bruce had to wonder what heíd be shown with Jason guiding him.

Christmas at the Titans Tower was in full swing. The eggnog was spiked thanks to Roy; Donna had the place decorated like a dream; there was food for carnivore, omnivore and vegetarian (namely Tempest and Dolphin) alike; and the Christmas tunes were blaring. And in the middle of it all Dick Grayson, AKA Nightwing, was packing it in despite the promptings of his friends and pseudo family.

Bruceís eyes raked hungrily over his ward, hardly daring to believe that this handsome and supremely confident man was once the angry and lonely child he had taken in. Dick had grown up and filled out. Heíd lost the Adonis-like beauty of youth in the past seven years and had become hard and sleek and unbelievably handsome.

"Pretty hot, hunh?" Jason grinned. "I can see why you had, excuse me, have a thing for him. Heís tasty."

"I donít know what youíre talking about," Bruce said gruffly, vocally denying what his eyes could not.

"Yeah right," Jason scoffed. "I was apprenticed to the Dark Knight, the master detective himself, remember, Bruce? And I came hot on the heels of yon studly one over there. You were... grumpy for quite a while when I first hooked up as Robin. It didnít take a rocket scientist to figure it out, and you and Alfred had quite a few loud and heated discussions about Ďyoung master Richardí within hearing distance of me. I kept my head down, listened and learned," Jason pointed out.

"I..." Bruce didnít know what to say. Jason was right; he and Alfred had argued about Dick. A lot. Because Bruce was a stubborn son of a bitch and refused to back down or admit that he had all but driven Dick away with his actions. After all, admitting that would have forced him to admit that he had needed to drive Dick away. And Jason had suffered for his attitude almost as much as Dick had.

"Dick, please, stay with us," Donna Troy, known to the rest of the world as Troia, begged, drawing Bruceís attention back to the scene unfolding before him. "Itís Christmas, and you should be with family, with the people who love you."

"Yeah, man, let your city take care of itself for one night," Wally West, better known as the new Flash, chimed in from where he sat on the couch with his wife in his lap.

"Dude, it wouldnít be cool with you not here. I mean youíre our fearless leader," Roy Harper, Arsenal, chimed in.

"Sorry, guys, I donít have time for Christmas," Dick replied as he stuck Nightwingís mask into place. "Bludhaven needs Nightwing, and who am I to shirk my duty?" he finished with a sad smile. "Enjoy the holiday, team; see you in the new year." And with a jaunty two-fingered salute he was out the door and soon on his way back to his adopted city.

"Damnit!" Donna exploded, hurling a cup through the living room wall.

"Umm, Donna, donít wreck the place," Wally gulped, head turning and eyes staring at the hole not six inches away from his head. "Dick might get pissed at us."

"We did all we could, doll; he just didnít want to stick around," Roy commiserated.

"I think it more a case of him being the only Ďsingleí person at this party, Roy," Garth of Shayeris, better known as Tempest, murmured as he wrapped his arms around his wife Dolphin. "Wally and I are married, and you and Donna are definitely a couple. We Ďorphansí all have someone to love and be loved by, but Richard does not."

"What Dick has is a broken heart and that son of Hades in Gotham is responsible for it. Seven long years and heís still bleeding inside," Donna raged. The normally calm and kindly woman who was the den mother to all the Titans was beyond angry. "Iíd kill him if I didnít know that it would hurt Dick too much... that and how can you hurt someone who has no emotions at all? How can someone be so bitter, so unfeeling when they had someone like Dick in their lives? I just donít understand."

Roy wrapped his girlfriend in a comforting hug. "All we can do is be there for him, doll; Dickís gotta work this through himself. Coming out to us was hard enough, but admitting to being in love with the Bat? Seems to me Dickie-boy has enough issues of his own to work through without us slamming him for who heís fallen for.

"The heart goes where itís meant to, babe, whether the body wants it to or not. A lot of people would say that Dick has daddy issues, but heís solid on who his parents were, and his old man definitely wasnít the Bat. Dick never saw Bruce as Ďdadí, more like a mentor and friend. They were tight but not in blood relative sorta way.

