When Tim comes home in the early hours of the morning, they test him just in case. Check his response times, his reflexes, his senses. His memory, his responses to a set of standard questions, his ability to withstand torture (in the form of Dick’s Weekly Hero Gossip).
There is a small plaster on his arm where Bruce had taken a blood sample. It itches. And the computer runs tests.
They don’t believe him when he says he’s fine.
“It was Ivy,” Dick says, tossing Tim a ball.
Tim just shrugs, says, “I feel fine.” Tosses it back.
“Are you sure she sprayed you?”
“Of course I’m sure, I got a face full of the stuff. She,” he pauses, switches hands absently. Watches Dick flip backwards to make an unnecessarily showy catch. “Pretty much gave herself up after that.”
“But you really feel okay?” Dick’s eyes are wide with concern and doubt. “That’s not exactly Ivy’s M.O, you know?”
“I’m aware,” Tim says flatly. “I’m telling you, I feel exactly the same as I felt before. So unless it’s some sort of time-release toxin, I think I’m okay.”
“ ’s'at possible, B?” Dick says, to where Bruce sits with his back to them.
“He’s not listening,” Tim says. “And it could be possible, but it doesn’t seem likely. Ivy’s concoctions are pretty much meant to get you out of commission ASAP. She doesn’t usually have the foresight required to come up with a longer-term plan. I can’t see why she’d have a use for something like that.”
“Hmm,” Dick almost-agrees, then, “Think fast!” and Damian doesn’t look up from untying his shoe, but catches the ball in one hand.
“You are an imbecile, Grayson.”
“So I’ve been told,” Dick says easily, catching the ball as it’s thrown at his head. “Okay, I’m going to grab a shower. Call me if you need me, right, Timmy?”
“Still fine, Dick,” Tim says, though her words –’sorry, little one’, and ’this was not meant for you‘– still echo in his mind. (He keeps them to himself.)
And after Bruce gives his blood sample the all-clear, it seems as though that’s the end of it.
It’s a few days later when it starts. Tim is taking a walk in Gotham Central, having just escaped one of the most painful WE meetings of his career. And he stops, sudden.
There is a sinking feeling in his gut, the slow creep of goosebumps down his spine. He can’t shake the feeling that something is terribly wrong.
And so he pulls out his phone, speed dials #4, and waits, sagging helplessly against a storefront. He waits, heart pounding, feeling sick and shivery with anticipation, for an answer.
But the phone rings out.
He has school, Tim tells himself. He has school and he’s fine and his phone is probably in his locker and he can’t get to it.
And he waits. Eventually he flags a taxi, phone clutched in one sweaty palm, and directs it to his apartment. He sits in the back, knee bouncing up and down, mouth dry as cotton. Checking his phone every 3.4 seconds.
He probably pays the driver and gets the elevator up to his place, but that’s all a blur. He doesn’t even take off his shoes before he collapses at the kitchen table and tries not to panic. It’s far too soon to call anyone. If something had happened, he would know. He is sure.
When his phone finally starts playing that obnoxious pop-song (it had been a mistake to allow his friends to pick their own personalised ringtones), Tim is so startled he almost drops the phone.
“Bro!” Kon whines immediately. “You got my phone confiscated. I only had 15 more minutes before I was home free, but then I had to go talk to the principal to get it back, along with a lecture free of charge.”
And Tim slides down in his chair, feeling giddy.
The super’s tone changes from annoyance to concern when he says, “Everything’s okay, right?”
Tim can’t help but laugh, closing his eyes, says, “Yeah. Yeah, everything’s great, Conner. Sorry I got you in trouble.”
“Not that I’m complaining… much,” and Tim can hear a rush of wind which probably means Kon is far above Smallville (and Tim can see it, so clearly– whole, unmarked, that stupid grin he gets that seems synonymous with freedom, strong and healthy and untouchable until he’s not). “But to what do I owe the pleasure, on a Wednesday afternoon?” There is still an edge of concern, of confusion.
“Just calling to bitch about a really terrible meeting I just had to sit through,” Tim lies, after a moment. Feeling faintly stupid, but mostly relieved. The panic is completely gone, seems unreal now. Forgotten. “Really. You wouldn’t have been able to keep a straight face. This one guy, probably in his early hundreds…”
It’s a few nights later and Robin is swearing as he levers himself out of the Batmobile.
Tim doesn’t turn from his computer, typing up a report as a favour to Bruce on a cartel operating close to his route. But when Damian doesn’t stop swearing, says, “It’s a scratch, Father, and it wasn’t my fault.”, Tim swivels so fast his neck cracks. Heart pounding.
There’s blood dripping down Robin’s arm, from a gash below his shoulder. His cape is smeared with red, and he’s scowling fiercely.
Batman slams the door of the car before he starts to sweep over to the console. “You need stitches.”
It takes Tim a moment for his mouth to work, eyes worriedly tracing the bloodstain on the boy’s sleeve. “You’re okay?”
Damian… reels back, surprised. Narrows his eyes, squeezes the domino in his hand. “Tt. I do not appreciate your mockery, Drake.”
“He’s fine, Tim,” Bruce answers, over the top. He looks annoyed, jaw stiff, as he runs a hand through his hair. “He’ll need a few stitches.”
“I can– I mean, Alfred’s in bed,” Tim offers the boy. Glancing at Bruce. “I stitch neater than your dad, and I’m about done here.”
Damian surveys him openly. Suspicious. Then he nods once.
Tim heads over and washes his hands carefully. Then he slides on a pair of surgical gloves, grabbing a medical kit and sitting on a chair by the cot in the med bay.
Damian doesn’t meet his eyes, jaw set. He’s stripped down to a singlet on top, Robin suited below the waist, and he’s wiped some of the blood from the wound. It’s a jagged cut, probably two and a bit inches, and it’s still bleeding sluggishly. It looks deep.
Tim feels his breath catch when he examines it, but squashes the feeling. (He’s not squeamish.)
Damian is getting impatient, kicking his feet in the air where they dangle below the cot.
“I can inject a painkiller,” Tim says. “But you’re probably going to have serious dead-arm for a while.”
