A/N: Happy New Year! Bit past a week, but hey, I'm close, right? ;)
IMPORTANT: For the first three hours of its publishing, the first chapter was missing the last two hundred words (from the last line break and onwards). Please go back and make sure you read that bit.
This Christmas was shaping up to look a bit more like his childhood Christmases than Tim was comfortable with. Alone in his apartment, perched on the edge of his couch with his hands pressed into his lap, and a small, perfect Christmas tree shedding its little light in the corner, the base of it empty of any and all presents for the indeterminable future.
For nostalgia's sake, he'd been briefly tempted to switch off the heater as well. Decided that was a little too self-punishing; even for him.
But unlike his childhood Christmases, there was no chance of his parents stumbling in on the 26th, giving a brief, (in)sincere apology as they unpacked; no hope of presents finding themselves under the tree a day too late.
No chance of a rescue from a certain blue-eyed man with a penchant for bird names, either. Which was probably for the best, since Tim couldn't guarantee he wouldn't punch the man right in the nose…
(A thought which hurt more than Tim cared to admit; especially to himself.)
He told himself he didn't mind it. That ever since he'd swung on the bright yellow cape for the first time, he'd been setting himself up for this very moment.
The moment he'd allowed his heart to settle, allowed it to bare itself to those around him, it was crushed by the weight of disappointment. Rejection.
Ever since his parents, he'd been so, so careful. Refused to let himself hope, to let his feelings rest upon anyone because it would always always end in a brush off, a distracted turn away.
It was his mistake. He should've known that this new 'family' wouldn't turn out any different than his first.
Tim was no longer Robin. Bruce was no longer trapped in the time stream.
Tim had fulfilled his role in the Wayne residence.
It was time to move on.
(That was the question of his lifetime, wasn't it?)
Well. He was 17, after all. An emancipated minor, so he didn't need Bruce's permission to do anything now.
It wasn't too late to send out a few college applications just yet. Sure it would take a few weeks longer for a response considering he wasn't within any of the first choice deadlines. Plus, it was Christmas, so most colleges were closed until at least January 2nd, usually 3rd.
And yet…college seemed so…normal, after the kind of life he'd lead. Almost…boring.
Maybe he could do an accelerated course and complete four years of college in two. Then maybe got to grad school just for the heck of it. Be a lawyer, or something.
Or he could skip straight to grad school… Not like anyone would notice a barely adult wandering around among the mid-twenties students, right?
Then again, there was always online...
Or he could just take over to Drake Industries. That was his inheritance anyway, wasn't it?
Yeah. Yeah, that was his best bet. Then take a bunch of business trips. (Anything to get out of Gotham.)
He'd have to start with weaning it off of Wayne Enterprises, get it standing on its own two feet again. Make enough money in his own personal account to provide a nice buffer…then disappear. (Only way to ensure this didn't happen again.)
The door buzzer rang.
Tim…blinked. Ogled the door to his apartment in disbelief.
Okay. That…couldn't be right. He had to be hearing things.
Contrary to popular belief, history did not repeat itself so exactly on a regular basis. His hopes would not be risen this time.
Had he ordered takeout and forgotten? Did any place even deliver on Christmas?
The buzzer rang again; shrill and insistent.
Takeout. Had to be takeout.
Tim eased to his feet, half-heartedly running a hand through his hair and brushing any potential lint off his enormous sweatshirt (it was Dick's, which he kind of hated himself for) to appear somewhat presentable before drawing back the bolt and turning the lock of his apartment door without bothering to check the peephole.
And…two glittering blue eyes twinkled back at him. "Merry Christmas, Timmy!" Dick Grayson crowed.
(Tim should have checked the peephole. Then maybe he could have at least pretended he wasn't home.)
"Er…Merry Christmas…Dick," Tim managed, ignoring the flare of excitement beside the pained, twisted feeling in his chest. "What…"—are you doing here?—"What's up?"
