Sweat dripped off Dick’s forehead down to his chin. His shirt clung to his back as he did push-ups on the floor of the BPA gym. He had tried to do one-armed push-ups, but neither arm could support his weight individually. Frustrated with his lack of progress, Dick stayed late most days at the BPA to regain the muscles he lost since he stopped eating. He was such an idiot. What did he think would happen? He hardly had any muscle left.
His goal was 100 push-ups, but around 50 his arms started shaking. Determined, Dick kept going. He had made it to 75 yesterday. He would do 100 today. His shoulders burned with each push and pull of his muscles, but Dick kept going.
The lights flickered once. Dick heard the footsteps of someone entering the gym. He tensed automatically. He forced himself to relax. It was just Officer Ramirez.
“Grayson, go home.” There was a hint of fond exasperation in the older man’s voice.
Dick grinned. “I’m just trying to catch up. I’ll leave soon.”
Officer Ramirez shook his head causing the dark curls at his forehead to rustle. “No, you’ll head home now. I promised Officer Park that I wouldn’t let you exhaust yourself while she’s on vacation with her husband.”
Dick didn’t let the scowl he felt show on his face, but it was a near thing. Instead, he hopped up with faked ease. The room only spun slightly with the quick maneuver. He grabbed his water bottle and wiped the sweat of his face with the towel and drank some water to buy himself some time before speaking. It would do no good to sulk here.
Once he was positive he could speak with what others assumed was his natural ease, he addressed the officer. “Ah, no worries. I’m fine.” He kept his grin in place. He felt manic, but he knew no one ever noticed. “But I’ll head home.”
“I’ll stop worrying when you are no longer skin and bones. When are you coming over to let my wife feed you properly?” Officer Ramirez asked.
“As soon as I graduate,” Dick replied.
“I’ll hold you to that, Grayson. Now get on home.”
Unlocking the door to his apartment, Dick stepped inside. There was a fast motion that he caught out of his peripheral. He turned to the living room where Jason was pretending to read Jane Eyre. A pencil slowed to a stop as it rolled across the floor. Dick raised an eyebrow, but Jason pretended not to notice. His younger brother was hiding something, and Dick’s big brother prerogative was to discover what it was.
He flopped down on to the couch unnecessarily close to Jason, who immediately tried to shove him off.
“Aw, Jay, aren’t you happy to see me?”
“Get off! You big moop!”
“Nah,” Dick replied as he reached under the couch, which caused him to invade Jason’s personal space even further. His had grabbed a …book? Why would Jason be hiding a book? Jason kicked Dick off of him, and Dick stared at the book in his hands. The familiar dark blue with three infamous letters SAT. Why did Jason feel the need to hide an SAT book? Dick flipped the book open absentmindedly checking that it really was an SAT book.
Jason scowled at him. “It’s an SAT prep book.”
“You’re studying for the SATs?” Dick said slowly. His mind had trouble grasping the concept.
“Not all of us think college is a waste of time.”
“I know that, but you can go to whatever school you want.”
“No,” Jason stated, grabbing the book out of Dick’s hands and picking up the pencil that had rolled across the floor. “Jason Todd could. Jay Peterson can’t.”
Dicks swallowed his immediate reply. Jason’s new identity was a sore spot for all involved, and it was Dick’s fault. With the news hitting the world that the second Robin hadn’t died but instead had been held prisoner and tortured for two years, Jason Todd couldn’t come back to life as well. The connections would be too obvious.
“Jay Peterson dropped out of high school to get a job to help with his mother’s medical bills,” Jason reminded him with his trademark scowl.
That was another open wound. Before his death, Jason wanted to be the first person to graduate high school in his family. Now, he didn’t trust himself to handle a six-hour school day around a bunch of other teenagers, and Jason adamantly refused to allow Bruce to set him up with an identity that had a high school diploma. He didn’t want something he hadn’t earned. Jason was scheduled to take the GED later this month.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were looking at colleges?”
Jason rolled his eyes. “Why didn’t I tell the man who loathes school that I plan to get a degree? I wonder.”
“I do not loathe school. I just -” Dick floundered for the right word.
“Consider it a colossal waste of your time. I know, Dickhead. I’ve listened to your Bruce rants for days now.”