"Kinda like me with Ollie. Not that Iíd fall for Ollie, that would just be nasty! I mean, he definitely hasnít been aging gracefully," Roy jibed with a slight sneer. "But Brucie boyís pretty hot for an older guy so I can sorta see why Dick did the swan dive. Not that weíre supposed to know that Bruce Wayne and the Bat are the same, but come on, Dick admitted to having been Robin; it didnít take much, right?"

"We canít tell him we know, though; heís determined to protect Mr. Wayneís identity," Wally cautioned. "And having come face to face with Batman more than once at the JLA, I for one am not gonna tell him I know who he is. Dude, that guy is scary!"

The group burst into laughter as Wallyís wife comforted her poor, terrified husband, but it was Troiaís and Arsenalís words that swirled in his brain like a never-ending loop. Dick was still in love with him. Dick was...

"Time to go, Bruce, one more stop for us to make before I get you back for spooky personage number three," Jason muttered, and then the world around them suddenly went strange, like the vertical and horizontal of a TV being scrambled and then the picture coming into sharp focus again.

Bruce and Jason were in an apartment Bruce had never seen before. Christmas music played in the background, but instead of giving feeling of festivity to the place, it lent an air of sadness. In one corner there was a small, lopsided Christmas tree, decorated half-heartedly, and a plate of what looked like...

Bruce moved closer to the tabletop tree to inspect what lay underneath it. A plate of Alfred Pennyworthís home made Christmas cookies, a few presents and... his obligatory Christmas gift to Dick, a check that he hadnít even had the grace to sign himself but had left to his accountant to do. Bruce flushed with shame as the proof of his own cowardice slapped him square in the face.

A hissed out groan of pain had Bruce striding down the short hallway without even waiting for Jason and then, strangely enough, through a false wall into the apartment next door to Dickís residence... which turned out to be where Dick kept his Nightwing paraphernalia. Bruce knew that sound, knew the voice attached to the Romany curse muttered under the breath.

"Bruce? Hey, man, wait...up."

Jason looked past a frozen Bruce to see what had caused such a startling reaction from his friend. There, in the triage area of the hidden apartment, Dick was standing in front of the mirror, his costume around his waist as he carefully cleaned and disinfected a gunshot wound that had somehow made it through the Kevlar of his costume, a bottle of scotch on the table next to a handful of bloody rags and surgical supplies.

Securing the last side of the gauze down with surgical tape, Dick picked up the bottle and took a swig, saluting himself in the mirror. "Merry Christmas, Bruce," he whispered. "Am I good enough for you now?"

"Dick, Iím the one whoís not good enough for you. Forgive me, I never meant..." But the scene before him turned to mist, and then he was back in his bed, hands shaking and face pale.

"Last spiritís turn, Bruce, sorry," Jason whispered as he faded from sight. "But you gotta know one thing before I go. You still have a chance, Bruce; he still loves you. Donít screw it up, boss; this is your third strike, you know. I wanna be seeing you when you get up here instead of having to go slumming, if you catch my meaning."

And then Bruce was alone once more.

Shaking, he reached for the glass of water on his nightstand and was disgusted to see just how badly his hands were trembling. Picking up the Ďspecialí line, he started to contact Oracle to check on Dickís status but then put the phone back down. How could he explain his sudden concern when heíd cut himself off from all but the most basic knowledge of Dickís well being, and that information coming only from Alfred?

Not even Leslie Thompkins would tell him when Dick had been injured, and Bruce had preferred it that way, never wanting to know that the young man he denied loving was in pain or hurting because he instinctively knew it would weaken his resolve to continue denying them both.

But now Bruce knew; heíd seen the despair evident in the younger man, the desperation for his, Bruceís, approval. To think that Dick hadnít felt himself worthy of Bruce... how could he have been so blind?

