Disclaimer: DC owns the characters, I own the story. Though I guess if DC wants to play with my stories there isn't much I can do about it, since they're letting me play with their characters!
Note: Not part of the SB timeline.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
"Deck the walls with balls of holly, falalalala lala la la!" Timothy Drake cringed as he entered Titan's Tower. He hadn't been too thrilled with the idea of a team Christmas party to begin with. This party being for the younger members of the team, most of whom had been in Young Justice before becoming Titans, Tim was a little concerned that things might get out of hand.
"It's 'deck the halls with boughs of holly', moron!" Tim sighed. It sounded as if his concerns may have been justified, as they usually were. Superboy, Conner Kent to those in the know, and Kid Flash, formerly Impulse, also known as Bart Allen, were already getting into it.
"Falalalalalalalalalalala!" Bart sang at super speed. Tim mentally braced himself, hefted his backpack full of gifts onto his shoulder, and pushed open the door. Almost immediately he found himself in the unenviable position of having a super speedster vibrate all the way through his body in order to not crash into him. Not to mention he had to duck to avoid getting hit by Conner's dive-bomb attack aimed at Bart. He sighed again, but gave a little grin.
"Tim!" Cassie Sandsmark, Wonder Girl, waved at him from the sofa where she was chatting with Cissie King-Jones. Cissie, though she was no longer a hero, had been one of the original members of Young Justice, and she still hung out with them from time to time. With her was Greta, the young woman who had been "Secret" before Darkseid had returned the girl to a human, live state. She, Cissie, and Cassie all attended the same school now.
"Hey Cassie, Cissy, Greta." Tim set down his backpack and glanced over at the normally obnoxious Beast Boy, Gar Logan, who was strangely quiet. He was flopped back in an easy chair, flipping idly through the TV channels.
"…lalalalala!" Bart came zipping back into the room, still singing at the top of his lungs. Tim rolled his eyes and reached out a hand, managing to snag the speedster's shirt, bringing him to a sudden stop. "Urk! Hey! Wadja do that for?!" Bart vibrated free from his grasp and half-glared, half-looked at him with confused puppy-eyes.
"Thanks Tim!" Conner dove at Bart, intending to knock him over, but Bart was still vibrating and he ended up smashing into the floor. The girls burst out laughing. Conner shot them a hurt look, then grinned, flying up over the couch and pulling something out of his pocket. Cass, somehow anticipating his move, jumped into the air herself.
"Oh no you don't!"
"Come on! Just one!?" Tim shook his head as Conner chased her around the room with a small bunch of squashed mistletoe. It hadn't been too long ago when Cassie had been the one "chasing" Conner. Since they started dating, though…well they provided ample entertainment for the rest of the team.
"Kon! Stop it!" Cassie giggled, calling him by his "real" name, the one given to him by Superman years before. Her cheeks reddened as he managed to steal a kiss and the expected teasing was provided by the other team members.
"Hey! When are we gonna eat?! I'm hungry!"
"You're always hungry, Bart." The young heroes meandered into the dining room, in no hurry, except for Bart who already had a plate full of food and was sitting at table before anyone else even reached the buffet. Tim hesitated in the doorway. Gar was still watching TV instead of joining in the festivities.
"Hey, Gar, you coming?" The green-skinned boy shrugged apathetically. Being younger than the other "original" Titans, yet not a part of the Young Justice team had set him apart.
"Nah, I'm not hungry." Tim paused, then reentered the rec room.
"Don't like the holidays?" Gar looked at him in surprise.
"I like them just fine." His voice was defensive, and Tim suppressed a grin.
"Just not in the mood right now, huh?" Gar rolled his eyes.
"You're not going to leave me alone, are you?" Tim shrugged. He wasn't the type of person to pry into his teammates' personal lives, but he also knew that sometimes it did help to talk to someone. He remained silent, hoping that this would be one of those times. He didn't know Gar all that well, socializing hadn't really ever been one of his strong points, but he felt it was a shame that he didn't know more about his unique teammate.