Dick sighed. It seemed all he ever did was mess-up. “I think it’s great you want a degree, Little Wing.”
Jason looked at him skeptically. “Right.”
“Babs, Wally, and Artemis are all working on their degrees. Have I ever said anything negative about them?” …Well, he had. He had muttered about Artemis and Wally’s decision to go civilian for months, but that was before Jay was resurrected, so it didn’t count.
Jason was still eyeing him dubiously, so Dick tried to explain, “I don’t want a degree because I don’t need a degree. I know enough criminology, computer science, and chemistry to do my job well. College isn’t going to teach me anything I don’t know.”
Plus, it would be thousands of wasted hours where he’d be forced to sit still for no good reason, although none of that mattered. As much as it pained him to admit, Dick would one day have to be CEO of Wayne Enterprises. What he wanted didn’t matter. It never had.
“There’s more to life than crime-fighting, you know?” Jason, who had waged a war on Gotham in his single-minded determination to get revenge, asked him.
Dick just laughed. “Course, Little Wing.”
The older man stood up before his brother could comment on the lie. “Well, I better head off to pick up, Timmy.” That was another cause for concern. Tim had been acting weird for the last few weeks, and then to discover that he wasn’t enrolled in school. Dick couldn’t believe he had missed that. In between his move to Bludhaven and living with Jason, Tim had fallen through the cracks – making Dick the worst big brother on the planet. Tim and Jason deserved so much more. Someone they didn’t think they need to hide their problems from.
“Yes, the wannabe college dropout is going to lecture about the importance of school. Can you really not see the hypocrisy?”
“It’s not about school,” Dick tried to explain. How did he explain that he was more concerned with Tim knowing someone was paying attention? Tim needed to know that someone would notice if he dropped out. Of course, no one had, which was the problem. Tim deserved so much more than Dick was able to give.
“Right.” Jason scoffed and walked into his bedroom, shutting the door with a dull thud.
Dick rubbed a hand down his face. Could he do nothing right with his little brothers? He’d have to figure out what was wrong with Jason later. Something was clearly bothering him. Something more than the SATs.
Repressing a groan, Dick sprang up to deal with his other little brother. Maybe he wouldn’t fail this time.
The sun’s fading glow barely lit Gotham by the time Dick pulled up to Drake Manor. He parked his bike in the half-circle in front of the door. The fountain with a woman catching water in a clay pot in the middle of the driveway had long since been shut off. Tim didn’t see the point in wasting water when no one was around to enjoy it.
Dick approached the large oak doors and rang the doorbell. The bell chimed a melodic tune, but no one answered the door. Dick rang again. It wasn’t like Timmy to forget commitments, but then again Tim hadn’t wanted to talk to his wiser older brother about his issues. Changing tactics Dick banged louder than was necessary on the door. No answer.
There was no way Tim thought his front doors would keep Nightwing out. Swallowing a hint of raising dread, Dick pulled the lockpick he always kept in his sleeve out. It was for handcuffs, but he’d be able to shimmy the Drakes’ deadbolt. It wasn’t like they had have the security of Wayne Manor.
Opening the door wide, Dick called, “Tim. Tim, are you here? Timmy?”
Nightwing’s honed instincts overrode Dick’s casual entrance. There was no sign of a break-in. No sign of active life either. The house was spotless without even a hint of a dust trail. No matter how much the staff didn’t notice Timmy, they certainly kept the mansion clean. Although, how hard could it be? The Drakes were never home, and Tim only ever spent time in the kitchen or his bedroom.
Dick headed for the kitchen since it was closer. If Tim wasn’t there, he’d head up the stairs and sweep the bedrooms before calling Batgirl. Robin shouldn’t be with Young Justice today. He had cleared it with Babs, but then again, scheduling was the hardest thing to keep track of as YJ leader. Dick was grateful that his own time as leader involved more crisis than day to day boredom. He had never been particularly good with details. You weren’t a particularly good leader either.
His train of thought smashed to an abrupt halt when he found Tim on the floor with his back against the kitchen island. A shattered class of orange juice laid only inches to Tim’s left. The liquid soaked into Tim’s pants, but he didn’t seem to notice. All his focus was on the piece of paper he clutched in his hands.