“I am not a child–” Damian starts to sneer, but Bruce, from the computer, calls out, “Take the painkiller, Damian.”
Tim offers Damian a half-smile, apologetic, but the boy just glares. “Straighten your arm for me?” and he grasps the vigilante’s wrist in one gloved hand. Then he wipes the skin clean, preps the needle, and injects a heavy dose of local anaesthetic.
Damian makes no sound and doesn’t flinch, face stony, which is a tell in itself.
“Okay,” Tim says, after a minute or two. Beginning to clean the wound with antiseptic. “How’d it happen, anyway?”
Damian grumbles, “There was an idiot with a knife. It was close quarters and I could not get fully out of the way in time. But I managed to limit the damage, and mostly block the slash.”
Tim nods, not taking his eyes off his work. But then his head starts to spin, panicked, because what if he hadn’t limited the damage? What if he hadn’t blocked the slash? Another Case to add to their mausoleum, another loss–
And he’s so out of it he doesn’t notice Nightwing behind him, didn’t even hear him come in. “Tim, Timmy– stop. Your hands are shaking, you– here, let me.” and Dick pushes him aside, says crossly, “You were hurting him.”
“I– s-sorry, Damian. I,” Tim says, blankly. “Um. Low blood sugar, I guess.”
“Too much coffee, more like,” Dick mumbles absently, but it’s probably meant to be a joke. He is already stitching quickly and efficiently, quizzing Damian cheerfully on how it had happened.
Tim, still feeling oddly lightheaded, anxious in a way he can’t explain, strips his bloody gloves and tosses them into the waste bin.
He goes upstairs without a word.
It’s been a while since Jason’s seen the pretender, or any of his family for that matter.
That’s why, when he staggers into his apartment at a little past 4am on a Wednesday morning, exhausted, aching and with a headache drilling just above his left eye, he fully expects to be alone.
But the fucking kid is here, on his sofa and wearing civvies. His eyes are wide like a goddamn cartoon, skin as pale as the ghostly moonlight outside, long-fingered hands clasped loosely in his lap. Jason sees it, for a moment, like a polaroid– the boy, still, worried-looking, shoulders hunched absently. The sleepless circles under his red-rimmed eyes. His chapped lips, red and damaged from anxious biting.
He’s less… put together than usual. His hair is a little mussed, and his sweater even has a tiny hole in the sleeve. He looks lost in thought, which is why his reaction to the door is belated.
And then he sees Jason there. He jumps, a little, spilling some water from the glass on the coffee table.
“OhmyGod,Jason,” he says, in a breath, and he stands. Freezes. He looks utterly, utterly panicked, hands half-outstretched, mouth agape, eyes as wide as fucking saucers. He looks a little like he’s going to throw up.
“It’s not my blood,” Jason says tiredly. “Or. Most of it.”
If it had been someone else standing there, someone who wasn’t Batman-trained and stamped with the official Bat-seal of Approval, Jason would have said his knees gave out. As it’s the replacement, though, Jason just supposes the kid is fucking exhausted. Why else would he be in Jason’s apartment at – he checks– 4.11am? (He chooses to ignore Tim’s whisper of “Jay” on an exhale.)
“W–” Tim tries, licks his lips and tries again. “What… happened? Are you okay?”
“Walked in on some gang shit too late in the game,” Jason says, putting aside the issue of the kid’s presence for now, shucking his jacket. He’s exhausted. “This kid was fucking bleeding out. I was trying to help.”
The baby bird just sits there, perched on the edge of the couch, wide blue eyes staring at him worriedly. They dart away to the shadowy corners of the room when he tries to meet them, and there’s something wrong here. But Jason doesn’t know what.
All he says is, “He was alive when the paramedics got there. ’s the last I know.” and, uncaring of his company, slings off his blood-soaked shirt to toss it straight in the trash.
Tim bites his lip hard enough it looks painful, eyes widening impossibly. “Jay–!” he starts.
“Just needs a couple stitches, ’s mostly clotted already. It’ll look better cleaned up.” And suddenly he’s fed up with the wide-eyed bullshit, the hands clenched on the sofa fabric, the faint tremble in the kid’s frame. So he snaps, “What are you doing here, anyway?”
He’s off the couch like it’s electrically charged, hands curling compulsively. “I–” he offers. “Um, you know, it’s really. Not important anymore, Jason. I’ll just– I’m sorry for intruding.” And he’s most of the way out the door, past a faintly bewildered Jason, before he turns back. Hesitates. “Do you,” he says. “Need help? With the stitches, I mean?”
“I got it, kid,” he says. And then, out of something like habit, “Stay the fuck outta my place, okay?”
“Yeah,” Tim says, nodding. Eyes on the gash in his side. “I– yeah, sorry.”
And then he’s gone.
After an hour or two of uneasy sleep, back at his apartment, Tim gets up. His stomach is unsettled, but he can’t bring himself to eat. He feels a little dizzy, disoriented– as though the world isn’t quite lined up with his perception.
He’s shivering, so he yanks on a sweater and exchanges his pyjama pants for jeans and sneakers.
He thinks he’ll go for a walk to clear his head.
It’s the next night when Tim makes the quite reasonable decision to only end his patrols when he is sure his whole family is home safe.
It makes perfect sense.
Tim wonders why he never thought of it before.
So he crouches on the edge of a skyscraper, dry-swallows a caffeine pill from his belt (emergency use only, says Alfred, but Tim supposes this almost counts), opening his comm links just in case.
Then he dives into the waiting sky.
And hours later, when the sun is sleepily rising over Gotham, peeking sickly yellows between the buildings, when Tim can barely stand from exhaustion, he smiles. Brief. Small. But genuine.
Because all his family should be home and safe and sound asleep.
And he drops his head, momentarily, and closes his eyes. Any minute he’ll find the strength to move, and head back home. Any minute.
