Air of December, part 7

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"

"What's with the fruit?" Dick asked as Tim hopped into the backseat of Barbara's Humvee.

Tim grimaced at the large fruit basket he had set on the seat beside him as he strapped in. "Dana's idea. Bruce falls into her category of 'needs something more than a Christmas card, but less than a truly personal gift.'" Of course, Tim reflected, his father probably should have Bruce on a list of 'guys I owe my life to, not to mention my kid's life,' but that was before Dana's time.

"Hence fruit?" Barbara asked, pulling the car out into the quiet morning street.

Tim shrugged. "At least I convinced her to go with a basket and not subscribe to fruit of the month or something. Can you imagine Alfred getting this month's selection of pears in the mail?"

Dick grinned. "That's a picture. Any hassles getting permission to come out today?"

A snort greeted Dick's query. "Dad was done with Christmas at 9 o'clock. He'll be testing out his new indoor putting green for hours. He and Dana had plans to attend some afternoon thing anyway, so it's no big deal." Really, it wasn't, Tim persuaded himself, wondering what made him think this Christmas would be any different.

Dick seemed to read the unspoken disappointment, which he answered with almost artificial cheer. "Well, that's good for us. It wouldn't feel like Christmas at the Manor without you, bro."

Tim smiled at that, cracking back, "Why, 'cuz no one else will talk hockey with you?"

"J'onn might, but that'd be weird."

Barbara chuckled. "I bet he'd tell you that he used to play in the Canadian League for a couple of seasons some 40 years back."

"So J'onn's there already?"

"Where else would he be?"

Tim shot Dick a withering look. "Duh. I meant he knows about the surprise."

"Oh, right! He must, unless Alfred hid Gypsy down in the Cave or something. Babs?"

Barbara glanced over her shoulder as she changed lanes, raking Tim with a little smile as she turned her eyes back to the road. "Nope, no Cave hiding. Cass stopped by after you crashed, said J'onn was thrilled. Sounds like they had a nice Christmas Eve."

"So the plan worked, then."

"Judging from the fact that there was no Batman on patrol last night? I'd say that's a big yes," Barbara remarked, and Tim saw her cast a twinkling eyed look toward Dick.

"Babs," Dick protested weakly, and Tim smirked as he watched the passing buildings. He shared Barbara's amusement at Dick's squeamishness about Bruce's sex life, which had suddenly manifest when Bruce and J'onn got together. For a while it made Tim uncomfortable, as if it were a slam against J'onn, until Tim realized that J'onn seemed to enjoy getting in on the act. When Tim asked, J'onn had smiled and said something about being accepted as a parent. It was weird, but it made sense.

"So'd you finish all those college applications?" Dick asked, turning in his seat to talk to Tim.

"Finally," Tim confirmed, returning his attention to Dick. "It helped to have the time off patrol the last couple weeks. Although I felt like such a fraud on all the applications. They'd have these questions like 'Describe an event that changed your life,' or 'Discuss how you feel you have contributed to your community.' I was making shit up to tame down my life."

A look of sympathy crossed Dick's face. "I applied to Hudson U. because they didn't have any stupid essays," he confessed. "Not that I was ever really cut out for the college life."

"Dick couldn't figure out why they wouldn't accept random superhero knowledge as a major," Barbara commented.

"School always made me edgy. All that sitting still."

Barbara snorted as she signaled her merge onto the Bristol onramp. "Because god knows you've never had to do that in your life."

"That's different," Dick protested. "There's a reason then. I mean, some of the stuff in school was interesting, but I never could figure out why we were doing half of it."

Barbara gave an exaggerated sigh and met Tim's eyes in the rearview mirror. "Just my luck to hook up with a raw pragmatist."

Tim gave Barbara a half-hearted smile. "Heh. Yeah. Sometimes I kinda wish I were more like that."

Dick, who had turned forward during his exchange with Barbara, now twisted back again, his face concerned. "Hey, don't say stuff like that," he said seriously. "You've got the smarts to do well in college. And you want to go, right?"

