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Cat's in the Cradle

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“You’re going to be fine.”

Tim shifted in the seat, wrinkling his nose. He avoided Bruce’s gaze, glancing at the doctor’s door, then back to the floor. His shoulder tensed briefly.

“I don’t know why you keep telling me that.”

“Because you’ve been fidgeting for the past half hour,” Bruce replied, crossing his arms. He glanced at the pile of magazines by Tim’s elbow. “And you’ve had a death grip on People’s magazine for the last fifteen minutes.”

Tim dropped the magazine back onto the table. It uncurled from the tube shape he’d forced it into, the imprint of his palm clearly outlined on the glossy pages. “I’m not nervous.”

“Right.”

“I’m not.”

Behind them, a nurse called out for another patient. The receptionist was navigating an impressive phone system, dialing with two hands as she muttered into the receiver.

“Timothy Drake?”

A nurse dressed in pink scrubs was standing by a nearby door, propping it open with a fuschia clog. She smiled at them, scribbling something on a clipboard.

“That’s me,” Tim said, standing and straightening his jacket smoothly. Bruce joined him, watching the teen carefully. “Hi, I’m Tim.”

“Kerry,” the nurse said, shaking his hand with a surprised look. She turned to Bruce. “Wow, so polite!”

“No idea where he got it from,” he said, giving her a quick grin. She clearly recognized him, hiding the quick shock under a flawless layer of professionalism. “Bruce.”

“Kerry.” She gestured towards the door, turning back to Tim. “Honey, do you want your dad to come with you, or should I leave him out here?”

Tim froze, halfway through the doorway. Bruce watched his expression carefully, noticing the tight line of his shoulders. The moment dragged out.

The smooth charm could only go far, and Tim’s was definitely fraying.

“Why don’t I come with?” Bruce said loudly, before the silence could grow awkward. He patted Tim’s arm. “In case I have to talk to the lawyers after this.”

Kerry smiled tightly, stepping around him to lead Tim. The teen snorted, a hint of relief in his eyes as they followed her down the hallway. Bruce kept close, watching him closely as Kerry gestured at a door on their left.

“The doctor’s just in here--”

“Timothy!”

A deep voice greeted them as they stepped into the room. John Brenner towered over the teen, his red hair just beginning to grey at the temples. He smiled, the expression close to blinding. “And Bruce ! My man! How are you?”

“Dr. Brenner,” Tim said, shaking the doctor’s impressive hand. The man could have been a football player. His arms were almost as wide as Clark’s. “Nice to see you again.”

“John,” Bruce said, stepping forward. They shook vigorously. He pulled his hand away before the man could break something, wincing internally. “I trust we’re in good hands today?”

“Simple in and out,” Brenner said, switching gears instantly. He gestured for Tim to sit on the operating chair. “Four teeth, four extractions. I’m not worried in the slightest.”

“Of course,” Bruce said casually, taking a spot against the far wall, out of the way. “And, just to double check, we’re doing anesthesia, yes?”

“Worried?” Brenner smiled, his teeth slightly crooked. He swatted in his direction. “Bruce, stop being such a mother hen. Tim’s a tough boy, isn’t he?”

They turned towards Tim, who was finally settled in the chair. Beside him, a nurse was laying out needles and cleaning pads on a sterilized tray.

Bruce flashed him a reassuring smile, not missing the trembling hand the teen was trying to hide under his knee.

He doesn’t want me to leave, Bruce realized, watching Tim’s eyes flick towards the door, then back to the tray. But he won’t say anything.

“Mind if I watch, John?” he asked Brenner, adding a layer of charm to his voice. “I’m sure it’s fascinating. I’ve always wanted to see surgery.”

Brenner squinted. “Well, it’s sort of against policy to--”

“Oh, we don’t have to worry about policy in an outpatient procedure, do we, John?”

“I suppose it’s fine,” Brenner shook his head, giving Bruce another blinding smile. “When did you become so overprotective, huh? Who’d have thunk!”

Bruce laughed along with the doctor, glancing at Tim surreptitiously. The teen had both hands under his legs now, noticeably paler under the fluorescent lights.  