It’s a few days later and Tim thinks he’s maybe losing weight. Alfred gives him a disapproving once-over when he shows up at the Manor again, but Tim’s been busy, hasn’t even had time to sleep. And no thank you, he’s not hungry, really. (He doesn’t tell Alfred how long it’s been since he ate, but really, he isn’t hungry, and he’s sure the dizzy spells and heart-palpitations have nothing to do with it.)
So he spends a while down in the Cave, updating reports (accurate reports mean fewer mistakes) until the spike of a furious, pounding headache shoves itself behind his right eye. So he heads upstairs and sits on the couch in his favourite sitting room, lips twitching upward when Bart sends him a typically cheerful, “Heya Tim, been a while! What’s up?”
(He keeps his cell very easily accessible, just in case.)
And he jumps a mile when the Manor phone rings, feels sick rise in his throat. He sits, helpless and nauseous and so desperate, waits for– what, he doesn’t know. It takes a long while to work up the courage to head downstairs to the kitchen. To hear the bad news.
Alfred is doing the dishes and humming, arms elbow-deep in bubbles.
“Alfred–?” Tim says, after a moment, hears his own voice crack.
The butler turns, drying his hands on the apron. He frowns. “Master Tim, you are looking rather pale. Are you quite alright?”
“The– the phone?” he tries, leaning against the doorjamb. “Who was it?”
“One of Master Damian’s teachers, requesting an urgent conference regarding his behaviour,” Alfred says, absent, looking Tim over with concern. “Were you expecting a call, young master?”
Tim sags down, limbs heavy and weak with his relief. “No,” he says. “It's– no. Thanks, Alfred.”
That night on patrol, when Tim sees the gun raised, he thinks his heart stops.
And he’s moving instinctively, without a second thought–
“I didn’t do anything,” Damian is insisting. “I would have been fine, Drake overreacted. I did not– it was not– he just moved, Father, and–”
The overhead lights in the Cave are stinging Tim’s eyes, making them water. The pain in his side has him feeling dizzy.
Bruce is somewhere above him, beyond the haze of light obscuring his vision. Damian, also some indeterminate distance away, is still arguing against no one. Alfred’s cool hand on his chest keeps Tim laying flat on the gurney.
The butler is murmuring something soothing, barely audible over the sound of Damian saying, once again, “It was not my fault!”
To which Bruce finally snaps, “Damian. No one is blaming you.”
Tim closes his eyes, turning his head to shield against the lights. He’s shivering, and can feel Alfred’s accusatory eyes on his too-visible ribs. But the man doesn’t say anything just yet.
He hears, quieter, a little gentler, Bruce saying, “Why don’t you go get cleaned up, Damian? I think Alfred’s got it covered over here.”
Tim squeezes his closed eyes. He hopes the others are okay.
“You got shot?” Dick demands, storming into the medical bay and flinging his domino aside. “Timmy– are you okay?”
“Dick,” Tim says, swinging his legs where they hang over the side of the gurney. “I am fully conscious, sitting up and have a single IV in my arm. I’m okay.”
“What the hell happened?” Dick says, flopping into a chair beside the cot. He looks exhausted and relieved, Tim notes. No visible injuries, and nothing telling in the way he’d moved. Tim feels a little bit of panic ease off his shoulders.
“It just grazed me,” he starts to explain, thumbing the edge of the bandage below his ribs. He still feels lightheaded. “Alfred stitched me up and told me off and stuck this in my arm.” He waggles the arm with the drip, ignoring the pull of the cannula and the stitches in his side.
“How’d it happen?” Dick asks, crossing his legs. The amusement Tim can usually spot in Dick’s bright blue gaze is hidden behind worry.
“It was not my fault,” Damian declares from behind them. They turn to look at him, finding him pyjama-clad and with Alfred’s hand on his shoulder. He’s faintly red, though Tim supposes it could be from the heat of his shower. “It would not have hit me, even if Drake hadn’t interfered.”
“Intervened,” Dick corrects.
“I cannot– you cannot hold me responsible.”
Dick holds out an arm as Alfred heads away, says, “Come here,” and it’s almost a question. Then he tugs his youngest brother into his lap. Much to Tim’s surprise, Damian doesn’t protest, but actually leans into Dick. “No one blames you, little D,” he says, rubbing a hand soothingly over the boy’s back. “I promise.”
And Tim looks on as Damian curls a little into Dick’s lap, face hidden. He lifts his arms to press his hands into the back of Dick’s suit. It’s almost a hug, and really, how did Tim not see how shaken Damian was until now? On reflection, it certainly hadn’t been a pleasant patrol for him– either of them. (But more important was that he was okay. A faint bruise on his jaw was the only proof of his nighttime activities.)
“Drake is an idiot,” Damian mutters, but it’s still defensive.
"Sweetheart, he took a bullet for you today,“ Dick says, almost laughing. It says a lot that Damian doesn’t even flinch away from the term of endearment. "That buys him at least a week of niceness, yeah?”
And Damian doesn’t say anything to that.
Dick pulls him a little closer, into a more conventional hug, and kisses his temple. Smoothes back his hair. “Thanks for getting him home safe,” he murmurs to Damian, but his eyes are on Tim, and really, it’s for both of them.
Tim just closes his eyes, pressing his hands into the paper sheets on the gurney.
Tim can’t patrol the next night under Alfred’s warning gaze. So he stays down in the Cave, eyes on the monitors, keeping his comm attuned to Oracle. Flinching at every yell, jumping a little at every grunt. He wants so much to be sick, wants to demand everyone come home.
He curls in on himself, ignores the sharp protest of his stitches, and watches. Eyes sandpaper-dry and determined and so, so panicked. He shivers.
He stays that way right up until Dick signs off the comms for the night, and Bruce and Damian are heading back home. Then he goes upstairs and lays on his bed, pretends to be asleep when Bruce peeps in to check on him.
But he’s too anxious to even doze, trembles under the weight of the blanket Bruce had covered him with. He’s restless, feels ill and weak and desperate, can’t help but think of Jason. Kon and Bart and the other Titans. (Everyone, everyone everyone.)
He gives up on sleep.
Tim returns to his place the next day.
