“Lots of people go mad in January. Not as many as in May, of course. Nor June. But January is your third most common month for madness.”
― Karen Joy Fowler
Barbara hated this party. She hated watching her father flit awkwardly between these socialites with their patronising smiles and their constant assurances of how “grateful we all are for the fantastic job you’re doing in Gotham”. She hated watching Bruce with his straight-out-of-the-catalogue grin and Tim, obviously so uncomfortable in the role, with his half-smiles and his awkward, angular movements and Alfred shoved in the corner like he was just another servant.
Of course, she didn’t mind what Dick was doing. Hell, he seemed to be having a great time.
“Marking your territory, O?”
Jason was there, leaning elegantly in the shadows. Barbara had forgotten how well he moved for a big guy. She hadn’t actually seen him since his return, and now all she could see were the differences from the old Jason. The arrogance was gone, replaced with something a lot darker and a lot less careful. There was less of a sneer, more of a scowl, less bravado and more real, tangible danger. His eyes had always been dark but now they weren’t defiant, just angry in no particular direction.
“Can I help you, Jason?”
“Jeez, Barbara, just trying to make some polite conversation at a family party.”
“Oh, so now you’re back to saying you’re part of the family, are you?”
He scowled. “You know he’s seen you watching him, right? Hanging back in the corner like some kind of monster from the past.”
“Don’t worry, that makes two of us.”
“Fuck you. I am nothing, nothing like you.”
“Damn straight, O.”
Tim was there in a navy blue suit, tugging on his tie. “Hey. Dick didn’t think you’d come.”
He shrugged. “I didn’t exactly have anything better to do. And seeing as the whole city is going to be watching the Wayne fireworks anyway I thought I’d come along and get a better view.”
“Yeah, well. Good to see you.”
“You… you too I guess, pretender.”
“Tim,” snapped Barbara. “That’s his name. Tim.”
Jason raised his eyebrow and she winced because the gesture was pure Bruce. “I’m aware, Miss Gordon.” He turned back to Tim. “You still on Wayne duty or do you want to get a breath of fresh air?”
“Is this air actually going to be fresh or are you going to be smoking like a chimney throughout?”
“That is such an Alfred expression.”
“That’s a yes, then. Come on, we can go to the rose garden. No one will spot you there.”
Tim gave her an apologetic smile and steered him out. She tried very, very hard not to snap the stem of her wine glass.
“You know, you look like you could use an out.”
Steph. Thank god. “I didn’t expect to see you here. You haven’t been round for ages.”
She shrugged. “Been busy. First year of college, you know? Anyway, I have a bottle of wine from – a year a long time ago that I stole from the kitchen, and a New Years tape with a lot of angry songs on. Roof?”
She looked over at Dick, arm wrapped around another girl in a silver dress (they were all wearing silver this year) and of course she was a redhead because when did Dick and life ever try and make things easy for her?
“This was a good idea, Steph. Steph did good.”
They were lying on a picnic blanket, waiting for the fireworks. They’d finished the wine a long time ago, and now they were passing Barbara’s Secret Whiskey between them, except Barbara was having far more than her fair share because Steph could only take little sips before she screwed her face up and started coughing.
“I know, right? Team Batgirl.”
“Team Batgirls Who Didn’t Get Adopted and Who No One Cared When They Died Or Got Injured.”
“Mmm-hmm. I feel you. Team Batgirls with a Grievance.”
Steph laughed and made little grabby hands at the bottle.
“Seriously, though,” said Barbara. “You haven’t been speaking to Cass as much, and I promise I don’t know this from the massively reduced volume of texts passing between the two of you. What happened?”
“Uh huh. You know, cryptic girls don’t get whisky.”
“No no no bad Babs. Also boy alert.”
“Yours or mine? I mean, which ones. I don’t have a boy. Shut up, Barbara.”
“Tim and Jason.”
“Is that in response to us?” said Tim, leaping up onto the roof.
“Yes. You smell. We don’t want boy germs.”
“Hey Batblonde,” said Jason. “Missed you.”
“Missed you too, Jay, but this is a girl’s only roof.”
“Dammit, Tim, I guess we’ll just have to leave and take our Tequila with us.”
“Oooh no,” said Steph. “Stay. They can stay, right Babs?”
She considered protesting but decided she had sufficiently lost control of the situation and just threw her hands up in the air.
“Good music, by the way,” said Tim. “Who’s playlist?”
