Winter in the Manor usually meant things were slowing down for a few weeks. There was a massive decrease in crime in the city, even criminals took time off to be with their families, and this left Bruce with more time than he knew what to do with. He spent a lot of his time looking over old cases and making improvements to the machinery, but there was only so much he could do. Alfred usually went over his head to make sure he was getting something reminiscent of a proper sleep for a few weeks out of the year.
Just as did most weeks leading up to Christmas, Alfred came into Bruce’s bedroom just early enough for him to tune into the morning news and catch up on anything important that might have happened while he was sleeping. There was usually a summary of international developments with a projection of what was expected later in the day, but today was different. The news was as slow as the crime rate and instead of running actual news, they were running a pre taped interview with a familiar figures in Gotham. It was fluff, but it was something Bruce could listen to as he ate his breakfast. This time he barely got past one sip of milk before he completely forgot about eating.
It had been a few weeks since Bruce had seen Tim and the television in his bedroom was the last place he expected to see him. The interview itself was simple enough, a few details about what was going on in Wayne Enterprises and their outreach over the holiday season, and Tim handled the questions masterfully. Compared to everything Bruce had seen him go through, this was nothing. Bruce was able to drown out most of it as background noise until the interviewer asked his own experience with Christmas in Wayne Manor. The question itself was nothing special, the fluff that was to be expected this close to the season, but it was the pause that through Bruce off. Tim didn’t say anything for a few moments, longer than what was to be expected with such an easy questions, and when he did speak he put on the fake smile Bruce had hated the first time he had seen it. Cautiously, and in a slightly defeated tone recognizable to those close to him, Tim answered, “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never spent Christmas with Mr. Wayne. He likes to keep Christmas to close friends and family.”
As soon as the interview finished Bruce turned off the television and contemplated what he had just heard. It was one of the last things he was expecting to hear a few days before Christmas. Although he hated to admit it, Bruce knew it was true.
In the months after he had formally adopted Tim, Bruce had actually been looking forward to having his family together for Christmas. He had considered it one of the final ways Tim would need to be induced into the family. Looking back on it he had died before that ever came to fruition. Instead, everything was left up to Dick who already had to balance so many other responsibilities. Bruce couldn’t imagine Christmas had been too festive. His sons hadn’t even been on speaking terms after Dick had asked Tim to take a break from Robin and urged him to seek psychological help. If Tim was anything like Bruce he hadn’t stopped working for a moment and was probably looking over hieroglyphics in a hotel room across the ocean while Alfred and Dick tried to tie together something reminiscent of their Christmases from years ago. Knowing Tim’s tack for self doubt, he had probably thought that he didn’t belong with the family for Christmas. The feelings was probably amplified by the fact that Tim was technically not a part of the family once he became an emancipated minor although Bruce had never considered him as anything other than his son.
Bruce knew the problem went beyond just Tim’s relationship with Bruce. For most of the early years of their relationship Bruce had been in the dark to just how neglectful the Drakes were to Tim. The lack of any meaningful contact, the distance they kept between them and their son even when they were in town, and the emotional abuse should have been clear. Bruce might have noticed sooner if he’d paid closer attention to just how Tim reacted around the adult figures in his life, but he didn’t. Instead, he’d tried to keep his distance with the boy so that he didn’t impede on his supposed relationship with his parents and Tim had spent Christmas alone and without anyone to keep him company. Tim didn’t have the traditions of other families, Bruce wasn’t even sure if he had trees and presents. Even at his darkest moments Bruce still had Alfred to look out for him, but it dawned on him that Tim didn’t have anyone.
If Bruce was being honest to himself, his return to Gotham hadn’t been as pleasant as it could have been. The first few days might have been enjoyable, Bruce wouldn’t be surprised if he had been too tired to be anything other than happy, but it definitely hadn’t lasted long. Pretty soon Bruce had gotten to see just how much his ‘death’ had affected Tim, how different he was from the boy he’d left months ago, and Bruce wasn’t ready for that. Some part of him must have known that any change in the boy was certainly caused by his obsessive need to find Bruce, a need he’d probably inherited in the years he’d been working with Bruce, but it hadn’t felt like a priority back then. There was just so much for Bruce to catch up on, so much work that had to be done to ensure a steady change in command from Dick back to Bruce, that Tim hadn’t been a priority. Bruce had become so much like Tim’s parents without even noticing and now he might have lost one of his sons.
As the program on the tv changed to the commercials Bruce was shocked out of his daze and quickly turned it off to think. He left the breakfast Alfred had brought him mostly untouched to go downstairs to the kitchen to see if he was the only one to catch the interview.
Alfred looked just as disappointed as Bruce felt while Dick looked too anxious to say anything. Bruce could tell he put most of the blame on himself for abandoning his little brother, but everyone knew they couldn’t sit around angry about things they couldn’t change right now. They couldn’t just wait for another year to pass with Tim so far removed from the rest of his family.
Titans Tower was mostly empty outside of the three of them finishing up on their Christmas preparations. With most of the titans out of town visiting family they had to make sure everything was in order in case someone tried to break in. The odds were in their favor as most villains had their own Christmas plans, but Tim was never one to leave their security up to odds. Kon and Bart were there mostly to keep Tim company as long as they could and hopefully convince him to spend Christmas with either one of them. They all knew he spent most of the break on his own and they couldn’t leave their friend to that kind of fate.
Kon decided to act first and turned his eyes away from the game he and Bart were playing on the tv to ask, “Hey, you wanna come to Smallville with me for a few days? I could ask Ma and Pa about you staying for Christmas dinner.” He was trying to sound as nonchalant as possible and hoped Tim wouldn’t notice the look he and Bart were giving each other in anticipation.