“This is laughing gas,” the nurse said, placing a cannula over Tim’s face. She twisted a knob, smiling down at him. “Just breathe it in. We’ll insert the IV in a sec, okay?”

Tim nodded, eyeing the cannula before pressing it to his nose. Bruce could imagine him going over the technicalities of the instrument--checking for flaws, factory imperfections. The boy’s brain never shut off.

“Well, Tim, my boy,” Brenner slapped Tim’s knee, grinning at him. “I’m just gonna go in there and yank those bad teeth out, alright?”

Tim nodded jerkily. “Yes, sir.”

“Won’t be an hour,” Brenner said, oblivious to the teen’s discomfort. “Just gotta break out those suckers first. Impacted ones are tough. I have a good hammer, though. Wanna see it?”

Bruce watched as Tim turned an impressive shade of green. Fortunately, Brenner was looking away, grabbing a small hammer from his tray.

“See?” the doctor asked, slamming it across his palm to demonstrate. “Just bash them to pieces. Nuts, right?”

Thankfully, the nurse returned, interrupting the demonstration. She rubbed a cotton pad on Tim’s arm, patting him reassuringly.

“I’m going to get this IV started, alright, sweetheart?” she grabbed for a rubber band, snapping it around his arm. “Clench your first real tight for me, okay?”

Bruce watched as the nurse grabbed the needle, stepping closer without thinking. She inserted the IV on the first try, not noticing the way Tim’s gaze had unfocused above her.

“Time for the good stuff,” Brenner said, grabbing for the anesthetic. A second nurse tech had entered the room, hooking Tim up to a heart rate monitor. “Bruce, you really wanna stay for this?”

Bruce ignored him, stepping around the chair until he was behind Tim. He squeezed his shoulder, a silent I’m here, I’m here, you’re going to be fine.

“Oh, I’m just a little nervous,” he said, letting a slight tremor enter his voice, “First time parent jitters, you know?”

“Hopeless,” Brenner muttered, grinning as he hooked up the IV. “Timothy, hold on for the ride of your life.”

He pressed the plunger on the needle, slowly emptying it into the line. Bruce rubbed Tim’s shoulder, watching his eyes flick back and forth.

“Twenty seconds, and you’ll be out,” he said quietly, just between the two of them. “Count with me.”

Tim swallowed, steeling himself.

“One, two, three, four, five…”

He continued counting. The nurses hurried around the room, setting things up. Brenner had his back turned, arranging something on his tray.

“..eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one..” Tim paused, frowning up at him. His eyes were glazed, unfocusing as he watched. “Bruce...you said twenty , it’s been more than that …”

With a soft breath, he passed out against the headrest. Bruce smiled, squeezing his shoulder one last time.

“You’re spoiling those poor children,” Brenner observed, snapping on a pair of gloves above him. “He’s probably just putting up with you, you know.”

Bruce grinned, stepping back to his original place by the wall.

“I know.”


 Like a true professional, Brenner had all four teeth out in under an hour. The procedure was surprisingly bloody; Brenner kept holding up shards of teeth to get him to flinch, grinning as he pulled them from Tim’s gums.

“Looks like tomato sauce,” Brenner remarked as he finished the last of the stitches, both hands in Tim’s mouth. “Am I right?”

“No comment.”

Brenner shrugged, removing his hands. He turned to the nurse, handing her the needle. He snapped off the gloves, throwing them into the trash can. “He’ll wake up fairly soon. Might be a little loopy.”

“I’ll handle it.”

“Good,” Brenner put his hand out, shaking Bruce’s enthusiastically. “Nice to see you again. Been awhile since college, hey?”

“Sure has,” Bruce said, good-naturedly. He disengaged their hands politely, wondering vaguely if the doctor had managed to break one of his fingers this time. “Thanks again, John.”

“Anything for a friend.” the doctor grinned at him, ducking under the doorway. “I’ve got another patient, but we should catch up soon!”

“For sure.”

The nurses detached the IV, removing the heart rate monitors as Tim began to stir. Bruce returned to his son’s side, watching him carefully.