He spends a wonderful few minutes on the phone with Bart, even relaxing back into the couch as his friend catches him up to… um, speedon the last few weeks since they’ve talked. His head lolls and he laughsand it feels amazing. It feels like the first breath after breaking the surface of Gotham Harbour.
And once they hang up, he spends a lot of time cleaning his apartment. Oddly, it helps– distracts him enough he can forget, momentarily, his terrors. For the first time in a while, Tim feels in control.
But once he’s bleached the entire bathroom, mopped and disinfected the kitchen, vacuumed, scrubbed, wiped, dusted, polished, fluffed and organised his entire apartment, he is at a loss. He feels– (exhausted, and he’s torn some stitches) –the anxiety creeping up again, the vague sense of panic, absolute dread that something bad is coming. He doesn’t know what to do.
The dizziness hits him like a wave, almost knocking him flat, and he’s left gasping, sagged against his kitchen wall. He can't– he needs–
He stays there, eyes squeezed shut, waits for the room to stop spinning. And slowly, the vertigo begins to fade, leaving in its place–
Absolute and unyielding. Tim’s chest aches, his heart pounding furiously. He thinks he might vomit. But he makes it to where his phone sits, innocuous and silent, on the kitchen bench. He mashes the keys and absently wipes tears off his face. Because if–
“Hey, handsome,” Dick says warmly, after two rings. “You almost nevercall me. Should I be flattered, or worried?”
And Tim, who at some point had sunken to the floor, swallowing his near-sob of relief, doesn’t get a chance to reply.
“… Did you pop your stitches?”
Tim glances down guiltily, where the dark of the bloodstained bandage is visible through his worn shirt. “No,” he lies. “Of course not.”
And Dick says, “Y'okay, Timmy? You sound pretty shook up.” and Tim can practically see the wrinkle between his eyebrows.
“I’m fine,” Tim says, and he means it, sitting lightheaded in the middle of his spotless kitchen floor and bleeding through his shirt. “Just woke up,” he lies again, easing until he’s sitting more comfortably.
“At this time?” Dick says, delighted. “Timmy, I’m scandalised! And also glad, little brother. You’re always so overworked.”
“I’m okay,” Tim says dismissively, mostly just letting Dick’s voice wash over him like home. And he feeds Dick some bullshit story about wanting his opinion on something at WE, just so he can close his eyes and listen to the familiar rhythms and cadences of Dick’s speech, the man’s laughter and outrage by turns. He wriggles back across the floor until his back’s against a cupboard, makes an occasional sound of agreement.
He barely notices the way his hand trembles in his lap.
“You shouldn’t have even been out tonight,” Bruce is saying, snarling, because he’s angry and Tim fucked up again. “You took a stupid risk. You’re exhausted, and already injured, so you had virtually no chance of pulling it off–”
“I know I screwed up,” Tim interrupts. “I do. But no one got hurt.”
Bruce… stares. Tim can feel the eyes on him. “You got knifed in the side, Tim.”
“I meant no one else,” Tim says crossly, and Bruce just looks at him like he’s an alien.
Jason’s a few feet away, getting his hand wrapped by Alfred. (He’d punched a little too fiercely after Tim had been stabbed, and cracked two knuckles on the guy’s face. But he was okay, and he wouldn’t be if Tim hadn't–)
“Your judgement is compromised,” Bruce says, flat. He adds, “You’re officially off active duty, Tim. Until Alfred or I say so.”
“What?” Tim says, struggling to sit up. Dizziness wars with pain wars with determination, but Tim can't– he can’t afford to pull his punches, and Bruce is walking away– “I’m,” he says, kicking a leg out from under the sheets. “I’m not your Robin any more. I’m not your anything, you don’t get to tell me–”
A muscle in Bruce’s jaw works fiercely and he turns. Jason and Alfred, Tim can see, are watching and pretending they aren’t. Bruce takes a few furious steps forward, growls, “Emancipated or not, Tim, you’re still my son. Lay back down. This is not up for discussion.”
And he starts to stalk off.
“But I can be helpful,” Tim says, desperately. Tears prickling.
Bruce pauses, this time, but doesn’t turn. “Get some sleep, Tim,” he says. And leaves Tim helplessly staring at his retreating back.
The teen slides back down to the pillow, feeling faint.
He’s glad for the morphine.
The next few nights he spends in the Cave, only a little strung out on painkillers.
Alfred takes special care to place food in front of him at regular intervals, and he usually stands there until Tim has eaten at least half of it. (What Tim doesn’t tell the man is that he can’t keep food down, keeps vomiting until his throat hurts and he’s dizzy and it feels like his side is going to split open.)
And Bruce inevitably sends him upstairs, even the night Tim, curled silent and vigilant in Bruce's chair at the console, slams the communication key and yells, “Behind you!”
Batman had grabbed the high-powered rifle, cleaned up the thug and summoned the cops before he swung to a more secluded rooftop. “You should be in bed,” he said, into his comm, and Tim shrunk down in the chair, fighting off a scowl.
“No arguments,” he’d growled, and Tim had opened his mouth to say 'I maybe just saved your life’, but Batman had severed the connection with a brusque “Goodnight”, so that was the end of that.
Worse still was the night Bruce locked him out of the Cave and didn’t even tell him, let Alfred say archly, “Ah, Master Bruce thought you needed some more rest, Master Tim. If you would head upstairs, perhaps you can research effective ways of relaxing.”
And so Tim went to his bedroom, sat on his bed. Terrified. Waiting for the sound of Alfred rushing down the hall, or for a knock at his door with bad news. (Tim can’t take it.)
He didn’t even close his eyes until he heard Bruce and Damian head to their respective bedrooms.
It’s the night after when he’s in trouble, confined to his bed by Alfred after popping some stitches. (He’d popped them vomiting, but he doesn’t tell Alfred that part.)
He lays on the bed, panicked, so panicked, and he can’t seem to catch his breath. His hands are shaking, and he feels almost feverish, weak and cold and clammy. He feels tears pricking his eyes, helpless helpless helpless and whatever happens tonight is on him because he’s not there–
And he swings out of bed, ignores the dull, burning sensation down his side, the pull of his exhausted, too-heavy body, and starts to clean his room for the second time in six hours.
