Actions

Work Header

unchanging

Work Text:

Tim is between five and six, still at an age where he’s allowed to follow after his mother with unsure steps, gravity threatening to drag him down to their squeaky-clean tile floors and cover his legs with bruises.

Currently, they’re in his mother’s bedroom. She’s sitting at her vanity, getting ready for another gala, and he’s exploring the room, poking at every nook and cranny in hopes of finding something new. He makes his way into the bathroom, where something very out of place greets him.

It sits on the marble countertop sink, bright orange and different, so unlike the theme that his mother keeps around the house when she decorates. Tim picks it up and peers through the orange, spying a pile of white oval objects that slide against each other with every movement.

There’s also a white paper on the bottle. A label, his mind tells him. There is a lot of information on it, most not familiar to him, but one thing stands out—a line of bold, capitalized letters.

He gazes down at the label with furrowed brows, and Tim ends up tracing over those letters. He quietly mouths each one until he realizes that it spells out his Mother’s name. Tim does it again and again, curious.

JANET  DRAKE

“Mother,” Tim says, carefully holding the orange bottle in his hands when he exits the bathroom. “What is this?”

He looks up to see that his mother stopped combing her hair, her reflection showing her conflicted expression. She turns to him, then, and beckons him closer, and Tim obeys the silent command until he’s at her side. 

“It’s medicine,” Mother says, wrapping an arm around him. Tim soaks up the affection. He hasn’t had any in a while and concluded that it must be because of his bad behavior, so he’ll take what he can get right now. “For me.”

Tim frowns. “What’s it for?” he asks, tipping his head back to look up at her. “Is it like the medicine that I had to take? The… the…” Tim huffs, trying to remember the word. It comes to him in a flash, and then he says slowly, sounding it out, “A-mox-i-cillin?”

“Very good,” Mother praises, making him feel warm. “And you’re right, in a way.” She takes the bottle from him and gives it a shake, the white objects in there rattling pleasantly. “I take these pills to make me feel… normal, in terms of what society expects of me.”

“Oh,” Tim says. He’s not sure if there’s anything else to say. Tim tests the word on his tongue, liking the way his lips form the shape of it, “Pills.”

“Yes, pills. I must take one every day at the same exact time.” She taps her fingernail against the small gray device on top of the white cap, where the number 18 blinks back at him in red, digital letters. “The number is on there to remind me how much I have left.”

“So when the number goes down,” Tim says thoughtfully, slowly piecing it together. “That means you already had one?”

“Yes,” Mother says with a smile. Tim smiles back, happy. “Good work, Timothy.”

“Can I have one?” Tim asks, curious. He wonders if it tastes like the medicine he took before, then it’d kinda be like the sweets that the nanny sometimes lets him have. That’d be pretty nice.

“No,” Mother answers, a touch sharp. Tim curls in on himself, and only relaxes when her voice grows softer when she speaks again, “These are for adults, Timothy. Not for young, growing children like yourself, and I hope there never comes a day when you need it.”

“Okay,” Tim accepts. He gazes at the number, thoughtful. “Did you already have one today?”

“I did.” Mother stares down at it and then passes it back to Tim, who curls his hands around it. “How about you go sit on the bed and make up a song for me, okay? I need to finish getting ready and could do with some music.”

Tim’s smile widens. “Okay!” he chirps and makes his way over to his parent's bed. Tim climbs on top of it, taking care not to wrinkle the silk duvet, and gives the bottle a shake. It rattles, nice and loud, and Tim puts together a mishmashed song about sea turtles and all the facts that he learned.

Mother smiles as she continues to fix his hair, and the warmth never leaves Tim.

 

❦ ❦

 

18.

Tim stares at the number with a frown. It’s the same one from yesterday, so that means his mother didn’t take her medicine today. He’s tempted to bring the orange bottle to her, but she’s currently asleep, and Tim doesn’t want to disturb her, especially when her sleep schedule has been bad as of late.

He leaves the bottle there.

 

❦ ❦

 

18.

A door slams shut somewhere in the house.

Tim jumps, his heart leaping to his throat, and he barely muffles his whimper behind the palm of his hand. He sits very still in the corner of his dark closet as the sound of muffled shouting reaches his ear, echoing across the big house.

His parents are fighting again.

It’s incomprehensible, voices overlapping and unheard through the wood. Despite this, Tim can make out a few phrases now and again, but it still doesn’t make sense to him.

“You’re a mess—falling behind schedule—can’t keep doing this!”

“I don’t want—you know how much I hate—not doing anything wrong!”

“Lying—serious, Janet, how can—don’t let it get—”

“You know nothing—perfectly fine—know myself better than—”

It gets louder and louder, a crescendo of anger that suddenly dies down. Now, he hears only his father shouting, along with his pacing, shoes clicking against the tile that his mother picked out all on her own, with minimal input from Tim.

Tim turns the bottle around in his hands, the pills sliding against each other. The number blinks up at him, reminding him that it’s still the same, that it hasn’t changed, and Tim is tempted to leave his small safe haven to deliver them to his mother, to help with the muffled sobs that seem to crawl under the space between his door and the floor and fill his heart with sorrow.

But his dad is still yelling.

He wonders, not for the first time, what it would be like if he opened the orange bottle and let one of the white pills tumble out. It looks like it’d be too hard to swallow, especially without any water, and the idea of doing something like that is daunting.

No, his mother’s sharp voice reverberates through his head.

It is not something for him.

Slowly, Tim places the orange bottle down on the floor, and then he wraps his arms around his knees when he brings them close to his chest. He squeezes his eyes shut, feeling stupidly childish when he starts humming the sea turtle song, letting it fill his ears to wash out the sounds of his angry father.

 

❦ ❦

 

18.

His mother is in the shower, and Tim is sitting in her bedroom with the pill bottle in his hand. He’s only here because his father sat him down on the silk duvet, telling Tim to keep an eye on his mother while handing over the medication.

His anger is petered out a few days after the shouting, leaving behind something sad. Tim asks him if he’s okay, but all he gets is a pat on the head before his father exits the room. In the distance, he hears the sound of the front door opening and closing, followed by his father’s car and the crunch of gravel.

The number blinks up at him, reminding him that it’s another day without a change. Tim should probably go into the restroom and tell his mother to take them, but she’s finally out of bed, and Tim doesn’t want to disturb her peace.

Maybe he can sing to her again. She might like that.

(And she does, and all Tim can do is pretend that he doesn’t see the shine against her cheeks when she tips her head into her pillow, the way both mother and father always do when emotions get the best of him.)

 

❦ ❦

 

18.

Tim returns to the house, sweat making his hair stick to his face. His feet ache when he stomps out all the dirt and mud on the porch, but he’s also left with a pleasant soreness that shows up after hours of walking around the yard. 

“I’m home,” he calls out when he enters, and receives no response. Strange. His parents are supposed to be home today—then again, the car isn’t in the driveway, so maybe they went out for some important reason and simply forgot to tell Tim.

He deposits his shoes on the small rack by the door and slowly makes his way up the stairs. Tim drags a hand over one of the walls, the smoothness of it creating a perfect glide. He stops in front of the door to his mother’s bedroom and lifts a hand to turn the knob, letting the door swing open.

Mother is lounging on the bed in her pajamas. There’s a glass of wine in her hand, and the television is playing a show that Tim doesn’t recognize or understand. His eyes fly over to the orange bottle on the bedside table, still flashing the same number, and then he looks at his mother.

“I’m home,” he says again.

“Okay,” his mother says without looking at him. She brings the glass to her mouth but doesn’t take a drink. “How about you go take a shower, Timothy? And then you can fix yourself up a sandwich the way we taught you.”

“Yes, mother,” Tim says quietly. He closes the door, leaving it open only a crack, and retreats to his bedroom. 

The air in his home feels heavier, for some reason. Tim finds himself unable to finish his sandwich when he’s only halfway through eating it. His stomach keeps twisting and turning, almost like the time he got sick and threw up, except there’s no taste of pennies in his mouth, so Tim doesn’t know what’s going on with him.

He takes the sandwich up to his room on a plate because maybe his hunger will return while he’s in there. 

As he passes by his mother’s room, he dares to peek inside and sees that she’s sitting on the edge of her bed. This time, her head is bent low, and Tim notes that her wine glass is still full. The orange bottle is in her hand, flashing the number 18 in Tim’s direction.

“Okay,” his mother says. “Okay.”

 

❦ ❦

 

His mother is in a surprisingly good mood.

She practically flies down the stairs with a bright smile, wearing an emerald green dress that compliments her pale complexion. Tim loves seeing that dress—he once spent hours at a gala with his hand wrapped around it, his mother allowing it because it made others coo at them fondly, casting a good light on her.

“Morning, Timothy,” she says brightly, pausing on her way to the kettle on the stove (where hot water awaits her) to plant a kiss on top of his head. “I hope you’re hungry!”

Tim, who is busy smiling down at his book over the simple affection from his mother, nods. “Yes, mother,” he replies.

His mother opens a cupboard and pulls out a mug. It’s gray with a picture of a constellation on it, and it’s her favorite. As she deposits a tea bag into the mug, slowly pouring the hot water into it, she glances over and asks, “Do you have anything in mind?”

“Pancakes?” Tim hesitantly asks. He squirms in his seat when she looks over at him, eyebrow raised, and quickly tacks on a softer, “Please?”

Mother hums, curling a hand around a steaming cup of tea. He knows that it’s lemon balm tea, something she drinks when she’s feeling particular about the day. At least she seems happy right now…

“That’s fine,” she says finally. And, with a teasing grin, she adds, “I’ll be sure to add some fruits just so your father won’t have a fit about unhealthy diets.”

Tim hides his giggle behind his hand and is happy to note that it makes his mother’s eyes seem brighter. He continues reading his book while his mother moves about the kitchen, the sound of something sizzling, and the smell of pancakes cooking enough to tear his gaze away from the world of mystery just to gaze at his mother.

Her hair is up in one of many complicated styles, though it looks softer than the other times. Perhaps she forgot to spray something onto it, but even then, it still looks nice. She’s also wearing some of her nicer pearls, the ones that were passed down from her mother, and Tim wonders if she’s going somewhere tonight.