Hauling himself out of bed, Bruce threw on the robe he didnít remember sheddingóagainóand moved in an old manís shuffle towards the wingback chair that was situated in front of the fireplace in his room, sinking into it with a tired sigh. There was no way heíd get anymore sleep before this was over, and he had given up denying what was happening to him.

Two spirits down, one more to go, according to Vesper. Christmas past and Christmas present, which left only Christmas future for him to see. Bruce couldnít help but wonder what person his twisted psyche would conjure to be the ghost of the future. Bruce had to admit, if only to himself, that he dreaded seeing what the next spirit had to show him about as much as he dreaded the next spirit.

Bruce sat in silence, fingers steepled before him as he watched the flames dance and contemplated his previous ghosts. Vesper Fairchild, a woman who had made him feel somewhat content and had been the right image for Bruce Wayne but not the person he truly loved, sheíd been murdered in order to flush out Batman. Bruce had been charged with her murder, a charge heíd later been exonerated of, but it didnít relieve him of the guilt that sheíd died because heíd been too cowardly to take the path his heart truly wanted to follow.

Vesper had been followed by his Uncle Philip, his guardian after the deaths of Martha and Thomas and the one who had tried so hard to reach a scarred and traumatized little boy whoíd witnessed the horrific murder of his parents. Between Philip and Alfred, Bruce hadnít wanted for love or care, but heíd been so angry back then, so determined to not be hurt again, that heíd pushed them away instead of clinging to them, and Philip had died never knowing just how grateful Bruce was for his care and how much Bruce had loved his uncle.

Finally came Jason Todd, Dickís replacement and a young man that reminded Bruce eerily of himself, so full of anger and hostility. Bruce had taken him and molded him into a perfect sidekick but had still managed to teach him enough about courage, honor and sacrifice to allow the young man a shot at redemption even as his life was so brutally snuffed out by a madman, Batmanís one true nemesis, the Joker.

Each person had played an integral part in making Bruce what he was today, had been another nail in the coffin that was slowly burying Bruce Wayne alive, leaving only the Bat. But was he strong enough to dig himself out of this grave of his own making and correct the mistakes heíd made, thereby allowing himself to truly live? Bruce wasnít sure of the answer to that question.

A tap on the shoulder pulled the master of Wayne Manor out of his thoughts some time later. It could have been minutes or hours; he wasnít sure, and he didnít care. So spirit number three had finally come to call.

Turning his head, Bruce saw a man that had replaced him as Batman for a time, someone with an even more troubled soul than he had, a gentle and meek man with a terrifying alter ego. Jean Paul Valley, Azreal the avenging angel of the Order of St. Dumas, a genetically altered assassin who sought to work for the side of the light even though sometimes his methods went too far. A man who had died because he sought to protect those who feared him. "Hello, Jean Paul, itís been a long time, hasnít it?"

"Bonsoir, mon ami, it has indeed been a long time, but such is the way it is when you are dead, níest-ce pas? Unfortunately, I am not here to catch up. I have another role tonight. Are you ready to see your future?" the soft-spoken man asked with regret, holding out his hand for Bruce to take.

"I fear what I have to show you might be the hardest journey you have had to face tonight, for I am to show you your future, the one most likely to come to pass if you continue upon the road you now walk."

Bruce swallowed hard but nodded. "Just do it, get it over with, Jean Paul," he replied gruffly.

"As you wish, my friend." And the two were whisked away on a gale wind to land on a cold, windswept hill in the bright sunshine, in the center of the Gotham Cemetery, next to the monument to Thomas and Martha Wayne. There was a freshly turned grave and hundreds of mourners gathered about it, but three in particular drew Bruceís attention. A somber and grieving Alfred Pennyworth had his arms wrapped around Tim Drake, barely older than he was right now, trying to comfort the sobbing youth. Next to the pair stood Dick, his face a stone cold mask not betraying a hint of emotion.

