“... Well.” Dick massaged his temple and shot his stone-faced brother a wry grin that actually looked more like a grimace. “No one was maimed, so I count this as a win.”
Tim merely scoffed and emptied his coffee- which cup was that? The fourth? This stuff was at least a lot weaker than the unholy concoction he usually drank- before clicking his tongue.
“... I guess so. Anyway, I’ll be out of your hair, too, just let me-”
“No no no, young man, I’m not done with you”, Dick cut in, voice stern. He narrowed his blue eyes at Tim who looked back with an interesting mixture of confusion, impatience and annoyance, visible even through the infinite layers of exhaustion. “Why exactly did you think it was me? It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes since we’d talked over the comms.”
Tim clicked his tongue again, seemingly struggling to be defiant instead of embarrassed.
“I was tired and a little out of it, I thought my call made that clear enough. And I certainly wasn’t expecting Jason to be sleeping in your bed in your safehouse.”
Dick took another look at the immense bags underneath his younger brother’s eyes, studying his face intently. Now he noticed that Tim was even paler than usual and there were deep creases between his eyebrows and around his mouth. It was almost strange how they made him look so old and worn and spent despite the rest of his body being so young. Dick drummed his fingers on the table, channeling his inner Alfred and fixated the other man with his stare.
“How long has it been since you last slept?”
Tim threw him a pointed look. “About thirty minutes”, he deadpanned.
Well, anyone else might’ve thought that he seemed to be fine enough if he could be a little shit like that, but Dick knew his brother well enough to realise that not even an impending threat of death, destruction and devastation could take that sharp tongue and snarky attitude away from him, let alone his big brother trying to be responsible.
“Before that ”, he clarified, trying to imitate Alfred’s chiding tone. His endeavour seemed to be successful enough, albeit not appreciated, judging the withering glare that accompanied Tim’s answer.
“Tuesday”, he said stoically.
Dick had to suppress a groan. Today was Sunday. Sunday. No wonder a lobotomised goldfish could’ve outsmarted Tim last night. He closed his eyes and started counting to ten, but when he heard a chair scraping against the wooden floor of his kitchen, he ripped them open again and jumped to his feet. Swiftly walking up to his sleep-deprived brother, he put both of his hands on Tim’s shoulders that felt bonier than normal Has he been eating? He probably forgot again. Jesus, Tim- and steered him away from the front door and back to his bedroom instead.
“What are you-”
“Hush. You’re going back to sleep. Now. No arguments.”
“I have to report to Bruce-” Tim dug his heels into the ground, trying to pry the intruding hands off of him.
“I’ll deal with B. Besides, I finished your patrol last night so I probably know more about what’s going on than you do.” Which was actually true. Fancy that.
“But my cases-”
“Will still be there this evening and you being alive and healthy is more important than finding out who Two-Face’s middlemen’s middlemen are.”
They arrived at the bedroom door and Tim drew upon the last ounces of his strength to place his hands on the frame and push back, definitely not happy with the way he was being manhandled. He shot a scathing look over his shoulder, lips curled in displeasure. Dick suddenly noticed that the skin around his eyes looked thin and particularly tender. As if it had been in too much contact with adhesives lately. He felt another pang of concern coursing through his chest.
“You’re not my father, Dick-”
“No, but I’m your big brother.”
“You can’t just tell me to go to bed like this, I’m 18 and-”
“If you can’t take care of yourself, I will.”
Dick expected many answers at this point. Some of them would be pleasant, instantly exiling the tension between them, a few would be grateful and would have send his heart soaring.
-but he wasn’t stupid, he knew they had had issues lately, ever since he’d given Damian the title of Robin and refused to believe in Bruce being alive, doubting his genius brother until after he'd obtained solid evidence. Evidence that had required him to lay his life on the line much more often than anyone could ever be comfortable with. The current fight was more than enough proof of the strain their relationship had taken, no matter how much it stung-
Most of the reactions he was at least somewhat prepared for would be continuations of this argument. Tim fighting back, maybe even getting physical
-and wouldn’t that be ironic? A fight between two of the Bat Brothers with neither Damian nor Jason involved, even though the latter had actually been here until just a few moments ago?-
or yelling at him. Tim just escaping his grip and fleeing the apartment to throw himself back into work, all methods of communication shut off until it was time for patrol tonight where cutting off all contact was nothing but foolish, possibly lethal, and Tim was anything but a fool.
