You know the drill. Not mine. Not making any money. My day job supports the comic book habit.
Christmas was fast approaching. How did I know this? Mom seemed a little more tense than usual. She sighed more often, and tended to snap at us for behavior that would have otherwise been ignored. Dad was quiet. Grandpa Bruce was quieter. Uncle Tim swore up and down that if his "crazy ex-wife" started anything, he'd toss her out the window. His crazy ex-wife, on the other hand swore this was the year she'd keep away, but of course, she never did. Grandpa Jim (mom's dad) stayed at work later, called less, and didn't respond to e-mail. That was how I knew it was Christmas time. The little family vignette played itself over and over every year. The players remained the same, the problems remained the same, the person who threw the first punch rotated around.
And what about me, in all this? I just tried to go about my business like nothing was amiss. I had my own problems to deal with. My so-called friends in Young Justice had thrown a party and had invited everyone, including my little brother (who wasn't even a real member of YJ, he just tagged along a lot), and not me. That tells you how much they like their leader. Sure, they respected me. They listened to me without question (Well, except for Kon…), but whenever something FUN was going down, look who the first person not invited was. So… instead of partying hard with my buds, I was stuck with my dad this fine evening, doing a patrol he and my brother should have been doing, by all rights. But noo… Jimmy gets to have a social life, while I'm off partnering Mr. Quiet. Christmas stunk. Maybe THIS was the reason everyone in my family turned into a complete nut-case the second the tree was lit in down town Gotham.
That's not fair. I make my family sound normal. Like them being complete and total weirdos is a rare occurrence. Well, it wasn't. My family was once called "That angst-pitt in Gotham City," and I was beginning to concur. Of course, I was stuck in my own realm of teenage-angst, self-pity and self-depreciation. I didn't need any help from outside sources.
"You're slow," my dad told me as I landed on a roof behind him. "Quit thinking about other things."
I sighed. "Stupid Young Justice."
"Its ok," he told me, getting ready to toss another line out into the wind. "I hear they weren't big on inviting Tim to parties either."
"I quit. Jimmy can take over. ANYONE else can take over."
He paused. "You know, there's a reason the non-powered one always gets to be in charge." Oh, really? "The rest of 'em usually have egos to match their powers. Chances are they're all feeling REALLY bad right now about not inviting you, and their own anguish is doing worse to them than you ever could."
"Dad, they like Jimmy better. Lets face it. I'm a big fat loser. It's just fine for me to lead them into battle, but I have the social finesse of a flag pole." And I looked like one too. I was sixteen and not as developed as some of my comrades. Crystal was fourteen and she was getting asked out by college guys. It blew. It all blew.
"Jimmy's twelve. He's cute. In about six months, it's going to wear off, they're going to realize what a little twip he is, and then you'll be back in good. Come fourth of July, I'm going to be having this talk with your brother because HE is going to be on patrol with me while you all are off doing something cool." He threw his line this time. "You ready to go?"
I wanted to stay and argue that it wasn't true, but I didn't, I just nodded and followed. Nightwing and Robin certainly had a lot less ring to it than Batman and Robin, but shortly after getting my license I had an… incident with grandpa's car, and I was now into month TWO of being grounded. I still got to do stuff… I was just not allowed within 10 miles of Gotham City, even if Grandpa Jim wanted to see me. And I'd had to write 100 times that I wouldn't take the Batmobile without permission in Alfred-approved penmanship. I loved my family, and patrolling with Dad was what passed for quality time in my family, but Gotham was SO much more my speed. I couldn't wait until New Years, when the ban would be lifted.
Two punks were smashing an ATM. I landed on one's shoulders, pushing him to the ground. He was a big guy beneath that oversized camouflage jacket, and he could take the hit. "Get jobs, twips," I grumbled as dad cleaned the other guy's clock then kicked his crowbar away.
I looked in the jacket for identification. The breast pocket held a name-pin from a fast-food joint. "Get BETTER jobs," I said.
Usually dad would have had one or two additions in the sarcasm by now, but he'd gone all holiday-quiet. We left them tied up in front of the ATM. I was in such a good mood I even made a little bow over top the knots in the line. Well, I wouldn't call it a good mood. I just… appreciated the sarcasm right now. Frigging Young Justice. Bunch of damned little dorks all younger than me, except for Kon, who was half a million years old and still acted sixteen. I sighed again. "Can we go home?"
He shrugged. "Why don't you? I gotta couple of… projects I want to check on. No sense in us both getting cold." Dad's way of saying if you can't hack it, go home.
"Thanks… Nightwing." I waved and left.
The house smelled good. Chocolate chip cookies and brownies. I dropped into the third floor of our condo and changed into my flannel Superman nightclothes. It was a running joke that grated on Grandpa Bruce, which was the only reason why I had them. Occasionally, when Kon, permanent Superboy, ticked me off, I was tempted to take them up to the roof and light them on fire.
Mom was on the phone in the kitchen when I came down. "Tim, if it bothers you that much, just don't come. Say you had to work. Hell, I can FIND work for you to do, if that's a problem." As I flew over the railing and onto the carpet in the hall, she licked her finger and looked up. "No, its not 'letting her win,' its just being too busy to come. Mara's home. Hold on." She looked up at me from the kitchen table. It was covered in cookie sheets filled with cooling cookies. Score.
"Wash your hands, you get two cookies and a brownie. That's IT."
I didn't bother to protest. I just sighed again and went into the bathroom. I could hear mom talking to Tim. The ongoing war between him and his ex, Stephanie(Aka the Spoiler—lots of laughs in the field), could be funny at times, exasperating at others. Right now, I just wasn't in the mood for it.
"You could try going to marriage counseling. No. I know the marriage is over. But they could help you establish… boundaries. Then you wouldn't have to—Tim, are you listening to me?"
I sighed and pilfered three cookies. "Put it back." I didn't. Of course, I didn't think she expected me to.
"Tell him to just tell her he loves her already," I said really loudly, so he could hear. I knew it'd get him mad. "Then they can get married again and get it over with."
