Title: Of Bathing and Birthday Suits

Author: D C Luder

Summary: Where the first day of Spring brings hope into so many lives, it seems to only bring misery for Dick Grayson.

Infringements: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.

Author's Note: This was written as a Challenge Fic with the theme "Best or Worst Birthday" for our favorite man in black and blue.

V

Humid warm air breezed over my bathing trunks clad body. The buzz in my veins was from the three Mai Tai's I had for lunch. The sun was brilliant through my Ray-Ban's, warming my eyelids as I dozed softly. This was the life, I thought, as a spritz of water from the ocean waves misted over me.

I was about to call over to the Tiki hut bar for another drink when the small dollops of seawater quickly turned into consistent dripping on my brow. Removing my sunglasses, I looked skyward, my arched brow broadcasting my confusion. How in the hell did dripping water come from a clear, blue sky? It wasn't long before the answer surfaced, as the cerulean atmosphere faded into the pale nimbus coloring of my bedroom ceiling.

Reality… I wasn't on a beach in the Caribbean, I wasn't working on my tan and I sure wasn't sipping tropical mixed drinks in eighty-nine degree weather. It was just me in my flannel pants, twisted in the sheets of my bed, suddenly all too aware of the fact that the ceiling was leaking.

"Crap," I muttered as I rolled out of bed, wiping the water from my face. As I looked up, I sighed to see the hole I had repaired three times in the last four years had cracked slightly, allowing whatever melting snow that was on the roof to make its way into my bedroom. After retrieving a cooking pot, one that I had never used for anything involved with preparing food, I made a mental note to repair the hole after I got out of work that evening…

"Double crap!" I looked at the clock radio that cheerily displayed the time to be a quarter of six. The problem with six-to-four shifts was that you had to be at work at six and no later, unless of course, you enjoyed a good reaming out by your Supervising Officer. Usually, I did my best to barter for later shifts, allowing me to sleep in between my work as Nightwing and as Officer Grayson. Then again that even required luck, of which I had been on short supply for my whole life.

In the fraction of time that I had, I decided a quick shower would help rinse away the fog of sleep. After turning the shower on, I stepped out of the flannel pants and stepped in on the blind faith that the water would have warmed up by then. That's why as the icy water came into contact with my skin that my scream resembled that of an eight-year-old girl.

I leapt out of the shower as gracefully as possible before seeking warmth from a heavy blue towel. Teeth chattering, I reached in and turned the shower off, being careful to avoid the cold water. A shower wasn't that important, I confided in myself, Especially when you had designer cologne that could cover up skunk spray.

Having an electric shaver saved me from nicking myself as I saved while I dressed in the uniform I had worn three days earlier. After patting down my hair, eating a stick of spearmint gum and a dab of Havana by Aramis on my throat I looked out the window to make the final decision: cycle or car. The cloudy skies suggested a cold rain but with nothing falling down yet, I donned my leather coat and gloves, grabbed the keys and my helmet and headed out. The cycle was faster, I reasoned.

At the first of six stoplights between my apartment and the precinct, it started to sprinkle. By the second, it was a slow drizzle and by the third it was a downpour. As fellow morning commuters sat comfortably warm and dry inside their vehicles, I was shivering and soaking wet on the back of mine. Upon arriving at work, the only parking spot available was that near the rear left corner next to a row of unmarkeds that the detectives and undercover officers used.

Careful not to slip in the accumulating rain, I jogged the distance of the parking lot and sought refuge inside the building. Absolutely drenched, I had no choice but to head to the locker room and change. Thankfully, the room was empty and I changed in peace into a spare and surprisingly clean uniform. I frowned to see that I had no extra socks or boots. Triple crap…

Squishing up the stairs to the second floor, I glanced at my watch: 6:09. When I heard a rough voice bark to the entire floor that I was late, I sighed and found my desk. My temporary SO, a lumbering bear of a man who took great pleasure in torturing me, was Mark Arballo. He paused beside me, looking down at my hand for only a second before grabbing it and looking at my watch. He then compared the time with that of his own, "Hmm… Seems we're all synchronized… What do you think, Grayson?"

I slowly looked at my watch and then of that on his thick arm. Yep, same time… As my eyes scanned the face of his watch, I noticed that it kept the date as well. It suddenly made sense, why absolutely everything had gone to pieces that day… 3-20… March twentieth… The first day of spring… My birthday…

Although frightened for what other tragedies fate had for me, I ended up going out on patrols in a black-and-white without being slain. In fact the biggest deal we had taken care of had been a corner coffee stand attendant having his Java Joe Hut cart being taken out by a wayward driver. That and my pen had exploded all over my hand and shirt while I had been writing out a parking ticket. But as the day slipped into a never-ending battle against double parking and shoplifters, I began to wonder what was in store for later.