“No, Timothy,” she answers when he asks, sliding a plate with a perfect, circular pancake on top over to him. Mother also places the bottle of imported Canadian syrup by his arm, along with a bowl of freshly cut strawberries, and she smiles at him over the rim of her mug, her gaze steady and clear. “Not tonight,” she says. “Maybe tomorrow.”

 

❦ ❦

 

0.

His mother is on the bathroom floor, as pale as the marble countertop of the sink. She’s wearing her green dress again and it’s all wrinkled, something that he knows she hates. Her hair fans out, a pool of darkness against the white tiles. She doesn’t move when Tim pokes her arm, nor does she respond when he calls for her.

The orange bottle lies beside her. It’s closed, the number blinking up at him over and over and over again. He picks it up, fingers tracing over the bold letters of his mother’s name, and gives it a shake.

It does not rattle.

“Mother?” Tim questions, poking her arm yet again. Her skin feels cold which is strange because it’s a perfectly warm night. “Mother, are you okay?” He shifts closer and places his ear over her mouth, hoping to hear something from her—maybe she’s whispering—but all he gets is a wheezing breath brushing against his skin.

Tim pulls away. A shiver crawls down his spine, a feeling of dread making his stomach twist unpleasantly. His mouth tastes like pennies, and Tim swallows the saliva that gathered there.

“Mother,” he calls out again, and he’s distantly aware of the panic in his voice, the way it makes it sound sharp, shrill, echoing across the bathroom, perhaps even across their empty house. “Mother!”

He shakes her and her body barely moves. Tim’s breaths start coming out in short gasps, his chest going tight. A door opens somewhere, and Tim throws himself out of the bathroom, racing to the front door where his father is barely coming home, pristine suit on and briefcase in hand.

“Timothy,” he greets with a furrowed brow. “What’s got you looking so spooked?”

“Father,” he chokes out when he stands in front of the older man, gazing up at him with a desperation he never thought he could feel. “Mother, she—” Tim chokes around the words and holds up his hand, uncurling his fingers to reveal the slow-blinking number.

Tim ends up sprawled across the floor when his father pushes past him in the direction of his bedroom where Tim’s mother lies on their bathroom floor. He stays there even when he hears his father say his mother’s name, his voice containing an emotion that Tim hasn’t heard before—anguished and fearful. Tim stays there even when his father rushes by carrying his mother, so still and pale, out the front door and to his car, and that’s when he moves.

He watches from the window as his father deposits his mother into the backseat, speeding off in a way that makes the tires screech, hurting his ears. He watches the car disappear into the distance and continues to watch even when he’s all alone, the moon slowly moving across the sky.

At some point, he returns to the bathroom. The orange pill bottle is still in his hand, and the number blinks up at him, a reminder.

0.

 

❦ ❦

 

His mother returns, but she is no longer the mother that he once knew.

Her expectations for him climb higher, and she no longer allows him to hold her new orange bottle. She does not mention the night, nor does she ask after him. Instead, the household pretends that it never happened—a secret kept within the walls of the lonely house, hidden from the rest of the world. A ghost that haunts him as he grows, clinging to his shadow with every footstep under the sun.

He says nothing when his mother continues to take her pills. He says nothing when the number slowly trickles down to 0 as the days go by. He says nothing when the orange pill bottle is refilled, the same cycle repeating over and over again, years passing by with a silence that wraps around his throat and steals his breath.

Tim is good at pretending, too.

 

❦ ❦

 

He stops being Tim. Instead, he turns into Timothy Jackson Drake, the perfect son of Janet and Jack Drake.

His parents show him off at galas, bragging about his achievements, and he learns to charm the older ladies with a bashful smile and a duck of his head, learns how to offer men older than him a strong handshake, barely listening to their boasts of him turning into some sort of athlete. 

Timothy excels in school, and any grade less than an A+ is quickly made up with extra credit. He makes sure to stay quiet around his parents, only speaking when spoken to, and he slowly turns into an invisible child—unnoticed by everyone around him.

He gets used to it.

 

❦ ❦

 

His parents' trips outside their home become more and more frequent.

They also pile some responsibility on him, expecting him to take care of the house (and himself) while he’s away. Tim loses himself in the emptiness of his life, reading book after book, watching crime shows that he solves before the episode is over, and learning to cook simple foods so he doesn’t starve.

He’s not always alone, sure. His parents send a housekeeper twice a week to check up on him or drop off some groceries. Tim tries befriending a couple of them, but when they’re quickly replaced with a new face soon after a semblance of friendship blossoms, he learns to stop doing that.

They call him every now and then, regaling him with stories, asking after his studies, politely ordering him to do more, to be better, and Tim obeys like a good son. He doesn’t complain when they say that they’re staying out longer, says nothing when they send him a birthday present rather than giving him well wishes, does nothing when they inevitably come home, the number never trickling down to zero before they’re gone again.

It’s lonely, yes, but Tim finds comfort in being alone.

For starters, it allows him to go out into Gotham with one of his gifts—an expensive camera bestowed upon him by his parents—and take pictures of the nightlife that frequents the rooftops of the city.

His shots are blurry at first, but Tim gets better at it with more practice. It’s easy to follow them unseen, feeling a rush over capturing special moments like flips from the first Robin, his face caught in a smile, unadulterated joy in every movement, or the private smile that Batman often wears around his Robins, hidden unless one knows where to look. 

His favorites are the ones from the second Robin, his favorite. All of his ferocity and passion can be seen in his movements, the way he fights, the way he speaks, but there are times when soaring through the air with his grapple brings out a childlike wonder to his face, a joy that only he knows.

Tim often looks off the rooftops and wonders what it’d be like to fly.

 

❦ ❦

 

Robin dies.

Jason Todd dies.

Nothing is the same.

 

❦ ❦

 

Batman is killing himself.

Bruce Wayne is killing himself.

Tim watches him beat down a mugger without care, the man already unconscious and well on his way to being comatose if Batman keeps going like this. He swallows back the bile that was steadily climbing up his throat, his stomach churning with acid when he makes the trip all the way back to Bristol where an empty house awaits him.

He looks at all the pictures he took of Batman and his Robins, of Bruce Wayne and his sons. The smile is still there, private to everyone in the world except those he deems close, and Tim realizes something pretty quick.

Like a puzzle coming together, Tim sees the truth in front of him. A promised quadruple flip before a tragedy at a circus, a quadruple flip from Batman’s newest companion, a red, yellow, and green figure flying through the air like he owned the sky.

Batman needs Robin.

Robin will keep Batman from killing himself.

The trip to Blüdhaven isn’t too long, and Tim does get some looks when he climbs onto the train all by himself, but all he does is put on his hood and throw himself into a book, not really retaining a word as anxiety makes his stomach curl. Every mile is another one closer to Dick Grayson, the first Robin, the only one who can help him with the whole Batman problem.

Only, Dick doesn’t agree to it. In fact, Dick practically tosses him out with only a slow-forming bruise around his wrist and a vehement denial, with the claim that it wouldn’t change anything. Tim gets one last look at the shadows beneath his eyes, dark against his pale face, the way his cheekbones stick out so prominently before the door slams shut, and deduces that it’s probably for the best.

Tim goes back to Gotham empty-handed and disappointed, but it does not compare to how he feels when Bruce Wayne turns down his offer. He’s curt and angry, and Tim’s certain that if he was some random criminal off the street and not a kid, he’d be bleeding out on the lawn of Wayne Manor.

“No,” Bruce says. It screams of finality, but Tim knows that he’s right. Deep in his heart, his very soul, he knows that Batman needs a Robin, and he’s the only one who knows why—which also means that it has to be Tim.

Batman and Nightwing get captured.

Tim steals the Robin suit.

He saved them both from Harvey Dent, Two-Face, and Batman finally decides to agree. Probably with great reluctance, and most definitely giving off the vibe that this partnership is unwanted, but Tim doesn’t care.

Even with all the harsh training that Bruce puts him through, even when the animosity melts into something like tolerance, even when he goes back to his lonely home when the night is over, he doesn’t care. A torch has been lit, and Tim feels the flame settle in his heart, flickering with hope.

Tim saved Batman.

(It makes up for not being able to save his mother so long ago.)

 

❦ ❦

 

Sweat drips down his face, seeping into the blindfold around his eyes, as he goes through his next sets, landing hit after hit on the training dummies with his bo-staff. He practices extending it before he swings it, wanting to perfect the movement when blind until it’s as easy as breathing. 

His muscles burn with exertion, and Tim only stops when he hears a call of his name. He stops and pushes up the blindfold, meeting the gaze of his mentor.

“Come on,” Bruce says, jerking his head toward the computer. “We have to update your file.”

“My file?” Tim trails after him curiously, shrinking his bo-staff and resting it on the holster attached to the small of his back. 

It’s a weight that he’s still getting used to as he finds his balance as Robin, but it’s comforting, too. There’s a reassurance there that he can take care of himself with a snap of his hand, that he can protect the people of Gotham with a swing of his bo-staff, and that he can keep Batman from slipping into violence and rage just by being at his side.

“Yes,” Bruce says. He taps on a few keys and a few windows appear on the screen, one containing a headshot of Tim from the side. “I’d like to update your medical history with any familial diseases in case something comes up. It never hurts to be prepared.”

“Okay,” he says. Tim straightens and places his hands behind his back, settling into the prim and proper persona that his parents molded him around. 

They go down the checklist, a long one that has him reeling. He’s almost glad that his parents sat him down when he was younger to teach him these things with the expectation that he would learn enough independence to go to the doctor for checkups and vaccines on his own.

No diabetes, no high or low blood pressure, no cancer…

“Depression?”

Here, he doesn’t dare tear his eyes away from Bruce’s searching gaze. The memories of his childhood play throughout his mind, and his fingers instinctively curl at his side, muscle memory searching for the weight of an orange pill bottle, empty and familiar.

“No,” he answers, keeping his voice neutral. “Nothing of the sort.”

Tim is also good at keeping secrets.

 

❦ ❦

 

Bruce starts to reach out more.

His smiles come easier, and his voice grows softer whenever they pour over the details of a case together, gentle praises leaving his lips whenever Tim finds the final piece to their puzzle. It’s odd, sometimes, considering their working partnership, but Tim’s not going to deny that he enjoys the attention.

