That isn’t a surprise; it’s been raining for weeks now. It’s almost like the clouds have simply grown too tired to hold onto the water, letting it all go with a gasping sigh of relief and sending it pouring down upon the city of Seattle. The park next to his apartment is a mess of mud and water, the green grass that once covered the ground a distant memory. The pick-up soccer game he usually watches from his window hasn’t met in three weeks now. It’s a little depressing.
The front door to the shop opens and Tim looks up from the counter and closes his book, a well-practiced smile stretching across his face. “Welcome to the Traveler’s Corner. Can I help you with anything?” The words are as familiar as breathing, and the woman who walked through the door startles a little, as if she had expected the shop to be empty.
“No, thanks,” she murmurs quietly, reaching up to tuck a piece of dark hair behind her ear. “Just looking.”
Tim nods. “Take your time.”
The woman nods back distractedly, turning towards the right and shuffling down the aisle, looking vaguely at the items decorating the shelves. Tim doesn’t know what she sees, but it doesn’t seem very interesting to him.
The Traveler’s Corner was not a particularly large shop by any stretch of the imagination. On a good day it could reach the size of a video rental store. More often than not it hovered between the space of a coffee shop and a hole-in-the-wall bookstore. Today the walls were a light yellow, sunny and cheerful, giving off a subtle sensation of happiness and peace. The shelves were lower than usual as well. Usually they almost touched the ceilings, hiding the customers from Tim’s sight. Overall, the effect was very open, welcoming in a quiet way.
Three days ago, the walls had been dark oak and the air had smelled of cigar smoke and the shelves had looked like old antiques.
A soft gasp comes from the shelves and Tim allows himself a small smile, keeping his eyes cast down at his novel, quietly turning a page.
There is a clattering sound, like the woman has fumbled with some form of crockery or such. Tim hears the click of her shoes approach the counter and looks up, hiding his interest with the ease of long practice. “Did you find what you were looking for, ma’am?” he asks pleasantly.
The woman opens her mouth but is apparently lost for words, reaching out and putting an object on the counter next to the register. Tim doesn’t reach and grab it yet, taking a moment to study her choice. The teapot is fairly small, more an ornamental piece than a useful kettle for preparing hot water. The flower pattern is a bit ostentatious but the small chip on the lid offsets it well enough, making it welcoming rather than disdainful.
Tim looks up. “This is lovely,” he says sincerely. The woman smiles shakily back at him, her brown eyes still slightly wide in shock. Tim tilts his head and subtly studies her expression. Then, his eyes narrowed in concentration, he presses two buttons on the register, the sharp ding ringing out like a gunshot.
The woman jolts, reaching into her back pocket and pulling out her wallet. She nervously tucks her hair behind her ear again. “Um, how much?”
Tim glances at the register. “$9.99.”
“What?” She looks at him in disbelief. “There’s no way! It looks just like my grandmother’s old one and that was worth a fortune.”
Perfect. “Really? What happened to it?”
She grins sheepishly, raising her arm and rubbing the back of her neck. “It got broken actually.” Her smile fades as she continues. “My nana passed away a few years ago and left it to me. I was in an accident on the way back from the funeral, nothing serious really, but it was broken in the collision. I’ve always regretted that.” The echo of sadness rests on her face and Tim clears his throat, bringing her back to the present.
“Well, I’m glad you found this one then,” he says. “And I guess you just picked a good day to come in, because it really is $9.99. Mondays are sale day.” Everyday is sale day, but she doesn’t need to know that.
“Oh my,” she breathes before digging into her wallet and pulling out a ten dollar bill. “I don’t need the change, but can you maybe wrap it up?” she asks hopefully. “Knowing my luck I’ll end up breaking this one on the way home otherwise.”
Tim laughs as he takes the bill. “Not a problem. I’m here to help.”
When Tim is twelve, a hit to the head knocks him unconscious. It shouldn’t be that serious, but he wasn’t paying as much attention to his surroundings as he should have been. While the fire escape had the perfect position to get an amazing shot of Jason kicking a mugger in the face, it was old and decrepit and far too slippery due to the rain earlier in the day. When he had judged it safe to leave without getting noticed, Tim had carefully climbed down the ladder only to lose control towards the bottom, the bar slipping through his fingers. The landing doesn’t break anything, but does give Tim a concussion that lays him out for a month. He can’t exactly hide it from the housekeeper the next morning so he says he tripped walking home from a friend’s house after studying.
She doesn’t know that Tim has zero friends and should therefore brush the whole event off. How unfortunate. What a shame. Back to business as usual.
What she actually does is call his parents - on vacation in Morocco this time - and inform them that Tim needs to go to the doctor to have his brain function checked.