"His eyes, dear God, look at his eyes," Bruce whispered in horror as he stared into Dickís vibrant blue gaze. The pain that reflected out of them was immense; there was a look that Bruce recognized only too well. It was the look of a man with nothing to live for, a look he saw in the mirror every day.

"What the hell, I donít understand, Jean Paul," Bruce choked out. "What the hell happened?"

Jean Paul Valley said nothing, merely pointed to the headstone above the mound of earth.

Walking closer, Bruce couldnít help the shocked gasp that escaped his lips. The tombstone read:

Bruce Thomas Wayne

Loving Son and Caring Friend

He was Beloved

"Do not go where the path may lead,

go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

(George Elliot)

"Iím... dead?" Bruce shook his head, trying to deny the obvious. "Damnit, Jean Paul, what the hell happened?"

The scene changed suddenly, and he and Jean Paul were in a warehouse where the Joker laughed maniacally, boasting to all how heíd finally killed the Bat, when the nightmare in question swept down from the ceiling, taking out all of the clown princeís goons fast and hard.

"Youíre dead. I killed you!" the Joker shrieked.

"You killed the wrong man," Batman replied, except it wasnít Bruceís voice, it was Dickís. "You killed a great man, the man I loved. Now Iím going to even the score."

"NO! Damnit, Dick, donít do this!" Bruce bellowed, stepping in between Dick and the Joker, trying against all odds to stop what he knew was coming. He failed miserably.

With bone chilling ruthlessness the new Batman hunted a fleeing Joker through the streets of Crime Alley and then, in a rank smelling little corner of a forgotten alley snuffed out the life of Bruceís nemesis and murderer, taking the Jokerís life with terrifying ease. But before he did, he whispered viciously in Jokerís ear, "You made me into this, Joker, made me a killer like you. Now your criminal brethren will reap the whirlwind. But you wonít be there to see it. Youíll be burning in hell!"

"No, Dick," Bruce moaned, his heart breaking for the pain in the younger manís voice. He wanted to reach out, to stop Dick from this madness, but he was intangible; he could only watch with horror the world that unfolded around him until, at last, he found himself in front of another fresh grave with a new set of mourners, with too many familiar faces. Alfred and Tim again, Barbara Gordon and her father and... the Titans Donna Troy, Wally West, Roy Harper and Garth of Shayeris.

"Enough, Jean Paul, Iíve seen enough!" Bruce growled, backing away from the grave, knowing without a doubt whose name he would see on the headstone, trying to deny it by refusing to look.

"Jean Paul isnít here, little bat," Azreal growled, making Bruce spin around and drop into a defensive position. "This is the future youíve bred with your actions. Look upon the tomb; you have no choice," Jean Paulís alternate personality taunted.

"The hell I donít," Bruce snarled and lunged only to find himself colliding with the very tombstone he fought to avoid.

Richard John Grayson

He was loved.

Latcho Drom*

"NOOOOOOOOOO!" Bruce woke with a jerk, his scream still reverberating around his bedroom. He was drenched in sweat, and his sheets were wrapped mummy-like around him, binding him to the bed. Fighting his way out of them, Bruce flung on his robe and charged downstairs like the hounds of hell were after him.

Alfred was in the main foyer, shrugging into his coat when Bruce hit the bottom stair, startling them both.

"Master Bruce? Are you all right, young sir? You look like youíve seen a ghost."

"Alfred, is Dick all right? Have you talked to him? Please, God, tell me heís all right," Bruce practically begged his old friend.

"He suffered a minor injury while on patrol last night, Master Bruce, but he was quite well when I talked to him not half an hour ago. What has you so troubled?" Alfred asked, taking his coat back off and ushering the shaking man into the kitchen. In all his years with the Waynes he had never seen Bruce so close to breaking down, not even at his parentsí funeral.

"Iím a fool. God, such a fool, Alfred!"

"How so, young master?" Alfred queried softly as he began to prepare a cup of his special hot chocolate for the trembling man.

"I love him, Alfred."