“Tim?” Dick called. Tim didn’t answer. Didn’t move.
Squatting next to his youngest brother, Dick asked, “What you got there, Timmy?”
There was still no answer. No form of acknowledgement.
Dick peered over Tim’s shoulder to see what had frozen Timmy. His heart sank.
Mr. Timothy Jackson Drake,
We regret to inform you that Mr. Jack Drake and Mrs. Janet Drake perished in a cave in of their archeological site on September 4, 2016. We are deeply sorry…
Not bothering to read the rest of the letter, Dick sank to the ground besides his brother and threw an arm around him. Tim still didn’t move. “Oh, Timmy,” Dick whispered. “I got you.”
Over the years, the death of his parents faded to a subtle ache like the pain in your muscles the day after a brutal workout. It was okay as long as he didn’t move the wrong way. But Dick would never forget the hollow, numb feeling that chased his life for so long afterwards. He had eventually channeled it into a righteous anger that fueled his nightly activities. But the night his parents died was still a hollowed out emotional blur.
Oh, he remembered Zucco. He could recite verbatim the threats Zucco uttered. He remembered his indecision and fear of trying to tell someone. The sound of the ropes as they broke. The fear on his parents’ faces and the thud of their bodies hitting the floor had haunted his nightmares for years.
But after that? The night was a blur. He knew there was chaos and commotion around him, but he had been deaf and blind to it. He didn’t remember conscious thought coming back until he woke up in juvenile detention because that was the only place with a bed. It was only supposed to be temporary, but Dick still wondered how long he would have been left to rot there if Bruce hadn’t been oiling the slow motors of the foster care system to get custody of Dick.
With great effort, Dick pulled himself out of his own misery and focused on Tim. Tim, who was caught in a stupefying case of shock. Reaching into his pocket for a phone, Dick typed out a quick message to Bruce and Alfred.
The chimes of the doorbell echoed through the house. Reluctantly, Dick pulled himself away from his little brother. “I’ll be right back. Okay, Timmy?” There was no answer. Dick sighed and headed for the front door.
A white male police officer with a receding hairline and a few extra pounds packed around his core had his nose stuck in a flip notepad. “I’m looking for a Timothy Drake,” he stated.
Irritation flooded Dick. “Who’s asking?”
“I’m Officer Lud, and I need to speak with Timothy Drake.”
“I’m afraid the matter doesn’t concern you.”
“If you are here because of the death of his parents, I’ve got it covered. Thanks.” Dick made to shut the door, but Officer Lud caught the door.
“Sir, Tim is a minor. He will need to be taken into foster care or an orphanage until he comes of age.”
Right. Dick didn’t believe him for a second. No way would he let Tim end up in a penitentiary because they didn’t have enough beds. “He’ll stay with me.”
“And you are?”
“Tim’s older brother.”
The police officer squinted at his notepad. Had the man not heard of a smartphone or was he rebelling against the modern world? Either way, Dick didn’t trust him.
“There’s no mention of an older brother.” The police officer stared at Dick. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to move.”
Dick barely suppressed a growl as he moved out of the way. He couldn’t pick a fight with a police officer, not unless he wanted a brusque end to his chosen career. Still, he would not allow this officer to take Timmy away. The system wouldn’t fail his brother.
Where were Bruce and Alfred? They should have been here by now. Dick slid his phone out of his pocket and sent the emergency signal to the Bruce. Tim needed some of the efficiency that only money could buy.
Following behind Officer Lud, Dick saw the man halt as he saw Timmy. The man turned suspicious.
“What’s wrong with him?”
If possible, the man went further down the pole of Dick’s estimation. He restrained his anger through sheer force of will, he wouldn’t lose Timmy to mister rent-a-cop. Dick leaned his hip against the kitchen island, careful to avoid crowding the officer.
“He’s just found out his parents are dead. He’s in shock.”
Officer Lud shot Dick a look, which told him he hadn’t quite managed to keep all the sarcasm out of his voice. Jason would be proud. The officer pulled a penlight out of his pocket and shined it into Tim’s eyes.
Tim blinked and shook his head. Dick would have rejoiced if he didn’t see the clear fear on his younger brother’s face at the sight of the man crouched in front of him with a penlight.
