"Batman, you there?"
"Where, exactly, would I be if I wasn't?"
"Hey, you could've been in the bathroom or something."
Batman sighs, internally. Considers and rejects several different responses that all boil down to 'you don't take the communicator out when you're on watch,' which, of course, Flash knows perfectly well. "What is it?"
"Are you... I mean. I was just wondering if you maybe wanted. Er. Wanna do Christmas?"
There are... entirely too many ways to think about the question. Entirely too many ways to *feel* about it, all of which some part of him wants to try. "It's quiet, Flash. Only one of us needs to be on watch tonight."
"I know. I just... the kids are sleeping, the bad guys are in jail..." A pause Batman knows he's supposed to read as a shrug, and it's as obviously false as anything the man could do with his body right now.
And Batman knows exactly what Flash wants. They're a team full of orphans and aliens and outsiders, and he's willing to bet the *only* reason Clark didn't bring Flash *and* J'onn home with him is because of Flash's carefully explicit explanation of his plans for Central City's orphans.
"Come on up. The Javelin --"
"Is powered up and ready to fly. See ya! I mean. Flash out."
Batman shakes his head, mostly at himself.
"Way to make him twist in the wind, Bruce. Jeez, Scrooge much?"
Robin has, of course, heard *every* word of the conversation.
He leaps up on the console, *just* avoiding a row of buttons that would make the Tower move in ways entirely too interesting for a quiet night. "So are you gonna introduce me, or do I get to spend Christmas hiding in, like, a bulkhead?"
"I could *lock* you in a bulkhead."
Robin just grins at him. "Uh, huh, and *after* I've spent the two minutes it'll take to escape?"
Good of Robin to assume it would take longer if Batman, himself, did the locking. Still. "Suit up. There's no reason for Flash to meet *Tim*."
"Yeah, yeah. You do realize this is only increasing my urge to embarrass you in front of your team-mate, right?"
"You do realize what remarkable restraint I've shown in regards to you and *your* team, right?"
Robin blinks first.
The monitor outside the air-lock bay shows the outer doors irising. Batman reminds himself to install something a little more primitive, in case the monitor gets broken or loses power in some dramatic way.
Perhaps he can convince the others to remain away from the Tower for a few more days.
"Hey, is the Flash the type to shoot first and ask questions later when it comes to strange people in costumes?"
"He doesn't *shoot* anyone."
An eye-roll Batman can *feel*. "I *know* that, Batman. I was making use of metaphor. You may have heard of it."
Sometimes it's just too tempting. "I wouldn't worry. He *likes* kids."
"There are no words for how much you'll pay for *that* one, big guy."
"You used to be better at leveling threats, Robin. I'm not sure the Titans are good for you."
"Heh. You are *such* an asshole."
No reason to respond to that, and many reasons not to. Including the fact that Robin wouldn't expect a response.
Which is precisely why he's refused all of Robin's previous requests to see the Tower. There's a rhythm to their interaction, an *ease* that has nothing to do with the myth of Bruce Wayne, and everything to do with... Tim.
Who has never failed to prod at him when he got to be --by *Tim's* definition -- entirely too grim. Who would do it with *sticks*, if he carried them.
Which may or may not be why the boy left his quarterstaff at the manor before they left.
Robin probably -- probably -- thinks of this invite as a Christmas present only slightly less tangible than the ones waiting for him at the Manor.
Robin also knows Batman well enough, perhaps, to suspect the truth: He can't be entirely himself -- entirely *Batman* -- when Robin is around and there is no work to be done.
He has reason to believe that this is both Robin's motivation, and good for him. This endless goad to acknowledge the parts of himself that are neither Batman nor the mask he calls Bruce Wayne and presents to the world.
Robin has never been circumspect with his concerns about Batman's mental health, or his firm belief that *he* was what was necessary to keep things on an even keel.
He might even be right.
But, Batman suspects the next several hours will bear a stronger resemblance to a man teetering his way across a tightrope than anything remotely comfortable.
"Aw, man, I knew I should've brought presents for your team."
His eyelid twitches behind the mask. Presents. "They'd think they were from me."
"Heh. And that you were being coy to hide your gooey marshmallow center? I *totally* should've brought them."
