It starts with the click of a camera shutter in the silence, bouncing off his walls and settling into his bones. He doesn’t check the view as he clicks it again, click, shutter, flash, click, shutter, flash. His camera is heavy in his hands and not nearly as familiar as it should be. There’s a scratch at the bottom from the time he dropped it climbing down from a tree. His initials are scribbled on a worn piece of tape on the side.
Click, shutter, flash.
His room is dark, lighting up with every glow of the flash, blinding him every time, not staying long enough to let his eyes adjust, staying too long to let him stay adjusted to the dark. His eyes remain unfocused, and he’s sure the camera’s lens does too.
He presses the button again.
Vaguely, he realizes that he looks like an absolute maniac, sitting on his floor in the dark, taking pictures of nothing at all. Maybe he’ll develop them, turn them into some art show run by overenthusiastic college students who dream about making enough money to get out of Gotham for good, he’ll call it “Grief”, an impressionist piece. They’ll buy it.
The flash goes off again as the door opens, catching his brother in half shadowed lighting, making the dark circles under his eyes and the blue tones to his skin stand out.
Right. Tim. That’s his name. Sometimes, stuck between grief and exhaustion and the crushing weight of everything he has to do, Tim forgets he has a name.
“Hey,” Tim rasps, voice hoarse from limited use.
Dick steps into the room further, squinting when Tim presses the button again, shutter, flicker, click. He pulls the camera from Tim gently, replacing the hunk of plastic and mirrors with his own hands, warm against Tim’s cold ones. “Can’t sleep?”
What’s sleep? Tim’s never heard of it. He blinks slowly, rhythmically, click, shutter, flash. “Working on a project.”
“Grief,” Tim says, and then laughs dryly.
His brother apparently doesn’t know what to say to that, and the silence fills the room again. Tim’s fingers spasm, eager to fill it. Dick squeezes them, “Talk to me, little brother.”
A few of Dick’s fingernails are painted, the paint chipped and peeled. Purple and blue, probably done at Barbara’s apartment. The nails are bitten now, down to the beds, but there are patches where the paint is still bright. Tim lifts his hands to look at them closer, only the dim light from the moon and the security lights outside his window to see by.
“I tripped over my camera,” Tim says as he inspects his brother’s nails. Said brother stays quiet, waiting for him to continue, or maybe just giving him that sad, perplexed look Tim is so used to now. “I don’t remember putting it there. Must’ve forgot, or zoned out. Hurt my toe. Got angry on instinct, figured someone put it there on purpose, was messing with my stuff. Made it halfway to his room before I remembered.”
The hands in his stiffen, and Tim frowns, squeezing them so they’ll bend again, he thinks he sees a third color there, but he can’t quite tell. His lips purse in annoyance when the hands flip, grabbing his, dropping them down to his lap.
Tim finally looks up, meeting Dick’s eyes for a half a second before he looks away. He knows, logically, that his brother cries. He’s seen it enough times. Yet there’s still a part of him, the part that watched a giggling Robin do an almost impossible flip all those years ago, that doesn’t like the idea of tears in those big blue eyes.
“I forget too, sometimes,” Dick says softly. “Last week I came across a tiny little-- well it was a kitten, just a baby. I saw it on patrol. Even radioed in to tell Robin to come look. Luckily it was only Babs on the line, and she doesn’t judge.”
“Nail polish,” Tim says lamely, lifting their hands and dropping them again.
Dick laughs, and nods. “Yeah, that’s when the nail polish happened.”
Something strikes him, then, and Tim looks up, eyes wide, “What about the cat?”
“The kitten! What happened to it?”
Eyebrows furrowing, Dick shakes his head. “I-- I don’t know. After I realized my mistake I sort of shut down, next thing I knew I was in Babs apartment.”
Scrambling to his feet, Tim pulls his hands away from Dick’s. He trips halfway, but manages to grab a pair of sneakers, shoving them on his feet without any socks. “What alley?”
“What? Tim, what are you doing?” Dick asks, concern lacing his voice as he stands too.
“We have to get the cat. If it’s alone without a mom it’ll die.”
“Tim, it’s three in the morning, you haven’t slept in who knows how long. Bruce isn’t even out anymore tonight!”
“Dick,” Tim pleads, looking up at his brother, “it’ll die.”
It takes Dick all of three seconds to nod. “Okay. We’ll go see if it’s still there. Just bring a hoodie, alright? It’s cold out.”