“Hey Tim, how are you feeling?” Dick asked, voice carrying none of his previous ire.
Tim blinked again but turned to look at Dick. “Dick?”
“Yeah, Timbo, it’s me.” Dick reached down and offered him his hand. Tim took it hesitantly, but at least, Tim stood, and the officer backed out of his space. “Can you tell the officer that you want to come with me?”
Tim nodded, still not truly focusing. Dick’s heart ached for his brother, and he wanted to wrap him in a hug, which he couldn’t do because Officer Lud was glaring at Dick.
“Sir, you’re not in our system. I can’t allow Timothy to leave with you.”
Dick was saved from having to soften his reply by the sound of the front door opening.
“Dick?” Bruce called.
“In here,” Dick replied, wrapping his arm around Tim so that he could offer some support.
“Sir,” the cop replied clearly agitated. “I’m going to have to ask you to let go of Timothy.”
Bruce’s fake trip and bungled entrance covered Dick’s low growl.
“Pardon my clumsiness,” Bruce said with a side-eye at his eldest. “What seems to be the problem, Officer?”
“Nothing that concerns you, Mr. Wayne.”
Bruce’s brow furrowed in a way that made him look idiotic. “Well, my son seems to disagree. He said his friend lost his parents and needed a place to stay.”
The police officer flicked his eyes to Dick. He clearly hadn’t recognized him as easily as he had Bruce, which was fine with Dick. He had never enjoyed his celebrity status as Wayne Heir and the comments that followed.
“That’s kind of you to offer, Mr. Wayne, but I’m afraid, the law requires me to house orphans with pre-approved families,” he stated.
The irony was Bruce had pushed for the law change after the disaster that had befallen Dick after his parents’ deaths.
Tim made a small noise of distress.
Bruce, who so often hid behind Brucie or Batman, radiated sympathy and compassion. “Why don’t we let the boys sit in the other room while we sort this out?”
Officer Lud nodded, and Dick left and half carried Tim to a sitting room on the first floor. Tim was still quiet, but his eyes lost the vapid look.
After Dick situated them on the most uncomfortable couch, Tim clutched Dick’s shirt and asked, “What’s going to happen to me?”
“Nothing,” Dick promised. “You’ll come live at the manor, and we’ll be real brothers.”
Tim jerked at that and the tears started. His hands twisted in Dick’s shirt, and dull fingernails dug into his stomach and side. Tim’s body started shaking and the sobs grew louder. Dick felt his heart shatter. He never wanted anyone else to feel this pain. That was why Batman and Robin existed to prevent innocent kids from losing their parents. Yet, there was no villain to blame here. No enemy to subdue and fight. Nothing any of them could have done.
“It’s my fault,” Tim hiccoughed.
Dick shifted so he could look Tim directly in the eye, yet he was thwarted by Tim’s refusal to lift his head up.
“It was not your fault, Tim.”
“If I was a better son, they wouldn’t have left so often.”
The absolute misery in that sentence warred with Dick’s anger at the Drakes. There was no point in getting angry at the dead. No matter how much they deserved it.
“Shhh, Timmy. You’re perfect,” Dick murmured over and over to his brother as he sobbed in his arms.
Eventually, Bruce walked in. Tim sat up and rubbed at his eyes as if it were not obvious that he had just been crying.
“I’ve straightened out the paperwork. Tim, you can come home with me,” Bruce stated, careful not to address Tim’s tears.
Tim nodded and stood, and Dick followed right behind him. Bruce squeezed Dick’s shoulder as they exited the room.
“Thanks for notifying me.”
“What took you so long?”
Bruce shook his head, and Dick dropped it. He didn’t care. Not really.
“I’m staying tonight,” Dick declared. “I’ll use the zeta in the morning to get to Bludhaven.”
Despite Bruce’s usual frowning on using the zeta beams for personal reasons, he offered no objection.
Once they managed the short walk to Wayne Manor, Tim entered without even a mumbled hello to Alfred. He climbed the stairs like a zombie, and Dick trailed after him. He sat on the bed with his brother as Tim stared at the wall. He laid down with him and held him close once Tim decided he no longer wanted to sit. Dick didn’t offer any platitudes - didn’t say anything, just held his brother until they both drifted off into an uneasy sleep.