Tim clenched his jaw and wished Bart would just get it over with.
(Okay, deep breaths, that wasn't fair.) He'd been getting on his friend's case for months about sitting through debrief and giving details. His eidetic memory was just as much of an asset after a mission as it was during.
(But why he chose today of all days to listen....)
Tim ran a hand through his hair and dug his fingernails into the base of his scalp. Someone grabbed his hand and he yelped in pain, immediately getting everyone's attention.
Conner's eyes were wide, staring at his hand. "I didn't - I didn't mean-"
Great, he thought he'd used too much strength, that meant he'd be coming by later. "Just wrap it up," Tim ordered.
Bart shared a look with Cassie then continued with his report.
Tim closed his eyes, thankful for the lenses that masked what he was doing, even though they couldn't possibly block out enough light. Bart's voice droned on (and on and on), until it was this screeching buzzing sound.
Tim bit his lip and tried not to cry out again, passing his palms over his ears over and over again, tensing his entire body.
A touch landed on his shoulder, and (oh god, oh god, oh god, it was fire, it was burning and stabbing....)
And all of a sudden that weight that had been pressing on his head all day moved to his chest and he was gasping and sobbing, digging his nails into his skull until he bled.
"Robin," someone was calling, he didn't know who. "Hey, hey, do you know where you are?"
Yes, he wanted to say, (and no at the same time, and stop talking, stop talking, stop talking, everything hurts, everything hurts, the air is drowning me).
"Hey, look me in the eyes, breathe with me, okay?"
Look me in the eyes, Timothy.
Quiet hands, Timothy.
He tried, he tried, he tried.
"Someone call Batman."
"Can you tell me your name?"
Name, there was a rule about names, (not supposed to tell), but he couldn't force it past his lips.
(Go away, go away, go away.)
"Do you know who you are?"
(No, no, not a who, just an am. Am here. Am hurt.)
Suddenly, there was a booming noise, and he curled tighter. (Am small, please don't hurt anymore.)
Then there was a growl, and then black and quiet, (and he knew this black, and he knew this quiet), and someone was pressing something familiar into his arms.
He pressed his cheek into it and let himself cry, (let himself be).
After who knows how long, the pressure moved off his chest and his muscles relaxed one-by-one, sore for how long they'd been clenched. He felt the world trickle back into his brain, starting with the feeling of Robin Bear in his arms (he was too old for toys) and ending with Bruce's voice.
"Can you open your eyes?"
It took far too long to process, and he nodded, made himself (made himself punished for not being right and now Batman would know and now what would happen?) The onslaught of thought made him shut his eyes once more.
"It's okay." Bruce scooted forward, not touching, keeping his cape between them and the door. "It's okay to feel bad."
Tim's breath hitched, and he opened his eyes but curled tighter around Robin Bear, avoiding Bruce's gaze.
Bruce drummed his fingers on the floor absent-mindedly. "Take as much time as you need."
Tim stretched his fingers, flexed his hands, (wishing for something, he didn't know what) and Bruce wrapped his arms around him, held him close, squeezing just the right amount. "Safe," he croaked.
"Safe," Bruce agreed.
They sat in silence for a long time.
"Home?" Bruce asked after a moment.
Tim nodded, and then Bruce picked him up and carried him, and Victor was there.
Bruce tucked his head against his shoulder. "It's going to be loud and bright for a minute."
They boomed into the cave, and even before Cyborg had boomed away, Tim was hyperventilating from it all.
"It's okay," Bruce reminded him. (Not it's okay, but it's okay to feel like this.) "I'm pretty sensitive after a meltdown, too." (Meltdown, like a toddler.) "Let's get you out of that uniform."
"No," Tim begged, curling up again, clutching Robin Bear like nothing else mattered. "No, please." (Please, I can still be Robin.)
"Just to sleep," Bruce said, as if he could see right through him. "Just to sleep," he repeated, taking on of Tim's hands as he pressed the other up so Robin Bear was pressed against his cheek. "It's okay," he said again as he took off the glove, moved on to the rest of the uniform. "I understand, I get them, too." He redressed Tim in a t-shirt and sweatpants that were both far too big (but so, so soft). "It's okay," Bruce murmured, carrying him to bed and tucking him in before heading to the door.
"Bruce," Tim cried.
"I'll be right back," Bruce promised (so had his parents, though).
He curled into a ball beneath the sheets, trying not to feel so lonely. And then there was something heavy draping over him (grounding him to the earth when he felt he would be blown away). He opened his eyes to look and (- and - and - and) Bruce had come back.
(Bruce had come back.)
Bruce pushed his bangs out of the way and pressed his lips to his forehead. "Sleep well, Tim. I'll be here, and we'll talk in the morning."
(Tim didn't want morning to come.)
But it did, with the smell of coffee and eggs and bacon.
"Eat what you can," Bruce said, dishing himself a full plate.
Tim nibbled at the eggs until they went cold, then pushed them away.
"I'm sorry," Bruce said, and Tim flinched. "I'm sorry you didn't feel you could come to me about this."
Tim scoffed and pushed at the footboard with his toes. "I'm wrong," he said. "I didn't want anyone to know. And now everyone does."
"You're not wrong," Bruce said, with a vehemence usually saved for the worst of Gotham's criminals. "You're like me. The world is wrong for us. What do you know about autism?"
Tim flinched again. "I know I had it. I had to go to therapy to get rid of it."
Bruce made a strangled, broken (angry) noise. "I kind of want to murder your parents."
Tim laughed. "Yeah, well, other people got there first."
"I'm autistic," Bruce said. "You don't grow out of it. It's a neurodevelopmental disorder." He was tapping his fingers again. "It affects how your brain grows and works."
"Your hands aren't supposed to be loud," Tim snapped.
Bruce stared him in the eye and continued to tap his fingers. "Yes, they are, it helps my brain do its job. If the noise is bothering you, I'll stop, if it's anything else, deal with it."
Tim stared in shock, then hesitantly pressed his fingertips together and wiggled them.
"Better?" Bruce asked.
"I want you to do what makes you feel better."
Tim nodded slowly. "Better," he croaked.
"You're not wrong."
"Okay." It was easier to agree. (Oh, how he wished it was true. He didn't stop wiggling his fingers, though.)
Bruce sighed. "What happened last night is called a meltdown. It's your brain shutting down from stress or whatever else. I get them, too. Mine are different, but I get them, too. I had a lot of them after - after Jason died, before you came. I'm sure you saw."
Tim swallowed nervously and shook his head.
Bruce hummed. "Well, I'm sure you'll see, eventually. It's okay to feel that way," he said. "And it's okay to do whatever you need to do to stop feeling that way." He flapped a hand in the air like he was shooing away some invisible bug. "Stimming - what you were doing just then with your fingers - cuddling your bear, even taking time off from patrol. It's okay to do it, I want you to do it. Self-care is important. My self-care is doing the police's job for them and letting them take all the credit." He smirked. "It's not for everybody. Whatever your self-care is, do it. Just let me know first if it means leaving the manor or taking a day - or night - off."
Tim looked off to the side, staring in the middle distance. "Okay," he mumbled, pressing his bear to his chest.
"Speaking of days off," Bruce said, "take as many as you need to recover. It takes my brain at least a day to reboot. Do you want me to stay or leave?"
Tim thought a moment. "Stay," he finally said.
"Okay." Bruce crossed his legs and leaned back in his chair, pulling his phone out of his pocket. "If you change your mind, just let me know."