He trips on his shoelaces on the way to his closet, and he only half notices Dick kneeling down with a sigh to tie them as he struggles to yank a hoodie down over his head. It’s worn, the vinyl of Wayne Enterprises old logo half peeling and cracked. It’s a little big for him, the shoulders stretched and one of the pull strings frayed. Dick makes a face, “Where did you get that?”
“Jason,” Tim says, moving around him to head for the door.
“I’m pretty sure Jason stole that from me, first.”
He makes it two steps into the hall before he turns back, grabbing his camera off the nightstand where Dick had set it down, and then they go.
Between Dick --a seasoned rebellious teenager-- and Tim --who designed the new security system in the first place-- it’s ridiculously easy to get out of the manor undetected. They take Dick’s car, the one he’d insisted on buying with his own money. When he’d got it, the bumper was half hanging off, the tailpipe dragged, and under the hood was a whole other problem.
He spent a week holed up in the cave, tinkering away, before Jason finally took pity on him and helped fix it up. They called it “Brucie”, because, according to Jason, it “is a boring, sad, and pitiful facade for the real thing”. Also, because Bruce’s tired face when he saw it was hilarious.
Brucie is almost as fast as the Ferrari, and drives just as smoothly, except on sharp turns or on gravel roads, so by the time they get to the alley, Tim has barely had time to have a mini crisis over the idea of saving a kitten in the middle of a grief stricken mental breakdown.
He lifts the camera without even thinking, and snaps a shot of the dark alley. Click, shutter, flash.
Dick glances at him with a frown, but climbs out of the car, his car key sticking out from between his knuckles, entire body tense. “I can’t believe you convinced me to drive you to a dark alley, at three am, in Gotham.”
Tim just shrugs.
They start to shuffle through the trash and grime in the alley, clicking their tongues and rubbing their fingers together, and probably just looking like a bunch of idiots in general. After five minutes, which is long enough for Tim’s fingers to get stiff with cold, Dick lets out a small gasp from behind him, and Tim turns, stepping over a pile of old newspapers to get to Dick.
“Tim,” Dick cuts him off, standing and pressing one hand to his chest and the other to his shoulder.
“What? Did you find it?”
Leaning to look over his shoulder, the tiny little light inside of his chest flickers out when he sees the still form of a small animal. Too still. He blinks, staring down at it. “Is it…”
He doesn’t even realize he’s lifting his camera until Dick pushes it down with a sigh, switching the hand on his chest to the back of his head, pulling Tim against him. Tim’s eyes don’t move from the kitten, the little kitten who was too small and too young. The little kitten who died alone because no one was there to protect it. Who’s family failed it.
Tim’s breath catches in his throat, and Dick’s hold on him tightens, burying his hand in his hair. “I’m so sorry, little brother.”
“It was too small,” Tim whispers, and his voice breaks, “It was too little, Dick. It was just a baby.”
“Someone should’ve-- someone should’ve protected it,” He says, his voice raising in pitch. “Someone should have been there.”
There are tears on his cheeks, dropping from his chin onto Dick’s shoulder like a microscopic rain storm. His chest shudders, trying to inhale, and Tim’s hands drop his camera to hang from the strap around his neck and grabs at the back of Dick’s jacket, scrambling to grip it as tight as possible.
Dick’s lips press against the side of his head, his voice only slightly more steady than Tim’s, “I know. Someone should have been there.”
“He was alone,” Tim chokes out, “No one even held him. Someone should have held him.”
Pressed against his shoulder, Dick’s chest inflates slightly, and he lets out a slow and shaky breath. Moving like he means to lead them back to the car, Dick nods, kissing his head. “Let’s go home, Timmy. Come on.”
Tim goes to follow, he does, but he glances back at the kitten one more time, and he freezes. “Wait.”
“Tim,” Dick urges, pulling at him.
Managing to twist out of his grip, Tim walks with jelly legs over to the little animal. He drops to his knees as Dick makes a strangled noise behind him, and reaches out a hand slowly. The second he touches the kittens fur he pulls back, eyes wide. “Dick.”
“You don’t know what sort of diseases that’s carrying. Come on, Tim, please, can we just--”
“No, no, Dick!” Tim laughs, half strangled, tears still fresh on his cheeks. “It’s not dead.”
“It’s not dead!”