That was until the contents of my Sweet Chicken Teriyaki sub spilled onto my lap as I sat at my desk for lunch, of which had ended up being at three-ten.

"Look at the bright side, kid," Sergeant Keller grinned at me, "At least it didn't spill all over your paperwork…"

I decided it would be safer not to talk and to simply pick up the mess, for fear of not being able to avoid a rainbow of four letter words. By the time I had clocked out, everyone I met complemented me on my sub wardrobe. And no one had called, to even check in if I was alive let alone to wish me a happy birthday. Not even Babs…

Thinking of how lousy birthdays could be, I walked downstairs and out into the soft rain that was still working on drowning the remaining snow piles. When I was ten feet from where I had parked, I saw yellow flashing lights and two beefy men in blue mechanic overalls. "What are you doing with my bike?"

The taller of the two, sporting a poor excuse for a moustache, spat on the ground, "You parked in front of a fire hydrant, Officer. That's against the law." They both snickered at me as they went about loading my bike up the ramp onto the tow bed.

"Hey, come on, give me a break," I sighed, "It's my birthday…"

"Yeah, mine too," the shorter one laughed.

The Moustache Man nodded, "Same here."

After watching them drive away with my mode of transportation, I stepped over a cluster of snow and onto the sidewalk. Hailing a cab at four in the afternoon was going to be a task. After eight attempts, one finally pulled over and I thankfully opened the door. Just as I reached for the handle, the door opened from the inside and a young girl bowed out and promptly threw up in front of my feet. I stepped back, my stomach suddenly churning itself, and watched as the girl sat back up as her mother leaned over and shut the door.

This was not my day.

The walk home wasn't too bad, especially once the shivering started to warm me up a bit. The second I walked through the door of my apartment, I began to strip off the soaked clothes before checking my answering machine. After depressing the button, it replied, "You have one message…"

Barbara's voice filled my living room, "Hi, Dick, it's just me… Listen I was wondering if you still were interested in picking up the new radio equipment because I'm not sending it UPS and you're pretty much in the dark ages without it. Give me a call."

No Happy Birthday. No I love you. Not even a hang in their champ.

My second shower of the day was actually a warm one. I changed into clothes I had bought at American Eagle three months earlier and had yet to take out of the bag. A pair of "destroyed clay" wash jeans with a long-sleeved green and white striped button down shirt over a slate blue tee that read: What's Not To Like?

Styling.

After donning a pair of dry boots, I found a spare coat in my bedroom. Armed with car keys and my cell phone, I headed downstairs once more, this time my destination further than Bludhaven PD. The hour commute to Gotham City was a fairly easy drive, given that no one was really going into the city as much as they were fleeing it after a hellish day at the office. For the second time that day, I started to think that things were finally looking up.

A loud pop sounded, followed by the pud-thud pud-thud of a flat tire. I was eight blocks from the Clocktower. I had no spare tire. I was wearing a fall coat in the midst of a Spring rain shower.

I locked up after parking in a two-hour space between two Beemers. And once more, I walked in the rain, getting soaked within seconds. I half expected a city bus to hit me while jogging through the crosswalks, but unfortunately it didn't. Instead, I slipped on a patch of slush-covered pavement and landed on my backside, skinning the palms of my hands. Passersby glanced down briefly, their faces cool and lacking any emotion, before walking on towards their own destinations.

The elevator ride up to Barbara's was silent and done so in solitude. Even the Muzak didn't keep me company, and after the day I had suffered, I wouldn't have minded some B. B. King. The hallway that led to her front door was also empty and quiet, decorated with potted plants every fifteen feet and lined with solid hardwood floors. The corridor outside my apartment was trimmed with haphazardly painted walls and ancient shag carpet. I had always wondered why she had decorated it; perhaps she wanted it to look like every other place in Gotham…

Not knowing her mood, I decided to knock instead of unlocking it and entering on my own. I heard her call out, "Just a minute," before the clatter of the unlocking process began. Oracle was the most powerful tool to not only Batman's quest, but the Justice League's as well and one that was heavily guarded. A few deadbolts were nothing, however, compared to the booby traps she had set in the Clocktower.

The door drew back and I half-smiled to see her face, "Hey, Babs."