He reorganises his bookshelf again, working alphabetically in sub-genreswhich makes so much more sense anyway, and it takes up a full fifteen minutes of his time. Then he ducks into the bathroom to get a cloth and wipes down everything, (again) repeating “it’s okay” to himself with every swipe of cloth, until his arms are shaking and the skin on his hands itch from the cleaning spray.
Then he starts on his closet, working from the outside in, arranging his clothes by colour and style until he’s too tired to do it any more, stumbling the few feet to his bed. He aches all over, his whole right side a white-hot haze of pain. He’s so dizzy, still feels that panic lurking oppressively in his stomach.
He wishes he could sleep.
Jason hovers outside the pretender’s door. Chewing his lip. Because he hadn’t been sure if it was just his imagination, but if even Bruce had spotted it–
“Please, be nice to Tim,” he’d said, back to Jason in the Cave. “There's… something wrong. I don’t know what.”
“Cushioning his neurosis, B?” Jay had said, going for 'flippant asshole’. He likes to hold his cards close to his chest, had already been planning on poking into the kid’s business tonight. He’d been acting off for a while.
“Until I can figure it out,” Bruce had replied, sounding grim. “Yes.”
And so here Jason is, outside the kid’s door and entirely unsure what to do. He knocks once and enters, doesn’t miss the way the replacement flinches pretty violently.
His room is impossibly clean, Jason thinks. Stupidly, impossibly clean. Sterile, even. And the baby bird is sagging on his impossibly-tidy bed, too-thin, bulky bandages visible through his tshirt. He looks… awful, actually.
And so Jason saunters in, says, “Don’t tell Dickie I’m here, 'kay?” and settles, uninvited, beside him on the bed.
“I– wh–?” the replacement says, eloquently.
He’s the smart one, alright.
Jay slings an arm around his shoulders, begins to ease the kid into a more comfortable position. “Relax,” he says, rolling his eyes. “I’m not gonna hurt you. Goldie’s out there watching something called 'Jersey Shore'…? I told him I was getting a soda, but I have no intention of going back.”
The kid still looks pale and confused, slouched under the weight of his arm. His hands, shaking in his lap, are red and painful-looking.
“This is the last place he’ll think to look for me,” Jason adds, reaching over to liberate Tim’s remote off his nightstand.
“O-okay,” the teen says, like he has a choice. And he doesn’t say anything else while Jason channel-surfs, eyes flicking up towards his face and back to the TV. Back stiff.
“You doing okay?” Jason asks absently, after a while. Feels the smaller body jerk under his arm in surprise. “Alfred said you bust your stitches.”
“It’s fine,” Tim mumbles, recovering from his surprise. “If this,” he clears his throat. “Is, um, guilt? It’s, ah–”
Jay snorts. “For you being stupid enough to get between me and that fucker’s knife? Hell no, that one’s on you. I’m just tryin’ to avoid quality Snooki time with Dick.”
“How’s your hand?” Tim asks, in the slightly awkward silence after. (Jay doesn’t care, he’s pretty engrossed in finding out how plastic spoons are made.)
“Eh,” Jason half-shrugs, glances down into Tim's… oddly worried gaze. “If I wrap it properly, I should be able to patrol without a problem in a night or two.”
Jason doesn’t miss the way the kid frowns, tries to hide it. But he puts it out of his mind for now, because there’s nothing he can do just yet, and anyway, cartoons.
It’s late when Dick does eventually find them, pokes his head in to check on his injured little brother. What he doesn’t expect, judging from the dead-fish thing he’s doing with his face, is to find Tim comfortably tucked in bed, sound asleep against Jason’s side.
The kid has his head resting on Jason’s chest, one hand loosely gripping his wrist. His mouth is open, face faintly flushed, but he’s comfortable, Jay knows, has slept better in the last two hours Jason’s been here than he has the last few weeks combined. He still looks exhausted.
It takes Dick a good 15 seconds to recover from the initial shock, to start asking, “Wh–?”
“There’s something wrong with the kid,” Jason says, quietly, as Dick creeps in worriedly. “He’s not actin’ like himself.” And then, because fuck being caught being civil to his younger brother, Jay adds snidely, “Apparently it’s a huge loss, but I don’t really see it.”
It says a lot that Dick doesn’t call him on it, just looks down at the lightly snoring baby bird until Jay eventually shoos him out, rolling his eyes and fumbling for the remote. (Just because he’s babysitting, doesn’t mean he has to watch infomercials.) “Brothers, huh Tim?” he says, to his slumbering audience. “Can’t live with 'em.”
It’s the next night when Tim’s down in the Cave again.
He’s far too cold, teeth chattering painfully as he stares at the monitors for the fourth consecutive hour. (He’d lied to Alfred, said he’d only been here for an hour. He suspected the man knew better, but the guilt was still there, just below the constant-panic.) He feels bone tired. Ill. He feels– like he did those nights he collapsed on patrol, coming to on a cold roof, alone and panicking because what if he missed something–?
He’s lost in his thoughts– fingers spasming on the arms of Bruce’s chair, eyes flickering between screens– when the Batmobile comes screeching to a halt below.
It’s forty minutes earlier than Tim had anticipated, and there’s a sort-of hiccup in his chest, a little jolt of suspense. Caught between anxiety and hope, Tim stands in time to see–
he thinks his heart stops. His world goes near-white, he can hear nothing but the roar of static in his ears. His own racing heartbeat.
Dick. Cradled in Bruce’s arms like a child, limp and pale, and Tim can’t he can’t he can’t ever be okay, not ever again, he can’t keep adjusting, not to this, never this, because Dick– his big brother, his personal fucking sunshine, the first person who ever meant anything, is–
“–just been tranqued, Alfred. I’ll do a light bloodscan to be safe, but he should come around any minute.”
Tim hears some other words, after that. White noise, more or less. And he can’t breathe, can’t focus past the black-spots in his vision.
