Soft footsteps on the hardwood floor and the faintest smell of Earl Grey tea warn him that he is no longer alone in the old, silent living room of what used to be, and sometimes still is, his home.
Tim uncrosses his arms and turns around to look at his little brother, now standing beside him under the moonlight coming in from the large windows. He’s still so happy to be back that he feels the corner of his mouths pulling up into an instinctive smile, one that comes from months of loneliness, so far away from everything that was familiar, even if not exactly friendly.
Damian makes a face like he’s smelled something bad, but gives him a curt nod of acknowledgment anyway, then holds up one of the two hot mugs he’s carrying.
“Pennyworth made two”, he explains.
Alfred did nothing of the sort, Tim’s sure of that. But he’s not going to call Damian out on that white little lie. He knows why the kid lied, he knows why Damian’s here.
“Thank you”, he says then, picking up the cup of tea with careful hands.
For a moment it seems almost too surreal to be true: the two of them standing in the hallway in their pajamas, sipping hot tea at three in the morning, while everybody else either sleep or is busy solving crimes in the cave belows their feet. Then he realizes that if this was any other house, there would be nothing weird about two brothers drinking tea together because neither of them can sleep (the cave would still be weird anywhere else, though).
And brother is still a word that stings a little when it’s used to describe Damian, but that’s the only word Tim can use, he realizes. That’s what they are. That’s why Damian’s here.
So Tim drinks his tea and tries to imagine holding a gun in his hand. He tries to imagine raising that gun to point it at Damian’s forehead. He tries to imagine to pull the trigger. One twist of the finger, one click. Boom. He tries to imagine the spray of blood and the thump of his brother’s body on the hardwood floor. He tries to imagine feeling good about it.
His stomach twists. Tim swallows down the bitter taste of guilt and bile along with a sweetened sip of the tea Damian’s prepared for him in anticipation of a talk that neither of them want to have. But if the kid made the first step then it's now up to Tim to cover the distance. Literally and metaphorically.
He bends on a knee to be at Damian’s height and sets his mug on the floor before looking up to meet his brother’s eyes.
“Damian, I… what happened with the Titans, with Jon”, he starts, not really knowing what words he should use to describe this whole mess without aggravating it. “With the… with the other Tim. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Unless he’s very angry or very offended, it’s always hard to read Damian’s face, at least for Tim. In this particular situation it’s even worse, because he doesn’t know what to expect. He would have welcomed the anger and the blame, but if those are Damian’s feeling in regards of Tim right now then he mastered the art of hiding them well.
But Damian only shakes his head at him.
“You don’t need to apologize, Drake”, the kid says, and Tim doesn’t understand. “We’re even now.”
Damian fidgets a little under his gaze, looking somewhat unsure of himself but determined at the same time.
“When I came here the first time, I wasn’t really me. I still was the me from the past. And that me has tried to kill you”, Damian explains slowly, measuring his words. To Tim’s ears it sounds like a practiced talk, something the kid’s been working on for some time now. It makes Tim feel even more guilty because he hasn’t practiced anything. Because, on some level, he was actually trying to avoid this. Damian tilts his chin up and doesn’t look away before continuing. “The Drake from the future tried to kill me, but that’s not you. I know that. But it means that we’re even now.”
Except they aren’t. Because the Batman from Tomorrow already killed his Damian and now he’s tried to kill Tim’s Damian too. So if they were keeping score on both attempted and successful fratricides, then Tim would be winning now.
“It… doesn’t work like that, Damian”, Tim manages to say, something heavy and sharp clawing at his throat from the inside.
“It can work like that for us”, Damian insists, clenched fists and a look of thunderstorm on his face, like he’s ready to fight for this. And then, quietly and unsure again, deflating a little bit under Tim’s stare, he adds: “I mean, if you agree.”
Tim doesn’t agree but he also doesn’t know how to explain it without creating a strain between them that he won’t be able to fix anytime soon. He doesn’t know how to explain to Damian that this is not how relationships works, how families stay together, that violence and blood are not the price to pay to have a sibling or a parent to your side. There must be, somewhere, the right combination of words to explain this, but Tim doesn't have it. And even if he did, he would still not be the right person to say those words.
So he doesn’t answer but does the next best thing he can think of: he reaches out and grabs Damian by his wrist, tugging him towards himself - gently, because this is not an imposition, and carefully because he has no idea on what the hell he’s doing. The only other time he remembers holding his brother in his arms was after the boy’s funeral, and Damian was there only as an hallucination created by the guilt and the pain of his grief.
But the boy in his arms is real now. He’s warm and a little bigger than Tim remembered, and he smells like Alfred’s favorite laundry detergent and Bruce’s shampoo, like Dick’s aftershave and a little bit of dog.
And Tim doesn't know what the future holds in store for the two of them now that they had the chance to take a glimpse at one horrible version of it, but he can't imagine a Damian Wayne who doesn't feel and smell like home. He can’t imagine himself raising an hand to kill this boy, even for the greater good, even to save the world. Because you can’t save the world like that. That’s not how the saving-the-world gig works. He’s always known that. But the Batman of Tomorrow must’ve forgotten it.
Damian wraps his arms around his neck, and Tim closes his eyes and sinks his face into the kid’s shoulder. He feels exhausted, but not unhappy.
“I love you, you little gremlin, do you know that?”, he whispers against the soft fabric of his brother’s shirt.
He suspects Damian doesn't. In their family love is one of those ça va sans dire things. The only persons Tim’s one hundred percent sure have ever heard those words coming from him are Stephanie and Bruce. He probably never said them to Alfred and Dick either, let alone Damian. But if this is a revelation for either of them, then it’s an old one. He’s always loved his family. So, so much.
Damian shifts into his hold and turns his head to hide his face into the crook of Tim’s neck. He’s quiet in a way Tim’s not used to, but that makes him feel warm and welcomed. Like he’s been missed too.
“I don’t hate you either”, Damian admits under his breath. “Not anymore.”
And that’s old news too, Tim realizes. He hugs Damian tighter to his chest anyway. Because it’s nice to hear it out loud, and also because once they go back to their normal routine he’s not sure he’ll ever hear it again. Not that it would matter, but still.