Dick’s kneeling next to him in a second, reaching out to touch the kitten's nose, then he laughs too, “It’s still breathing.”
Tim goes to pull his hoodie off, but Dick beats him to it, shrugging off his jacket. He scoops the kitten into it carefully, wrapping it like a baby. When he passes it to Tim, his eyes are still teary, but they’re bright now, too.
Like the glare of a camera flash, Tim gets a little of his hope back.
They drive in silence, Dick speeding as much as he trusts himself to on the all but empty streets of Gotham (no citizen in their right mind goes out at night, even in the supposed safety of a moving vehicle). Tim’s eyes never leave the little bundle in his arms.
He remembers when he met Alfred the cat. The tiny ball of fur that mewed and butted his head into everything. It was the first time he saw a flicker of real humanity in his younger brother, as he cradled him and scratched under his chin.
Gotham city blurs past, and Tim, for once, lets himself remember.
They take the cat to the kitchen, tiptoeing through the main room and wincing when Dick trips over a game controller on the floor. Duke and Cass probably played to unwind after patrol, Alfred wouldn’t be awake to click his tongue and pick it up until morning. It skitters across the hard wood, and Dick picks it up gingerly and sets it back down on the couch’s armrest.
Tim flicks the light on to the lowest setting in the kitchen, watching, immobile, as Dick starts pulling things out of cupboards and the fridge. After a moment, Dick turns. He smiles softly when he sees him, and in one movement, hefts Tim up onto the counter to sit.
“And super tiny,” Dick teases, pinching his thumb and pointer finger together.
Someone clears their throat behind him, and Tim jumps. Dick doesn’t even turn from where he’s messing with something on the counter. “Hi, Jay.”
“What are you guys doing?” Jason asks, walking into the room the rest of the way. He furrows his eyebrows at Tim, “Did I just startle you?”
“He hasn’t slept in days.”
“Dude. Sleep meds in his coffee. We all know this.”
Tim, who is sitting right there, thanks very much, scowls. “I didn’t know you stayed over.”
“Uh,” Jason says, reaching up to rub his neck. “I get in late from patrol. Alfie asked me to stay. Look, I just wanted some water, if you guys are busy with some late night bonding I can--”
“Warm up some milk?” Dick finishes easily, inviting him to stay without actually having to say it. Jason frowns in confusion, but shrugs, pulling the jug out of the fridge and taking the mug Dick offers.
“Do you think we have any bottles?” Tim asks.
Jason looks between Dick, Tim, and the jacket he’s holding close to his chest. “Do I want to know?”
Tim pats the counter next to him, and after shutting the microwave and pressing the start button with a wince, Jason hops up to join him. Carefully, Tim pulls the jacket away from the kitten's face. “Cat.”
“Cat,” Jason repeats. “Huh. Kinda thought you pulled a Bruce for a second, kidnapped a whole baby.”
“It is a baby,” Tim whispers, ignoring the amused look Jason sends Dick and the shrug his oldest brother sends back. “It almost died. We’re saving it.”
His brother’s seem to have a silent conversation with raised eyebrows and subtle hand gestures, and then Jason leans down so his head is at Tim’s level, his voice softer than Tim’s ever heard it. “Can I?”
It takes Tim a second, then he lifts the kitten gently into Jason’s arms, smiling when the tiny thing mews. Jason reaches out a finger and scratches it’s head softly. He looks almost content, and as Dick pulls the milk out of the microwave and stirs some sort of supplement leftover from when Alfred was a kitten into it, so does he.
Tim’s fingers find his camera. Click, shutter, flash, Dick stirring milk with his hip leaning against the counter, his hair a mess and his eyes red but a smile playing at his lips. Click, shutter, flash, Jason holding a jacket with a tiny pink nose poking through, sleep goo at the corners of his eyes and his eyebrows, for once, not furrowed in a glare.
He lowers his camera, looking down at the viewfinder and swiping between the two pictures, back and forth and back and forth.
“Timmy,” Dick calls to him, in a tone that means it probably isn’t the first time. When he looks up, Dick is holding a bottle out to him, and Jason is watching him with an unreadable expression.
Tim takes the bottle, scooting on the counter until he’s closer to Jason, who hands the cat back to him, keeping one hand under Tim’s elbow and pulling his knee forward until he’s almost sitting in his lap.
“Just drip it on it’s nose, let it know there's food there,” Jason says.