He barely registers Alfred’s voice in his ear, hands firmly guiding him back to a chair. Doesn’t hear the man call out to Bruce, or the hurried footsteps on the Cave floor. And he sits there blankly, shaking, nauseous, until Alfred comes back, manually wraps Tim’s hand around –something, has him lift it to his mouth.
“Deep breaths,” Alfred is encouraging, again and again, and Tim sucks in air so fast he thinks he might black out.
But Alfred’s hand is steady on his shoulder the whole time, and the faint puff and crinkle sounds of the paper bag on each inhale and exhale is… distracting, if not soothing. And slowly, the blur around him resolves itself into the Cave again, Alfred’s furrowed eyebrows and gentle frown.
“Master Tim,” he is saying. “I hope you are aware that our Master Richard is, indeed, uninjured.”
Tim’s hands are shaking. “He's–”
“Quite well. Asleep, but quite well.”
And as Tim’s breathing starts to regulate… his arm droops down and down, going limp. The bag still clutched in his white-knuckled hand. (Crinkle, puff, his mind supplies.) He stares to the other end of the Cave, where he can see Dick’s form, the dark of his suit against the white paper sheets on the cot. Chest obviously expanding with each breath, even visible from here.
Dick shifts, slightly, half-rolling onto his side.
Alfred squeezes his shoulder and Tim jumps, stares up into the old man’s bright blue eyes. “Why don’t you head upstairs and get some rest, my dear boy?” he offers. Concerned, and trying to hide it. “I’m sure you’ll be feeling much more yourself in the morning.”
Embarrassingly, Alfred leads him to the stairs, a gentle arm at his elbow, steering and supporting. He doesn’t mention the way Tim keeps glancing over at the peacefully slumbering Dick. And Tim ignores the feel of Bruce’s eyes on him from across the Cave.
He goes upstairs without making another sound.
Tim is curled up on the window seat in his room. He’s wearing a pair of pyjama pants and one of Kon’s shirts he’d never got around to returning, feet bare. He stares determinedly out the window, trying to suppress his dizziness.
He’s too anxious to sleep.
And really, how stupid is that? He knows, logically, that Dick is okay– saw him snoring, shifting in what was ordinary sleep. But the way his heart is hammering, all he can do is panic, try to hold onto his fleeting rational thoughts–
“Did you need something,” he asks, tiredly, sees Damian flinch out of the corner of his eye. He had crept in unannounced, had been watching Tim at least a minute.
The boy is wearing flannel pyjamas and a pair of boots, which meant he’d ventured down to the Cave instead of sleeping. (Bruce never did learn to be strict with Robins’ bedtimes.) Damian shakes his head, beginning to skulk out.
“Sleep well, Damian,” Tim says, without turning, and hears Damian’s somewhat surprised, “…Goodnight, Drake.” Then he closes the door.
Tim huffs out a sigh, watches it fog up the glass, and panics some more. He just– if everyone was here, maybe he wouldn’t feel this way. And it wasn’t really too much to ask, was it? For his family and friends to stay close, where he could keep an eye on them? Protect them? He runs a knuckle absently over the bandages on his side. He really would do anything to keep them safe.
He drops his chin to rest on his knees, closing his eyes and tipping slowly until he’s sagged against the cold glass of the window. And when Dick enters his room, a short while later, Tim stares at him for a full minute. He’s very faintly pale, looks a little tired around the eyes and in his posture, is otherwise perfectly fine. He’s obviously showered, is intending to stay over at the Manor tonight.
And Tim gives a guilty start, goes back to staring into the darkened night as Dick approaches.
He feels rather than hears Dick go into a crouch beside him. And there’s a gentle touch around his ankle. Tim looks down, meeting Dick’s intense, concerned gaze. His soft smile. “Heya,” the elder says. “Alfie says you’re not doing so well, huh gorgeous?”
Tim just gives a stiff half-shrug and turns back to the window, but Dick says, “Want to talk about it?”
And Tim squeezes his eyes closed, shakes his head. Hears a faint rustle and the creak of a knee as Dick stands.
Then Dick brushes a hand over his, pressing a kiss to his temple. In almost the same motion, he scoops Tim into his arms and carries him a few feet to the bed, setting him down gently. “How about some sleep then, little brother?”
Tim nods, a little helplessly, and gets under the covers.
“I’m gonna stay here awhile, 'kay?” Dick tells him, slinging an arm over the top of the covers and curling close. Affecting carelessness. But Dick’s always been a bad liar. (Tim can tell he’s afraid.)
And he keeps his eyes closed, focusses on the feeling of Dick’s warm, toothpaste-y breath against his hair. If he concentrates, he can imagine Bruce, still up and working on something. Jason, arriving back at his shitty apartment and warming something disgusting from a can before hitting the shower. Damian, sprawled out asleep in those pyjamas that make him look his age for once. Alfred, finally heading up to bed after one last check of the Manor. Kon sound asleep, a litter of textbooks and food crumbs around him. Bart, snoring loudly on his back. And Cass– Steph– the Titans– all home, and safe, and sleeping they'reokaythey'reokaythey'reokay–
Bruce finds Tim in the Cave the next morning, checking and rechecking the same files he’s been over numerous times in the last few days.
He stands… close to the chair, not close enough for Tim to feel cornered. The teen knows he’s here, has said nothing. “I didn’t expect to find you here so early,” Bruce says, and the attempt at conversation hangs, almost tangible between them.
But when Tim says nothing, Bruce says carefully, “I think we should have a talk about last night, Tim.”
The chair turns. Tim looks at the floor, says, flat and tired, “What do you want me to say.”
The boy is shying away from his gaze, hands visibly shaking. He looks… afraid, anxious. Humiliated, even. Like he's–
Like he’s expecting the worst. “Bruce?”
Bruce resists the urge to run a hand through his hair, knowing it will unsettle Tim further. He tries– “I don’t understand you, Tim,” and the teen almost flinches. He’s quick to add, “None of you boys. But you… haven’t been yourself, lately.”
Tim stands from the chair, facing away from him. And Bruce reaches out, dwarfing Tim’s shoulder under his hand. He can feel Tim shaking.