“Hey,” said Jason, closing his eyes and nodding his head. “I know this one.”
“It’s This Year, by the Mountain Goats,” said Steph. “I listen to it right about now every year.”
Tim shuffled up closer to Steph and Jason slipped in between him and Barbara. After a while Steph started singing along, her voice soft and silvery in the darkness. Tim joined in too, a little quieter and just a little nasal. Barbara started to croon along under her breath because she knew what her drunk singing sounded like after an unfortunate incident with a bottle of JD, a tape recorder and D- and he-who-shall-not-be-thought-about.
Then Jason started and – wow. She turned to look at him dumbfounded, and he grinned at her and carried on.
They sat on the roof, singing and passing the bottle between them, and by the time the song finished they were almost shouting and she was really singing and Tim was drumming on his knees and shaking his head until he just ended up a blur of hair. Jason laughed and punched him on the shoulder just hard enough to send him rocking in Steph and making her shriek.
“Hey, Batblonde, what’s the time?”
“It’s – oh fuck, it’s 11:58.Fireworks in two minutes. Get ready to make a wish.”
She giggled. “That’s not what you do at New Years, Steph.”
“Whatever. I’m going to need to wish for some self-discipline to carry through my New Years resolution.”
“Oh yeah?” said Barbara. “What’s that?”
“Stop sleeping in class.”
“Uh, be a better boyfriend,” said Tim, and Steph laughed and kissed him on the cheek.
“Try not to get arrested,” said Jason, giving a wry smile.
Try not to think about Dick anymore thought Barbara, but – “Tell Bruce off more often.”
Jason laughed and patted her arm. Below them, the count-down started, and they all stopped talking and craned their necks in anticipation. The fireworks lit up the sky, and with her head swimming she could have sworn they took up the whole sky. Tim leant in and kissed Steph, and Jason tapped her on the shoulder.
“For good luck, O?”
She smiled. “Go on then.”
He took her, dipped her back – she tried to suppress the flutter in her chest – and kissed her. This was nice. She hadn’t been kissed in a long time, and Jason was warm and smelt nice and he was really, really handsome and – and she should have made Steph drink more of that whisky.
He pulled away. “Sorry about earlier, Babs.”
“It’s ok, Jay. It’s just – It’s nice to see you.”
“Hey,” said Tim, tapping him on the shoulder. “Swap? We have to kiss everyone.”
Jason gave an evil grin. “Hey, if we have to kiss everyone, that’s everyone, babybird.” And to Steph’s shrieks of laughter, he grabbed Tim’s shoulders and kissed him on the mouth.
The hall was a complete mess now the guests were gone. The floor was littered with paper crowns left over, leaving a crazy-paving mess of gold and silver. She scooped up a broken necklace someone had left on the floor and let it slide through her fingers like water. The drink was beginning to wear off now, but she still just wanted to sit and watch the people moving around the hall, silent and slow.
“Babs. Hey. Hey Babster.”
Obviously, she was part of a relatively sober minority. Dick was stumbling towards her, her suit crumpled, his tie discarded and – and was that lipstick on his collar?
“Dick. You’re drunk. Go to bed.”
“Hey. Hey, you left the party. Where’d you go?”
“To the roof. With Steph.”
“I was looking for you. At midnight.”
She tightened her fists. “I’m sure you did just fine for partners.”
“Oh, yeah, but – “ He shook his head. “Who’d you kiss?”
She wanted to say Jason and see his face do the kicked-kitten thing it did when he was hurt and confused. But. But what if it didn’t, what if he just smiled and laughed and told her he could never have imagined that happening in a million years?
“Oh.” He shrugged. “Well hey, it’s only half-one, you can always make up for lost time.”
“Goodnight, Dick.” She spun her chair away and moved off down one of the corridors, but he followed her.
“Oh come, Babs, please – hey, they were playing our song, ok? I wanted to dance with you.”
“I can’t dance, Dick.”
“Hey, I’m always being told that I can’t either.”
She couldn’t help it. She laughed and stopped, and he came round in front of her and knelt there, looking up at her.
“Barbara, I – I’ve – Things have been kind of difficult.”
She stroked his hair. “I know, Dick, I know. You and me both.”
“I really did look for you at midnight, you know.”
She leant down and brushed her lips across his. He leant forward but she pulled away.
You are what going mad feels like.
“Happy New Year, Dick.”
“Happy New Year, Babs.”