Dick leans in between them, watching as Tim tilts the bottle just enough to let a drop of milk hit the kitten’s face. It scrunches it’s nose, and then it’s tongue flicks out to taste the liquid. Tim giggles and lets another drop fall, watching as it licks that one off too.
Then slowly, it’s eyes open.
Tim holds his breath as the kitten blinks sluggishly, mewing again. It’s eyes are green, tiny little slits that seem to stare right at him, like he’s the only thing in the world. It’s only Dick’s hand tapping his that reminds him to keep feeding it.
“You’re doing great, little wing.”
His hand starts to shake, and Tim squints, holding back the tears pricking at his eyes. Dick’s hand finds his again, but this time he covers it instead of tapping. The kitten mews again, and Jason’s hand joins the two of theirs.
“I’m going to protect you,” Tim tells it.
It takes the kitten half an hour to drink until it’s full, and Tim’s leg is starting to cramp where it’s propped on Jason’s lap. Dick is sitting in a stool in front of them now, looking half asleep. When he notices the kitten is done, though, he stands and moves to the sink, filling a bowl with warm water and some Alfred and pet approved soap. He sets it down next to Tim, trading the bottle in his hand for a soft washcloth.
Tim looks at Jason, at a loss. Jason snorts and takes the cloth from him. “Unwrap it. We’re not gonna stick it right in, but getting all that grime off is a good plan.”
Doing as he’s told, Tim holds the kitten carefully, watching, mesmerized, and Jason meticulously rubs at it’s tiny body. As the dirt starts to wash off, it reveals the kitten’s brown and orange patched fur.
“Tabby?” Tim asks. Dick nods, dumping the bowl into the sink and starts to wash it out. Tim hums. “It has little orange socks.”
“She,” Jason corrects, handing the cat back in a fluffy towel, taking the jacket from Tim’s lap. He wrinkles his nose, “You know, Dickie, I’d just burn this.”
“What? I just bought that!”
“Buy a new one. You’re rich, smartass.”
“Actually I’m a-”
“Mid-class worker. Whatever. Your trust fund could buy a small country.”
“Says the guy with a trashy one bedroom apartment in Crime Alley.”
“Hey, that lifestyle is a choice.”
“A bad one.”
“Robin,” Tim cuts in, and Jason and Dick turn to him, confusion written across their faces. Tim points at the kitten, “Her name. Robin.”
Dick’s eyes are wet again, and Jason looks at the floor. Tim’s heart rate picks up, and he’s about to ask if the name is a bad idea when Dick dries his hands on a wash towel and closes the distance between them in a few slow steps. He reaches up to knock his knuckle under Tim’s chin, “That’s a great name.”
“It’s us,” Tim explains lamely. Luckily, his brothers understand. At least he thinks they do, judging by the look Dick gives him and the way Jason tilts until the side of his head presses against Tim’s forehead. Tim sniffs, and Robin burrows herself into his palm. “It’s all of us.”
His fingers itch for his camera, for the comforting click, shutter, flash, but they’re full of a tiny kitten who keeps licking his thumb, so he lets it be.
The next thing he knows, he’s being carried up the stairs, Robin tucked into his hoodie, curled up against his collarbone.
“Is he okay?” Jason asks, his voice distant, like Tim is dreaming, or hey, half asleep.
Dick, who must be carrying him, judging by the way his chest rumbles as he speaks, says, “Are any of us?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Then I don’t think so,” Dick says with a sigh. Something rises in Tim, guilt ingrained in him when he was little, that he can’t disappoint, or call attention to himself, or make people worry. Then Dick’s lips are on his head again, “But we’re here for him.”
He’s settled into his bed, and the covers are tucked up under his chin before he finds the courage to speak. “Dick? Jay?”
“What’s up, squirt?” Jason asks, sounding a little startled.
The bed sinks down on either side of him a second later, Dick’s hand finding his, palm and fingertips callused and rough, and Jason settles his arm over Tim’s stomach.
“Goodnight, Timmy. Night, Jay.”
Jason grunts, and Tim stares at the ceiling, blinking slowly. Click, shutter, flash. Click, shutter, flash.
“Do you think Damian would like her?” He asks.
His brothers are already asleep.
It ends with the gentle click of his spoon against his bowl, pushing the cereal around, his head propped in his other hand, his eyes groggy with sleep. His camera sits on the stool next to him, a new dent from when he fell down the cave stairs trying to get a shot of a bat. Bruce offered to buy him a new one, but Tim likes the one he has.