“What’s changed?” Bruce tries, as gently as he knows how. Squeezing.
And Tim shakes his head but doesn’t pull away, so Bruce says, “Tim.”
“Nothing.” Voice choked. But it’s not a lie.
“Tim, I don't–”
“Nothing’s changed. Okay?” And Bruce shifts his hand, very slightly, so his calloused index finger is brushing the warm skin above the collar of Tim’s t-shirt. Tim continues, “I'm…” and he turns back, eyes glistening with unshed tears. “I’m just.” His voice cracks. “I’m so tired, Bruce. I’m tired of being afraid. But it’s not– it’s not going to change, it can’t, because it, it makes sense, and you can’t fight rationality!”
Bruce, feeling as though they’ve skipped at least ten steps in this conversation, is taken aback, says, “Afraid, Tim? What do you mean?”
Tim shakes his head again, tears beginning to fall. Lips pursed so tight they’re bloodless.
Bruce frowns, a bit, squeezing Tim’s shoulder gently. Trying to think. (World’s Greatest Detective, he thinks. Ha.) “You were… afraid, for Dick last night. Is that–?”
Tim’s eyes squeeze shut, tears dribbling down his chin and onto his shirt.
“It’s not just Dick,” Bruce says, with an air of realisation. “The bullet. Jason. The– the nights, in the Cave. You’re so overworked, exhausted…”
“I can’t,” Tim says, sobbing now, face pale and scrunched up. He looks so exhausted, is swaying on his feet. And Bruce wonders, how long has this been going on? Just the emotional strain– “I can’t l-lose anyone, Bruce, not again. I c-can’t, not ever, not ever again. B-but it’s only a muh-matter of time. Who will it be next? It’s n-not– it’s an occupational hazard, but I can’t deal with it a-and no matter how hard I try, people keep g-getting hurt, and if I t-told you you’d m-make me stop–”
And Tim breaks into awful, shuddering sobs, pressing into Bruce’s chest. He awkwardly puts an arm around the whimpering boy, says, “Tim–? When did this start?” and in the same breath, “Ivy.” Then, to himself, “It’s been weeks… how–?”
The dark haired teen wraps his arms around Bruce, pressing closer. Sniffling, trembling. Making soft little sounds of distress. He’s helpless, limp in Bruce’s arms, can’t seem to stop crying. He’s far too thin, bones practically poking through the skin. Bruce can feel the jut of every rib, every notch in the boy’s spine.
Bruce pets Tim’s hair, says, “We’re going to figure this out.”
Tim shakes his head again, sobbing muffled in Bruce’s chest, “I can't– no one else can die, Dad, I’m nuh-not strong enough.” and it takes Bruce a whole minute to twig that Tim means him, that this is the first time Tim’s ever called him 'Dad’. It hurts, a little, to think he has to be in this much pain to do it.
Bruce presses a well-meaning, entirely awkward kiss into Tim’s soft hair, almost misses his next words–
"I f-finally h-have a family worth c-caring about, but for how long?“
And there’s a sort of pain in Bruce’s chest, a little hiccup of hatred and anger mixed with love and admiration and terror. He pulls Tim closer, shushing him gently. "It’s okay, Tim. It’s going to be okay.”
But the boy keeps crying, pressed against him. He cries like a child, desperate, absolute; with his whole being. The unfairness of the world weighing him down. And Bruce has never been good at this, not even with Dick or Jason who were always better at emotion than he, but to see Tim this way, so hurt and vulnerable… it makes Bruce ache for him.
It makes him want to hurt Ivy.
And Tim cries for so long that Bruce wonders what to do. If he should page Alfred, or maybe get a sedative. Or if he should scoop Tim up and bring him upstairs, or maybe to the medical bay.
So when Bruce sees Dick coming down the stairs to the Cave, mouthing “Help me” over Tim’s head is perfectly understandable.
“What’s going on?” Dick says, demands, and he’s already glaring at Bruce.
Tim pulls back far enough to see Dick, wipes his eyes on his sleeve. Too exhausted to be embarrassed like he usually would be. Under the influence, Bruce’s mind supplies.
And of course Dick is already pulling his brother into his arms, cooing, murmuring. Petting Tim’s hair. “Talk to me, kiddo. Tell me what happened.”
“You remember a few weeks ago, when Ivy got out?” Bruce says grimly, when it becomes apparent Tim isn’t going to answer.
“Yeah,” Dick says blankly, shifting the boy in his arms. “Why…?” And his mouth forms an 'O’ even as Bruce continues.
“It seems Tim has… a lot of increased anxiety, that bad things will happen to the people he cares about.”
“Oh Timmy,” Dick says, kissing his forehead a few times. “It’s okay. We’re all okay.” and with Dick’s encouragement (he’s always been better at this than Bruce), they get Tim to the med bay to take a blood sample, to compare to the one he gave a few weeks ago, run a few more quick tests. And his tears are slowing, but Bruce thinks it’s more due to exhaustion than anything else.
Then Dick takes him upstairs, even has him crack a watery smile at some stupid pun or other.
Bruce sits worriedly at the console, as the computer analyses Tim’s old and new blood samples. He can fix this.
Upstairs, Dick settles on the edge of Tim’s bed. Kisses his forehead a few more times. His Timmy.
He wipes almost compulsively at the tears on his little brother’s cheeks, brushing his thumbs over the soft skin under Tim’s dark blue eyes. Then he draws Tim as close to him as possible, wrapping his arms around him. Feels him tremble, feverish. And he rubs his knuckles over Tim’s arms, murmuring into his hair.
“Everything’s okay,” he says. “Everyone’s fine, Timmy. We’re all okay. Just relax. Let us worry about you, huh?”
“I’m okay,” Tim hiccups. “I just c-can’t stop crying. Sorry.”
Dick smothers his apology in a crushing hug, says, “Hey. Any excuse to cuddle you, I’ll take it.” and relishes the sound of the tearful laugh.
“I just cried on Bruce for like, a half hour,” he says. Adds, “Shit.”