Tim turned his eyes back out to the increasingly suburban landscape off the expressway. "Yeah, I do," he admitted. "They've got this program at Gotham U, and intensive science prep - it'll get you into any graduate school in the country in biology or chemistry if you can get through it. Most folks don't, but I was looking through the syllabi, and-" he broke off, aware of Barbara and Dick exchanging a look and suddenly hearing the enthusiasm in his own voice. He hadn't meant to let on...

"So you're thinking about graduate school?" Barbara asked.

"Umm, yeah, I guess."

"Tim."

There was the tiniest hint of the Voice in Dick's tone, compelling Tim to meet the older man's eyes.

"You're excited about this, aren't you?"

Tim felt color rising in his cheeks. "Yes," he said softly.

"Tim, what is this? If you're excited, I'm happy for you. That's really cool. What-"

Tim sighed heavily. "It's just, lately-" he looked into Dick's eyes, faintly desperate, "I think about this stuff, college and everything, and I just -" Tim broke off, dimly aware that Barbara had slowed the Hummer a little and was listening intently as she drove.

"You just-?" Dick prompted.

Tim had not wanted to talk about this, not yet. But it was clear that Dick would not accept an evasion, and Barbara was not above driving them around Bristol for as long as it took to get Tim to spill whatever was on his mind. "I just - I never wanted to be Robin forever," he mumbled, ducking his head, unwilling to face the disappointment he knew would be in Dick's eyes.

There was a moment's silence, then a soft chuckle. "Who would? Even I managed to outgrow it."

"But you're still Short Pants to me," Barbara interjected with mock sweetness.

"But," Tim objected, looking up in confusion, "you became Nightwing and-"

"Tim, I haven't got your imagination. I pretty much figured I would be Robin forever, until Bruce decided otherwise." There was a hint of old bitterness there, but well softened and accepted. "But I couldn't not be out there every night. I don't know how to live if I can't fly." Dick's voice grew distant. "I tried once, for a while. It didn't go well."

Tim noticed Barbara reach out to briefly touch Dick's knee as if to offer comfort, and Tim knew Dick was talking about the time around Bane. They still didn't talk about that time if they could help it.

"My point is," Dick resumed, shaking off the moment's funk, "there's nothing to say you have to stay in the suit, Robin or otherwise."

"But Bruce-"

"Bruce will deal when and if the time comes," Dick pronounced. "Believe it or not, he seems to be growing up."

Tim studied Dick's face, looking for any sign that he might be less than sincere. There was none; Dick meant what he was saying. Tim forced a little smile onto his face. "Really? We should've gotten him a Martian earlier."

Barbara and Dick both laughed, and Tim felt something in him begin to loosen. The others' laughter settled, and he said, "I guess I was thinking, without Robin - I love my dad and everything, but you guys are like my family-"

"Tim," Barbara interrupted sternly, stopping the car short of the gates into the Wayne Estate, "we aren't like your family. We are your family, kevlar or no. And don't think that ditching the suit will get you out of that."

"Really?" The word slipped out before Tim could stop it.

A wicked grin spread on Dick's face. "Now, Tim," he began reasonably, "if we weren't family, would we GIVE YOU NOOGIES?" Dick stretched out on the final words, managing to get Tim in a headlock and grind his knuckles against the top of his skull.

"Hey!" Tim's muffled shout sounded. "Barbara, make him stop!"

"Dick! Tim! Don't make me stop this car," Barbara warned, laughter in her voice.

"It's already stopped - hey!" Dick jerked back, rubbing his ear where Barbara had gotten in a good whack.

"Don't talk back!" she ordered, and Dick slumped in mock resentment in his seat.

"Yes, Mom," he grumbled.

"Just don't forget who's in charge here," she stated, putting the Hummer back in gear to begin the ascent to the Manor.

Tim caught his breath and smoothed down his hair, but he couldn't wipe the grin off his face. Yeah, he decided, there was definitely something to be said for spending Christmas with family.

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