"Look, if Mara's home, Dick isn't going to be long behind her. We can't keep going through this, Tim. You gotta find something RESEMBLING resolution with her." She hung up.
"You know, he has enough trouble without you 'helping' from the sidelines." I licked my fingers of the chocolate. "Use a napkin."
"Two more years, mom. Two more years and you can't tell me to do that any more."
"Don't remind me. Then you'll start being a slob like your father, and the cycle will begin again."
The lap top on the coffee table in the living room gave off a warning sound. "Well, kid, your mom's on. Finish putting these in the Supperware, put the lid on. No more eating."
She wheeled herself into the livingroom and picked up the laptop. It was uncle Clark. Leave it to the Justice League to ruin a mother-daughter moment.
I scowled and picked up the phone. I could scrape cookies and talk at the same time. "Merry almost Christmas, Grandpa Jim." Of course he was still at work. It was almost Christmas, right?
"Hello kid. Can I call you back? I think I have a Bat knocking at my window."
I sighed yet again. "Sure Grampy. I'll be up."
And the line was dead. Everyone in the world seemed to have something better to do tonight.
"Tell Uncle Clark I said hi. If you get a chance." I scraped, I burped the Supperware, and I put it away. Waste of perfectly good munchies.
I curled up in my bed, waiting for Grandpa to come back. Obviously Grandpa Bruce was too busy to talk. Tim was probably too worked up over the whole Stephanie thing, Cassandra had never been good on the phone, and my 'friends' were partying with my younger brother.
Grandpa didn't call back again for two hours. I'd actually fallen asleep, but I didn't let him know that.
"So, when're we going to see Robin around these parts again?"
"She was hoping for time off for good behavior, but the punishment holds. January First, though, she'll be knocking on your window." We always did that. Talked in the third person about our 'other' selves. It was sort of how Grandpa pretended that he didn't know. If he didn't 'admit' it out loud, then he wasn't put in an awkward position ethically.
"Well, we miss her. A certain Bat's gone a little gloom and doom since her departure."
"Well, then he shouldn't have convinced Nightwing and Oracle to ground the crap out of her," I replied, growing angry. "Maybe he'd like Nighthawk a little better. I mean, everyone else seems to."
"Calm down, kid. Its eight days away. Robin'll make it. And Nighthawk's twelve. Only thing he has going for him is cuteness."
"See, you admit it. Everyone does like him more." I sighed. "I'm sorry, grampy. I'm just getting really sick of it. That booger is out with MY friends right now."
"Ah, the joys of sibling rivalry." We'd been going through this for years. Grandpa honestly thought it was entirely sibling rivalry, not that everyone just liked him more.
"So, what was Bats doing at your window?" I asked finally. I was so out of the loop as far as Gotham was concerned.
"Nothing much. Minor psychopath escaping from Arkham."
I put out my lip. "He always let Robin take out the small ones."
"There'll be other psychopaths. Now be a good girl and get some sleep. I'll be there tomorrow afternoon, and I might let you have a little present early."
He really was the sweetest guy in the whole world. Grandpa Bruce and I had a special relationship because of the whole partnership thing, but Grandpa Jim was really the one who listened to me. "Thanks. I'm glad you called back."
I went back down stairs to put the cordless phone back in the kitchen. Mom was still entrenched in JLA madness. Note to Superman: 1 am Christmas Eve is not the best time to infiltrate a super-bad-guy's stronghold. "Got a 411 on dad?" I asked during a break in the action.
"He's on his way back through. He'll be home soon."
I tried not to let it show, but yeah, I was worried for him when I wasn't out there watching his back. It's why I got along so well with Bats. We were both paranoid control freaks.
"Either go back to bed, or clean something," she ordered, not looking up from her screen.
"Well, I could make the elevator smell lemony fresh." I was the only kid on my block with an elevator for a three floor home. Of course, mom couldn't climb steps with the chair, though she didn't let it stop her from doing most everything else—including membership in the Justice League. You had to admire that. I loved dad, but he was just a Titan. And her pay check was bigger than dad's pay check from his day job. Had to respect that too.
"Your brother did that today."
"Um, ok." And he was stealing my chores. "I'll sweap." I knew she'd tell me no, which is why I volunteered for it.
"Mara, don't you dare." She couldn't hear when I did that. "Wash the stuff from the cookies."
"You said if you make a mess you should clean it up. I didn't make cookies."
"No, but you ate them. Don't give me a hard time."
"I'm going to bed."
She didn't bother saying anything. I loved her, I admired her, but I wasn't doing dishes. This was the cool thing about spending time with Grandpa Bruce… Alfred took care of the incidentals.
I heard movement in the attic. I went upstairs hoping it was dad, but it wasn't. It was The Twip.
"So, Nighthawk. Have fun?"
"Creep. Quit… taking over my life."
"I'm not taking over your life. Just your friends."
I squeezed my eyes shut. Next thing I knew, it'd be Batman and Nighthawk. "Go to bed."
"I don't make garbage, I clean it up."
I walked out of the room, in physical pain. Kon was a jerk. You expected this stuff from Superboy. But what about Crystal? Or Lil' Lantern? I thought he was my best friend (or what passed for a best friend in my life) and he wouldn't do something like that to me. I hurled myself onto my bed with all the power of my teenage angst. Screw it. I was going solo. Obviously Batman didn't need me, contrary to what Grandpa Jim had said on the phone. Young Justice had been pretending I don't exist for over a month, and they're still standing. What was I here for? To do the dishes? What the hell had I trained all my life for? To bust ATM robbers? Dad didn't need me for that. He's perfectly capable of taking down two fat twenty-somethings with more greed than brains.
I needed something that was mine. I needed my own life, not a reincarnation of dad and Tim's life as Robin… not being my father's daughter or my grandfather's sidekick, or Young Justice's whipping boy…But I LIKED being Robin. For now, it fit me… like a glove. It was just… why did Robin have to be subject to everyone around her? Why couldn't Robin… be her own person?