"Oh, at last," the older man breathed, his eyes closing in stark relief before turning to face the man heíd raised and still seeing the lonely boy Bruce had once been. "And what will you do now, Master Bruce? Is it enough for you to have acknowledged your feelings and leave it as is, or will you bring our Richard home where he belongs?"

"How can he want me still, Alfred, especially after all Iíve said, all Iíve done?"

"The heart wants what it wants, my dear boy, and his had wanted you for a very long time. As long as yours has wanted him if not longer. Our young Richard is not so fickle with his heart as many of his age.

"If I may, Master Bruce," the aged butler began, knowing he was breaking a certain confidence but knowing also that this was for everyoneís ultimate happiness, "like you, he has tried to find love, and like you, he has nearly married. And yet he is still single. What does that tell you, Master Bruce?"

"That he has even worse luck with love than I do?" Bruce choked out, though a faint glimmer of hope could be felt within his heart.

"On the contrary, I believe it means that he could not go through with that marriage or even have a long term relationship because his heart was already given to the one he was meant to be with. His heart has ever belonged to you, young master. Go to him, tell him. And bring him home to us."

"Alfred, I..." Bruce swallowed hard then pulled the older man into a fierce hug. "I love you, Alfred Pennyworth. Thank you for putting up with me. Iíll bring him home, I promise," Bruce whispered, his throat tight with emotion.

Alfred gently patted the younger manís back. "Iím glad to see youíve finally come to your senses, young sir. Now off with you, you need to shower and change. Iíll just go into the greenhouse and fetch you a Christmas bouquet to take to him; flowers arenít just for women, you know."

Bruce smiled the first real smile heíd had in... well, since Dick had left their lives. He was going to bring his loveóand hopefully his lover very soonóhome where he belonged. All was finally right in his world once again.

Bruce tugged at his tie, the offending bit of fabric suddenly choking the life out of him. Heíd worn suits and ties for decades and even tighter Kevlar bodysuits for just as long as the suits, so he should be used to the feeling of constriction, but suddenly... It wasnít nerves; it was the damned tie; that was all, Bruce told himself firmly.

Taking a deep, calming breath, Bruce knocked on the door, ignoring the sweating palms, the speeding heart and the sinking fear that clogged his lungs. For the first time in seven years he was going to see Dick again and...

The door swung open, and there, standing in the doorway, wearing a pair of low-slung track pants and nothing else, was the man that his ward had become. Bruceís breath caught as he drank in the sight before him, and he was struck mute despite all of the things he wanted to say.

"Bruce?" Dick gasped.

His voice is deeper, smoother, Bruce thought inanely as he tried to make his speech centers function.

"What? Is something wrong with Al? Gotham? Why?" And then Dick saw the flowers in Bruceís hand, and his jaw snapped shut. What the fuck?

"Dick I... Can I come in?" Bruce asked gruffly, suddenly feeling more than a little stupid in giving the younger man a bouquet but nonetheless did so. "I need... Iíd like to talk if we can."

Stepping back, Dick silently motioned his former guardian, former partner and the love of his life into his home. He had question upon question, the most obvious being why, followed by why now, but he kept silent. This was obviously hard on the older man, and Dick wasnít going to push. Oh, he had things to say, but they didnít need to be said right this very moment. Bruce was trying, so Dick couldnít do anything less.

"You want something to drink? Coffee, eggnog, scotch?"

"No, nothing. Dick... God, I donít know where to start," Bruce sighed. "And I sure as hell donít know how to tell you this without coming off like I need to be put into Arkham," the older man admitted on a shaky breath. He began to pace the room silently, feeling trapped and caged even though he was the one whoíd initiated this, and he was damned well going to see it through even though confessing felt rather like stripping off his mask in front of the Gotham press.

"Last night I saw what my life was, what it is and what it could be without you in it. I donít want to live that life anymore, Dick. I donít want to live without you," Bruce said huskily. "Seven years ago I drove you away because of fear and Iím... God, Iím so very sorry. I donít deserve a second chance; youíd be well within your rights to kick me out and never speak to me again, but... give me a chance to make this right?"