It also helps that Dick visits every so often, always ready to sling an arm across Tim’s shoulders and take him out to places, treat him to a meal, or just watch movies with him in one of many sitting rooms, both of them tucked away in a nest of blankets with their hands wrapped around mugs of hot cocoa. 

Tim still holds himself at a distance, waiting for the other shoe to drop, but when his insomnia hits a little too hard (a recent development), he often finds himself sitting in the kitchen with Alfred, the two of them drinking tea in comfortable silence. 

These moments beat back the exhaustion that’s starting to settle in his bones, the kind that comes from going to school in the day before working his mind late at night to stop the endless crime across Gotham, only to stay up for hours after that until he either forces himself to fall into a light doze or he sits in a corner in his dark closet (after the tea), waiting for his alarm to go off before pretending that he just woke up, sneaking in a nap in-between school and patrol.

It works. Somehow, it works.

And when his parents return from their trips abroad, he gets a bit more rest. Tim gets a lot of rest, actually, because even when they’re at home, their eyes still slide over him, which allows him to retreat to his room when needed and slip into his bed where he drifts in a state between sleep and wakefulness, no less exhausted than before when he comes out of it.

Food is a struggle to force down, sometimes. It’s hard to work his brain into chewing it until it’s all mush, and swallowing that mush down only makes him very aware of how it settles heavily in his stomach. He forgoes eating most days, though he keeps appearances when his parents are actually around to share a meal together.

All of his interests seem boring and draining, too. Schoolwork is easy to get through, thankfully, but he usually wastes his burst of energy on that and ends up back beneath the covers soon after.

Tim finds it strange to be so listless. His mind is constantly moving, always ready to present him with what he needs to solve whatever problem is at hand. 

When he’s in bed as the sky trades the sun for the moon, his mind is terribly blank.

(He doesn’t know if it’s a good thing.)

 

❦ ❦

 

“You should go visit our doctor,” his mother says one morning.

They’re sitting at the table, eating breakfast that Tim prepared (it’s just eggs and bacon, something he learned to make at eight). Tim lifts his head from his half-eaten meal and cocks his head, arching a brow in the way that he learned from her. 

“Why?” he asks.

She looks at him with the same expression, lips pursed in displeasure. With the sunlight streaming into the room, Tim can better see the shadow in her eyes, the way her face looks hollowed out, her paleness hidden beneath concealer. They’ll be leaving soon, he knows, and then she’ll be somewhat normal when they return.

“To make sure you’re not like me,” she says after a long stretch of silence. She rises, her pale blue silk robe curling around her in an embrace as she picks up her empty plate and takes it over to the sink. The room is soon filled with running water, followed by the clatter of a plate as she sets it to dry on a rack.

“Okay?” she says, hovering beside him.

Tim stares up at her, searching. When he sees no answer on her face, he sighs and nods, turning his attention back to his unfinished meal. “Okay,” he says, poking his fork at his pile of eggs. He’s starting to lose his appetite. Again.

A hand curls around his head, rigid affection that he still soaks up. “Good,” his mother says warmly, and then taps a perfectly manicured fingernail against his plate. “Finish your meal, Timothy,” she adds before exiting the room.

“Yes, mother,” Tim says aloud. It covers up the sound of his food plopping into the trash can, and he silently goes through the motions of washing his plate, leaving it as pristine as ever beside the plate that his mother used. They’re identical, gleaming in the sun, dripping water into the empty, metal sink below.

Tim sighs and makes his way up to his bedroom, stepping over the strewn clothes and piles of notebooks, all open to random pages covered in scrawls related to unclosed cases that Bruce often gives to him to keep his mind sharp while he’s away from Wayne Manor and Robin duties.

He picks one up, blearily staring down at his chicken scratch, and then tosses it away with a sigh. Tim then crawls under his covers and pulls the blanket above his head, listening to the sounds of his parents getting ready, the front door opening and closing some time later. He drifts between it all, and by the time he pokes his head out, the moon is hanging low in the sky, and his phone blinks at him with a message from Bruce, sent hours ago.

[B] Will we be seeing you tonight?

His gaze flits to the pill bottle beside it, the number long gone due to the battery dying, but it’s seared into his memories. He can close his eyes and recall each pixel of the number, the seconds between each red blink that’s as daunting as the lights that often fill the streets of Gotham, searching for another victim to take to the hospital.

Tim reaches out and snags his phone, his arm feeling terribly heavy. He unlocks his phone after a few messy swipes and stares at the message thread, unsure of what to say when his parents are already long gone.

Should he go out tonight? Gotham might need Robin, as much as it needs Batman, but Tim’s just… tired. Even the thought of mustering up the energy to put on the suit and jump across the rooftops, a place where Batman expects perfection and anything less than that will result in disappointment.

No, Tim replies. Going to see my parents off. They want to get dinner with me.

Normally, a lie like that would sit heavy in his gut, but Tim has learned the necessity of keeping some things away from Bruce’s eyes and ears, lest he worry too much about the Robin that he doesn’t want.

His phone chimes.

[B] Okay. Have fun.

Tim stares at the screen until it goes dark, revealing a reflection of a pale face and greasy hair. He sighs and unlocks it again, typing out a quick response before tossing his phone back onto his bedside table. Tim turns over to face the wall and shuts his eyes, letting his mind fall away.

[T] Will do! Stay safe out there :)!

Sleep is welcoming this time, and it embraces him with open arms. 

 

❦ ❦

 

His parents are kidnapped.

Drake Industries receives a ransom.

Tim already knows that it won’t be accepted. It’s a rule that’s woven into every contract, something that Tim remembers when he got kidnapped once. They called Drake Industries, only to get a muted response of the rule, and by the time they turned around, Tim was free from his binds and escaping through one of many blindspots, already safe at home by the time his mother called.

She didn’t apologize, nor did she bring the incident up, and Tim did the same.

They were both good at pretending certain things didn’t happen.

Bruce comes back with the unfortunate news of his mother's death, along with the even worse news of his father being stuck in a coma. He offers Tim sanctuary in his own home and Tim accepts in his temporary grief.

He feels like it doesn’t hurt as much as it should.

“It’s okay to cry,” Bruce tells him after his mother’s funeral, long after the guests left and Tim was just standing beside her fresh grave. He keeps a hand between Tim’s shoulders, steady and warm, and the touch makes him feel itchy, uncomfortable.

“I know,” Tim says quietly. He eyes the cameras in the vicinity, all ready to take a picture of Bruce Wayne taking in another grieving child, and looks back to where his mother’s name is carved into granite. His fingers brush over the name and he idly wonders how it would feel if he saw this years earlier after he found his mother in the bathroom.

(He wonders how it would feel if others saw his name there instead.)

Bruce and Alfred drive him over to Drake Manor the next day and pile the car with his stuff, and then they bring him back home and leave him alone to settle in. Tim makes sure to stuff his mother’s old pill bottle in a corner of the closet, where he then curls up in to avoid the mess of the real world.

A week later, Tim skips school to go to the family doctor, where he answers every question succinctly. He pastes on a Janet Drake smile when the doctor leaves the room, and it lingers when the older woman returns with a sympathetic look on her face and a new prescription for antidepressants.

 

❦ ❦

 

A lot of people tell Tim that he looks just like his mother.

They share the same exact eye shape and color, straight down to the cold, dismissive look, or the calculating one that often made society’s best tremble. They both use their smiles as a weapon, sharp enough to unnerve some, but polite enough to deter most. Their pale skin tone is too similar, too much like the ghost of her that haunts his dreams, and Tim knows that he’s never going to gain muscle—his long, lean, delicate frame is dangerous and unassuming, a false sense of security before he aims for the throats of his enemies.

Just like his mother.

One last thing they have in common is an orange pill bottle. 

Hers sits in his medicine cabinet now, empty of those white pills, faded letters indicating that it once belonged to his mother. A similar one rests right beside it, filled to the brim with the same chemicals, the same dosage, and prescribed by the same doctor.

The only difference is the name.

 

❦ ❦

 

Every morning after breakfast, Tim falls into the habit of retreating back to his room to take his antidepressant.

The number changes each time. It blinks at him, a reminder of his new life, and Tim does his best to stick to his schedule. Even when he’s in San Francisco with his friends, even during his tenure as a Young Justice member, Tim dutifully swallows a pill with water until he learns to dry swallow, always in secret.

Sometimes, he skips a few days. It’s rare, but it usually happens if he’s out on a long mission with his friends, or if he forgets due to an injury.

The aftermath of Red Hood’s attack at the Tower is the worst of it all. He’s practically strapped down to his bed while being waited on by Alfred, Bruce, and Dick. This makes it hard to get up and take his pills without getting noticed, and Tim just decides to leave it be, figuring he’ll be okay enough through recovery and physical therapy.

It turns into one of his milder depressive episodes, the kind where he wants to stay in bed all day instead of discreetly throwing himself into danger with the hope that something irreversible happens. 

Tim disguises it as himself trying to get more rest to heal faster, which is something that makes his small family very happy.

Going back on schedule after he’s healed is awful. His body adjusted to no longer having the antidepressants in his system, so Tim has to deal with a bit of nausea and exhaustion while he gets used to them again. Still, he doesn’t stop, the visions of his mother’s body on the bathroom floor pushing him to continue.

(Sometimes, he does have a stray thought of what if that comes and goes. It’s easy to ignore, but Tim can’t deny that he’s had thoughts about it. That’s as far as it goes.)

His father wakes up and Tim goes to his side, playing the role of dutiful, loving son who simply wants him to get better. Dana Winters also softens his dad a little, in a way that Janet never could.

His father finds out about his vigilante adventures, and Tim makes the decision to quit. He doesn’t want to give up the only sense of stability in his life, but Bruce is somewhat in a good place, so maybe… maybe it’ll be okay.

“Is there anything else you need to tell me?” Jack asks when they’re sitting across each other in the dining room, a takeout spread across the table. It’s days after he quit being Robin, and Tim’s been waiting for a question like this.

Tim wraps his hands around his cup of coffee and takes a large sip, thinking about the orange bottle sitting in his bedside drawer, the one with his name on it.