"I… I guess I'm just missing my parents. I mean, I was so young when they died, but all the stuff recently, especially with Dr. Register…the sakutia and the kids…I guess it just brought back memories." Tim nodded.
"The holidays are some of the worst times to be without the ones you love. I remember the first Christmas after my mom died…" he thought back. He had only recently become Robin, had carried the mantle for less than a year. His dad had been in a coma and his mom dead for only a few weeks. He had had Bruce, Dick, Barbara, and Alfred, though, to help him get through…not that Bruce was the cheeriest of people.
"Is that it?" He blinked, realizing that he hadn't finished his statement.
"Oh. Well, it was hard. I understand how you're feeling." Gar looked like he wanted to argue with him, so Tim hurried on. "I know I don't know exactly how you're feeling…I just…" he sighed. He hadn't told any of the Titans, other than Conner, about his dad. He wasn't sure why, he just hadn't. But now…
"I…my dad died. About a month ago." Gar looked at him sympathetically.
"I'm sorry…I didn't…"
"I haven't told anyone." Tim shrugged. "I just didn't want to…" Gar nodded in understanding. "Anyway I've found that even when I don't really feel like celebrating, being around friends makes this season a lot more tolerable." Gar gave a little half-smile.
"I guess so."
"Come on…." Tim stood, grinning "before Bart eats all the pie!"
"Cooool!" The Titans had nearly finished their little party. The sun had set, and it was nearing the time when they would all return to their families or wherever they were living to celebrate the holidays. Except Tim. Robin still had to go out on Christmas Eve.
"Bart! That isn't… oh, never mind." Cissie King-Jones had been friends with Impulse long before either of them had joined Young Justice. Though they didn't see much of each other any more, she felt she understood him better than some of the other young heroes. At the moment, he was trying to use her gift of a portable DVD player as a game system. It wasn't working.
"Um…thanks." Conner tried to keep the distaste off his face as he opened Cassie's present.
"I thought since you live on a farm, you could probably use them." Conner held a pair of cowboy boots in his hand and managed to choke back a grimace. Cassie grinned, knowing how hard he was trying to please her. "Oh, by the way…here's your real present!" She laughed at the relief on his face, followed swiftly by joy as he unwrapped a new cell phone.
"Since I don't have your number at your house…" she hesitated. Only Tim knew Conner's "secret" last name, since knowing it would give away Superman's identity as well as Kon's. It had been difficult for Cassie to not be able to contact Conner. "My number's already programmed in." she added shyly.
Tim sat back and watched his friends. Everyone had exchanged gifts, some more meaningful than others. He saw Cissie laughing at Bart's antics. Though some people might think there was something going on between those two, them having been friends for such a long time, Tim knew that Bart had a good relationship with a girl friend of his from Manchester, Alabama, where he used to live before Max Mercury disappeared and he went to live with Jay and Joan Garrick. Cassie and Conner had retreated to a more secluded corner. Gar was showing off for Greta…her child-like ways of looking at things had her enthralled with his shape-shifting abilities.
Tim glanced out the window. He knew Batman would be picking him up soon, putting an end to the festivities, at least for him. His own gifts, while appreciated, held no special meaning for anyone. He had gotten Conner a couple of CDs and Bart a big book of crosswords and puzzles that he could use his new-found knowledge on. Cassie, Cissie, and Greta had each gotten a small but tasteful (he didn't put up with Bruce Wayne's Millionaire Playboy persona for nothing!) bracelets…nothing intimate, just friendly jewelry… Gar had received a book on rare creatures; Tim had noticed that he liked to spend time watching animal documentaries. He had also left gifts for Vic, Kory, and Raven…though he didn't know them very well and had went with the ever popular gift certificates in their case.