"Yeah, yeah, be professional. I hear you."
He doesn't actually *see* Flash leave the Javelin, but that isn't a surprise. He knows precisely how much the slow, careful, *necessary* docking process annoys the man.
Robin jumps a little at the red blur on the monitor, the noise of the code being punched in nearly too fast to distinguish as anything but one, long 'beep.'
The door opens and that blur has its arms around him.
Flash's arms around him and *squeezing*.
And then away again before he can react in *any* way.
"Happy Christmas, Batman! Don't hit me, I'm helpless to the thrall of holiday -- uh. Hello. Oh, hey, you're Robin! Hi!" Flash sticks his hand out.
Robin, who misses *very* little, looks more than a little pole-axed, but puts his own hand out gamely, just the same. "Uh. Hi?"
Flash shakes his hand, grinning broadly, and then turns his attention back to Batman. "How come you didn't *tell* me you were having guests, man? I wouldn't have bugged you." Back to Robin. "But hey, cool! Did Bats give you the tour? I bet he only showed off the gym. He's *obsessed* with that gym."
Robin grins right back. "Hey, I *work* with the guy. You don't have to tell me."
Batman represses the powerful urge to defend the gymnasium and forces his face into something like a normal expression. He hopes. "Why don't you show him around, Flash? I have some business to take care of."
The eye-roll, this time, is both powerful and simultaneous. "C'mon, man, you've gotta see the Observation Deck."
"He built an *Observation Deck*?"
"Yeah, I know, totally out of character, right?" Flash leans in close to Robin as they walk away and stage whispers. "I'm telling you, he's got *hidden depths*."
Flash grins back at him over his shoulder, fast and... oddly knowing.
Maybe he could lock *himself* in a bulkhead.
They give him enough time to finish his report on Themyscira, which he'd put off for entirely too long in favor of the endless supervillains and the almost unbelievably detailed information Lantern has collected and memorized about the worlds he's visited.
Lantern, perhaps predictably, reacted to the chance to give those reports with something between relief and satisfaction. Military to the core, which Batman can only approve.
There's no telling when that information will come in handy, after all, and Lantern himself isn't always available.
Perhaps less so now that he's seeing Hawkgirl.
He wonders how much of a problem that will be.
On the one hand, you couldn't hope for better than a Marine dating a police officer if you had any desire whatsoever to retain professionalism in the face of --God help them all -- romance.
On the other hand, it's been two hours and thirteen minutes.
It isn't that he's worried -- Robin is, perhaps, uniquely equipped to keep the Flash out of trouble, even if he doesn't tranquilize the man.
Batman grits his teeth and starts drawing up the plans for the air-lock window and its installation.
It's another forty-three minutes before he hears the absence of sound that announces Robin's presence.
"I can't *believe* you let him have a PlayStation up here."
"This isn't the Cave. Sacrifices had to be made."
"Uh, huh. So exactly how long were you planning to hide in here, anyway?" Robin leans over the back of his chair just far enough to make his grin obvious.
I wasn't hiding. I don't play video games. I. "I have *work* to do."
"Yeah, and you were getting *so* much done *before* Flash showed up. C'mon, Batman, Wally'll understand you taking a break on Christmas Eve." Robin is swiveling the chair as he talks. He's gotten stronger. "Well, okay, he won't *understand*, but he probably won't stroke out. Probably."
"He told you his *name*?"
A harder twist. "Access to your files, remember? But yeah, actually, he totally did. I think he's feeling lonely."
"You think --"
"*Some* superheroes actually, you know, *talk* to you when you talk to them. I know it must seem weird."
"You're not seriously trying to get me to be *friendly*, are you?"
Robin twists the chair fully around, grabs his hand, and begins a half-serious effort to haul Batman up. "Let's *go*. He's making cocoa in the kitchen!"
"I don't --"
"You do, *too*. Come on come on come on come --"
Batman stands up fast enough that Robin almost --almost -- falls.
Robin smirks at him. "*You* taught me that trick, remember? Let's go."
And he turns and leaves without another word, absolutely confident that Batman will follow.
There aren't, actually, any analog clocks in the kitchen, or anywhere else in the Tower, for that matter.