What would his father say if his son, his only connection to his late wife, was taking the same pills that she once took? Would he be horrified to know that she passed on more than her looks to their only child? Or would he be grateful for the chance at losing his final burden, just like the night his mother tried to kill herself, Jack Drake being so close to freedom?

He swallows down his resentment, and his coffee, and shakes his head. “No,” Tim says quietly. “Nothing else.”

Life after Robin is bland. Boring. 

And it makes him realize that he could never have a normal life. He’ll never be able to leave, not when he knows the feeling of soaring across rooftops, of solving cases with Batman by his side. 

Unlike most of Gotham, he knows the city’s secrets, the diamonds shining in the rough, and he still knows the best places to watch the sunrise past all of the smog and clouds, the only sign of hope in this place.

This discovery is made obvious when Bruce brings him back into the fold, utilizing his skills to once again save Gotham. He throws himself back in, only to lose his father in the process.

Grief has never felt stronger.

But at least Bruce is there for him.

It feels like the ink on his adoption papers that Bruce signed are still drying when Damian Wayne, child of Talia al Ghul and Bruce Wayne, comes into their lives.

And then his life falls apart.

 

❦ ❦

 

After losing everything, Tim leaves the manor with the knowledge that he’ll never trust Dick Grayson again, his standing in the current family, and proof that Bruce Wayne is still alive.

Tim locks down the feeling of hopelessness as he travels the world in search of more clues, forcing his depression to take a backburner in his desperation to find his mentor. He crosses many boundaries, tiptoes the line that Bruce once drew for him, and carves out a new identity to take on this crusade.

Red Robin.

So much happens. Too much, but Tim finds what he needs to further prove that Bruce is still alive—lost, waiting to be found, and Tim’s going to be the one to bring him home.

At least, that’s what he hopes until he turns and ends up skewered by someone from the Council of Spiders after watching his companions die.

Lying in the sand with his wound, blood soaking his suit, his life draining from his body, Tim thinks about his mother.

He wonders if she felt that there was something wrong with the water she drank. Did she know that it was a trick? Did she know that it was poison? Or did it burn through her system and mix with the stain of antidepressants, giving her the one thing she desired all those years ago.

In those final moments before death finally claimed her, he wonders if all Janet Drake felt was relief.

As darkness claims him, Tim can’t help but feel the same thing.

 

❦ ❦

 

What he learns is this:

Ra’s al Ghul saved him from death, for his own gain, and left him with a new prescription—antibiotics since Tim no longer has a spleen. Also, pissing Ra’s off is the only way to make an enemy, and outsmarting him means that Tim is a permanent blip on his radar.

What he knows is this:

Tim didn’t know that Dick would catch him, but to say otherwise would devastate his older brother. There are times when Tim looks at him, the distance between them, and wonders if he should reach out to bridge that gap, let them heal from the scars of their departure.

Other times, Tim looks at him and wishes Dick didn’t catch him.

What he does is this:

Bruce comes home to a family waiting for him. Tired and exhausted, he falls into many embraces while Tim sticks to the shadows, eyeing the group with trepidation. No one notices him as he walks away, heading to his room.

It’s no longer wrecked, and Tim feels a pang of guilt over the fact that he left it for Alfred to see. He sighs and retreats to the bathroom, where he opens the medicine cabinet and finds an empty pill bottle waiting for him. Tim snags it and curls his fingers around it, squeezing until the comforting weight helps him relax.

He hears a shift of air, and Tim looks over just as Cass pokes her head in. There’s an easy smile on her face, and it soon disappears when she catches sight of him.

Tim stuffs his hand into his pocket, releasing the bottle.

They haven’t seen each other in a while, and the last time they were standing in front of each other… well, it’s not something that Tim wants to think about ever again. Thankfully, Cass is not the type of person to bring the past up, choosing to focus on what a person is saying in the present with their body.

He’s happy to let that disgusting memory stay behind him.

“Little brother,” she says, drawing closer. Cass pulls him into her arms and Tim goes easily, returning the embrace. They stay like that for a few moments, not saying a word, and then she pulls back, gazing at him with a serious expression. “Okay?”

A lie is on the tip of his tongue, but he knows that he can’t do that. Cass would be able to tell immediately. “No,” he admits with great reluctance. Tim manages to muster up a smile, small and real, as he bumps their feet together. “But I will be. It’s just… a lot right now. I need to adjust.” He huffs out a laugh, shaking his head, and adds quietly, “I’m tired.”

Cass stares at him for a moment longer, and then nods. “Okay,” she says. One of her hands grips his arm gently before she drags him over to his unused bed, where she then stuffs him under the covers before following. 

“Cass?” Tim wonders, bemused.

“Rest,” she says firmly and climbs in beside him.

The room is dark and smells of dust, but Tim has never felt safer. “Okay,” he says quietly, ignoring the way his eyes prickle with the threat of tears. “Let’s rest.”

Maybe that’s all he needs.

 

❦ ❦

 

The little brat, Damian Wayne, keeps trying to kill him.

Tim’s learned to avoid most, if not all, of the kid’s traps, but Tim is tired of living in a state of hypervigilance in a place where he’s supposed to feel safe. So, he ends up having an apartment built with state of the art technology, his very own Batcave in the middle of the city. 

He doesn’t move in right away, too caught up in a bunch of crap (and also because Tim Wayne is publicly healing from an injury that caused him to lose his spleen, resulting in a long recovery process).

It’s quiet and empty, but it’s his, and there’s no one around to threaten his life, no one that can accidentally walk in on him tossing back his daily pills, no one to bug him for random things.

Tim thinks that it’s almost like being invisible.

He does stay at the manor sometimes, only when Alfred asks, though. If Bruce asks, Tim can easily make the claim that he’s busy with WE work since he has CEO duties now, which isn’t a lie. There’s a lot to be done, and Tim is struggling to find his footing in a boardroom full of people that look down at him for not having a degree.

Sometimes, at the end of his patrol route, he’ll just lie down on a random rooftop and stare up into the sky until he feels like he’s drifting away from his body, floating high above the clouds into nothingness. Either that, or he’ll sit on the edge of rooftops and swing his legs, wishing something would scare him enough to cause him to slip off.

Sadly, nothing does, but he does get the occasional visit from Red Hood.

Their relationship is very stilted at first, with the memory of Tim’s near-death at Jason’s hands lingering around them like shadows. More and more visits bring them closer, and suddenly they’re friends, brothers. This also helps Jason re-enter the fold of the Batclan, though he tends to be a bit skittish at times.

Tim finds himself on a rooftop after a long night of muggings, two chili dogs on his hands. It’s not long before he hears someone drop down, boots scraping against gravel, and Tim is holding one of the chili dogs up by the time he feels a weight behind his shoulder.

“Y’know,” Jason says, dropping down beside him. He removes his helmet and sets it in the space between them, and then takes the food from Tim with great care. “There’s something that people say about feeding strays.”

“You already have the codes to my apartment,” Tim points out, wrinkling his nose when Jason bites half of the chili dog in one go, smearing some of it across his cheeks. 

Jason waves a hand. “Yeah, yeah.” He finishes the rest of it in record time, and then eyes the one in Tim’s hand while he speaks, “You only gave that to me because you were tired of me disabling all of your alarms whenever I broke in.”

“I put a lot of work into that!” Tim retorts, handing over the second chili dog. Once it’s out of his grip, he throws his arms out, gesticulating for a moment before crossing them. “Seriously, every time you broke them, I had to go in and spend hours improving them so you wouldn’t do it again, and then you’d just go in and do it again!”

“But you improved it,” Jason says with a smirk. “And you wouldn’t have done that without me.”

Tim rolls his eyes, but he can’t deny the fondness that rushes through him. He’s glad to have Jason in his life, the Robin that he looked up to when he was younger, but sometimes… sometimes it makes him miss his family.

Don’t think about them, Tim scolds himself, sighing as he shifts to a more comfortable position, looking out across Gotham. Just don’t.

“So,” Jason says after he’s finally done eating. “What’s going on with you, baby bird? Feel like we haven’t talked in a while.”

“Oh, y’know…” Tim shrugs. “The usual.”

“Any crazy work stories?”

Tim thinks it over. “Well…”

And they sit there for over an hour, exchanging stories and talking about everything and nothing. It keeps the oppressive void inside of Tim at bay, helps him forget that his mind is often working against him in the most awful way.

“Is everything okay, though?” Jason asks as they’re preparing to part ways. “Sometimes when I find you out here… I dunno, I get the feeling you’re not really here, like you’re one step away from flinging yourself off the roof.” He says this with a half-hearted shrug, but Tim can see the concern on his face before he tugs his helmet back on.

“I wouldn’t do that without leaving a note,” Tim jokes, and then breezes past it so Jason won’t pick that statement apart. “But I’m fine, really. Just tired.”

He feels the weight of Jason’s stare for a long moment. Tim doesn’t move, nor does he breathe, until he sees Jason nod, accepting. “Something must be wrong, then,” he says in a lighter tone. “Because you’d never willingly admit that!”

Tim rolls his eyes and lightly punches Jason’s shoulder. “Shut up,” he says with a huff of laughter. “I’m not that bad.”

“You say that when you’re the one who doesn’t sleep for a few days at worst, and a couple of days at best.”

“You—” Tim cuts himself off and huffs, shaking his head when Jason laughs out loud, distorted by his helmet's voice modulator. “Shut up.”

“Heh. Nope.” Jason pulls out his grapple gun and pauses, shuffling his feet. “They’re having a movie night or something at the manor,” he says, looking away. Even with his helmet on, he seems so awkward, his shoulders hunching up as he toys with the tool in his hand. “You should come.”

The lie is already leaving his lips. “I’ve got a lot of work to do,” Tim says. “And more cases to go over. I’ll try to be there for the next one.”

Jason scoffs, scraping a foot across the work. “All work and no play,” he drawls. “Makes Timmy a dull boy.”

“It also keeps the money flowing,” Tim replies with a shrug. He starts turning to go, pausing with his hand hovering over his belt. “But be sure to give Alfred my love, okay? I’ve been missing his blueberry scones while I’m up in WE tower surviving off gross breakroom coffee and stale muffins.”

“I’m going to tell him you said that,” Jason says, pointing at him. “And then you’re going to wake up in your room at the manor with him ready to stuff you full of scones.”