One of the nurses came by, handing him a bag with medical supplies and instructions for the at-home care. He set them on the ground, thanking her quietly.

“Hnggggggg.”

Bruce smirked, pushing the hair out of Tim’s face. The teen’s face was scrunched up, the two pieces of cotton in his mouth sticking out like tiny teeth.

I need to take a picture of this, Bruce thought, amused.

“Tim?”

“Buhhwucceee,” Tim moaned, shifting. His head rolled on the headrest, almost tipping him off the chair. “Hngggggg.”

“Can you open your eyes, buddy?”

Tim shook his head roughly. He clenched his eyes shut, moaning again.

“How are you feeling?”

Hngggg.”

Tim finally cracked one eye open, glaring at the light above them like it’d personally offended him. “Wuhhhh.”

“I know, it’s bright. Just take a second to get adjusted, okay?”

Tim shook his head, pushing out of the chair suddenly. Bruce barely caught him before he hit the floor, wrapping arms around the teen’s midsection and pushing him back into the chair.

“No escape attempts,” he told Tim, pressing him into the headrest. “Alright?

Hunnnh.”

Bruce cracked a smile, shaking his head in disbelief. “Are you going to remember any of this?”

“Hngg.” Tim sneezed, then let out a low moan. His face scrunched up again. “Hngg.”

“I’ll take that as a no.”

Tim pushed out of the chair slowly, and this time, Bruce let him. The teen stood on wobbly legs, struggling to find his balance.

“Be careful--”

Tim’s legs gave out, sending him stumbling towards the tray with the still-bloodied tools on them. Bruce caught him again, straining as Tim went limp against him.

“Alright, plan B.” he said, adjusting Tim in his grasp. “I’m carrying you outside. You try to swan dive out of my arms, I’m taking away your computer. Understand?”

Tim made a horrified noise against his shirt, distressed.

“Good. Hold on.”

He got a few odd looks as he exited the clinic. Tim was curled safely in his arms, just big enough to make carrying him difficult. He descended the front steps fairly easily, making sure not to jostle the teen too much.

He breathed a sigh of relief as soon as they were outside. With a huff, he set Tim down against the wall, steadying him with an arm.

“I’m going to get the car,” he said loudly. “Don’t move. Understand?”

Tim pressed his face to the brick, nodding against the rough stone. “S’cooool.”

“Great.”

Bruce grabbed his keys from his pocket, half-walking, half-running to his car. He jumped in, turning over the engine. He cranked the wheel, directing the car back towards the wall--

An empty wall.

“Fuck!”

He put the hazards on, leaping out of the car. Tim was gone--no sign of him anywhere nearby. He ran the length of the wall, looking for bloodstains.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck--

Finally, right before he was about to freak out, he spotted a familiar jacket across the street. Tim was wavering underneath the McDonalds sign, looking confused. He patted the pole, stumbling a little as he tried to lean against it.

Bruce bolted for him, ignoring the honks as he sped across four lanes of traffic. His heart was pounding when he finally reached the teen.

“I told you to stay put!”

Tim turned towards him, eyes wide. Bruce grabbed him by his jacket, dragging him towards the crosswalk.

“Bwucee?”

“Yeah.” Bruce said, irritated. “What happened to not going anywhere, Tim?”

“Swwy.” Tim shook his head, disoriented. He tried to lean on Bruce’s shoulder, failing miserably and almost sending both of them to the ground. “Ughhhh.”

“You’d better be.” Bruce muttered, yanking him along. "Stop trying to lean on me--”

Sorrwy.”

They made it across the street again, somehow, intact. Bruce let go of Tim to open the door. A few seconds later, he heard a soft thump behind him, an a quick exhale.

He turned around to find Tim sitting on the asphalt, a shocked expression on his face. The teen scrunched his nose once, then burst into tears.

Oh my God.

“You’re fine, you’re fine,” Bruce shushed him, patting his shoulder. He knelt, trying to get the teen to stand. “It was just a little bump, okay? You’re fine.”

Tim only cried harder, his sobs muffled by the cotton in his mouth. Bruce finally just grabbed him by his jacket, hauling him into the passenger seat.