I put my costume back on and hit the roof tops. If I was quick about it, I could miss dad. And I was quick, and I DID miss dad. It was hard to pull one over on my family, but it didn't mean you didn't try, and it didn't mean occasionally you didn't succeed. Usually victory was short-lived, but it was to be savored. I should have left a note or something, it was standard operating procedure to say you were going out, if someone had already seen you at home first. But right now, I really didn't want anyone knowing what I was about. I was sure they'd all know soon enough, and I'd be supremely dead.
Down town I kept a bolt-hole all of my very own. It was actually a storage space that I rented, and I kept a secret stash of "Robin" stuff. It was equally occupied with things I'd need if I was on the lamb (from bad guys, or my family) and just stuff a girl needed to kick back and relax with. I kicked off my boots and tossed my cape in the corner, trying to get comfortable. If they wanted to ignore me, hey, that was swell. I could deal with that. But maybe… after this, they wouldn't be so inclined to go ignoring the Girl-Wonder.
Two hours later, I had to chuckle to myself. I was BAD. My hair had gone from dark red to corn-stock yellow, and Robin's costume had seen a few… modifications. I'd ditched the cape in exchange for a long duster of the same material. The belt now hung a little lower, accentuating what little hips I had. Robin was now sporting two killer ear-rings in the left ear, spiked hair, choaker and black lipstick. I looked damned fine, if I did say so myself. I pulled on boots with a bit of a heal, and I was ready to go. To Gotham.
I knocked on Grandpa's window at home, then let myself in. I didn't like scaring him at home. It wasn't much fun. Especially not with his bad heart. Even Bats knocked before entering. Being responsible for ONE of Grampy's heart attacks was enough for this clan.
"I thought you weren't supposed to be in Gotham," he said as he brushed his teeth. A bit of toothpaste leaked onto his lips.
"Hey, you're getting good. You knew it was me before I was even in the window."
"You can still teach this dog a few tricks. I'm not dead yet." He finally looked at me. "Yeeug. Do your parents know about this?"
"Naw, it's the new me. They're going to suck it up and deal."
"I'm sure Batman will be pleased with the hair."
"I'm practically fired right now anyways. And I've been thinking… Maybe Robin needs to strike out on her own. I mean… it wasn't such a bad thing for the other… former Robins."
"I can think of at least three people who'll have my head on a platter if they knew I let you walk out of here like this."
I sighed. "Can't everyone just give it a rest?"
"You're stuck with us, kid. Nightwing and Redwing still get grief. It doesn't stop just because you're an adult. But when you go around doing things supremely… stupid as this… You end up getting a lot more grief than you anticipated."
"I hate my life," I moaned.
"What would you trade it for? Parents with a nine to five job, regular high school, and a spot on the varsity softball team?"
"Would you give up Robin?"
Damnit, he knew me too well. "No."
"It's hard to be extraordinary in a sea of extraordinary. You start feeling… mediocre."
How did grampy know all this stuff anyways?
"Maybe I could lose the ear rings. That's all I need is someone ripping my ear off in a fight."
"It's a start."
"The duster stays."
"You can take that up with Batman."
"And the hair."
"You can take that up with Nightwing and Oracle."
"You really should defend me in all this."
"Some day you're going to look back on this and be really embarrassed by all of your teenage years."
"I'm ALREADY embarrassed."
"You're a cute kid. Now get going before I rat you out to your boss." He swatted at me.
"You wouldn't!" I declared.
"I like to live on the edge."
I waved and jumped out the window. There was something… nice about that. I liked short falls sometimes, and the four stories to the ground definitely left a little sting in the feet that let you know you were alive. And awake.
I passed through an alley, going for my cycle. In the distance, maybe on a cross street, the sounds that harkened the need for my profession drew my attention. Two aluminum baseball bats, from the sound of it. Four guys younger than me, and maybe a chick.
"Give me the damned jacket, ho," the tallest of the four said.
She was a little blond thing with ringlets and a cherib face to boot. "It ain't mine to give." Come on, honey, just give him the jacket. A Knight's jacket isn't worth dying over. Even if you're really in love with the guy who gave it.
"Then we're going to break a little something."
Grandpa was all about the entrances from above. I had to admit, they were effective. Personally, I didn't have time to go up and come down, so we'd settle for what we could get. "Yeah, some breaking's going to happen, Ace. Unfortunately it's goanna be YOU."
They turned around, all four of them. Almost perfect unison. "Dude!" One of them yelled.
"Robin's a girl!" the shortest declared.
I jumped, nailing the two with the bats, the dangerous ones. I caught them both on the collar bone with my heals and drove them to the ground. Poor widdle babies hit their heads and go boom. "Yeah, Robin's a girl, you twits. Nice of someone to notice."
"Dude! A chick!" One of the remaining goons declared.
I managed to maneuver the two guys near each other, then slammed their heads together. "Robin's a freaking girl, and don't you forget it!"
The girl had run off. Good for her. I was half tempted to track her down and inform her that if she really liked the guy, keeping herself ALIVE was an appropriate way to show it. Suddenly I felt a presence above me. "Robin's freaking dead," I said to my four unconscious friends.
"I don't recall seeing the ball drop in Gotham Square."
"You musta missed it," I told him. "It was spectacular."
"You're still grounded."
"You're still a pain in my butt."
"If you continue talking like that, We can make it until Valentine's day."
"Maybe it's time to call it permanent quits."
"Maybe Robin needs some space."
"As evidenced by tonight's wonton display of teenage rebellion."
"NO. I've been thinking about it." I could hear sirens in the distance. I hadn't called them—he must have.
His lips pressed together. "We can talk about it after the holiday." I think that was his way of saying we won't really talk about it; I'm just going to make you think we will, so you'll shut up.
"I'm sure you have my dye in your bolt-hole. Change it back. And the earrings go." He turned his back to me, to leave.
He hadn't said anything about the jacket. I gave a smile of triumph. "I trust you'll decide against the jacket yourself when you see how it impedes your movement."
"Kon wears a jacket."
"Kon El only has half a brain. He doesn't need to rely entirely on his own physical prowess. He has help."