He’s off before Tim can muster up a reply, and Tim watches his soar through the sky, running across rooftops until he disappears into the shadows. Tim clicks his tongue and steps onto the edge of the roof, dropping off and grappling to the next building before he meets the ground, swinging across to where he hid his bike.

It’s better this way, Tim tells himself as he drives to his hidden garage. He stays seated on his bike once inside, removing his domino mask to stare down at it. They don’t need you, Tim. They never needed you.

It’s the only truth he knows.

 

❦ ❦

 

Tim is between seventeen and eighteen. He’s at an age where he’d be expected to move out of the house in preparation for college by a normal family. Instead of doing that, he’s walking deeper into the place he once called home, navigating furniture and the empty eyes of paintings and pictures to reach his bedroom.

Patrol was hard today—all types of criminals out and about, annoyances that blossomed into a pain between his eyes, leading him to go to his bathroom and retrieve the painkillers that work best for his headaches. 

He stumbles into the bathroom, slamming a palm on the wall to turn on the light. Tim hisses when it burns into his retinas, squinting against the starbursts of color that erupt in his vision. When it passes, he makes his way over to the medicine cabinet, opening it to grab the painkillers, swallowing two pills dry and pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Ugh,” he says when his stomach rolls dangerously. Tim turns on the faucet and ducks his head, drinking some tap water to fill up his empty stomach. He’s panting afterwards, and he wipes off the extra droplets with the back of his hand, lifting his head to put the painkillers back.

And that’s when he spots something.

It sits on the marble countertop of his bathroom sink, so unlike the aesthetic of chaos that is absorbed into this place. Tim picks it up and peers through the orange bottle. He’s greeted with empty air and a bit of dust.

Tim holds the pill bottle aloft, eyes caught on the faded letters that he remembers so clearly from his childhood. Even now, his thumb traces over the blocky text, an action that is both soothing and devastating.

JANET DRAKE.

No noise comes from it when he gives it a shake, which is to be expected. Tim does have some days where he’ll be back to when he was a kid, rattling those pills and singing a song for his mother while she gets ready for another gala. She seemed so happy, then, but now, Tim wonders if she was already at her breaking point at that moment, if she put up a front to keep her curious son out of her business.

Tim sighs and puts the bottle in the medicine cabinet, where it belongs, and his fingers brush over the orange bottle right beside it.

The smallest touch makes it shake, disrupting a couple of the pills inside. It rattles, the sound no less pleasant than before, and Tim swallows, his stomach curling with anticipation.

Just like his mother, Tim attached a counter on top of the pill bottle. Actually, it’s the same one that she used, spruced up to work properly. The number 19 shines back at him, reminding him that he needs to take his pill. He brought these with him when he first dropped by a couple of days ago, certain that he wouldn’t be heading back to his apartment anytime soon.

And, like always, Tim was right.

He sighs and curls his fingers around the top, about ready to twist it off when someone knocks on the door. Tim pauses and waits, only to jump when the noise repeats itself.

“Tim?” Dick Grayson calls out. “Hurry up! The pizza’s here!”

Tim swallows the saliva that pooled in his mouth and quickly opens the cabinet under the sink, shoving the pill bottle into an old box of pads. No one will dare to look in there. 

“Okay,” he says when he stands, nudging the cabinet doors closed with his foot and washing his hands, pretending that they don’t shake under the spray of water. “Just gimme a second.”

He’ll take the pill later.

 

❦ ❦

 

19.

Tim stares at the number with a frown. It’s the same one from yesterday, so that means he didn’t take his medicine on both days. He’s tempted to pull the bottle down and toss it back dry, but weariness is tugging at his bones, and the call of the bed is stronger than anything else.

He leaves the bottle there.

 

❦ ❦

 

19.

His door creaks open at some point in the afternoon, but Tim doesn’t even bother lifting his head from the pillow. He’s too exhausted to do anything right now, and after a long night of closing a few of the others’ cases, he feels like he’s entitled to some undisturbed rest.

If only everyone else could get the memo.

“Hey, Tim?”

He stays quiet.

“Tim?”

Footsteps pad into the room, and Tim barely manages to muster up a groan when his comforter is torn off of him. He blearily glares up at a beaming face and then drops his head onto the pillow when he sees that smile falter.

“What,” he says.

“Nothing, just—” Dick hesitates, and peers at him with something that Tim might call concern. “Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine,” Tim answers flatly, shutting his eyes. “You just woke me up from a nap.”

Nothing happens for the longest time, and then Tim feels the bed sink. He cracks one eye open and sees Dick sitting at the edge of the bed, a frown on his stupid face. 

“Talk to me, Tim,” he says, and rests a hand on Tim’s arm. “What’s up?”

Tim groans, covering his face with the back of his hand. “It’s too early for this,” he mutters.

“It’s three.”

“Yeah?” Tim scoffs, pushing the covers back to sit up. “Still too early.” He slips off the bed and takes a moment to stretch, cracking his back and other parts of his body. Tim’s about ready to escape into the bathroom when he bumps into a wall named Dick Grayson.

“Tim,” Dick says, voice low in the way that it gets when he’s trying to have a serious moment. “Talk to me. What’s going on with you?”

“What do you mean by that?” Tim wonders, crossing his arms and arching a brow. His defenses are on the rise, he knows, and it’s all because Dick decided to word his question that way. “There’s nothing going on.”

“Don’t lie to me,” Dick says, now scowling. “We’ve all noticed that you’ve been a little withdrawn and quiet, and now you’re sleeping in until afternoon? You? The guy who only gets two to four hours of sleep a night?”

“You’re not any better,” Tim retorts. “None of us are! That’s the vigilante lifestyle, Dick! I don’t know why everyone gets on my case about my sleeping habits when we’re all on the same level.”

“Okay, fine. Maybe that was a bad example…”

“Also, I don’t like the implication that you’re all talking about me behind my back,” Tim interjects before Dick can say anything more. “And I don’t understand why you’re suddenly choosing to put yourself in my life like you care about me.”

“Of course I care,” Dick says immediately, pulling a sad face. “Why would you think I don’t?”

Tim wants to laugh in Dick’s face, but he pushes the urge down and locks it away and instead meets Dick’s gaze. “You already showed me you don’t,” he says plainly. “But I don’t want to get into this right now, okay? So… just go.”

“I think we do need to get into it,” Dick says, grabbing his wrist. “Clearly, there are some unresolved issues we need to go over, and maybe… maybe that’ll help with whatever’s going on with you.”

“Aren’t you listening to me?” Tim yanks himself out of Dick’s grip and glares at him. “I’m fine!” He pushes past Dick to enter the bathroom, flipping on the light switch. “Can’t you see that I’m fine, Dick? There’s nothing to worry about here, I’m just tired! And I’m not hiding any injuries, either, so there goes your other excuse for checking up on me.”

Dick frowns. “Tim—” he starts.

“Just leave me alone,” Tim snaps, turning away from his older brother. “God, can you stop with this overbearing attitude for once in your life?”

It’s quiet.

Tim feels nothing when he hears the soft shuffle of feet, followed by the sound of his door opening and closing. He feels nothing when he slowly makes his way over to lock it before crawling into a corner of darkness in his closet instead of going into the bathroom. He feels nothing when he finds an orange pill bottle in there, the number nineteen blinking up at him accusingly.

He wonders, not for the first time in these past few days (weeks?), what it would be like to twist off the cap and let one of the pills tumble out into the palm of his hand. Tim wouldn’t need any water, already at an age where he perfected the art of dry swallowing.

No, his mother’s sharp voice reverberates through his head, but it no longer sounds like her. Instead, it sounds too much like him—vicious and biting.

Slowly, Tim places the orange bottle on the floor, and then he wraps his arms around his knees when he brings them close to his chest. He squeezes his eyes shut, rocking back and forth, and broken notes of his stupid sea turtle song erupt from his throat. His humming drowns out the silence that seems to fill up all the empty spaces, threatening to choke him with its oppressiveness.

 

❦ ❦

 

19.

He’s in the shower, sitting beneath the spray of cold water with his arms wrapped around his knees. His whole body feels like a bruise, and the white tile beneath him still has streaks of pink.

His anger with Dick is gone, but Tim can’t bring himself to lift his head to meet Dick’s gaze whenever he manages to venture out of his room. He feels the weight of his stare on him at certain moments, especially during patrol, but all Tim does is jump through the air, far away from the questions, concerns, and tries not to imagine releasing the grapple when he’s soaring with no intention to stick it to the next building.

It really does feel like flying.

An orange pill bottle sits on the bathroom sink. The number blinks back at him, reminding him that it’s another day without a change. Tim should probably reach over and take one if only to stop the shortness of his breath and the way his chest feels too heavy for his body, but he’s at peace—the sound of the water beating against his skin, against the tile, drowning out the thoughts that plague his mind.

He’ll take one tomorrow.

(There’s a vice-grip around his throat that makes it hard to breathe. His emotions get the best of him, and he muffles all of it into his pillow, glad, for once, that no one is checking up on him.

Or maybe they’re pretending that they don’t see it, too.)

 

❦ ❦

 

19.

Tim returns to the manor, sweat making his hair stick to his face. His feet no longer ache like before, but he still stomps out the dirt on the front porch. Exhaustion makes his body sore, threatening to drag him down to the floor and make everything stop, if only for a moment.

“I’m here,” he murmurs when he opens the door. Tim receives no response, of course, but he chalks that up to the other visitors (and occupants) sitting deeper in the manor. Or maybe they went out without telling him, which wouldn’t be surprising. It’s about time for patrol to start, so it’s highly possible…

He toes off his shoes and holds them in one hand, quietly climbing the steps and going into his room. Tim shuts and locks the door behind him, dropping his shoes onto the floor before making his way over to his bed.

It welcomes him with ease, but Tim feels uncomfortable in his skin. His eyes flit over to the orange pill bottle on his bedside table, and he frowns, turning his attention to the TV. Tim picks up the remote and turns it on, playing a random cooking show that makes no sense. 

Eventually, his door creaks open. No one enters the room, but he spies a white plate with a sandwich sliding inside before it shuts. Tim blinks and makes his way over, pausing when he hears someone tapping against the wood in morse code.

FOR YOU, BROTHER.