Batman can hear one ticking, anyway.
He stares at his cocoa.
He can feel the look Robin is studiously *not* giving him like a weight on his chest.
It isn't that he doesn't know how to be social -- Bruce has to do it all the time.
It's just that there's a vast, important difference between the things Bruce should say and the things he *can*.
He looks at Flash in the most benign way he -- Batman --can manage.
Robin kicks him under the table. Twice.
"Uh... did you want marshmallows? For your cocoa. That is."
"No, thank you." He takes a sip.
Robin kicks him again, apparently just for the sheer, unadulterated hell of it, and turns to Flash. "Hey, you had lights in your room, right?"
"Hunh? Oh, yeah. I was thinking of putting them up, but. Uh."
"You didn't think Old Grim and Gritty would have watch, right?"
Flash tries very, very hard to turn his laugh into a cough. He sobers quickly. "Er."
Robin kicks him *again*.
Batman clears his throat. "I. Like lights."
"You *do*? Hey, great! We can put them up on the Observation Deck so any passing space ships can see!"
"Passing space ships tend to be on their way to attacking Earth." He hooks his leg around Robin's own to keep him from kicking him again.
Robin just uses the other. Viciously.
Batman hides a wince with another sip of cocoa. "Which is not to say that isn't a good idea."
Flash grins at him. "Great! You just finish your cocoa, and I'll get everything set up."
He's gone with a rush of displaced air.
"Finish the cocoa or I pull out the batarangs."
"There's a *reason* I don't interact with these people --"
"Finish the cocoa or I give him your address."
"I... you wouldn't."
Robin raises an eyebrow at him.
Batman finishes the damned cocoa.
"So, do you think the icicle ones should go on the window or the wall?"
"I'm not sure."
Robin is leaning casually against the wall. And tapping a finger on his belt.
He taught him that trick, too, dammit. "... but I think the multicolored lights are more. Cheerful."
Flash nods seriously. "You're right. Classy stuff for *our* benefit, multicolored to spread the joy."
A blur, and Flash is pressing the end of a strand of lights and a roll of duct tape into his hands. Smiling that odd, knowing smile again.
Another and he's a few feet away, watching Batman expectantly.
From behind him, he can hear the tap of a finger against plastic.
Batman hangs the lights.
When they're done, the Observation Deck is a bright, blinking flood of color, even with the fluorescents on.
And when Robin turns them off...
It looks like a nightclub designed by a child. With a mental deficiency.
Batman blinks, forcing his eyes to refocus against the barrage of visual information.
When he opens them again, Flash is sitting cross-legged on the floor, smiling at nothing at all.
"It looks... nice."
The smile is turned on him at full blast, open and honest and... not young. Innocent. Batman can't look away.
"You know what would be even better?" Robin is standing in the center of his room, hands on his hips. "If we had a *tree*."
If Alfred has anything shorter than a fifteen-footer in the ballroom, it's only because the shorter ones were, in some arcane way, superior to his eye.
Batman knows that isn't what Robin is talking about, at all.
"It's probably too late to get... a good one," he tries, modulating his voice into something that probably sounds far more pained than gentle.
Flash sighs a little, still staring at the lights. "Yeah, I could only get my hands on a little aluminum job for the Ultra Humanite."
Batman blinks. "You bought a Christmas tree for the Ultra Humanite."
"Mm-hmm. It was kind of cheesy, but I think he liked it."
Robin nods seriously. "It's the thought that counts."
They've been on the Observation Deck for over two hours now, mostly silent. Robin sits beside Flash on the floor and talks, a little, about the Christmases of his past, identifying details so thoroughly and effortlessly removed that Batman wonders if he's imagined something like this before.
If he talks this way with his own team-mates.
It would be like him.
Flash, for his part, is neither careful nor careless with the details of his own life.
An Aunt Iris, faintly and fondly remembered.
Snowball fights with the other children at his own orphanage.
A story about the first time he got an entire box of candy canes for himself that Batman can't help but smile at.
They *both* smiled at *him* when he eventually sat down on the couch.
He hasn't spoken more than a handful of sentences, but Robin has either taken pity on him or given up entirely.