Bruce!”

“Hold on,” Bruce said, belting him in as Tim wrung his hands pointlessly. “Stop moving.”

“Cannth.”

“Yes, you can.”

He finally got the seatbelt fastened. He closed the passenger side door, diving for the driver’s side before Tim could grab anything else.

They pulled out of the parking lot with little fuss. Tim had his head against the seat, eyes closed. Bruce hit the freeway, going over Brenner’s instructions in his head.

“Hey,” he shook Tim’s shoulder, watching the road. “No sleeping. They said you can’t fall asleep right afterwards.”

“Sleppy.”

No sleeping. C’mon, wake up--” Bruce shook his shoulder again, this time a little more vigorously. “Timothy.”

“Whaa?” Tim bolted awake, blood spurting suddenly from his lips. It dripped across his shirt and hands, spattering the seat between his legs. He stared down at it in horror. “Wuh.”

“Oh, Jesus,” Bruce hit the accelerator, grabbing napkins from the glovebox with one hand. He threw them at Tim, struggling to merge onto I-90. “It’s just leftover blood from the stitches, Tim, it’s nothing to worry about--”

Wuh!” Tim said, clearly beginning to freak out. He grabbed the napkins, batting ineffectively at the bloodstains. “Bwuceee.”

“I know, buddy. We’re just gonna have to clean it up when we get home.”

He gritted his teeth as they hit 85 on the freeway, gunning the car towards their exit. Tim’s gaze was beginning to clear. He patted the napkins half-heartedly, watching Bruce with wide eyes.

They made it back to Wayne Manor in record time. Bruce ran around to Tim’s side, grabbing the teen in his arms again before he could protest. He carried him bridal-style up the front steps, heart racing.

“Master Wayne, you--dear lord.” Alfred stepped out of the way, eyes wide as Bruce trampled through the foyer, covered in blood. “You said it was outpatient surgery!”

“He just popped a stitch in the car,” Bruce said, putting Tim down on the couch. The teen flopped his limbs uselessly, smearing the couch with blood. “It looks worse than it really is.”

Alfred sniffed, watching the couch with some concern. “I’ll get the resolve, then.”

Bruceeeeee,” Tim moaned, closing his eyes. “Don’ feel good. Don’ feel good …”

Bruce dove for the wastepaper basket, barely shoving it under Tim’s face in time. Breakfast came up messily, mixed with leftover blood from the stitches.

“You’re doing great,” Bruce rubbed Tim’s back, patting him as he continued to heave. “You’re doing amazing. Just get it all up. Yeah, there you go…”

Damian poked his head into the front hall. He took one look at the scene and backed out of the room, his expression a mixture of surprise and something Bruce suspected was schadenfreude.

Alfred returned a few minutes after Tim finished, a bottle of resolve and a paper towel in hand. He gave Bruce a glass of water, nodding at Tim.

“Let him clean his mouth out. It’s not good for the stitches.”

Bruce took the water, turning back to Tim. The teen was passed out against the couch, mouth agape.

“Tim, I need you to drink a little of this.”

Soft snoring finally reached his ears. Bruce sighed, shifting Tim’s legs fully onto the couch. Alfred snorted, spritzing the resolve onto the bloodstains, avoiding the teen with the ease of years of practice.

“Well, that was certainly an adventure,” the butler remarked, dabbing at the stains. “You’ll have to make a note for any major surgery he has in the future, I’m afraid.”

Bruce huffed a laugh, shaking his head. “No kidding.”

They continued in silence, watching Tim carefully. Alfred finished stain-spotting quietly, drifting back to the kitchen eventually. Bruce kicked his feet up on the couch next to Tim, reading emails on his phone as the teen snored against his elbow.

Bruce!”

He nearly dropped the phone as Tim opened his eyes, sitting up lightning-fast. His chest was heaving.

“Oh my god,” Tim said, staring at him. “Oh my god!”

Bruce returned his gaze in disbelief, reaching out. “Tim--”

The teen’s eyes rolled back into his head. He collapsed against the pillows just as quickly as he’d sprung up, breathing evening out slowly.

Okay then…

“Bruce.”