A smile tugs at his lips, fleeting, and he feels a rush of fondness. He basks in this warm feeling before he lifts a hand, tapping out a response.

THANK YOU, SISTER.

He picks up the plate and takes it to his desk, slowly taking bites every now and then as he scrawls out some ideas on a loose piece of paper. When he’s about halfway through his sandwich, he realizes what he’s writing down is not ideas for WE. Tim blinks and starts reading through one.

… if you’re reading this then I’m probably gone. I need you to know that it’s not your fault, so you shouldn’t drown in your guilt… 

Tim shoves himself away from the desk, eyes wide and hands shaking. “What the hell is wrong with me?” he whispers, and then quickly shoves the letter beneath a bunch of his paperwork so he doesn’t have to look at it.

The air suddenly feels heavier in his room. His stomach twists with nausea and nerves, and his knee is starting to bounce. Tim leaves the sandwich and goes over to his bed. He snatches up the bottle of water he left on his bedside table, tipping the rest of it back, and then drops it back down, nearly knocking over his bottle of pills.

Tim stares at them and then snatches it up, rolling it between two hands. Eventually, he releases a weary sigh as the feeling of utter hopelessness cocoons him, bringing a sting of fresh tears to his eyes.

He sits on the edge of the bed, head bent low. Tim stares down at the floor, unseeing, and then drags his gaze to the orange pill bottle in his hand, where the number nineteen flashes up at him, a reminder of what he has to do, what he needs to do.

Maybe… Maybe he was right to write that letter. Or maybe he should make a video. That might be easier. Sure.

“Okay,” he says, his breath hitching on a sob. “Okay.”

 

❦ ❦

 

Tim wakes up in a surprisingly good mood.

The numbness threatens to drag him back into darkness and tries to coax him into more hours of sleep, but Tim steadfastly ignores it, hopping out of bed and into the shower with a speed that surprises himself. He feels refreshed by the time he steps out of his room, dressed in comfortable sweatpants that hang off his hips, even with the double-knotted tie of the drawstrings, and a cozy sweater that belongs to one of his brothers.

Probably Damian, Tim thinks as he gazes down at the emerald green color. It’s the color that the youngest of the family is known for, and it must have gotten tossed into his load of laundry at some point. 

Oh, well.

He heads out of his room, a skip in his step as he makes his way down the stairs and toward the kitchen. Already, there’s a bustle of people, with Alfred standing at the stove while Dick, Cass, and Jason move about the room.

A full house. Bruce must be happy.

Cass looks up first, her face brightening when she spots him. “Little brother,” she says happily, setting her plate down to make her way over to him. Her hands come up to squish his cheeks as she looks deep into his eyes, and Tim sees the way her brows furrow with concern, momentarily, before it’s replaced with simple joy. “Morning.”

“Morning,” Tim echoes, bemused.

“Sleep well?” she asks.

“Very,” he answers, and she releases him. Tim leans closer to peck her cheek, and then weaves his way around the kitchen island, opening the cupboard to pull out his gray mug, the constellation all but faded, and reaches over to grab the box of lemon balm tea, slipping a packet out and dropping it into his mug. Hot water follows, and all Tim has to do is wait for his tea to become, well, tea.

“Here you go, Master Timothy,” Alfred says suddenly, passing over a plate covered in a pancake. It’s a perfect circle, and Tim would never expect anything less from Alfred.

“Thank you,” he says happily, glancing in the direction of the dining room and back. “Do you have strawberries, too?”

“I can cut some up for you,” Jason offers suddenly, holding a knife aloft. “If you want, I mean.”

“I’d love that,” Tim replies. He shuffles closer, bumping their shoulders together, and offers a tentative smile. “Thanks, Jay.”

“You’re welcome?”

Soon enough, Tim is making his way over to the dining table, his plate in one hand, his tea in the other, and the bowl of strawberries in the crook of his arm. He slides into his usual seat, very aware of the different pairs of eyes locked onto his moving form. At least there are no comments about his venture out of the room (yet).

“Good morning,” he says, pleasantly enough.

“Morning,” the others reply, in various states of bewilderment. It’s almost enough to make him laugh, but Tim simply hides his amusement behind a smile as he reaches for the bottle of syrup, uncapping it with a mere flick of his fingernail and pouring some on top of his pancakes.

He lifts his head and meets Dick’s gaze, catching sight of the mild concern in them. Tim grabs his mug and carefully brings it up to his mouth, blowing on it for a few seconds. He doesn’t want to burn himself right now and ruin his good mood.

“Hey, Timmy,” Dick says, eyebrows climbing high. “You doing alright?”

“Of course I am,” Tim says with a slight smile. He takes a sip of his tea, the steam clinging to his face and warming up his bones. The scent of lemon balm reaches his nose and he hums, feeling himself relax. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

He scans his brother’s features over the rim of the mug, taking in the confusion on his face, his shiny, dark hair, and the way his eyes seem to shine beneath the light of the dining room. 

His big brother. Dick Grayson. The first Robin.

“We haven’t seen much of you,” Dick says slowly, and there’s a degree of caution in his words like he doesn’t know how to touch the subject without causing one (or both) of them to erupt into a fit of anger and distrust. The latter is mostly on Tim’s end.

“Catching up on work,” Tim replies easily, setting the tea down to cut a piece of pancake. He gathers up an appropriate amount of syrup and slips it into his mouth, curling his tongue around the sugar. “And on cases, and sleep.” He waves a hand. “You know how it is.”

“Sleep?” Jason says incredulously as he enters the room, shooting him a suspicious look. There’s mirth in his eyes, though, and it’s especially prominent when he teases, “Who are you and what have you done with Tim Drake?”

Tim laughs, despite himself, and shakes his head. He focuses on his food even when Cass slips into the seat beside him, feeling a kernel of happiness when she knocks their ankles together playfully. No more questions get thrown his way while they eat, and it’s only near the tail-end of breakfast when something comes up.

“Are you going to join us for patrol tonight?” Bruce asks, not looking up from his newspaper.

Tim can feel the weight of everyone’s stare once again even as he focuses on the final bites of his food. He pops a strawberry cube into his mouth, the juices coating his tongue when he squishes it between his teeth and hums quietly.

“Not tonight,” Tim says finally, lifting his head to meet Bruce’s steady gaze. His heart thumps in his chest, but he’s certain that he gives nothing away when he adds, “Maybe tomorrow.”

 

❦ ❦

 

0.

Tim is on the bathroom floor, as pale as the marble countertop of the sink. The light above him buzzes strangely, and he feels lost in the black hoodie that he pulled on, his hair sticking up in every direction.

He retreated to his apartment after breakfast, where he spent some time recording several videos before moving on to the next part of his plan. Tim made the appropriate preparations for WE and then ventured into the bathroom when the moon started to rise, and now he’s on the floor, sitting in front of two orange pill bottles.

He picks up the first one, fingers tracing over the faded, bold letters of his mother’s name, and gives it a shake.

It does not rattle.

Tim sets it down gently, almost lovingly, and releases a sigh. His hands find the one beside it, only this time he doesn’t trace over the name on there, simply staring at it, disconnected from the meaning of it.

TIM DRAKE.

His lips stretch into a smile, the number blinking back at him every now and then. Tim curls his fingers around the orange bottle, the old sea turtle song coming back to mind. He hums the tune, bobbing his head, and gives it a shake.

It does not rattle.

“Huh,” Tim murmurs. He sets it down with less care, and it rolls until it hits the door. Tim laughs and curls up on the bathroom floor, his head resting on his plush bathroom mat, and shuts his eyes. He’s starting to feel heavy, sleepy, and maybe… maybe that means that it’s time.

He’s ready for that.

There’s a ringing in his ear, and Tim frowns, cracking his eyes open. He tries to find the cause of the noise and when he finds nothing, he turns onto his back with a low groan, where his cheek hits something sleek and metal. Tim slaps a hand over the offending item and brings it up, squinting at the picture of Jason that’s flashing on his phone.

It takes a few tries, but he finally manages to stab the green button, sitting up with a hissed breath. He lifts the phone to his ears, tipping his head back against the wall, and says quietly, “Yeah?”

“Hey, baby bird,” Jason says. His voice is clear and deep—he’s not wearing his helmet right now. “Thought I’d call you up and ask if you wanted me to come pick you up for dinner.”

“Dinner?” Tim repeats slowly, squinting into the darkness of his bedroom. Everything’s starting to get blurry now. “What dinner?”

“The dinner we have every Friday night after patrol? That dinner? The one you’ve been going to every single week in fear of Alfred’s wrath?” Jason’s responses are pointed and teasing, but Tim wonders if he’s imagining the undertone of worry in his words. “You feeling alright, Timbo?”

Tim’s next breath is more like a giggle when his head spins, making the eyes shine brighter than before. He squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, starbursts of muted colors erupting behind his eyelids, and responds with an airy, “Never better.”

And it’s the truth. The white noise that’s been in his head for the past few days is finally gone, leaving behind a blank nothingness, a quiet that brings relief. He sighs, curling his toes into the bathroom mat, and says happily, “I’m great, Jay. I’m just a lil’ tired right now, s’all.” There, that should stop Jason’s worry in its tracks.

There’s silence on the other end.

At first, Tim thinks that Jason hung up. It’d be good if he did because then Tim can continue with his waiting, but when he pulls the phone away from his ear, he sees that the call is still going. Frowning, Tim puts the phone back and says, “Hello?”

“Tim,” Jason replies after a beat. His voice is a bit far away, and Tim can hear the whistle of the wind, and the bustle of Gotham’s traffic. He’s driving now. “Where are you?”

Tim chews on his bottom lip, wondering if he should answer. What’s the right one, even? What would make Jason happy enough to leave him alone? “Home,” he finally answers, but it sounds more like a question, and Tim hates himself for that.

“Home?” Jason says. “The manor?”

“No,” Tim says, drawing the word out. It feels funnier that way, his lips popped open like a large cavern full of secrets. “Not th’manor. Didn’t wanna…” He stops and sighs, rolling the back of his head against the wall. It feels weird, but nice, soothing the ache blossoming in his head. “Didn’t wanna be there for this.”

“And what is this ?”