Only years of first being Robin and then Nightwing allowed Dick to school his face into impassivity. Bruce was right; he did sound like a candidate for Arkham. But there was something in his eyes, in his tone of voice that had Dick pausing and considering that maybe Bruce really meant it.

"You hurt me," he calmly informed the older man, watching as Bruce absorbed it, much like he would a punch to the gut. "It was... torture," Dick continued, watching the older man carefully, "but it was also what I needed. I had to grow up, Bruce, and I did. I made my mistakes; I bled; I learned to stand on my own two feet. I donít need Batman any longer." Bruceís shoulders sagged, and he looked like heíd gained years. "But I still need you, Bruce; that will never change," Dick finished with quiet confidence. "I will always need you."

"Dick." The word was like a benediction on Bruceís lips; it was the sound of something being healed deep within the older man. It was the sound of homecoming.

"Would you..." Bruce grimaced at how rough his voice sounded. He was baring his heart for all to see. But no matter, Dick was giving him this chance and he wouldnít waste it. "Iíd like it very much if you spent Christmas at the Manor. Alfredís missed you. Iíve missed you.

"Come home, Dick?"

"Let me throw a bag together," Dick replied with a smile, "and call into the precinct that I wonít be available for emergency duty after all."

"Precinct?" Bruce asked before he thought better of it.

"Detective Richard Grayson, Bludhaven PD, at your service Mr. Wayne," the younger man smirked. "I figured it was the best of both worlds. I could do as much as I could given the red tape during the day and at night... Nightwing could take care of the rest. It works for me," the younger man said with a shrug, moving down the short hallway towards his bedroom. "Feel free to look around but donít be surprised if Babs suddenly decides to say hello. In fact, let her know Iíll be at the Manor, would you?"

Bruce eyed the computer in askance, wondering what Barbara Gordon, or Oracle as many in their line of work called her, would say when she saw him here. Well, there was no help for it, Dick had asked and Bruce would comply.

The jiggle of a mouse and a few clicks and the link was initiated.

"You rang hot and tast... Bruce!" The oracle symbol that hid Barbaraís face from those that didnít know her faded away and instead a vivacious redhead looked through the vid hook up with a rather obvious smirk on her face. "íBout damn time you got your head out of your ass. Take care of our boy, tell him I said happy ho-hos, okay?"

"Just like that?" Bruce asked before she faded out.

"No, not just like that," Barbara replied immediately. "If you hurt him again Iíll rip out your spine with my bare hands and then tell the Joker where to find you. However, bottom line is youíre what he wants and heís been through enough. He deserves to get what he wants. You, on the other hand, are one lucky son of a bitch because like I said, youíre what he wants. Donít screw it up this time, Bruce. I mean it." And with that Barbara was gone.

"Sheís the one who got to pick up the pieces after I left that night," Dick explained quietly from the hallway. "It makes her a little over protective. She means well, but she doesnít know when to quit sometimes."

"She loves you," Bruce replied.

"Yeah, she does." The warm smile that spread over Dickís handsome features sent a twinge of jealousy rushing through Bruce, but he quashed it ruthlessly. He didnít have any right, not yet.

"Are you ready?" he asked instead, his eyes lightening as he took in the faded blue jeans, the white tee shirt and the leather jacket. "You look... good. Edible."

Dick blushed and shifted his bag from one hand to the other. Taking a deep breath, as if he were girding himself for a swan dive off a particularly tall building, Dick dropped his bag and walked forward until he was in Bruceís personal space and then pressed against him from chest to knee. "And do you want to?" he whispered. "Eat me, that is?"

Bruce growled in response and brought a hand up to wrap around Dickís neck, tugging him forward even more. Lips clashed hard and then softened to the caress of a butterflyís wings. "I want to devour you," Bruce admitted at last, his forehead pressed against the younger manís. "But I donít want to push you either. Your rules, Dick, your time table. Iím playing to win this time."