Tim himself had received some very…different presents. Conner, who had only recently confessed that Tim was his best friend, had given him a little stone statue of Robin in a fighting stance…he confessed that while he had made it himself using his heat vision, he had had help. Bart had given him a Chemistry set, the cheap kind from a department store, nothing compared to the resources he had in the Batcave but it was the thought that counted. Gar had presented him with a DVD set…a detective series called "Monk" that Tim had once mentioned enjoying. The girls had taken the easy route and given gift certificates. Except for Greta, who gave everyone little personalized key-chains.
A shadowy movement caught Tim's eye, and he turned to see the hovering form of Batman's jet. He sighed. It had been fun hanging out…not worrying about anything for a short time. He hadn't really been on the best of terms with Bruce since his dad had died.
"Hey guys, I gotta go." There was chorus of "byes" and he grabbed his backpack, preparing for a long trip back to Gotham. As he reached the roof, where the plane had landed, he prepared himself for the likelihood of having his Christmas cheer drained away by Batman's dour disposition. Yet, to his surprise, it wasn't Batman's figure revealed as the jet's top opened, but a younger (and much more cheerful) person.
"Nightwing?" Tim couldn't keep the surprise out of his voice. "Where's Batman?"
"Well, nice to see you too!" Dick Grayson sprung nimbly out of the cockpit, intending to help Tim with his packages. Tim rolled his eyes.
"That's not what I meant…I was just making sure nothing…um…happened." Dick flashed him a grin.
"Nah. We just figured it would save your sanity a little if you didn't have to spend the ride home with the original Mr. Scrooge."
"We?" Nightwing had taken Tim's bag from him, leaving him with the statue and chemistry set, and he hefted it into the storage compartment on the jet.
"Ummm…well, you know…I was just talking to Oracle and she agreed with my analysis of the situation!" Dick may be able to keep secret the identities of the most carefully concealed heroes on the planet, but he was a complete failure when it came to keeping a plot from his "little brother". Tim nodded, not believing a word he said, but willing to go along with him for the time being.
They finished stowing Tim's loot and climbed into the jet for the ride home. As Nightwing powered her up, the radio, usually tuned to police and emergency broadcasts, began to blare a familiar Christmas song. Tim flashed an "I don't believe this" look at Dick but only received another grin in response. Oh well… it was better than Batman.
In the time it took to get from San Francisco to Gotham Tim came to a few decisions.
- First, he was now certain that, though it seemed cute the first few times he heard it, the "Barking Jingle Bells" song had to be the most obnoxious Christmas song ever written! A fact which Nightwing seemed to have figured out, as he played it seven times in a row!
-Second, it was not a good idea to fill up on Christmas cookies right before getting into a jet with an acrobat at the controls. While he managed to keep everything in, he simply knew that if he could see himself in the mirror he would be a very Christmasy shade of green.
-Finally, if he had been suspicious of Nightwing's explanation before, he was no positive that something was up…no matter what map one is using, Jamaica is not on the way from San Francisco to Gotham.
Tim sighed as the Gotham skyline came into view. There was rarely any action on the few nights before and after Christmas. He recalled another Christmas Eve, when Robin was flying solo and his Dad and Dana had been gone on vacation, getting stuck in a snowstorm on their way home. He had been feeling sorry for himself until his "Bat family" had tricked him into going to Babs' apartment for a Christmas get-together. He glanced over at Dick, who had finally fallen silent as they approached the city. He supposed that he was going to be "surprised" with another one, based on his "older brother's" behavior.
When they finally landed, though, coming through the secret entrance to the Batcave, Nightwing simply handed Tim his stuff and shut down the jet. He then called out a short "See ya!" and hopped on his motorcycle, driving off into the snowy night. Tim stood, alone in the dark cave, wondering just what was going on. Then he shrugged. So Dick was trying to throw him off the scent…there was still something up.
Three hours later he wasn't so sure. He had patrolled the city, twice, had managed to help an old lady crossing an icy patch, and was now camped out on top of a shopping mall, listening to the Christmas Music playing over their intercom. He had checked in with Oracle twice, both times receiving a short response that, no, she didn't have anything for him to do. After the second call she had informed him that she was going off line because she was having guests over. Tim had thought she meant guests as in Nightwing and Alfred and himself, as she had before, but the big clock on the mall's tower continued to tick merrily away without a call from anyone.