This conversation was going so well. Couldn't we find SOMEONE else's' tail to kick? ANYONE?
"Ok, I see the ear ring thing. What about the hair? There's no crime in Robin having blond hair."
He took off. That was his way of saying 'this isn't opened for discussion. Don't try me, missy.' That's what I hated about my family. Nothing was ever opened for discussion. It was their way, or the highway. This included mom, dad, everyone.
So here I was. All alone in the city. Grandpa Jim didn't want to see me because he'd be forced to tell my parents. Grandpa Bruce didn't want to see me because God knows why. Because I'd broken the law he'd set down, because I'd given him sass… because maybe he just really didn't like having a Robin around any more. I mean who would ground a kid for two and a half months? That was someone who didn't want the kid around for a long, long time. Someone who didn't need a kid around for a long, long time. Tomorrow, when he came over for dinner, this was going to really really suck.
"Mara, time to get up. I need you to start pealing potatoes."
I covered my eyes with my arm, against the over head light turning on. The covers were already over my head. "What I need is a few hours more sleep."
I hadn't gotten in till dawn. I'd spent the rest of the night taking the LONG way back "People who sneak out are not entitled to extra consideration." I pulled the covers away from my face and sat up. "What the hell happened to your head?"
"Alien abduction and subsequent experimentation," I told her. "Uncle Clark will vouch for me."
"You're going to dye that back before company comes over."
Why bother? It was just our family. They all knew how screwed up we were.
And thus began my day. I spent a joyous hour pealing twenty pounds of potatoes. Next I spent a fantastic forty five minutes preparing stuffing. Then MOM stole my thunder and stuffed the bird. At least pipsqueak was pealing carrots. I hated that as much as potatoes. "Isn't there a claymation special I can watch?" I grumbled. Anything had to be better than this.
"Cheerful, Mara," my father told me as he poured himself coffee. He'd been sleeping the last two hours, the rat. "We'll have enough people trying to ruin this holiday. We don't need to add you to the clutter." Hey, great. Someone besides me was noticing the pattern of ruined holidays around here.
"Bird-girl's mad cause I stole her friends," Jimmy muttered, concentrating intently on his carrot. Or pretending to.
I scowled. "You want Young Justice, you can have 'em, Bird-boy. You can't HANDLE half the stuff they put me through."
"Yeah, right." I got no respect. No respect.
I was alleviated from the burden of dying my hair before anyone showed up, because about two hours early, Tim rang the door bell. I opened the door, and he was holding Cassandra's hand. "How much is he paying you to let him do that?"
She shrugged, pretending she didn't know what I was saying. She spoke perfectly well, when it suited her. I guess right now it didn't.
"It's called true happiness, Mara."
"Stuff it, Tim," my mom said from the kitchen. She bossed him around too. "You're just doing that to get Stephanie all riled up."
"You know, you could just stop inviting her. She stopped being part of this family when the divorce papers were final."
"She NEVER stopped being part of this family," mom told him as she opened the oven. "She doesn't have anyone, and she's still Spoiler. Even if it's not on YOUR terms."
Tim grumbled and kissed Cass's hand. They didn't look like a cute little couple. They looked… incestual. I wondered what Spoiler had done to Batgirl to piss her off so bad as to let Cassandra buy into this game. My whole family was so damned screwed up.
They put on the football game, and of course, Dad and Jimmy had to stop what they were doing in the kitchen and go watch. Men. Men and Cassandra. I could hear her booing the ref's lousy calls, same as the rest of them.
"You've got real nerve, Timothy Drake!" Did Stephanie let herself in? I hadn't heard the door bell ring. Perhaps I'd lost myself in yam-stirring madness. Gotta make those little marshmallows melt.
"What Steph, jealous? Angry that you don't have the Timster for your lovin' any more?"
Please tell me he hadn't been making out in the living room with Cassandra. "Mom, can you go break up the grown-up's fight? Before I go in there and go vigilante on their ass?"
"Asses, plural, and watch your language. No 'going vigilante' in the house." But she smiled. It was the first time she'd smiled at me in like a week.
"Alright, break it up in here." Mom had wheeled herself into the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, which looked into the living room. "Or I let Mara unleash her teenage angst on you." Thanks, mom. I love you too. Kill me now, someone. Just kill me now.
Tim and Cassandra did a lot of partnering now days, and I hoped it was just the crime-fighting kind. It was exceptionally gross to think of the two people I thought of as uncle and aunt (or exceptionally older siblings, when they were acting like they were now) as.. umm… partners in any other sense of the word.
"Our bearer of gloom and doom is here," I said as the front door opened. Didn't anyone use the doorbell any more? Didn't people like, lock the door after they entered any more? What was going on here?
"I thought you were told to fix your hair," was his way of greeting.
"Yeah, well, I got a little caught up in the Stephanie/Tim/Cassandra three-for-all in the living room."
"You should have did it last night when I told you."
"Would it have made me any less grounded?"
Silence. I rest my case.
"Where's Alfred? You didn't scare him off or anything, did you?" Dad asked, scowling at me. Yeah, I was in so much trouble when this night was over. I didn't know what was worse, putting up with this, or knowing that I was going to be murderized when it was done.
"He claimed he had an errand to run before coming here. He'll be bringing another car."
"Will your other half be with him?" dad asked from behind me.
"Who?" God he played dumb so well.
"You know, the woman you've NOT been sleeping with for the past fourteen years."
I giggled. Mom's best friend, Dinah.
"Mara, go in the kitchen. Wash some dishes or something."
Bite me or something, I wanted to say.
"The more you do now," dad warned. "The less you have to do later."
"Listen to your father. You're in enough hot water."
I sighed and conceded defeat. I had to find SOME way to win. Maybe a Tatoo. They could make me dye my hair back, but a tattoo, that was awfully permanent. No. I was sure my grandfather and father had stuff to remove a tattoo too. PAINFULLY, probably. I could get spikes put in my scalp. I'd seen kids do that. They said it didn't hurt…
I shook my behind a little as I retreated to the kitchen.