"Iím not a prize, Bruce," Dick replied immediately.

"No, youíre not; youíre everything."

Dickís eyes grew large and softened. A hand came up to caress Bruceís cheek delicately. "You mean that, donít you?"

"More than anything, Dick. Now weíd better get moving, Alfred will kill me if weíre late for Christmas dinner. Letís go home, love."

"Home. Itís been seven years since I heard that word. Iíve missed it, and you. I love you, you know that, right?"

"Iím finally beginning to realize that. Itís taken far too long but... Iím learning."

The halls of Wayne Manor were decked with ribbons and garland, tinsel and lights. The tree twinkled in the great room, and fragrant cedar logs snapped in the fireplace. Christmas carols played softly in the background, and outside the snow fell peacefully.

Alfred Pennyworth sighed as he put the last pan to soak in the sink; the detritus of dinner was left for the morning. Both his boys were home, and Gotham was left to fend for itself on this holiest of nights. The inhabitants of Wayne Manor had earned their rest, and all was right with Alfredís world at long last.

Smiling, Alfred killed the lights in the kitchen and made his way to his suite. Heíd earned a good nightís rest, and sleep would be easily come by tonight.

Upstairs, in the master bedroom, Bruce Wayne was watching with bated breath as his lover, friend and partner Richard Grayson slowly stripped out of the suit heíd donned for Christmas dinner. Hot blue eyes raked over a perfect physique, trained into shape by crime fighting, police work, dedication and generations of fantastic genes. "Youíre a work of art," he said huskily as he licked suddenly dry lips.

"You call me the Venus De Milo and Iím outta here," Dick retorted, glacial blue eyes dancing with mirth. "I like my boys just fine thanks all the same."

"Your bo... Dick! Thatís disgusting," Bruce groaned, causing the younger man to burst into laughter. "It seems if I want to avoid any more of those horrendous mental images, Iím just going to have to shut you up," the older man said after spending long seconds pondering it.

Reaching out, Bruce snagged a finger through one of Dickís belt loops and tugged until the younger man collapsed on top of him. Sealing his mouth over Dickís, Bruce rolled them until he was covering the Dick and then proceeded to ravage Dickís mouth until they were both gasping for air.

"Get your fucking clothes off. Now!" Dick ordered gruffly. Play time was over; he wanted the good stuff. Hell, heíd been waiting for it for the past seven years. "Damnit, Bruce, I want..."

Bruce sealed his mouth over Dickís once more, cutting off his flow of words in the most effective way Bruce knew. It was an added bonus that he enjoyed it too. Hands moved quickly, skimming off his shirt and pants as well as undoing Dickís. The heft of hips, a body bowed to show off not only agility but also strength and flexibility and soon they were skin to skin, cock to cock.

Bruce wasnít sure who started the moan and who finished it; it just seemed to flow out of one mouth and into the other like an ever-increasing wave of sound. "God, Dick!" His voice cracked the stillness of his bedroom, no longer able to contain the sheer pleasure that being with the younger man brought to him. Never had he felt so... complete. Whole. Like a man once more instead of a shadow cloaked in the night.

"Bruce. I want you in me. Now. No more waiting. Seven years was long enough," Dick said throatily, lips against the shell of an ear sending pleasurable vibrations wending downwards toward his erection. "I need you, Bruce. Make love to me."

"Jesus!" Bruce reached out blindly towards his bedside table, intent upon retrieving condoms and lube, wanting to be inside Dick as much as Dick seemed to crave the same. Finding the needed items by touch alone, Bruce was shocked to feel Dickís hand pluck the box containing the latex sheathes out of his hand and toss it across the room.

"Nothing between us, Bruce, never again," Dick informed the older man solemnly, pledging in a silent voice that this was it, the relationship to last the rest of his life, where no barriers were needed.

"Are you sure?" Bruce had to ask, had to be sure. "I donít want to endanger you, Dick; I canít take that chance with your life."