What Dick didn’t expect, however, was for all resistance to simply vanish, poofing into thin air as if it had never been there in the first place. Only his reflexes saved him from smacking his brother’s face straight into the door when his body went slack and Dick could feel his own features briefly going lax, the crease in his brows smoothing out as his eyes widened in lack of understanding. Huh?
“Fine. Whatever.” Tim dropped his hands back to his sides and shrugged Dick’s off his shoulders before opening the door and heading inside the room. His posture wasn’t stubborn anymore, or truculent, not even a trace of the previous spirit could be seen. His back was neither relaxed nor stiff but instead carefully held in a completely and utterly neutral way, entirely untelling. So much so it was almost unnerving, so normal it screamed fake.
He just looked… defeated, as if all will to fight had just been sucked right out of him. Dick noticed his hands were still in the air, in the same spot where they’d been on Tim’s shoulders seconds before, and he couldn’t do anything but stare in confusion. What had just happened?
“I need to meet with some of my snitches at 2100 this evening”, Tim started, voice completely neutral and void of absolutely everything as he put his phone on the nightstand and shrugged out of his jeans, leaving them where they landed on the carpet next to the crumpled mess of his Red Robin uniform, “so I’d appreciate if I’m allowed to set my alarm to 2000. If that’s okay with you.”
Dick only blinked, unsure of what was going on. He had the feeling it wasn’t good, not at all. “Uhm.” He rubbed at his neck, hesitantly looking at his brother as he picked up the blanket from where it was still on the floor before dropping down onto the mattress. Meeting Tim’s painfully expectant but otherwise unreadable gaze, Dick cleared his throat awkwardly.
“Yeah, that’s, um, fine?” Why are you asking me this?
He received a nod in response and couldn’t find it himself to do anything other than just stare as Tim tapped his phone a few times before carelessly throwing it onto the nightstand where it landed with a clatter. Getting comfortable, he threw Dick another look, cool and inquisitive.
Dick hovered in the door. There was something else, he could feel it. Hell, he wouldn’t be surprised if the neighbours three stories down could feel it. But this sudden mood swing had given him severe whiplash and he just didn’t know what to do with it. He was about to take a hesitant step into the room
-and score for Tim: Dick was scared to enter his own bedroom! What had happened to the little brother he'd trained and loved and who, in turn, had looked up to him, trusting and equally adoring? He knew he'd screwed up, but this- that Tim still had to be somewhere in there. He had to. Was it really Dick’s fault he seemed to be buried so deeply only a critical amount of sleep-deprivation could manage to pull just the teensiest bit of him back to the surface? He wanted him back. But he didn't know where he was or how to find him. Apparently not like this-
and opened his mouth.
“I thought I was supposed to sleep?” His voice was still chilly, detached, just like the announcers in the Wayne Enterprises elevators were. Dick almost winced when he noticed the archly raised eyebrow. An icy shiver ran down his spine and he decided to just retreat for now. He had no idea what had caused the sudden shift in Tim’s mood and quite frankly, he was massively doubtful that he would be able to find anything but cause for more animosity between them at this moment.
“... Go get some sleep, little brother.” Instead, he just repeated his words from last night
-which suddenly seemed so far away. They had been at least civil just a few hours ago. And he couldn't help but ask himself: Had he said something utterly wrong, somehow put his foot in his mouth, unnoticed despite the fanfares and clapping this stunt just had to be have been accompanied by, yet unheard by him? Or had Tim simply been too tired to recall their strife in that moment, leaving the brief, but normal exchange as nothing more than what could only be called a lapse in his own judgement, induced by a status that left him unable to remember their conversation ten minutes after it had happened?-
before turning around and leaving the room, closing the door tightly behind him. Running a hand over his face, Dick let out a deep and heavy sigh. What the hell was that?
Somewhere along the line, he’d taken a very, very wrong turn.
He just didn’t know where.