She bit her lip, "Dick, I thought I asked you to call me back, not drive all the way over? Why are you all wet?"

I sighed, "Long story, mind if I come in?"

She looked over her shoulder, "Sure thing, let me get you a towel…"

As she left, I walked in and shut the door. There was a delicate mixture of cooking aromas in the air, the one standing out the most being crab-stuffed mushrooms and some sort of chocolate dessert. I then thought back onto how she had been dressed, nice black sweater, hair actually down instead of in an unruly ponytail. If my detective-trained mind was correct, she had also been wearing a smidge of eye shadow and lipstick…

"Got plans for this evening?" I called out, doing my best to remove my coat without getting water everywhere.

She appeared once more, two towels sitting in her lap, "Here," she handed the towels to me, "I do, I'm sorry… but… Stay, if you want."

I shook my head, "No, I'd hate to intrude…"

"Don't be silly, Dick… Are you all right?"

I couldn't have hid my frown if I had wanted to. Before I could respond, I heard a buzzer go off. She looked in the direction of the kitchen and cursed, "I've got to get that. Why don't you hang out in the den, I'll be right back."

As much as I wanted to leave and return to my city to pout all night long, I nodded and slowly walked down the hallway. Perhaps I could mooch a few mushroom treats off of Barbara, unload all of my worries and try and get her to call off whatever she had planned. After all, how could she resist a date with a loser like me?

I had been prepared to collapse onto her sofa, after putting a blanket down first. What I hadn't been prepared for was that the sofa was already occupied, as were the other remaining pieces of furniture.

"Surprise!"

I stood, mouth open, in the doorway staring in disbelief at the sight before me. Alfred and Leslie were smiling at me from the loveseat while Tim and Cass hovered over a card table covered in trays of snacks and treats. Even Bruce was there, fighting to keep from smirking. As I stepped into the room, I saw Lois and Clark both sitting on the other sofa.

"What's all of this?" I stammered.

Tim walked over to me and winked, "Come on, man, do you think we'd forget?"

Before I could answer, I heard Alfred, "Quite so, sir, your birthday falls on a rather memorable date."

I was about to say that the date was the Apocalypse but decided to keep my mouth shut for a change. Barbara entered the den and paused next to me, "What do you think, Boy Wonder?"

"Did you do all this?"

She shook her head and glanced over at Bruce, who was standing by the window, "He brought up the idea, I just elaborated on it."

"That true?" I asked him while taking steps in his direction. I hadn't been to Gotham in over a month and hadn't seen or heard from him in a much longer time.

He shrugged, looked down at his city quickly before locking eyes with me, "You needed to come to Gotham anyway. The new comm. link and all."

"Ah, you're lying," I laughed for the first time that day. "You're doing that thing with your left eyebrow. You missed me, didn't you?" He looked away again. Which translated as an affirmative answer. As much as I would have loved to torture him, I simply spoke, "Thanks, Bruce."

The following two hours made up for the previous thirteen. It made sense, as I sat stuffing my face with chocolate cream puffs, because thirteen was not the luckiest of numbers. Twenty, on the other hand, I could deal with that.

At a quarter of nine, it was just Babs and I, sitting on the love seat and working on finishing off the platter of appetizers. Having worn my lunch instead of eating it, I was famished and had no guilt about devouring as much food as I could. After all, when I went home, my cupboards bore mere cans of Chef Boyardee and boxes of instant macaroni.

"So, did you have a good birthday, Dick?" she asked after nibbling on a cream cheese stuffed Jalapeno.

I nodded, swallowed and replied, "Best ever."

"Ha, now you're the one lying. So I want to hear just how bad it was… Start right from the beginning, don't skip anything," she demanded as her hands found my shoulders.

Who was I to deny such a beautiful woman?

As she began to massage the tension out of my back, I cleared my throat, "Well, it all began with a bathing suit…"

"Not a birthday suit?" she inquired.

I paused, "No, not a birthday suit."

"Just wondering. Anyway continue…"

"Anyway, it all began with a bathing suit… On a beach… Drunk… But not really," I continued.

Babs interrupted again, "You know what, maybe I don't want to hear about this."

When I glanced back at her, I asked, "Well, then what do you want to hear about?"

I smirked as she bit her lip before answering, "Well, I've always thought actions were stronger than words..."

"Very true," I said as I moved to kiss her cheek.

She sighed and hooked her slender arms around my back, one hand latching onto my shirt as the other found its way to the back of my head, "And I've always admired your birthday suit…"

Happy Birthday…

The phrase just doesn't seem to do it justice.

V