He snuck a look at Tim’s face. The teen’s eyes were still shut.

“...Yeah?"

“I want ice cream,” Tim whined, face twisting. He pushed his body closer against him, snuggling until he was comfortable. “Please?”

“Yeah, buddy,” Bruce patted his hair, “Definitely.”

“I want sherbet.”

“Okay.”

Rainbow.”

“Definitely possible.”

“All the colors, Bruce.”

“Got it. All of them.”

Dick padded down the front stairs, eerily quiet. His face lit up when he saw them. He mouthed something enthusiastically, holding up his phone. Bruce shook his head as the camera flashed, allowing it this once.

“Hey, Timmy.”

Tim made a questioning noise.

“That’s my hand you’re trying to eat.”

Tim stopped trying to lick his hand, frowning. Hazy eyes blinked open, staring at him. “Thought it was a...spoon.”

“It’s definitely not a spoon.”

Tim’s face crumpled again. He pressed it against Bruce’s shirt, shaking quietly. Regret poured through him instantly.

“I’ll go get you a spoon,” Bruce said, quickly. He tried to push Tim off. “Right now--”

“You’re leaving?” Tim cried, holding on tighter. There were tears on his face again. “I just want ice cream, Bruce, how hard is that--”

He sat back down. Tim collapsed against him, clearly relieved. Instantly, he was asleep again, the spoon forgotten. Bruce resigned himself to staying there indefinitely, opening his phone back up.

A few hours later, Tim finally stirred from his deep sleep. The first sign was a pained moan. Blue eyes blinked open, finding his unerringly.

Hurts.”

Bruce chuckled, putting his phone down. He rubbed Tim’s shoulders.

“You with us again, champ?”

“Again?” Tim asked quietly, closing his eyes briefly. He poked at the cotton in his mouth, now fully soaked in blood. “I feel like I got hit by a truck.”

“You almost were.”

Tim turned to him, clearly confused. He rubbed his eyes, pausing when he spotted the dried blood on his hands.

“What happened?”

“Well,” Bruce stood, finally stretching out his aching legs. “You can’t handle anesthesia very well.”

“What did I do.”

“Threw up. Cried. Tried to run away.” Bruce shrugged. “Maybe not in that order.”

“Oh god--

“I’m going to find your pain meds,” Bruce said, interrupting. He smiled reassuringly. “Want anything else?”

“Is there evidence?”

Bruce’s mind flashed back to Dick’s cellphone. He shook his head quickly. “Not really.”

Bruce--

“Wow, where did I put those pills?” Bruce asked loudly, wandering towards the foyer. “Can’t find them anywhere--

“Bruce--”

He turned around at the slight stress in Tim’s voice. The teen was looking at his hands, shifting awkwardly on the couch.

“Thanks,” he said, quietly. “Thanks for staying with me. You know, for everything.”

Bruce felt a pang in his heart at Tim’s expression, halting his dramatic search for Vicodin. He leaned against the doorway, smiling softly.

“Still want ice cream?” he asked, a silent acknowledgement of the thank you, sparing Tim any further embarrassment. “Rainbow sherbet, right? That’s what you wanted?”

Tim frowned, clearly confused. “I hate sherbet.”

Bruce paused, taking this in slowly.

“...really?”

“Yeah, it’s disgusting.”

“Al...right, then.”

“Bruce, is there something you’re not telling me?”

“Nope.”

“Bruce--”

He hurried towards the stairs, ignoring Tim’s protests. By the time he found the pills, he was still chuckling quietly. Jason poked his head into the room, clearly confused. He eyed the pill bottle.

“Something going on?”

“Nope.”

“Uh….huh.” Jason said, unconvincingly. “Make sure he takes those with laxatives, or he’ll be backed up all week.”

Jason!” Tim cried from downstairs, mortified. “That’s gross!

“So what? It’s true!”

Bruce sighed, slipping the pills into his pocket. Jason and Tim continued to yell at each other down the banister, the argument growing louder as they began breaching the topic of colon health.

With a quick chuckle, he made his way to the front stairs, suddenly exhausted.

What a day.

 

THE END