Apparently this is frightening enough to have his parents rush home, the first time he has seen them in person in months. While his mother - and father he supposes - isn’t the most present parent, Tim knows that she cares about him in her own way. This quickly becomes evident as she proceeds to mother-hen him like she is trying to make up for the first twelve years of his life. Even when he is able to get up and move about without feeling nauseated, his mother declares that he has to wait to be cleared by the doctor before he is allowed to run around the city without supervision.
Tim isn’t exactly pleased by this.
So when his mom asks him to help her run some errands - strange for her to do anytime, but he assumes the guilt is still having an effect - he steals away from the store and decide to walk around instead of actually helping her like she wants. Yes, it’s petty, but it has been a rough six weeks and he just needs to get away for awhile. He’ll only take a few minutes, he tells himself as he slips out the door.
He walks down the street for a bit, making sure to stay on the main road in case his mother comes looking for him. A sign in one of the shop windows catches his eye and he looks more closely at the scrawling script.
Must Find Nothing
“Weird,” he mutters to himself. Curiosity getting the better of him, Tim gently pushes the door open and sets his life on a different path.
The rain finally stops and Tim knows it is time to go.
The shop takes up residence next to a diner right down the street from the Wayne Enterprises offices and Tim thanks his lucky stars that this time his apartment is located right above the store. Not only does that cut down on travel time, but he also doesn’t have to worry about nosy or irritating neighbors. Plus, the diner makes the most amazingly fluffy pancakes that Tim’s ever seen.
Something tells him that he’ll probably leave Gotham a few pounds heavier than he arrived.
The first day in the new location, he walks downstairs and winces. Whoever is coming in today has really strange taste in décor. Tim isn’t trying to judge, but the whole post-modern metallic movement has never really been his thing. He sighs and goes through his opening routine, flipping on the open sign and wiping down the windows.
The first customer comes in right as the clock changes to 10:45, the numbers blinking mechanically.
“Welcome to the Traveler’s Corner. Can I help you with anything?”
Thus begins his day. The ways in which people enter the shop are as varied as the things they leave with. Some are curious, some are sad, and some, like this one, are haughty and somewhat conceited. However, they all leave the same, somewhat shocked, somewhat grateful, and somewhat renewed.
The businessman with his slicked back hair finds his jaw dropping as he discovers his first love’s watch sitting on a shelf, as clunky and cheap as the day the other boy put in his hands. He pays twenty dollars for it without even complaining about the price despite how obviously poor the quality is. Tim grins as he sees the man slip the watch around his wrist as he leaves.
There are two more customers during the day. One leaves with suspiciously wet eyes and a small book inscribed with the words To my always dearest on the inside of the front cover; the other carries with him a single pink shoe, small enough that it could fit a doll. His wrinkled face is blank as he pays and he walks out the door calmly. He cradles the shoe like it is something precious beyond all measure.
Tim closes for the day after the man leaves.
Sometimes his job is more painful than he would like.
“Welcome to the Traveler’s Corner. Can I help you with anything?”
Tim looks over at the shopkeeper as he furtively shuts the door behind him. Her mouth twists in amusement, the twinkle in her eye making her seem younger than her white hair and wrinkled skin would suggest.
“Uh, no. I’m good.”
She nods amiably and looks down at the book on the counter. Tim mentally shrugs as he starts meandering through the store, picking up a few things and putting them back after a brief inspection. As he wanders down the aisles he studies the walls and shelves. The store is nice, but it seems kind of…blank.
The walls are a bland beige with no decoration except the shelves themselves, and even they are pretty boring. Tim isn’t exactly an expert in interior design - his own room would probably give most people fits - but even he can tell that the place could use a serious makeover.
He turns to walks down the second row and catches the eye of the shopkeeper again. She looks curious and he gives her an uncomfortable smile as he hurries down the aisle. He loiters in between the shelves for a few more minutes, looking at the different items. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for the products, some of them obviously cheap while others look like something his grandma would keep locked away in her china cabinet. Nothing really speaks to him though, and he doesn’t have the money to spend on anything anyway.
Heading toward the door, he calls out an absentminded thanks, but –
He turns around, confused as the shopkeeper comes out from behind the counter, a frown on her face.
“Don’t you want something?” Her eyes are intense as she looks at him and he has to force himself not to fidget as he answers.
“Um, no? I didn’t really find anything,” he says, rubbing at the back of head in discomfort. “Not that there isn’t some great stuff here,” he clarifies hastily. “Just, none of it is anything I really need?” There’s a good chance that he’ll start rambling if he doesn’t stop, so he cuts himself off, hoping that the shopkeeper isn’t offended.
Her hands on her hips, she stares him down, her expression blank. Finally she smiles.
“What’s your name, honey?”
“Tim,” he answers after briefly considering giving a false name because that’s sometimes necessary when your parents are crazy rich.