"IS Dinah coming?" I called back.
"Sorry, hon," mom answered for Grandpa. "I have to confess I got her into a bit of a mess last night. She'll be late if she shows at all." Hon. That was two signs of affection in less than an hour. Maybe mom wasn't ready to throw me to the wolves after all. That just left… well, everyone else.
Mom came back in the kitchen. "I think Dinah's going to need me to do a few rerouting things, to make sure she gets here on time. I'm going to play with some car rental stuff. Just make sure the kitchen doesn't burn down for a few minutes." And she was going upstairs to her little secret hideout, as I called it. Basically, it was a server room with cool monitors and stuff. You got thirty lashes for even THINKING about putting games on those machines. And they knew when you were thinking about it. They were your parents.
Wash the dishes, cover the simmering yams, baste the turkey… was anyone helping me in here? "Jimmy can help out with this!" I called into the living room. But nooo. Grandpa was busy fawning over how much he'd grown. In like the three weeks since he'd seen him last. Shoot me, kill me. Disembowel me, but don't make me listen to them any more.
I didn't know what was my family's problem. Dinner was at six. But every year they all showed up just a little bit earlier. Alfred ended up being an hour early, and that was so he could "offer help," but dad had threatened to tie him up if he crossed the kitchen threshold. Grampy was the only one who showed up even NEAR six. At quarter 'till, he arrived, and he knocked. I was the only one paying any attention, as I was trapped in the kitchen taking buns out of the oven, so I answered. "So, your parents approved of the hair?" he asked skeptically.
"No," I answered. "But the early arrivals drew their attention and kept me out of the line of fire."
He smiled and gave me a hug. It was one-armed, but he'd held me tight, then let me get back to putting all my buns in pretty little rows. "Stick around in here?" I begged. He said he HAD to at least say hello to everyone. No he didn't, I thought to myself as he went into the living room. This was OUR family. Everyone probably already knew he was here. And if they were otherwise engaged, they wouldn't think twice about not saying hello to HIM. He put up with far too much from us.
"Hello!" I called into the living room. "Cinderella would like some help carrying this stuff to the table. And I don't mean from Alfred!" I might as well just shut him down before he was tempted to come out here.
My father came out in the kitchen. "Cinderella my foot," he started.
I scowled at him as he took the buns from me. You didn't put those out first! Who taught him how to set a table? It obviously WASN'T Alfred. See, I paid attention when he talked about all this 'home stuff'. Why, I had no idea. I wasn't planning on becoming a little house-wife, or anything. I planned on being an ass-kicker forever. But, uh, it seemed important? There were a few lost arts in my family that I felt it important to resurrect. Dish-washing aside, cooking seemed like a good thing. Dusting, sweeping, changing, that was ok. But anything involving washing and suds just didn't do it for me.
Food migrated to the table, people migrated to the table, and of course, mom was the last one to sit down. She always, ALWAYS just had one more thing to do on the computer. Tim sat next to Cassandra, Stephanie, thus jilted, sat next to me. If she thought she was going to get sympathy from me, she had another thing coming. "I can't believe he'd do that. To Christmas Eve dinner," she whispered. "I bet they're living together," she finished.
I sighed and rolled my eyes. "None of my business," I told her.
My mom came rolling over to the table and cruised right into her spot between Jimmy and dad. Someone had to wack that kid around and make sure he behaved. "Dinah will be here in half an hour!" mom declared.
I slapped my hands together once. "Good job!"
Grandpa was trying to look really disinterested. I really wish he'd make an honest woman out of Dinah some day. Too bad they both had such serious hang-ups to even admitting they spent time in each other's company willingly.
Mom grinned from ear to ear. "Thank you, thank you very much."
Dinner didn't start out too bad. Then it just droned on. Stephanie talked my ear off, my brother told them about the joys and terrors of the seventh grade (big whoop, his locker got stuck and he was late to class), Dad was sharing horror stories with Grampy… ok. These things usually lasted until approximately 11pm. It was six thirty by the time people really started eating, knowing their tendency to talk more than eat, we could be through dinner in approximately an hour and fifteen minutes, at which time I could at least escape their presence while I scraped the plates (who's wise idea was it to make the kids scrape the plates. Who's wise idea was it to make sure Jimmy and I were the only kids?). I could drag that out for maybe twenty minutes. If I fought with Jimmy about who was going to load the dish washer, maybe thirty. Sometimes, we could fight about a thing for hours and never actually get it done.
Unfortunately, with company here, we probably could only get about ten minutes of serious arguing in, and maybe one or two blows to the face. Desert would drone on another hour after that, and then… by then I'd be dead from listening to them go on and on and watching Tim and Cassandra make googly eyes and call each other puppy and munchkin, and listening to dad share water cooler stories, and mom talk to Grandpa Bruce about great and wonderful computer stuff she was working on (until Dinah showed up, then I got to watch Grandpa Bruce and Dinah pretend to NOT have a conversation all the while figuring how long it would be before they could politely excuse themselves for a quick 'welcome home' roll in the hay—I was a kid, but I wasn't stupid). Hell, the fact that I'd pierced my ear twice, dyed my hair and changed the Robin costume had been entirely forgotten. What did one have to do for a little notice around here? Feign Bulimia? Maybe THAT was why the truly nutso of the Gotham crimals did it—just wanted someone to remember they were alive!
Ok, kid. Get a grip. Mom was nice to you several times today for several fleeting moments. Dad even talked all encouraging and stuff last night. Grampy Jim talked to you TWICE last night. Granted he was now letting dad monopolize his time, and he looked like (no he WAS) enjoying all this 'shop talk', but it didn't mean he forgot you were alive.
You know, like Young Justice and your brother did.
Did anyone notice that as I sat here pushing my mashed potatoes around my plate, I was having my own little nervous break down?
"You seem strangely silent, young lady." Hey, my family might be full of detectives and observers, but leave it to Alfred to hit it on the mark.
"Nothing, just tired I guess. Being a rebellious teenager will do that to ya."