And Dick can’t help but laugh at that, gentle, and a little pitying. “You know he loves you. He’s just… intensely awkward, Timmy. It’s okay. And if there’s one thing you can count on with B, it’s that he’ll never, ever bring it up again.”
They stay that way, Dick gently rocking Tim, until Alfred enters carrying tea.
The teen pulls back from Dick to accept the teacup Alfred offers. “This is dosed, right?” he says, scrubbing at his wet eyes with his sleeve.
When Alfred says nothing, his mouth twitching slightly downward, Tim downs it in two gulps, expressionless. “Thank you,” he says, handing the teacup back. And Alfred takes his leave.
Tim’s still crying a little, body giving these little exhausted tremors, even as he lays back on the pillows. Dick lays beside him, wiping at the tears. “Try remember it’s the toxin, okay little brother? Keep telling yourself, everyone’s okay.”
Dick stays there until long after the sedative has taken effect.
Tim wakes up alone and achey. He rubs at his eyes and rolls out of bed, wincing at the pull of stitches in his side.
He goes into the bathroom to wash his face, scrubbing at the too-visible tear-tracks (if he could repress memories at will–) and brushing his teeth. It’s still daylight hours, so everyone should be fine. Unless he slept through the day and night, in which case–
He starts to panic. He rinses out his mouth and starts downstairs as quick as he can, but the snatch of voices from an open doorway has him doubling back.
…Tim wonders if he’s dead. Because there should be no other reason Bruce, Dick, Jason and Damian are together in a room unsupervised and no one is involved in fisticuffs. He sags against the door.
Dick brightens when he sees him, says, “Timbo!” and there’s a chorus of other mumbled greetings from around the room.
Tim’s heart starts to beat frantically against his ribcage. Is it bad news? What are they about to tell him?
“Come sit down, would you?” Jay says, sprawled in an overstuffed armchair. “We’re just discussing the plans for tonight.”
“P…lans?” Tim says blankly. And Dick pats the couch next to him, deliberately squishing uncomfortably close to Damian, who scowls.
“Apparently,” Bruce says, dryly, as Tim warily takes a seat. “You are having a… movie night tonight.”
In a fairly respectable imitation of Bruce’s voice, Jason says, “Movie nights are so bourgeois.” At Bruce’s Look, he cracks up, says, “Well you don’t have to say it like that. ’A… movie night.’ At least try to sound excited on our behalf.”
Dick’s snort is quelled when Bruce’s stare is turned on him. But Tim’s still a little confused, looking between his brothers.
Jason nudges his leg with a foot, says quietly, “We’re not patrolling tonight, baby bird. Relax, would you?”
He’s stunned into silence, so Dick takes pity and slings an arm around him, kissing his cheek absently. “My vote,” he says. “Is Finding Nemo, or anything with Patrick Dempsey.”
And midway through their very vocal argument about the merits of various kids movies, (“Puh-leeze, Basil all the way,”, and “Have you even seen Coraline?”, “How about How to Train Your Dragon?” “I watched that two days ago– Treasure Planet?” “Fuck you, you know that makes me bawl”–), during which Bruce had suspiciously disappeared, Dick says, “Oh yeah!” and turns to Tim. “Almost forgot. I called your friends. Conner’s plans tonight are to study for his upcoming exams. He’s staying home. Bart’s going to an all-night vintage horror movie spectacular, and I really didn’t want to know more than that. I asked them to text you once or twice tonight, just to let you know they’re still doing okay. Cass will be sleeping, because of the time difference. She, uh, says hi, and that she is absolutely not getting up to text you at any point.” Then, brightly, “Okay, kids. Who’s ready to get started?”
(He kindly doesn’t mention it when Tim hugs him, quick and grateful.)
The movie night is… really great, actually. His brothers are more-or-less kind and understanding, but don’t take any shit.
“You worried about B?” Jason had said, sympathetically, after the man had left (“I shouldn’t be too long. I’m going to talk to Ivy and coming straight back. Relax, Tim.”). “You want me to call him for you? He’ll be really fucking insulted.”
And Tim, startled by the shift, said, “Wh–?”
“He’s been dealing with Ivy longer than you’ve been alive. Instead of finding your concern touching, I’m pretty sure he’ll be offended,” Jason had said, rolling his eyes. “I fuckin’ would be.”
“Father can take care of himself,” Damian had agreed, haltingly. (The boy had no idea how to act around Tim now, bewildered by Tim’s concern for him. He was still unsure what that meant for their relationship, mostly skulked at Dick’s side and occasionally complained about Disney’s inaccuracies compared to real life.)
Tim had received a few texts– (“Hey rob. still kicking… keep reminding myself i can’t actually die from exams, lol”, and, “Tim this movie is the shit, i don’t think you understand, love Bart xx”) and actually, hesitantly, relaxed a little. He even found himself smiling.
(It’s okay, Tim. It’s going to be okay.)
When Bruce gets back, he sheds the cowl and cape and heads upstairs immediately. (Alfred should give him a pass this one time for wearing the suit upstairs.)
He picks his way across the living room, over mounds of blankets and cushions and pillows– Dick’s work, no doubt– and the sight that greets him has him hiding a smile. Damian and Jason sleep back-to-back on the floor, Damian curled up small and Jason spread-out on top of a pile of blankets.
Dick and Tim, on the other hand, are asleep on the couch, Tim sprawled across the elder’s chest. If Bruce had to guess, from Tim’s twisted, uncomfortable position and the hand on his wrist, he would say Dick yanked him over on top of him, where they both quickly fell asleep.
Bruce creeps around Jason and Damian, ignoring the way Jason lets out a loud snore and Damian mumbles “Mother–”, and finds his way over to the couch.
Tim stirs sleepily, lifting his head from Dick’s chest. A tired but genuine smile spreads over his face as he says, half-asleep, “B! You’re here.”
“I’m here,” Bruce agrees softly, dropping to a crouch beside him.
Then Tim frowns, a bit, says, “You’re okay?”
Bruce smiles at that, watches Tim slowly relax back against Dick, eyes on him. He brushes a hand through the boy’s mussed hair, watches his eyes flicker closed. “I’m great, Tim.”