He gazes around the bathroom, void of any personality and any life (soon), and hums. Tim can’t exactly say what he wants to say, truly, so he decides to skip over the conversation and proceed with a question, “Why’d you call?”

“To bring you over for dinner,” Jason says. His words are clipped, short. Is he angry? He sounds angry. “For Alfred, remember?”

“Right,” Tim says like he didn’t already forget. “Dinner.”

“Which is why I’m going to go to your Nest, because that’s the only place you could be right now, and you’re going to open the door after I knock. You’re going to be dressed and ready, and then you’re going to sit your little ass on my bike and we’re going to go to that damn manor and be a happy little family for one night. Got it, Tim?”

Tim stays quiet. The words seem to go in through one ear and out the other, something he cannot comprehend. He stretches his legs out in front of him, and when the stretch of his limbs feels too weird, Tim brings them back to his chest, wrapping an arm around them.

“Tim?”

“Huh?”

Jason sighs. The noise crackles in his ear, tickling some part of his brain, and Tim barely withholds a giggle. “I’m coming over,” Jason says.

“You don’t have to come over,” Tim says quickly, but his words topple over each other, probably incomprehensible. He clears his throat and says, at a much slower pace, “Don’t come over. M’fine.”

“I think I need to come over,” Jason says firmly. His voice seems slightly shaky. Why is it shaky? “Because I’m worried.”

“Oh,” Tim realizes. “I said it out loud.”

“You did.”

“What’re you worried about?” Tim wonders. He toys with the hem of his hoodie, enjoying the way the material scrapes across his skin. Tim continues with the ministrations, feeling like he might float away if he doesn’t. It’d be rude if that happened since he’s still talking to Jason. “Something happen?” He pauses and adds, “Patrol?”

“Nothing happened during patrol,” Jason says in a quiet voice. “But I’m afraid something might have happened right now.”

Tim frowns. “Where?”

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

He thinks about it long and hard, brows furrowed. Nothing comes to mind, but then again, it’s starting to get harder and harder to piece together his thoughts. “I dunno,” he replies, not even bothering to hold back his confusion. “Wan’ me to look it up? I can…” Tim stops and looks around the restroom, but he finds none of his equipment. “Oh, s’rry Jay. Don’t have anything with me.”

“What else do you have around you, Tim? Any drinks? Or any…” There’s an audible swallow on the other end of the call, along with the rev of an engine. Air whooshes in the background when Jason says, “Anything?”

“No,” Tim lies plainly, eyes flicking over to the empty orange bottles, both carrying the same last name, with only one of the two already gone. “Nothing.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Tim.”

And suddenly, he’s angry. So angry that it burns through him, making his chest grow tighter. He curls his fingers, nails digging into the palm of his hands. It creates eight pinpricks of pain that crawl up to his brain, bringing him some focus, some clarity.

“Why did you call me?” Tim snaps. “Why’re you ruining this for me? Why can’t you…” He exhales shakily (it sounds more like a wheeze) and tugs on the hair closest to his scalp, already missing the haze from before. “Leave me alone.”

“I can’t do that, Tim,” Jason says, annoying as ever. “Tell me what you did.”

“Didn’ do anything,” Tim replies, scowling down at his lap. His knees knock against each other, wobbly, and he wonders if he imagined the noise of a falling tree in his ears. Probably. “Go away.”

Mood only slightly ruined, Tim pulls the phone away from his ear and taps on the screen. He squints at it and decides that the call ended, dropping the phone onto the bathroom mat and sliding down to the floor. Tim stares up at the white ceiling, feeling every part of him swoop and fly like he’s on a roller coaster.

His stomach is hurting. His chest is hurting.

Everything looks so blurry right now, the lights creating streaks that dance in the air whenever he moves his head. Tim giggles, mostly to himself, and goes back to curling up on his side, his name echoing in the empty bathroom, tiny and crackling, like a mouse might be using a megaphone.

“If you give a mouse a cookie,” Tim mumbles to himself. “He’s gonna ask for a glass of milk. If you give a mouse a megaphone, he’s gonna say your name…”

For some reason, it makes him laugh.

“Tim?”

The crackle seems louder in the silence. Tim can also hear a tapping sound coming from the sink, but he doesn’t have the energy to stand up and turn off the faucet. Oh well, there are worse things to hear when one is nearing their end.

“The sticky sound,” someone says. Wait, that’s his mouth moving. “as clear as day.” Another giggle, airy and bright, escapes. “Slip… slop… drip… drop… slip… slop…” He feels a lot like Saint Adeline right now, except there’s no brain fluid to keep him tethered to humanity. Tim takes a moment to ponder the comparison and realizes that Gotham could be the equivalent to… to whatever he’s thinking about.

“Tim!”

His face feels hot, and there’s a burning in the back of his eyes. Tim blinks away the liquid that gathers in his lashes, sighing as the crackle of his name continues sporadically. Time seems to be moving slowly right now. Maybe Tim should have gone with a different route, but this seems to be the easiest way.

“Y’know, it coulda been worse,” Tim muses, and he has enough sense to note that his words sound distinctly slurred. It’s all kicking in now, he guesses. “Razor… too messy. Messy. Stains ev’rythin’ and Moth’r won’t like that, no she won’t.”

He drops a hand onto something fluffy. Furry? Whatever it is, it feels nice against his fingers. Tim spreads them with a languid smile, enjoying the way the tufts of softness curl against his skin, snagging in some places.

“Tim! Answer me! Tim!”

Oh, that sounds like Jason.

“Jay,” Tim says aloud, hoping that he hears him, wherever he’s at. Maybe he’s somewhere in Tim’s place? That’d make sense. “Shh. M’tired. Tryin’ to sleep.”

“Don’t you dare, Tim! I’m almost there!”

The voice grows fainter and fainter, and Tim is left with the distant plink, plink, plink of water droplets, the feeling of his chest expanding, breaths coming out shorter, and his body growing lighter.

Tim wonders if this is how his mother felt all those years ago—floating in a fog that promised nothing but happiness in return. Did she also feel the cold sinking into the marrow of her bones? Did she feel untethered from the earth, sinking between the spaces where she once belonged only to find her freedom?

Did Janet Drake feel joy when she realized that her death was only inches away?

He swallows around a lump in his throat, tongue thick when he smacks his lips together. Tim closes his eyes, the darkness clinging to the sides before slowly edging closer. An exhale escapes him, and Tim imagines his life leaving his mouth, a ghost hovering above his body, waiting to be set free.

Will 19 be more than enough? If Janet Drake couldn’t die with 18 pills in her body, giving her these same exact feelings, then maybe… maybe one more should do it for Tim Drake.

His heavy body sinks down, down, down, and Tim feels his lips stretch into a smile.

Finally, he thinks, welcoming the fruitful promise of forever sleep.

 

❦ ❦

 

A crashing door. Desperate calls of his name. An agonized gasp. Hands cupping his face, his wrists. Two fingers pressing against his pulse. Relieved sobs, hot droplets falling onto his cheeks. His body lifted, flying, where cold air meets him. Warmth, leather seats, a rush of wind that passes through his body like currents.

Sea turtles all around him.

“Mother,” he whispers and sinks below the depths of the ocean.

 

❦ ❦

 

Something burns.

“Shit! Turn him over! He’s gonna—”

The burning climbs from his stomach up to his throat, and something spills out of him. Poison, maybe—even though he is and will always be poison to the people around him. It’s hot, full of acid, and he hopes that he drowns in it, the way he almost did so long ago under the tortured care of a madman.

“S’okay, Timmy.” A hand brushes through his hair. It’s nice. It’s painful. “Just let it all out.”

Sobbing. Wailing. Shrieking. Thrashing.

“Fuck! Hold him tighter, Dickhead!”

“It’s gonna make things worse!”

“He’ll hurt himself if you don’t! Just do it!”

He struggles against the restraints around his body, kicking his feet out in hopes of hitting something, anything. A sob leaves his aching throat, a pain blooming in his head, in his chest, in his stomach, as he tries to find an escape.

“Lemme go,” he slurs, turning his head away. “Lemme go, lemme go, lemme go…”

“Is he—”

“I don’t know. Tim?” A hand cups his cheek. He flinches. He leans into it. “Tim, can you open your eyes for me? Are you okay?”

Another sob. His body feels so heavy, weighed down by everything going wrong in his life. He misses the haze that the pills brought him, the feeling of being weightless, unmoored, beneath the crashing waves.

“Let me die,” he whispers to whoever’s keeping him trapped. “Just… lemme…”

Two sharp breaths. The restraints tighten around his body, making him wheeze, and he feels something crawl up his throat again, only this time it lingers. The burning sensation climbs up his cheeks like fire ants, biting every pore until they gather in his eyes, hot streaks cutting through his skin.

“He doesn’t—no, he can’t mean that.”

“I don’t think he knows what he’s saying.”

“That doesn’t make it any better, Jay! God, I don’t know what to do…”

“Lemme die,” he moans, desperate. His head lolls back onto something hard, and then he lurches forward, struggling to get free. He can’t let this hold him back, not when he was so close to what he wanted. “Lemme die, lemme die, lemme die…”

Sobbing. Wailing. Shrieking. Thrashing.

It turns into a chant, over and over again until he’s practically shouting it. Something cracks. Someone curses. The heat makes its way up to his head, incinerating everything that it finds. He clings to the sensation, tugs it into his body, into his bones, and tries to float towards the darkness.

“We’re losing him!”

“Gonna have to get the rest of it out. Can you—yeah. Sorry, Tim.”

Something solid enters his mouth, and he gags. All that burning comes back to his throat, and more poison spills out of him. Acid-like and awful; he wishes he was dropped deeper into the acid so everything bad about him could burn away and leave behind a stain of nothing.

“Might be okay now?”

“Gonna have to sedate—”

A hand covers the back of his neck, and he keens. Finger rub the knob of his spine before tilting his body to the side. He feels a small prick against his skin, and a numbness spreads through his body, threatening to drag him down into an unknown place.

“Sorry,” someone whispers. A hitched breath, droplets of warmth landing on top of his head. Slip slop. Drip drop. “I’m so sorry.”

Darkness greets him soon after. It sinks its claws into his body, terrifying and solemn, and it drags him beneath the depths of shadows, where nothingness follows.

