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salespeople know (listening is the most important part)

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Dear Tim,

It’s been a while since I sent you one of these, hasn’t it? But not everyday is your birthday! And yes, I know that it technically isn’t your birthday yet. I might be getting older, but I’m not senile yet. You’re getting this a bit in advance because if I know you, you’ll try to wiggle out of your party if I don’t guilt you into coming. Alfred made you a cake, sweetheart. You’re coming if I have to drag you there myself.

Now I’m going to say something a bit emotional, so brace yourself (I know you get about feelings , dear.)

If not in name, then in spirit you are my grandson, and I could not have been blessed with one more intelligent, caring, and dedicated. I am so proud of you and I love you very much.

Happy Birthday, sweetheart! See you soon!

Joyce

~~

Tim takes a deep breath as he opens his window, smiling at the hint of green things growing mixed in with the smog carried upon the breeze. It’s faint, but unmistakable all the same.

Spring has finally arrived in Gotham City.

A ding comes from his phone and he grabs it as he heads downstairs, checking over the truly outrageous number of messages that have been popping up on his screen all morning. Tim’s had to up his data plan. He’s never had much use for texting before (or at least no one to really text with) and he’s still getting used to responding on an acceptable time frame. It drives Dick and Stephanie crazy .

The stream of texts from Dick fill the screen, asking if he’ll be at the manor tonight, what movie he wants to watch, what snacks he wants them to get, finishing by telling him not to forget his camera or else . Tim had been surprised when the oldest of Bruce’s surrogate kids cornered him on his first visit to the manor as an invited guest instead of an interloper and asked if he really did photography like he’d told Bruce. When Tim confirmed that yes, he did in fact do photography and yes, he did take pictures of Batman and his first two Robins out on the town fighting crime that he still had in his possession, Dick had beamed with terrifying glee and asked if he took commissions.

Which is how Tim has found himself running around the Gotham nighttime like he hasn’t in years, doing his best to sneak candid photos of the Bat clan doing their vigilante work. It took two weeks for him to get caught, but now that the others are aware, they seem to have created a point system for how often they can catch him in the act.

Their point counts are all very low. Tim apparently annoyingly proud.

He replies with a quick assurance that no, he won’t forget his camera and he’s feeling old school, has anyone seen ‘The Court Jester?’ Dick sends him back a number of emojis that make zero sense followed by a run of exclamation marks and a birthday cake and bottle of champagne.

Dick is inordinately excited for Tim’s upcoming birthday, beaten out only by Stephanie who has decided that she’s going to plan not only a Bat family party for him, but a Drake Industries one as well. Aunt B and her have become frighteningly close since she was released from the Watchtower into a rehab center. The same rehab center that housed Joyce up until a few weeks ago. He can’t help but feel sorry for them. Aunt B isn’t any easier to deal with and she’s still trying to run DI like nothing happened, despite the fact that she’s only just starting the walking portion of her rehab.

Patience has never been her strong suit.

Somehow she and Stephanie have managed to convince the center that she’ll do better after some time with family, so Aunt B will be there tonight, set up in her wheelchair with a bowl of plain, unsalted popcorn that she will complain is unnecessary the entire evening despite the strict diet she’s on until the doctors feel her stomach can handle increased sodium intake. It’ll be nice to see her outside of a hospital bed and actually enjoying herself.

He shoots off a quick text at the bottom of the stairs.

[Timothy Drake] (08:14) You’re going to be there tonight, right?

[blocked number] (08:14) I believe a revolt would ensue if I wasn’t. Happy Birthday, Tim.

Tim smiles down at the screen, a warm pulse of amusement in his chest.

When he looks up from his phone, he stops dead in his tracks.

Traveler’s Corner is…bare. The walls are a bland beige with no decoration except the shelves themselves, and even they would consider boring by a generous measure. The items that fill them are the same as usual, but blunted somehow, dull.

Tim’s gaze moves across the vaguely familiar set-up to the entrance. There’s a sign on the front window.

Tim pulls out a book - a biography this time - and settles in to wait. He feels each minute pass, time suddenly moving sluggishly as the sunlight creeps across the floor like molasses. He waits maybe an hour, maybe more, before a shiver races up his spine, leaving something oddly like joy in its wake.

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?” he asks. The words, still, as always, are as familiar as breathing.

A young woman looks back at him.

She is small, this woman, tiny and compact and as she steps forward, Tim feels as if he’s watching a stream in motion, flowing smoothly from point to point through the air. Tim recognizes not the clothes themselves, but the type of clothes, the kind that are secondhand and carefully cared for, the kind that you keep because there’s no easy way to replace them and no guarantee that something else will come along. Her hair is dark, framing a pale face set with dark almond-shaped eyes that flicker quickly around the room before settling back on Tim, curious and sharp and soft all at once.

“I - ”

She cuts off, frowning. Then she shakes her head and gestures to the shelves and makes a questioning gesture.

Tim smiles softly. “Why don’t you take a look around and see if you find anything you like. I’ll be right here if you need any assistance.”

She looks at him with a familiar tilt of her head and smiles back at him, nodding. As she walks between the sparse and dull shelves, Tim carefully doesn’t watch her, letting her take her time without pressure.

When she finally wanders out from the shelves, there’s a small frown on her face and she gestures to them as she haltingly says, “No...not…”

After a moment, Tim asks, “You didn’t find anything?”

She nods, frustration and resignation written in the lines of her mouth. Tim has never been active in the Deaf community, but he’s picked up a bit of sign language here and there, so he points to her before extending his pointer fingers and moving them in circles in front of his chest. “Do you sign?” he asks.

“No,” she says, shaking her head, “I - ” She huffs, gesturing to his body up and down. “Talk.”

“Talk?” he says, looking down at himself. “I’m sorry,” he says as he looks up, “I don’t think I understand.”

She raises her eyebrows before dancing a little, much to his bemusement, and then saying emphatically, “ Talk .”

It takes him a moment to realize, but eventually the metaphorical light bulb goes off. “Oh, no sign language, but you use body movements.”

She tilts her head and scrunches up her face, but gives a shallow nod. Close enough then.

Tim looks at her carefully, at her careworn clothes and tired eyes, and his eyes drift to the sign in the window. He still hasn’t read it, but then again, he doesn’t really need to. He knows what’s written there - it was burned into his memory when he was a teenager trying to escape his mother’s hovering, walking into a random store with no idea that it would be the greatest gift he’d ever receive, one that would lead him to a life so much fuller than he ever would have imagined.

So Tim, heart full, takes a deep breath and asks her the same question Joyce asked him so long ago. “What’s your name?”

She touches her chest, and says clearly, proudly, “Cassandra.”

“Well, Cassandra,” he says, smiling at her warmly, “how would you feel about a new job?”