"Whatcha doing?" He turned, surprised, at the sound of Batgirl's voice. Cassandra Cain wore the mantle of Batgirl like a second skin, as if she were born to the role. Though they had teamed up recently, they still weren't the best of friends and their paths rarely crossed. He shrugged.
"The Christmas music." She looked down at the empty parking lot.
"The mall is closed. Why are they still playing music?" Tim gave her a half-smile.
"I really have no idea." He thought for a second. "Maybe it's for the security guards. It has to really suck being stuck at work on Christmas Eve." She pondered his statement, then sat down next to him.
"I'm sorry." He blinked, not sure where that had come from.
"That you are stuck at work on Christmas Eve. You said it sucked." He stared at her for a moment, then laughed. Though he couldn't see her face under the mask, he could tell she thought he was laughing at her, so he quickly got himself under control to explain.
"Ahem…sorry. I wasn't laughing at you. I just…I guess I've been feeling like it 'sucked' all night and yet I wasn't even thinking about my own situation when I said that." He sighed, sobering. "I guess I'm just feeling lonely, you know? I mean, Babs has her family, and I really have no clue what Dick is up to, Alfred and Bruce are probably doing some big society Christmas shindig…either that or Batman's off working…alone, since he hasn't been on the comm all night…and Alfred is…well, somewhere." She nodded sagely, but he got the impression she didn't know what he was talking about.
"You have no clue what I'm talking about, do you?" She glared at him, at least he thought she did, and folded her arms across her chest.
"Of course I do! Christmas. Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." He raised an eyebrow at her. "Um…I was watching specials?" He chuckled.
"Well, that's one way to get a feel for the spirit of things."
"You miss your dad?" He glanced away.
"Yeah, I guess that's part of it. Though he wasn't ever around much at Christmas, or any other time, anyway. But it's just one of those times when you want to be with your family, even if history and facts tell you it's not gonna happen."
"I never celebrated Christmas." He looked at her sympathetically but she shrugged. "I didn't know what I was missing, so it didn't matter. Now…you know the song… 'Most Wonderful Time of the Year?'" He nodded. "It's like that. There's no one to fight, and people help each other, and it's…nice, but also weird. I don't know what to do." She shrugged again, kicking her feet against the wall. "I almost knocked around a Santa Claus. He came out of the store with a big bag, after they were closed…but he was taking donated toys to kids at a local shelter." Tim grinned.
"I nearly did the same thing to a guy putting up lights a few years ago. I thought he was breaking into the apartment." She laughed and they sat in companionable silence for a few moments. A distant chime rang four times, and Tim looked up at the clear sky.
"Guess I should be heading home." He wasn't really thrilled with the idea. Dana wasn't around, so the apartment would be dark. He had decorated, putting up a tree and lights, but it was a pale substitute for the usual festivities. He stood and Batgirl followed suit.
"Going back to the cave first?" He nodded, not sure of the purpose behind her question. "Me too." Ah. She, too, seemed to be reluctant to be alone. They traveled in silence. The cave was still empty, except for the bats, rustling around in the shadows. Tim wasn't sure why she had come to the cave; she had an apartment she could work out of as Batgirl and didn't usually come here before or after patrol. They separated, each going to a different area to change into 'civvies'.
"Well, um…" Tim wasn't sure what to say. Cass smiled.
"Yeah. Merry Christmas."
Tim unlocked the apartment door, feeling more tired than he usually did after a patrol. He dropped his backpack by the front door, intending to crash for a few hours. Bruce…well, Alfred, really… had invited everyone for dinner the next afternoon, and he was looking forward to that, even though he had the blues tonight. As he moved farther into the room, the sixth sense he had developed as Robin kicked in.