Tim didn’t look up from the laptop on his lap but gave a laugh that wasn’t meant to sound as sarcastic as it did. “Wouldn’t it be weird for them to have a stranger in their home for Christmas? Besides, Christmas dinner should be for family, it’s fine.”
The response didn’t sit well with Kon; Tim had been over to the farm enough times that neither Ma or Pa considered him anything other than a close family friend. Kon wanted to make a point about Tim certainly not spending Christmas with his family, even the scarps of the one he had left, but he didn’t want Tim to have to say something about how unfamilial his relationship with Bruce, Dick, and Alfred was.
“You could come to Central with me if you wanted,” Bart said before remembering to add, “Max loves having you around and there’s a big party anyway so one person isn’t a big deal.”
Smiling at his friends’ concern, Tim assured them, “I’ll be fine on my own you two. Someone should probably stay behind and watch over the tower just in case.” Before either of them could say something else to try and change his mind, Tim stood up and announced, “I’m going to go check on the sensors in the yard. Can’t leave anything up to chance.”
Tim left with the boys thinking of another plan of action. They had been friends long enough that they couldn’t just leave something like this slide and although the two had altruistic intentions in helping their friend, they also knew having Tim around would be to their benefits too.
Even after the years they had known about one another, Clark and Kon weren’t close to any degree. Christmas was always strained with Clark always coming to visit his parents. He’d gotten into the habit of quickly eating the Christmas dinner, always remembering to thank Ma for her great cooking, before rushing back to his room from the remainder of the night. Although none of the family would be willing to say it outloud, Kon knew he made things awkward for them. They had traditions they had built over the years since Clark crash landed in their backyard and there wasn’t any room for Kon in them. So he spent most of the night and the following day in his room distracting himself with old shows and video games while using all of his will to not listen in on the conversation happening on the other side of the wall. There were always a few moments he wanted to go join the family, but in the years since he’d started to spend the days by himself they had never complained that he wasn’t with them. He’d hoped that Tim coming by would mean things could change, that he might not have to stay hidden away in his room, but that didn’t seem likely.
Bart’s own experiences weren’t all that different. Max spent most of the days before Christmas cleaning out the living room and preparing all of the decorations. Bart hadn’t known a lot about Christmas the first year he spent in Central, in the future there weren’t many causes for celebration, so the entire experience had been new to him. Max had gotten bored with all of his questions pretty quickly and had asked him to do some menial tasks in his room while he handled the more important things on his own. Bart understood, he really did. He knew he shouldn’t be around to mess things up and make people angry because it seemed to happen a lot around him and the damage could be kept to a minimum if he kept to himself. When Christmas day did finally roll around Bart usually didn’t come out to greet the guests because he didn’t want to risk seeing Barry or Wally upset to have him there. They came by to see their friends and Bart definitely wasn’t one of them. He came out to eat dinner, there was only so far a speedster could go without eating anything, but even then mostly kept to himself. Bart found the conversations taking place around him more interesting than anything he had to say and was out of the picture once the group moved to opening presents. Without Kon’s super hearing Bart didn’t have to worry about overhearing something that wasn’t meant for him, but he did wonder if anyone noticed that he wasn’t there. Realistically he felt that someone had to notice that he wasn’t with the rest of the group, but the lack of presents meant for him said otherwise. Bart had seen enough Christmas movies to know that Christmas wasn’t about the presents, but he also knew their absence spoke volumes to his place in the family.
Knowing the two were thinking about the same thing, Kon said, “I guess we could stay here and keep him company if we wanted.”
“Yeah he would never agree to come with us,” Bart said in agreement. Looking around the room they were in, Bart added, “No reason not to stay, but the tower doesn’t really feel Christmassy.”
Kon didn’t have any money with him, but he knew just were Tim kept his and was easily able to fish it out from the bag he had left behind. “This can be our present to Tim and we can probably find everything we need if we leave right now.”
“We’re going to need a lot of lights considering how huge the place is,” Bart realized. “We can’t halfass our first Christmas together.”
“We’ll probably need a pretty big tree too,” Kon said taking in the dimensions of the room. “An average sized tree’s going to look small with these high ceilings.”
Bart recalled, “There were some I saw on my way here and we could find one big enough to look nice here.”
Although Tim tried, he couldn’t find any fault in the security on the ground. It was a testament to how much time and effort he had put into the security program, but he sort of wished he had a problem to distract himself with. If not it was certainly going to be a long night of trying to pass time.
He didn’t think there was anyone left in the tower, he’d seen Kon and Bart leave soon after he had, so it was surprising to hear hushed arguing coming from the common room. The first thing his mind went to was that his security system was not as strong as he had imagined, but he soon recognized the voices as those of his friends. Confused, Tim peeked into the room to see Kon lifting a tree arguing with Bart over where to place it. He stood still for a few moments taking in the scene of scattered ornaments, unwrapped lights, and tree being held in the air before stepping in to ask, “What’s going on?”
It looked like Kon almost lost his grasp on the tree, but he regained it in time to say, “Artistic differences, Tim, it always comes down to artistic differences.”
Bart rushed over to Tim to explain, “He doesn’t understand that we can’t put the tree in the middle. I’ll trip over all the wires, Tim. If I’m going fast I can’t see all of them.”
“Why do you have a tree in the first place?” Tim asked confused.
Kon easily answered, “We’ve decided we’re going to stay with you over Christmas.”
“You didn’t have to do that.” Tim repeated, “Really, you didn’t have to.”
“We know, but we didn’t want you to be alone on Christmas.”