"Youíre not. Only you, Bruce, from now on. I canít do this any other way. Do you love me enough for that?"

"Do you even have to ask?" Bruce replied quietly, burying his face in the crook of Dickís neck and breathing him in, filling his lungs with the scent memory of his lover. Moving downwards, Bruce latched onto a nipple and began to suck on it hungrily even as he popped the lid of the lubricant and poured some into his hands. He wanted just as much as Dick, with equal hunger. And Bruce knew without a shadow of a doubt that there would be no other after Dick. Heíd found his lifeís mate.

Dick groaned and pulled his knees up into his chest, displaying himself for Bruce and what was to come. "Please, oh fuck, please, Bruce! No more teasing, Iím too close; itís been too long," the younger man begged, head tossing back and forth on the dark silk of Bruceís pillow. "I need you inside me. Please!"

"Shhh, easy," Bruce whispered as he spread the lube inside Dick with first one, then two fingers. Crooking them forward, he found Dickís prostate and began to palpitate it lightly, causing the younger man to buck and howl with need. Soon Dick was loose and ready for him.

"Now, I promise, no more waiting," Bruce murmured against Dickís lips, his tongue dipping inside the younger manís hot mouth to duel with tongue and nip with teeth. Moving into place, Bruce guided himself to Dickís opening and with one smooth thrust buried himself to the hilt inside the younger manís body.

"OH GOD, BRUCE!" Dick moaned, head tossing on the bed as he was filled almost to the point of pain. It was everything heíd wanted and yet... "Move, would ya?"

"Anyone ever tell you that you were demanding?" Bruce laughed breathlessly, his hips beginning a rolling glide, thrusting his cock in and out of Dickís clinging passage. "Youíre going to keep me on my toes, I can tell," the older man grinned as he upped the speed of his hips.

Growling low in his throat, Dick threaded his hands through Bruceís hair and tugged him down, sealing their mouths even as he wrapped his legs around the older manís waist and used the heels of his feet to Ďencourageí Bruce to move faster and deeper. Soon the sweat was pouring as their bodies collided over and over in an erotic dance of grinding and weaving that was offset by the music of grunts and moans, begging sighs and quiet pleading.

Bruce wanted this moment to last forever; Dick was finally his in every way, body, soul and heart. He wanted to freeze this moment and relive it over and over. But that was not to be, and all too soon he was biting down on Dickís shoulder hard enough to draw blood as he orgasmed within his loverís body.

The pain of the bite coupled with Bruceís release and his own raging need was enough to send Dick hurtling down the same path. Groaning as his whole body shook with release, Dick coated their slamming stomachs with his seed, feeling his body shiver and quake in reaction to the endorphins racing through him.

"I love you, Bruce," the younger man whispered, caressing Bruceís back with butterfly touches as they both came down from their post orgasm highs. "And if you ever pull a stunt like you did seven years ago, I am so kicking your ass!"

Bruce chuckled roughly. Dick might have grown up, but he was still the same vibrant spirit that had brought the older man back to life after the long dark that had invaded his soul. "Youíre gonna try," he grinned down at the younger man, still wrapped around him.

"Hey," Dick began to protest only to break into a huge smile. "Youíre a complete bastard at times, but I love you. Weíve still got shit to work out and the logistics of our lives to put into order, but... this is the best Christmas Iíve had in seven years. Iím glad you finally came to get me. Iíd have waited forever, but thank God I donít have to anymore."

Bruce pressed his lips to Dickís and rolled them both to their sides, holding the younger man tightly to him. Whether his haunting had been real or imaginary, Bruce could only thank his lucky stars that heíd been granted this one miracle, that heíd managed to break down the barriers surrounding him and finally let love in.

"Youíre my Christmas miracle, you know that?" he admitted to Dick with quiet reverence.

"Youíre an unbelievably romantic sap underneath the cowl, but yeah, I hear what youíre saying. Youíre pretty miraculous too. Merry Christmas, Bruce, and a lifetime of them to come."

End~

  since 02-17-07

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