 

❦ 





 

 

 

He wakes up.

It’s dark in this place, with only thin beams of light coming in from the blinds in the corner of the room. He hears a ticking of a clock somewhere off to his right, as well as the sound of someone taking soft breaths every now and then. It’s almost enough to lull him back to sleep, and he decides to let his eyes slip shut, falling into a comfortable doze, his body drifting just above dreams.

Tim sighs, fingers tangling in the blanket tucked around his shoulders. For once in his life, he feels at peace. There’s no white noise in his head, no weight sitting on his shoulders, dragging him down—only a strange feeling of soreness throughout his body, as well as a burning sensation when he swallows.

At some point, it’s too much, and Tim sighs again. He pushes himself up to sit and brings a hand up to rub his eyes, stopping when he sees that he’s connected to an IV. Also, one of his ankles seems to be handcuffed to the… hospital bed that he’s lying on.

“What,” he mutters, confused.

A door opens, spilling light and sound into the room. Tim sluggishly lifts his head and frowns when he sees Bruce entering the room. He thinks he spies several heads trying to peek in before the door shuts, bringing the silence back.

Bruce takes a seat in the empty chair beside Tim (the one that Tim is just barely noticing) and gazes at him, eyes dark and solemn. “Do you know why you’re here?” he asks.

“I—” His voice cracks and Tim falls into a coughing fit that’s harsh on his throat. He leans forward, eyes burning, and he doesn’t even complain when another set of hands positions a bendy straw near his lips, where cool water greets him.

Bruce pulls the cup away when Tim turns his head, and he hears a whirring sound before a pile of pillows meets his back. Tim leans against them with a hum, tipping his head back to gaze at the ceiling. It’s similar to the other rooms in Wayne Manor, but he doesn’t quite recognize it. Do they have a medical room now?

“Wha’ happen?” he manages to ask after a while, voice soft and raspy.

“You don’t remember,” Bruce says. The chair creaks beneath him when he leans over to the bedside table, snatching up a tablet that wasn’t there before. Maybe Bruce came in with it? “Jason brought you.”

Tim furrows his brows, trying to think. All he gets is… something about sea turtles and the ocean. “Patrol?” he wonders, tapping a finger against his thigh. “At the docks?”

“No, Tim.”

Bruce stares at him for a long moment before ducking his head. He taps his code into the tablet and unlocks it, showing Tim’s tired face. His eyes are sunken in, dark shadows beneath them, and he looks almost… ghostly. It’s a video, one that’s already at the halfway point, and Bruce taps on the play button.

“I’m tired,” the Tim in the video says with a loud sigh, looking off to the side of the screen. “I’m really tired, Bruce. I don’t think I’ve stopped being tired since I was a kid.”

“Oh,” Tim whispers. He can recall each pill as it tumbled into his hand, how he knocked them back with a bit of water before stumbling into the bathroom and collapsing to the ground, waiting to succumb to his death. “I…”

He failed.

“I just… I need it all to stop. I can’t keep going on like this.”

Tim swallows and shuts his eyes, turning his head when the tears spill over, dropping onto the blanket covering his body. Slip slop, his mind whispers suddenly. It sounds like his voice, but more hazy. Did he actually say this? Drip drop.

“I don’t want to hear this,” he whispers.

“I’ve reached a point where no one can help me. I don’t even know if I want help. What’s left for me at this point? What else do I have left to give?” A laugh, short and brief, but no less painful to hear. “No one can save me.”

“Stop,” Tim pleads, curling his fingers until his nails dig into his palms. The sharp bite of pain gives him a bit of clarity, and also a serious case of deja vu. “I remember now, stop.”

The audio cuts off, and then a large, strong hand covers his own. Tim slowly unfurls it and lets it be encompassed by Bruce’s hold, feeling his breath rattle in his chest when he sighs yet again. He uses his other hand to clear his face of any traces of tears before looking at Bruce.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly.

“Are you?” Bruce replies evenly.

Tim doesn’t answer.

Bruce squeezes his hand. “Tim,” he says, voice just above a whisper. “I’m not angry with you. I’m just upset that this ended up being a last resort.”

“It’s fine now,” Tim murmurs, shutting his eyes. “Didn’t happen.”

“Only because of Jason.”

“How… How is he?”

“Terrified.”

“Oh,” Tim says, shoulder slumping. He feels dangerously close to tears, all of a sudden. Tim takes a bit to try and get himself under control, the tension hanging in the air making his shoulders creep up to his ears. “I… I don’t know what to say.”

“That’s okay,” Bruce says, but Tim doesn’t believe him. Bruce is the man who always needs an answer for everything and demands only the truth in return. “We don’t have to talk about that, but we can talk about what’s going to happen from now on.”

There it is.

“Let me guess,” Tim says flatly. “I’m going to be on suicide watch.”

“Yes,” Bruce replies. “But we’re going to move you into the manor instead of having you admitted. Also—” He leans over and presses his thumb against the cuff around Tim’s ankle, unlocking it and setting it aside. “Sorry about that. After you were brought in, you had a bit of a fit. We were afraid that it might happen again if you ever woke up.”

Tim frowns, digging into his memories. He comes up with nothing. “I don’t remember that.”

“I’m not surprised. You were very out of it.”

He lifts a hand to his throat and strokes a couple of fingers across the scarred skin, swallowing hard. It hurts to do so, which leads Tim to ask, “Did I throw up the pills?”

“You did,” Bruce answers. “The first time you did it yourself, unprompted, and the second time…” He sucks in some air and scoots the chair closer, head bowed. “The second time,” he continues in a quieter voice. “Dick had to help you while you were… fighting. And then they sedated you.”

“Did I hurt anyone?” Tim asks in a small voice, dropping his hand to toy with the stray threads of the blanket. 

“You knocked your head against Dick’s face. No broken nose, but he did bleed for a bit. It stopped by the time we got you in this bed, but that was the only injury.”

Tim stares down at the blanket until his vision goes blurry with tears. This time, he makes no attempts at stopping them, letting them glide down his cheeks. He leans back against the pillows again and closes his eyes as the emptiness makes a return, seeping into the cracks in his heart until all he feels is hopelessness.

“Tim,” Bruce says. “You scared us.”

“I’m sorry,” he replies, a hint of a sob in his voice. “I’m sorry, Bruce. But I can’t—I don’t—” Another sob, this one louder than the previous, and it sounds so wretched and painful, tearing out of his aching throat.

The bed dips, and then an arm curls around his shoulders, pulling him against something solid and warm. Tim turns his head toward it, hiding his tears in soft material, and cries, all the pain that’s been stored up for the past weeks, months, years spilling out unbidden.

Is this all he needed to avoid the whole mess that he created?

What’s going to happen to him now?

After a while, his sobs taper off into small sniffles and soft, hitched breaths. He doesn’t move away from Bruce (because it is Bruce, a man who’s holding him close like he’s trying to keep Tim from shaking apart), slumping because all the energy he had is suddenly gone.

He feels like he could sleep for a year.

“Tim,” Bruce says softly, gently. “We’re going to get you help, okay?”

“I don’t know if I want it,” Tim confesses against his sweater. His skin feels itchy, his eyes are burning, his chest is tight, and his head is starting to ache. “I—Bruce, it’s really bad. I… I think I’ll probably try again if I get the chance.”

Here, Bruce takes a shuddering breath. His voice is a bit thick when he says, “Okay. We can work with that. Therapy, maybe a better prescription for your antidepressants, and we’ll go from there.”

“That’s not going to stop me.”

“Are you willing to try?”

“I don’t know if I can,” Tim answers, closing his eyes. He’s so close to falling asleep, but he fights against the urge to do so. Talking to Bruce is important. “I’m so tired.”

“I know, son.” A hand curls around his head, and Tim feels lips press against the top of it. Oh, that’s nice. “I just…” A sigh, so big and loud that it takes up the whole room while simultaneously making Tim feel safe. “I don’t want to see you like that, Tim. The thought of losing you… I don’t think I could go on if you were gone.”

“Don’t say that,” Tim says thickly, overwhelmed. “You don’t mean that.”

“I do.” 

Bruce shifts, and suddenly, Tim is staring straight into his stormy gaze, and he’s surprised to see them gleaming with tears. “Tim,” he says. “All of you mean the world to me. I don’t know where I’d be without my family, and I know I wouldn’t be here if you weren’t there to pull me out of that dark time in my life. You were the light, you still are, and I want you to keep shining for me, for yourself.” A tear slips down Bruce’s cheek as he visibly swallows, one of his hands squeezing Tim’s shoulder. “So, let me be the light for you, son. Let me be here and guide you back home to us.”

“I—” Tim can’t tear his eyes away from Bruce. There’s a lump in his throat, and Tim feels like he can’t breathe. His vision is starting to get blurry again, too. “I don’t—”

“We love you, Tim,” Bruce says quietly. “All of us. And you have so many friends that love you, too. You have touched so many lives and made such a big difference. Losing you would create a void that could never be filled. You’re not replaceable, and your importance is immeasurable.”

“Stop,” Tim chokes out, overwhelmed. He’s crying all over again, and he doesn’t know how it’s possible for a person to cry this much. “Bruce, I can’t—”

“You’re my son,” Bruce continues, and his voice breaks just a little, making Tim sob. “You’re my son, Tim, and I-I love you. I’ll always love you. I want you to stay with us for the rest of our lives. More importantly, I want you to choose to live, to wake up one day and realize that you can be happy if you try.”

“I don’t know how,” Tim wails, and practically throws himself at Bruce. He keeps crying, even as arms wrap around him in a tight embrace, even as Bruce rubs a hand down his back, soothing. “I don’t know what to do, dad.”

“It’s okay,” Bruce soothes. “We’ll be here to help you. Every step of the way.”

Tim keeps crying and crying until he’s parched and exhausted, the headache developing into a migraine. Bruce must sense this because he helps Tim drink some more water and then sets him against the pillows, keeping a tight hold on his hand.

“Don’t leave me?” Tim asks, the call of sleep a siren song.

Bruce squeezes his hand. “Never,” he says, a solemn oath.

And when Tim drifts off, it’s with a sense of safety surrounding him, removing the weight off his shoulders, and the promise of a better future.

All he has to do is try.