Dick blinked. "I texted you fifteen minutes ago telling you I was coming to pick you up."
"I…guess I didn't see it," Tim admitted. (He'd locked his phone in the closet this morning; which Dick didn't need to know.)
Despite the flicker of…something in his expression, the man smiled, rolling his eyes. "Ah. I see."
And Tim couldn't resist asking, the flutter in his chest at odds with the sinking in his gut: "Um…why did you need to pick me up?"
Dick stared, disbelieving. "We've been waiting for you to show up for forever. Seriously, Alfred won't even let us get within three feet of the presents or dinner until you show up, and I can't take the suspense any longer! Just listen to my stomach!"
Right on cue, the man's stomach growled.
"So I decided to save you the trouble of driving yourself over." The 'And make you completely dependent on me to get home so that you have to stay the night' and 'To make sure you actually came' was implied. Dick spread his arms dramatically. "Besides, Alfie wanted to make sure you made it home in one piece. So here I am!"
And…Tim tried to hate him. For pretending like nothing's changed, for still believing they were on the same footing as they'd been before Bruce's death. As a matter of fact, he wanted to hate him.
Because it wasn't Dick's fault that Tim just wasn't (ever) enough anymore.
"That's…nice of you, Dick," Tim decided on finally. Carefully. "You didn't have to."
"Nonsense," Dick chided. "That's what big brothers are for."
Tim managed a tight smile. "Of course."
Dick's grin drooped almost imperceptibly. "So…what are you up to today?"
Wow. Tim had forgotten how persistent (oblivious) Dick could be. There was no way he hadn't figured out that Tim had had zero intentions of going to the Manor today.
(If it wasn't for that episode with Captain Boomerang, maybe at least Bruce would have been happy to see him… But no. Tim was quitting while he was ahead. He wouldn't go at all. Save himself the heartache.)
"Just some leftover WE reports," Tim responded. At least that was true. "Maybe a movie later." (And some hot chocolate and a good cry.) He pointedly didn't ask, 'Why?' He wasn't stupid enough to fall for that kind of bait which alway lead to the worst form of persuasion: Guilt tripping. Something Dick knew that Tim was very susceptible to.
"Ah," Dick said, awkward. "I see."
A twisted sense of satisfaction coiled in Tim's gut. Threw off your plan, didn't I, "big brother." Ha.
There was a pause.
As always, Dick spoke first: "Cass is back from China for the rest of the week."
Tim blinked. "She is?" Surprised.
Unveiled hope lighted Dick's eyes as he hastily explained, "Yeah. We were surprised, too. She called the Manor this morning telling us that she'd touch down in ten minutes, and if it wouldn't be too much trouble for us to pick her up."
"Huh." Cass hadn't told Tim she was coming back to Gotham. Just one more thing Tim wasn't let in on. Then again, neither had the rest of the family from the sounds of it. Still…
"She told me she called you while she was waiting for us to get her," Dick said, casual.
"Oh. Yeah," Tim realized, remembering the short seasons greeting his sister had given him a few hours earlier. "She didn't let anything slip, apparently."
"Apparently," Dick agreed. Fondness quirking the corners of his mouth. "She could give Alfred a run for his money in the poker face arena."
"Steph promised to drop in for a couple hours," Dick pressed, not even trying to hide the wheedling in his voice. He glanced at his watch. "As a matter of fact, she should be there now."
Before Tim could form a response to that, Dick continued: "Damian's even sworn an oath to be civil for the whole day. To everyone. Do you realize how long that took? How many bribes? Speaking of, you wouldn't happen to know where I could find an original Mongol sword owned by Genghis Khan, would you? I tried eBay, but they're all replicas…"
"Really, Dick," Tim interrupted. "Stop beating around the bush and just say it already."
Hurt flickered across Dick's features.
Tim told himself he didn't care. The pained throb in his chest suggested otherwise.
Finally, "Are you planning on coming home today?" Dick blurted.
