Gotham was still recovering by the time Christmas came around again. There'd been plenty of rebuilding and life had mostly returned to normal, but the scars Bane and Talia had left behind lingered in the psyche of every survivor. John knew that right down to his bones because he'd survived more than most during the occupation.

Like most of Gotham, John had returned to work shortly after Bane's army had been routed. Unlike most of Gotham, John got to take his pain and fury out on the remaining criminals of the city. The ones who'd survived the final battle for the streets and crawled into their dark holes to hide, coming out only to prey on the innocent.

It had taken months to get the armor to fit him as well as it had Bruce, and to learn how to fight in it, but he'd figured it out. He'd trained after every day of work and every morning before going in. He ran the streets weighted down with a backpack of broken bricks picked up from destroyed buildings. He worked out at the GCPD gym and sparred with as many takers as he could get. It didn't take nearly as long as he'd thought to build up muscles and strength to take on criminals in a far more physical manner than he'd ever done before.

When snow fell again, enveloping the city in a hush of nature, John roamed the streets looking for trouble. He found it, four nights out of five, and left the battered remnants of the criminals zip-tied in front of GCPD in the early hours of the morning. Rumors of a new Batman surfaced not long after he started his nightly patrols and the first one he heard had made him grin fiercely.

Most of the criminals remained unorganized. Maybe they hadn't liked being under Bane's rule or maybe they thought, correctly, that Gotham cops wouldn't tolerate another gang and would respond with deadly force. Chances were better than not that his brothers in blue would come down like a shit ton of bricks on the first sign of organization and the dark side of Gotham sensed that.

John walked slowly from his car to his apartment. It was a rare night off for him and he needed it. His body could only take so much abuse before protesting violently. The fight he'd had with three thieves the night before had given him a black eye and minor concussion before he'd taken them all down. His coworkers had teased him about just how clumsy he was; if he was in a relationship, John was pretty sure they'd think he was being abused. He was off from work the whole weekend and not even on call, so John planned to take advantage of it. The fact that the date coincided with Christmas mattered not at all to him, although he would bring the toys he'd gathered down to St. Swithin's on Christmas Day.

The elevator was out and John sighed at the sight of its 'Out of Order' sign. Fourth time in two weeks and if it happened again, he planned to talk to the landlord about it. The building had been 'fixed' for months now; skipping out on actual maintenance was just being cheap. John climbed the stairs, stifling a groan as the throbbing in his head increased. By the time he reached his apartment door, John was ready to drop. He unlocked the door and walked in without bothering to turn on the lights. He just locked the door behind him, shuffled over to the sofa, and dropped down on it fully clothed. Blissful sleep claimed him in seconds.

He woke suddenly, completely disoriented, in the middle of the night to a sharp sense of danger. Something wasn't right. And then he heard Bruce's voice murmur, “It's okay, John, go back to sleep,” and he relaxed with a groan of exhaustion. Gentle hands tugged off his jacket and he grumbled, pushing feebly at the disturbance. Then Bruce removed his boots and socks and he sighed a little in pleasure, wiggling his toes.

Bruce chuckled, the sound soft and soothing, and palmed his forehead before running fingers through John's hair. “Nice shiner.”

“Shut up. Three of them, one of me,” John complained sleepily. It was a nice dream, even if Bruce was being a jerk like usual. He yawned hugely and burrowed into the soft sofa pillow. It wasn't his first dream about Bruce, but it certainly involved more clothes than usual. Except for that one time Bruce had been in his Batman costume... that had been so hot he'd woke up with wet boxers.

“Duck faster.”

“Fuck off. Sleeping.”

Bruce chuckled again and then sighed. “Take better care of yourself, John. Don't kill yourself over the city. She doesn't care.”

John frowned and flipped over, grumpy. It figured that this clothed dream-Bruce would be just as cynical as the real one had been.

“She doesn't care, but I do,” Bruce murmured, right at his ear.

John was mostly asleep again, weird dreaming about falling asleep, when he felt the warm press of lips to his temple. Bruce dropped a blanket over him, tucking him in and then kissing the top of his head. John sighed, liking this dream better than the hot ones.

“Stay safe, kid. Merry Christmas.”

John let out another yawn and sank into the sofa and a much deeper sleep... only to jerk awake, wide awake, hours later to the bright sun coming in the living room window. He flailed out of the blanket and landed hard on the floor, heart pounding. His feet were bare and his jacket hung in its place on the coat rack. That hadn't been a dream.

John let out a whoop of pure happiness and jumped to his feet, looking wildly around the living room for other signs that Bruce had been there. Unbelievably, a small, live tree sat in the corner, fully decorated, and with a single present underneath it. John scrambled over to it and dropped to his knees, grabbing the box and tearing the colorful paper off.

The medium-sized square box was made of some kind of light metal. It took him a few seconds to find the latch and open it. Inside, he found an odd belt and he pulled it out, unraveling it to see that it was just like the utility belt Batman had used. John clutched it in both hands and let out another shout of happiness.

Mr. Franks banged on the wall and shouted, “Keep it down, Blake!”

John dropped backwards on the floor, clutching the belt to his chest, and could not stop grinning. Bruce was alive. Somehow that cagey bastard had escaped the blast and had been lying low all this time.

Bruce was alive.

Best. Christmas. Ever.