“Well, Tim,” she says with a smile that seems a bit too mischievous for comfort. “How would you feel about a possible part-time job?”
Even though Tim didn’t end up continuing on with photography seriously after high school, his love for it had never changed or lessened. While waiting for customers to arrive it was an even bet whether he would be reading a philosophical treatise or sketching the faces of past shopgoers. The best thing about Gotham was the sheer number of interesting buildings and landmarks and the numerous people that might as well be walking pieces of art themselves.
He hadn’t realized he’d missed Gotham. He hadn’t realized it was possible to miss it.
Most Sundays find him wandering the halls of MoMA or the Gotham Museum of Photography and he goes out of his way to find the smaller art houses that don’t have an online presence. He finds himself picking up his camera more often, rediscovering the play of light along glass walls of office buildings and the deep contrast of shadows dancing down alleys and streets. The shop closing time slowly becomes later and later, and Sundays see him slowly relearning the place he first knew as home.
When he comes back in the evening, he notices there is always a light on in the WE offices down the way.
He wonders why anyone would choose to work on a Sunday. Even Batman needs to rest sometime.
Tim takes the job.
Or rather, his mother makes him take the job. Tim wasn’t even going to mention it to her, but during her interrogation about where were you? you just wandered off, that’s not okay, Tim it kind of…slips out. It was a weird day, okay?
Regardless, he ends up at Traveler’s Corner every other day after school in addition to Saturday afternoons, at least until the doctor clears him and his school schedule takes over his life again. Even then he still works evenings until the shop closes, honing the customer service skills that he didn’t even know he had. Technically since he's just turned thirteen, he can’t be registered as a formal employee, but with a little bit of paperwork and wheedling he convinces his school guidance counselor that the work can be counted as business independent study.
He does not tell the counselor that the shop seems to be more of a...nontraditional business model.
Joyce – because that is the shopkeeper’s name it turns out – works around his schedule more than he has any right to expect. She becomes the mentor he never knew he needed. He starts spending his free time at the shop rather than frequenting the rougher side of town, listening to Joyce’s stories of her youth in Southeast Asia. His nights out don’t completely disappear but he finds himself moving with more care, studying his perches more vigorously, and learning when the danger makes a trying for a shot suicidal rather than daring. Another fall would leave him unable to work in the shop, something he deems unacceptable. When his parents leave - as they always do - on their trips, he practically moves into the place, arriving right after school and leaving only when the shop’s phone rings, the housekeeper waiting impatiently on the other end of the line to be dismissed.
His entire life, Tim has never felt like he belonged anywhere. Even running after Batman and his Robins, he is a shadow on the wall, unseen by the greatest detective in the world.
Joyce tells him she felt the same when she was his age.
Somehow it makes him feel better.
When Tim celebrates his seventeenth birthday, he celebrates it at Traveler’s Corner. Joyce is the only person there and she sings him happy birthday as he blows out the candle on the giant cupcake she welcomed him with, the smile on her face almost wide enough to match his own.
She laughs as he grabs a knife to cut the cupcake in half. “Officially an adult today, huh?”
Tim gingerly pulls half of the cupcake onto a small plate, taking care keep the chocolate frosting somewhat intact. The Batman symbol is too nice to ruin just yet. “Yeah,” he scoffs. “A real adult now as opposed to a fake adult.”
A gentle hand on his arm eases him and he relaxes a little at Joyce’s touch. “Sorry.”
“There’s no need to apologize,” she says firmly. “It’s true, you’ve been an adult for a while now. There’s nothing wrong with being upset about it.”
Tim sighs. “I know.” Grabbing a fork, he stabs it into his cupcake half. “I’m over it.”
Joyce hums noncommittally as she digs into her own piece. They eat in comfortable silence, and Tim sends up a quick prayer of thanks to any deity that might be listening for letting him meet this amazing woman, his grandmother in all but name. When they finish, Joyce grabs the plates and puts them by the register, waving him off when he offers to take them out to the trash. When she sits back down, she looks at him long and hard.
“I want to ask you something,” she finally says, her eyes steady on his. “You don’t have to say anything right now, but I’d like you to consider it, okay?”
Confused but willing, Tim nods. Joyce doesn’t relax.
“How would you feel about taking over the shop?”
The silence only lasts a moment before Tim’s “Yes!” leaps from his mouth.
And Joyce smiles.
Tim has never stocked the shelves. He has never done inventory. When a customer walks out of the store, they always carry something, but somehow that something is replaced on the shelf the next day. The shop never seems to have delivery of new products, nor does Joyce ever take the earnings from the day out of the register to be deposited in the bank.
The decor of the shop has never changed. It’s still boring and bland and whenever he offers to do some redecorating Joyce just chuckles and says that she’s never had any complaints.
When Joyce gives him the store, this changes. He changes, too. That was probably been the point all along.