"Yeah, well, she's not tired from PARTYING, I can tell you that!" Jimmy interrupted.
"Twip," I whispered.
"Young lady," Alfred corrected pointedly. It was like hockey. Second man in gets thrown in the penalty box.
"Sorry," I muttered. But I wasn't sorry. I wanted to kick him in the head. I didn't care that he was younger, I didn't care that siblings were supposed to have some kind of rivalry, I wanted to kick Jimmy Grayson's head in.
"Those guys giving you a hard time?" Tim asked.
"Yeah. Kon being first on my list of trouble makers."
"That guy NEVER grew up. And I don't mean his body's stuck at sixteen. We all knew that'd happen. But his brain's been stuck there too." I sighed. That wasn't helpful news.
"You just wish you could be him, Tim," Stephanie began.
"I Do NOT want to be like Kon El, Stephanie."
Wooh hooh. More fireworks. Of course, I meant that in all sarcasm.
"Oh really? So what was that stunt you pulled last night, you and Cassandra? I was thinking you wanted to get yourself killed—or you thought you were invincible or something stupid. Or maybe you KNEW I'd just happen to be in the neighborhood and would come bail your skinny ass out of it."
"I didn't need you. Trust me. The last thing Cassandra and I need...."
I slunk away from the table. "May I be excused," I muttered. "Thanks. I'll be back later," I said, not waiting for anyone's real response. Actually, they weren't supposed to talk about these things in front of Grampy, his feigned ignorance, and all.
I went up to mom's computer room and sat down. Cant… deal… with… any… more… togetherness. Please, God, let something blow up. Something of universal proportions. The only time I could really stand to be around everyone was when there was the safe and comfortable barrier of masks. Except Jimmy. He was a real pain ALL the time. And I still owed him a kick to the head. Maybe I could bust someone outta Arkham, just so we can put them back in. It was looking to be a safer alternative than dessert.
I surfed all the stuff I had access rights to. There wasn't anything going on within a hundred miles that was of scope enough to save me.
Out of sheer lack of anything to do, I called JLA headquarters and wished Flash a Merry Christmas. I guess he'd gotten the short straw, if he was monitoring on a holiday. At least I didn't feel so bad. Someone elses' holiday sucked due to outside uncontrollable forces. Justice League/Bat Family… it was all pretty much the same insanity when you came down to it. We just didn't have to act cheerful in public in the face of dysfunction.
"So, Wally, what bet did you lose?" I asked.
"Drew the short straw. I swear. You never see Superman doing this on Christmas."
"X-ray vision, Wally. I'd draw a long straw too."
"Tell your dad I said HI."
"Yeah, whenever the family madness stops. Do me a favor. ANYTHING comes up, I don't care HOW small it is, call me. I'm ready to go out of my mind here."
"I'll do what I can," he promised.
We wished each other a good holiday again, then went back to doing nothing, each in our respective corners of the universe. I heard the breaking of china below me. Then more breaking china, the throwing of silverware, and mom's threat to hose someone down. Guess I should at least go down stairs.
As I was coming out of her room, I heard applause, and a whistle.
I always miss the good stuff.
When I came down stairs, there were plates smashed against the wall, mashed potatoes dripping down, and globs of cranberry sauce on the carpet. No one was really AT the table any more, per say. They seemed to be in various states of disarray, standing or otherwise. I couldn't quite figure out what was going on, until I came entirely into the dining room, and I saw Tim and Stephanie sucking face in the corner. Only took them THREE years. Cassandra was standing close at hand, grinning from ear to ear. SHE had set this up? Who'd have guessed that the fighter extraordinaire could have played little match maker. Well, I guess that was one thing solved.
"I'm not cleaning up this mess," I announced.
A few heads looked at me and scowled. As in "how could you ruin such a beautiful moment." Aw, don't make me sick. These two had been gross when they were a couple, and then they'd just gotten belligerent towards each other, now they were back to being gross. You couldn't win.
They didn't even make it to dessert. They'd gone out on the porch to 'talk' and then had disappeared inside Tim's car. In the back seat. I bet Tim's dad and step mom would be happy when he went over there tomorrow night. His dad had been bugging him from the beginning that he needed grandchildren, etcetera etcetera. Maybe I should call him up and tell him they were working on grandchildren in the car, right now. Heh. That'd be cruel. Well, I had to do something mean to someone. It was the season for that sorta thing.
Dad went on and on about how they'd 'hurt his carpet' and went all Alfred on us and got out club soda and scrubbed his little heart out. My dad's a freak. The man throws clean clothes, FOLDED clean clothes on the floor, but he's scrubbing the carpet with club soda.
Grandpa Bruce complemented Cassandra for being a sneaky vindictive bitch in getting Tim back with Steph. Sneaky and vindictive were things he could appreciate, in the right circumstances. She must have been working on that a while, screwing up in the field, getting snuggly with Tim… God, I wanted to BE her when I grew up. Every piece of kick-ass I knew, I learned from her. Of course, my family had taught me how to fight, but some real girly kick-ass? Go to the original source. You can't beat someone who had been trained from birth to be an assassin. It wasn't her gig any more, but man, when you wanted to hurt someone, she had ways!
When we were in the kitchen alone, my brother started making faces. "Mara doesn't have any friends."
"Look, twip. I'm about two inches away from just killing you, so watch it."
"Mara got kicked out of Young Justice! Haha. We weren't going to tell you. We just figured if we ignored you, you'd go away. Crystal said she can be just as good a leader as you."
"Good. She can have Young Justice." Was that true?
"Mara sucks, Mara sucks…"
I picked up a hand full of soap suds and whipped them at him. "Shut up, Donkey Breath."
"And Mara's kicked out of Gotham, and she had to go on patrol last night with dad… Too bad she's a social reject AND a loser who doesn't have any friends at school. And had to sit next to Steph all night at dinner." I picked a pancake turner and swung it at him. Unfortunatly, he was getting better, and he missed all my swipes. His foot came down on mine. HARD.