Either way, the threats have ceased.
He watches them watch the lights blink and flare, and has a moment to wonder if this is what it's always like for some people.
Every Christmas with a moment just like this one: silent, bright, and comfortable.
He wants to believe it's more common than not.
Abruptly, Robin blinks, shaking his head and yawning. "I'm passing out."
Batman can't quite think of anything to say that wouldn't say too much. He tries anyway. "The Titans seem to have everything locked down in San Francisco."
Robin smiles at him, exactly as if he knows everything Batman isn't saying. "You have no *idea* what it'll be like to bed down somewhere *quiet* for a change."
Flash chuckles and slaps Robin on the shoulder. "I promise not to blast the stereo *too* loud, man."
"You're gonna play the dog version of 'Jingle Bells,' aren't you?"
Easy grin. "On repeat. At dawn."
Robin stands and glares down at Flash. "I do know where you sleep, Flash."
Flash blinks. "You *totally* learned that from Bats, didn't you?"
"You have no *idea* what he's learned from me," Batman says. He's never had difficulty recognizing a straight-line, especially when they offer an opportunity to be exactly as threatening as he wishes.
And there's a moment when Flash looks at both of them with honest respect and -- moderately -- faked terror, broken when Robin giggles exactly the child he hasn't been in a very long time.
"Night, guys! Tell Santa it was all lies, hunh?"
And he's gone, leaving him alone with Flash, the lights. The emptiness of space.
The silence is harder.
"He's a great kid."
"He'd hurt you if you called him that where he could hear you."
Flash laughs, standing and stretching his legs. "Yeah, I remember being that age. Or... how old *is* he? He *looks* about thirteen, tops, but..."
Batman smiles despite himself. "He's sixteen. And he'd *maim* you for saying any of that."
Flash's smile is easy. "Bats, I have *no* trouble imagining anyone *you've* trained kicking my ass in minutes. Possibly seconds."
"... thank you."
Flash shakes his head. "No, thank *you*. Look, I... I know this isn't the Christmas you planned, or wanted. I know *exactly* how many times Robin kicked you under the table -- that last one? Not subtle."
Batman lets his smile turn rueful. "He wasn't trying to be."
"I figured. But... I just wanted to say how much it means to me that you did... all of this." A gesture at the lights. "I... well, let's just say I didn't expect it, and leave it at that, hunh?"
"Maybe you should expect more."
And Flash actually jerks with surprise before giving him a look. "Bats?"
There's a part of his mind telling him, in no uncertain terms, how to back away from that statement. It wasn't that he really *meant*...
No. He doesn't actually need to be kicked, not all the time.
"I enjoyed myself, Flash."
And Flash's smile is brilliant, and not at all bound to what Batman can see of his face, his mouth.
You light up a room, is what Bruce would say. "Thank you."
The smile gets even brighter, *deeper* for a moment Batman thinks might break him.
And Flash is beside him on the couch, before he can blink, or even tense.
But the kiss, when it comes, is entirely avoidable. Slow, soft and dry and chaste right up until Batman gives it back. He can't manage chaste.
Flash pulls away, bends his head until his forehead is pressed against the cowl.
"Yeah, so I... yeah."
Batman strokes Flash's cheek with his fingertips, lingering, just for a moment, on the border between mask and skin. It makes Flash look up again, and this close... is not close enough. "Merry Christmas, Flash."
"You know, I'm perfectly willing to celebrate Kwanzaa, too. And New Year's. Martin Luther King Day --"
Flash hums into the kiss this time, leaning closer, and sucks Batman's tongue when he slips it into his mouth.
It takes an effort to pull away, and that he can has more to do with the fact that he is, still, on watch than anything else. He brushes Flash's mouth with his thumb.
"I'm perfectly willing to celebrate with you."
"But not tonight."
Batman nods and stands. "Good night, Flash."
Flash grins, dropping back on the couch and stretching his legs until his boots hang over the arm, hands folded behind his head. "Happy Holidays, Bats."
And that pose is... a promise.
He shakes himself out of it internally and leaves.
Behind him, Flash is humming "Jingle Bells."
Batman walks faster when he starts to bark.