Sentimental value, and all.
“Timothy,” Damian greets semi-civilly as he walks into the room. He pulls himself into the stool on the opposite side of Tim as his camera, and sighs.
“I do not need to be hugged constantly.”
Tim snorts, shoving a spoonful of cereal into his mouth, “Sure, but he does.”
“I give it ten minutes before he finds you.”
“What a horrible life you lead,” Tim laments. He stands, pulling out a second bowl and setting it in front of Damian, pouring him cereal and milk. “Sleeping any better?’
Damian snaps his head up to look at him, eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t sweat it,” Tim says, pushing the cereal towards Damian and waving a spoon in his face. “We all get nightmares. That’s how I know you do.”
“I see.” Damian takes the spoon, stirring his cereal slowly. “I die again. In the nightmares.”
“Yeah, mine too.”
“You’ve never died, Timothy.”
“Not me, brat.” Tim sits back down, debating whether he should finish his cereal or just make some coffee. “You.”
The kitchen goes quiet. Tim’s fingers itch. He picks up his camera.
Damian’s head hits his shoulder, and it takes all of Tim’s willpower not to jump, looking down at his little brother in bewilderment. Damian glares at the counter in front of them. “I apologize. For dying.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“Nor was it yours.”
“You do realize that like, no eleven years olds say ‘nor’, right?” Tim says casually. Damian turns to glare at him instead. Tim snorts. “Alright, sorry. I get it. Thank you. Eat your cereal.”
“You do realize that no functional person uses such chopped sentences, right?”
The camera in his hands is heavy, and he flicks the switch to on, lifting it to his eye, and then puts it down again. Damian sits up, actually doing what he’s told for once, shoveling a bite of cereal into his mouth, and gives Tim a confused look. “What are you doing?”
“Don’t eat with your mouth full,” Tim tells him, and Damian rolls his eyes but drops it.
Tim remembers the day Damian died with clarity. The scene plays through his mind every night. Blood on the floor and the gut wrenching knowledge that he never did right by Damian, that now he wouldn’t have the chance.
The first thing he did when Damian came back was ask for forgiveness. Damian had stared at him, eyes wide, and asked what for.
His grip tightens on the camera and he stands suddenly, almost knocking his bowl over. Damian is staring at him, half worried, half annoyed.
“Have you met Robin?” Tim blurts.
Damian looks around, like he’s trying to find whoever Tim is introducing him to. “Have you finally gone insane?”
“No, not you, Robin. Other Robin.”
Something in Damian’s face clouds over. “What?”
“Shit.” Tim waves a hand, almost dropping his camera. He loops the strap over his head as he talks, “That came out wrong. We didn’t replace you. I just… just come here.”
He turns and starts towards the stairs before Damian can say anything else, and to his relief, Damian follows.
“Should I get father?” He asks, barely concealing his confusion and worry.
Tim shakes his head, reaches down to grab his hand, and keeps walking. “You’ll like this. Probably. Hopefully.”
Once they get to Tim’s room, he drops Damian’s hand, turning the door handle. He steps inside, letting Damian follow before he shuts the door. Then he sits on the floor.
“Timothy, what on Earth are you doing?”
Tim hushes him, waiting.
It only takes twenty seconds for Robin to slink out from under his bed, mewing as she pads over to him, carefully stepping around a shoe that she’s small enough to fit inside. She makes a beeline for Tim’s lap, and he picks her up, letting her nuzzle her face against his neck.
Damian stares. “Is that a kitten?”
“Yeah.” Tim pats the ground in front of him, “Want to hold her?”
Without a word, Damian sits, holding out his hands. Tim laughs as he passes her over, and Damian cradles her gently, looking at her like she’s the only thing in the room. “And her name is Robin?”
Tim clears his throat and shrugs. “You named Alfred the cat after someone you trust and admire.”
Damian looks up at him, jaw slack. His voice is almost a whisper when he says, “Me?”
“Yes, you,” Tim laughs.
Robin purrs against Damian’s hand, and the eleven year old smiles at her, ducking his head to press it against her fur. “Thank you, Timothy.”
“You like her?”
The camera is in his hands again, and he lifts it, this time with a smile. It feels light in his hands, fitting into his palms easily. Damian doesn’t look up as Tim focuses the lens, pointing it at his content and adorable and alive little brother.
Click, shutter, flash.