"I am home," Tim said. Flat. Refusing to let any telltale emotion leak through.
"Look, Dick." And Tim tried so hard to grind down the cutting edge his tone had formed; didn't quite manage it. "It's fine. Really, I'd rather be by myself today. So just…go home to your precious demon child, okay?"
Crap. Crap crap crap, that was opening a door to Tim's carefully concealed problems that he really hadn't meant anyone else to explore today… Or ever, really.
Opened his mouth, scrambled to cover it up with something a little less self-incriminating. All that came out was: "Go away, Dick."
Great. Now he'd made it worse.
However, instead of anger, Dick's gaze softened, guilt creeping into the brilliant blue irises. "Timmy. I know this last year has been hard, and I haven't really been much help with that, but…. You know we still want you around…right?"
Tim resisted the urge to swallow the imaginary lump in his throat. "Yeah. Sure."
There was a pause. Dick fidgeted; conflicted. Tim stared; impassive.
"Look," Dick said eventually, soft. "I won't force you to come with me. You can stay here, if you really want to. But we all miss you, and we'd love it if you would join us. It's Christmas, Timmy. Family time.
"And I know you might not believe it, but…it really wouldn't be the same without you."
"You got on just fine before I came along," Tim snapped. Done. Just… He just wanted a peaceful (lonely) Christmas to wallow in his own self-pity, was that too much to ask?
Dick's face fell. (Tim should have felt worse about that than he did.)
"Please come home," Dick blurted. "I miss you. Bruce misses you, which he would never admit out loud, but…he's been particularly grumpy today. Even by Batman standards." Helplessly, Dick spread his hands. "Please. Come home, Timmy. If not for me, than for Bruce's sake. For Alfred. For Steph. For Cass."
Running a hand through his hair, the familiar exhaustion of the past year etched itself back into Dick's face, shoulders drooping, breath huffing out in a sigh (sob). "Tim, I…I know you're upset with me." (How could Tim be? Dick was right, after all.) "You have every right to be. But I don't want this to alienate you from us. From Bruce, and the others. And I…I know it's selfish, but…I don't want to lose you, too, Tim."
"I'm not dead, Dick," Tim pointed out gently.
Dick squeezed his eyes shut; pained. "Neither is Jason."
Tim resisted a flinch at that comparison.
Dang it. It was happening. The guilt began creeping through his pores, questioning his decision on this matter…for better or worse.
Question of the day: Did he really want to be alone today?
…Tim missed the moment five minutes ago where he was certain of his answer.
Finally, Dick's eyes opened, lopsided grin spreading beneath sad eyes. "It's your decision, Tim. Honest. I just wanted you to know that we've been waiting. Alfred has a place set out for you and everything."
"That's low, Dick."
Dick shrugged. The smile still didn't quite reach his eyes. "I try."
Hesitantly, Dick laid a hand on Tim's shoulder. "Love you, little brother. Even if you don't think so sometimes." The man turned, shuffling down the hallway. Called over his shoulder, "I'll be outside if you change your mind."
And then he rounded the corner and disappeared. Leaving Tim stewing in indecision.
Tim closed his eyes, slumping against the doorframe. Unwilling to close the door itself just yet.
Pros, cons… So many. There always were.
Tim was so tired of sifting through them all in a harried attempt to find neutral ground.
Would there ever be a moment where Tim could just not think for awhile?
Turning his cheek against the cool surface of the doorframe, his eyes caught the glint of the little Christmas tree wedged in the corner. Pristine. Perfect.
Tim sighed. "Guilt, thy name is Dick." Grabbed his coat, jammed his feet into his boots, did up the many locks on his door, and sprinted down the hallway.
And as Tim stepped out of his apartment building, catching sight of Dick's head shooting up behind the wheel of Bruce's Lamborghini (in winter; really, Dick?), back straightening, entire expression glowing at the sight of him…Tim couldn't help the smile prying up the corners of his lips.