"That's it, Crow Boy." I chased after him, and grabbed him by his sweater. It stretched under my hand, but I refused to let go.
One of his legs came up and caught me in the rib. I wasn't expecting it. I was expecting this to be a quiet fight. But the second he connected, I let go, and let fly a kick to the head. "HAH!" I cried out loud.
And he started bawling. Little rat. That should have been his name in the mask. Little Rat.
In an instant, there were five people in the doorway, listening to my brother tell how I'd kicked him in the head 'for no reason'. Usually, for him, no reason meant 'I started it.'
"I don't care WHAT he's done to you, that doesn't mean you kick him in the head."
"He shoulda blocked it!" I cried to my dad. I looked to mom for support. Not seeing any, I looked to Grandpa Bruce.
"You need to keep yourself under control. If you can't handle a LITTLE BROTHER, then you're not as ready as I thought you were to be back on the streets of Gotham."
I sighed and let out a whine. "No! You said New Years! You don't understand, he was…"
"He's HALF your size, Martha Ann Grayson," my father said.
"First of all, we don't do that outside the practice room in this house. And second of all, how COULD you?" There went those few moments me and mom had today. I was back in the doghouse.
"He kicked me in the ribs!"
"You could have KILLED him!"
"Maybe I'm sorry I didn't!"
Whoops. Did I say that out loud? There was a look of shock on their faces, and then it instantly turned into anger. "Robin's going solo," I said. "Catch you all later."
There was a chorus of different responses at this point. "You get back here young lady," from dad.
"ROBIN will be retiring if you leave this house, she won't have to worry about going solo," grandpa Bruce said.
"Come on, kid, you're already in enough trouble." Grandpa Jim—always trying to keep me on the straight and narrow.
"I'm your mother, and I am telling you…"
I threw my dish towel down. "Bite me!" I called out, making a mad dash for the door. If they really wanted to follow me, I was pretty sure I could be stopped. But I also had a feeling they wouldn't.
And I left. No coat, no shoes, into the flurrying snow. I knocked on Tim's car window. Without waiting for a response, I called through the glass "Get a room!" and then moved to my car. My dad was standing in the door way. I just saluted and got in.
"You'd better cool down," he called. "We will DISCUSS this when you get back." Yeah yeah, right. Ground me for the rest of my natural life… Well, I've already spent two months trapped down here, what was the rest of my existence?
The only thing that really did have me concerned—what if they DID take Robin away? Could they do that?
I started up my car, pulled out of the drive way and headed for my bolt hole.
What the hell was wrong with me? I thought as I drove. I would never have ANY of their trust ever again. But… Well, they just didn't understand.
My hidey hole was still a mess from the last time I'd been there. Robin was as good as dead. That's pretty much what Grandpa had said. I sat down in the corner and put my head on my arms, and cried. There didn't seem to be anything left to do. My brother had successfully won this battle with those little crocodile tears, Young Justice was happy to be rid of me… Grandpa was rid of me.. and the worst part of that, was I'd turned him and the rest of my family against me all with my own hand. Or, rather, my smart mouth and my foot.
Even Grandpa Jim hadn't understood this last one.
How could he? I'd gone from Robin to "Irresponsible" in one birthday. Had the car thing been the start of it all? Had it opened the flood gates or something? Maybe I had always been irresponsible. Geeze. What ace had decided I was ready for the life I'd lead to this point? My grandfather… my father had always demanded the utmost maturity… but it didn't feel like 'maturity' issues. It felt like stupidity on my part.
Maybe I could just take a long walk off a tall building… without a jump line. That'd fix things. Then I wouldn't be… a disappointment. Some thing that was less than all the rest of them. Less than two Justice Leaguers and a Titan… Not worthy of them. That's what began burning in my mind as I sat there, my face wet and my head pounding. I wasn't… worth them.
"Do you want to tell me what is happening?" Grandpa wanted a heart to heart? I looked up. No. BATMAN wanted a heart to heart. Either was unusual, and… unacceptable. In his own eyes, if nothing else.
"What is there to say? And why do you care anyways. I'm just some dumb kid."
"I need to assess the situation."
I appreciated, somehow, that he put it down to a matter of work.
"I'm falling apart." There. The admission. It had come out before I could choose my words, but there they were. "I meant to kick him. I planned it."
"I saw that. You meant to start something with him before Dinah had arrived."
"I… I wont be happy. But I understand if. If I'm out of the costume. Permanently."
"I don't think discussion has degenerated to that point yet. I am willing to… negotiate."
I nodded, wiping my eyes. I did not untangle my arms from around my legs or attempt to get out of the corner, though.
"Perhaps you should start at the beginning of this string of… events. The car."
Yeah, he hadn't really asked me for an explanation. He'd kicked me out of the city, told my parents, then made sure they got their punishment in too. "I felt… obligated?" I had, but it sounded so dumb when I said it. "You know… gotta do something. Have the coolest car on earth, and all I get is the passenger seat? But you only live once, and… well, I had to."
"And disobeying me? The… changes in appearance?"
"It just seemed like… Aragg." I looked at my hands. "Like… aragg… I'm here. I'm still here, and you guys should see that."
"You feel... unnoticed."
"And Young Justice?"
"I don't know. I don't know what I DID to them. About two months ago, I made them stand down from an attack that Superboy insists we could win. But I didn't think so. I thought… well, better to run with your tail between your legs and get them second time around then sustain too many casualties to make a second attack impossible—if it becomes necessary. I don't know. Maybe Kon was right. Just go in and take them out, and lick our wounds… It makes me mad though. It's what I said. And as long as I'm in charge—they should just listen. Kon rushed after them. God, he's older than me. He's been DOING this longer than I've been alive. I… I lost it. Instead of going after the bad guys… I went after Kon." I clenched my eyes shut. "They should just LISTEN! Do what I say! When it's life or death, you listen to the person in charge!"
"Does this sound familiar to anything that you've ever heard your father or me say?"
I groaned. "Yeah," I said weakly. It was all I had to offer.