The apartment was dark…completely dark. He knew he had left the Christmas tree lit, as well as the lights around the window. He felt, rather than heard or saw, the movement as something hurtled towards him in the blackness. He ducked and kicked out, instinctively falling into "Robin mode". He had his attacker pinned to the floor before the lights blared, blinding him momentarily. The flash gave his assailant the edge he needed to flip Tim off of him, knocking him to the ground. Tim was back on his feet almost instantly, but by then his vision had cleared.
"Man, Tim! You have really got to learn to relax!" Unfortunately, he hadn't quite regained all his balance, so the shock of the sight that greeted him sent him right back into an inelegant sprawl. Dick, Babs, Alfred, Cass (the little sneak!), and even Bruce were all gathered in his apartment. Still on the floor, he covered his eyes with his hand and shook his head.
"You know, you could just invite me over for dinner like a nice normal family instead of constantly surprising me with random Christmas parties." Dick grinned.
"But where's the fun in that?!"
"You are just trying to give me a heart attack before I'm twenty, aren't you?"
"Yep." Dick reached down and helped him up. Tim looked around at the familiar faces, recalling the last time they had gotten together for Christmas. That year he had forgotten to think of them as family…he hadn't even expected to spend Christmas with them. This year he had hoped, but they had tricked him again… pretending they all had somewhere else to be.
"You should have seen your face." Tim turned as Cass approached. "Was funny." He grimaced at her.
"I can't believe you did that!"
"You know, all that about Christmas, and listening to me without saying anything…" he reddened, "Now I feel pretty dumb." Cass shook her head.
"You aren't dumb. It is ok to feel lonely…" she glanced over to where Dick was trying to get Babs under some mistletoe. Tim followed her gaze, seeing a wistfulness she probably hadn't wanted anyone to notice. Cass was so good at being Batgirl, that it was easy to forget she had no one to go home to.
"Hey." He nudged her with his elbow. "You want your present?"
"You got me a present?" He was taken aback at her surprise.
"Why wouldn't I?"
"No, why would you? You said yourself we weren't friends." He rolled his eyes.
"First of all, that was when I was grouchy because I just found out about…about Stephanie becoming Robin and I felt like you were sent over to baby-sit me…it just made me mad. I wasn't really upset at you. And second, I got everyone presents." She shrugged, but he could detect a child-like interest in her eyes. He went over and dug around under the tree, finally pulling out a colorfully wrapped package. It, like all the gifts to his 'super' friends had no name tag…Tim didn't really think Dana would go ballistic if she found out about Robin, as his dad had believed, but on the other hand, she was in a clinic right now and he didn't need to worry her more.
"Here you go." She took the package and examined it.
"It's…pretty." He wasn't sure if she was joking or not…had she ever received a present?
"Um…you're supposed to open it." She grinned.
"I know…but it is too pretty." Tim rolled his eyes. Why did women always have to be so…so…weird? Cassandra laughed, reading his frustration easily. She tore open the gift, revealing a cardboard box. She raised an eyebrow at Tim, as if she thought that was the whole gift.
"Just what…I always wanted." Tim laughed and she grinned, carefully prying open the taped seams. Inside was a lovely snow globe featuring the Gotham skyline. She stared at it for a few moments as if transfixed, tracing the outline through the glass. "Thank you." Tim squirmed. He hadn't put a lot of thought into Cassandra's present, since he didn't know her that well, yet she acted as if he had given her the most precious gift in the world.
"Um. You're welcome."
"I didn't get anybody anything." Her expression turned melancholy.
"Hey, that's ok." Tim interjected quickly. "Sometimes it's not the gift that matters, it's just being there." She smiled.
"Hey! Ow! Stop it!" They looked over to where Babs was playfully smacking Dick's arm. He laughed, capturing her hands and giving her a noisy kiss.
"Ewwww! Show off." But she was laughing too. Someone put on some Christmas music, probably Alfred. As the family gathered to exchange gifts and simply enjoy each other's company, Tim held back for a moment, just observing them. Cass had been right…Christmas may be weird for vigilantes, but for a family like his, it really was the best time of the year.