"I'm just so… mad. And at Jimmy too. Why can't he listen? He thinks that because he's family he gets some kind of special treatment in the field?" The deal was, you abused family MORE in the field because you knew they had to take you back in. "He's… he's got something working in his head. He's manipulating things there, and I can't figure it out."
"So you kick his head in the kitchen, on Christmas Eve."
"Something like that." I bit my cheek and thought for a moment. "It wasn't the most strategic move."
"You let your emotions get in the way. It is easy with family. It is easy with friends. Hence, the problem with Young Justice. All of it, though, is a sign of… discontentment, I fear."
"I… I like being Robin. I can't imagine doing anything else."
"That is the problem."
"What does that mean?"
"You're too accustomed to this life."
I must have looked as confused as I felt. Was he firing me? He knelt beside me. "It's time to get a hobby. Consider it an outlet. Or a stimulant for creativity. In this job, one needs both."
"What do you do?" I asked. I figured he was too… perfect to need anything.
"In my spare time, I'm Bruce Wayne." He actually smiled. I always thought it was creepy to see Batman smile.
One side of my face twitched. "So, you're saying I should take up roll-playing."
"Anything you'd like to do. Pick an… after-school activity."
I guffawed. "Ri-ight."
"Take up model ship building. I don't care. You can't spend every waking moment at school, with Young Justice, or with me. As much as I would LIKE to monopolize your time, past experience has taught me I can't. And I should have recognized the signs of burn-out sooner. That is MY failing as a partner."
"I'm not burned out."
"You're frustrated. It's enough. Frustrated to the point of making wrong decisions."
"I always do." He began helping me to my feet. "And as for Young Justice… leave them to their own abilities for a while. I think they'll find that even with your brother on board, they'll be hard pressed."
"I hate letting them win like that. I hate… letting it out of my grasp. It's… the control freak in me."
Another smile. "Just because you're not there doesn't mean you're not in control of a situation. Walking away and assessing their abilities without appropriate leadership would… prove beneficial at a later date. And it will affect immediate changes in your situation with them as a whole."
"Ok. While you're solving the rest of my life's problems… What about Jimmy, and the fact that my parents are going to kill me the next time they see me?" I blew my nose and started straightening myself out.
"The same with your brother as for Young Justice. Assess the situation at length. Consider it… surveillance. Do not engage."
He was right. I didn't know if my brother was up to innocent childish manipulation, or of it was something more serious, the same motives convoluted by his position and intelligence.
"And mom and dad?"
"I don't have all the answers, Robin."
He was calling me Robin. That was a good thing at least. I was being asked to get a hobby, I reminded myself. Not retire.
"We're going to get into a fight about the hair, and running off and all this. I can see it coming."
"Maybe. You know they're busy people."
"I know they're busy people. I just wish… Its like… hello. I'm still alive here. Patrolling with Dad is the only time I see him. It's pathetic. They pay attention to evil psycho-brother and not me. You all do."
"It's the risk of growing up. Let me see if I can repeat what Alfred said… Well, paraphrase. You want space, and that requires less attention on your parent's part. But when you actually get it…"
"You end up being ignored. I just think it's all backwards. The only time they really pay attention to me is to tell me what to do. I want less of that. More of Robin doing her own thing. No offence."
"Robin does her own thing with Young Justice. When she's in Gotham, she listens to me. If she gets any extra curricular activates, then she can do what she likes in her time away from Gotham and Bludhaven, with or without the mask, as far as I am concerned." Wow, that was a lot, coming from him. It was… space. If only my parents could be so cool.
"Ok." I was rather sheepish in my reply. But I honestly didn't know what to say. "I guess I should just suck it up and face the music on my brother and being a grouch and all that."
"Your brother didn't get off entirely scott-free. He DID start it. And he DID kick you. They're not entirely blind. It would just stand to reason that the oldest would know better."
I had a question about that. "Who's worse, currently. My dad or Tim."
"Your point is noted."
The practical joke war had been going on for as long as I could remember, and their idea of bonding usually ended with both of them rolling around on the lawn. In the fall they'd squished the last of the tomatoes, and mom had NOT been a happy camper. Dad always instigated. Maybe… maybe he needed some 'positive attention' (as my psychology teacher called it) too. If he was a good boy, I'd take him out for ice cream. Mom and I could bake something, or… something. They hadn't made time for me lately. But I hadn't made time for them, either.
"Ok. So maybe my world isn't completely falling apart." I wouldn't tell him I'd briefly contemplated taking 'the plunge'.
"The day you turn twenty, this will suddenly all make sense." What he was saying was that when I got older, the teenage angst would melt away, and I'd actually realize what was going on around me. "Now. I think they're holding dessert. We'd better get back before something erupts, and, God forbid, the entire Justice League gets called out." Yeah. We sort of had that… hurry up and relax mentality in our family. Never knew when the alarm would sound.
"Yeah. Gotta go back some time." That was the thing with running away in my house. It wasn't forever.
"If you're not in too much trouble, Monday you can work on the new suit with me. I'm programming the sensors in the bat symbol now. "
"The black and red one?"
"Only if Robin gets cool stuff in her suit too."
"You don't need strength amplifiers. I… am hitting a place where… well, one does." Say it, Grandpa, you're getting old. He only had graying hair, and he still moved more than fast enough for this job… but I supposed he was looking for a little boost.
"I'm a weak girl. Help me."
We both left the storage space. That was maybe my third heart-to-heart conversation with him, ever. Maybe he just saved them up to effect the most 'damage' when he actually DID have them. I'd survive. Robin'd continue on. And Mara was getting a hobby. I didn't know what it was, yet. But I was sure I could find something ELSE to obsess on, besides my night job.
"Does this mean I'm un-grounded from Gotham? If you want me to come over Monday?"
"I suppose it does. But if you think kicking people in the head is a good way to evade punishment…"
For the first time since the Christmas season began, I laughed. And I realized, I was just as nutty as the rest. God bless their little souls. If you can't beat them, join them. Or at least… don't hold yourself above them. You might just find out you're abnormal in a sea of abnormality.