Alternate universes suck so much. Tim has always known that, but he’s never really grasped it, not until he and Dick were forcibly thrown into one a week ago.
Gotham feels different, even though it doesn’t appear that way on the surface. The violence is more personal, less showy, and as far as they’ve seen, there are almost no super villains. Somehow, though, there’s more crime on the whole, every corner of every street host to pimps and drug dealers and traffickers.
Tim tries to fight it, tries to intervene, but Dick pulls him back. “We can’t risk it, you know that.”
He does. But that doesn’t make it easier. “They need our help,” Tim fires back, everything he’s ever been taught about bettering the world, the pressure of saving people, battering around in his mind.
“It’s not our world or our place,” Dick explains, and for all that he sounds apologetic, his eyes don’t stray away from the shadowy parts of the street where they can hear people being hurt.
Dick is a good actor, but Tim can read him like a book. He’s following the protocols put in place for dimensional travel, playing the I’m The Big Brother And I’m In Charge card, but he doesn’t like it anymore than Tim does.
The rules are what they are for a reason, and Tim knows that. Grudgingly, he lets Dick pull him away, go back to their own little shadowy corners. They sleep on cardboard they find in dumpsters, huddling up for warmth. In the mornings, they go to the local library, hoping to fill out some of their knowledge on this world, since no rescue or way out otherwise is forthcoming.
There, sitting at the outdated computers, they find out that Martha and Thomas Wayne are still dead. Bruce wasn’t 8 when it happened, though—he was 16. He got shot too, making it painful and difficult to walk or move in general. According to one interview from a few years before, he’s kept on bedrest a lot, and has been in and out of physical therapy ever since it happened, now fifteen years prior. When he’s not doing that, he’s campaigning for control of Wayne Enterprises and tweeting about coffee.
There’s no Batman. Not like how they know him, at least.
One day, Dick flirts with a cop and Tim pickpockets the man’s scanner, and they learn that whole case files, suspects and evidence all neatly put together, have been sent to the GCPD over the past six years. They never see anyone fly overhead, though. At first, they think it might be Babs, but when they try to look her up, Tim finds that she’s been locked up in Arkham for at least the last four years.
Neither one of them want to know why, so they just don’t look into it any further. “This isn’t our Babs,” Dick reminds himself, and Tim, too. But mostly himself. “She’s not .”
They share a look, and don’t have to say anything to know it’s time to compartmentalize. This Babs isn’t their Babs. This Bruce isn’t their Bruce. This world doesn’t have the Joker or Poison Ivy or any of them except Two Face and the Penguin. This isn’t their world .
“Come on,” Dick murmurs, sticking close to his side as they leave the library. As they head to their latest alley, they pass all kinds of drug deals and gang members beating the shit out of people. By the time they actually get to where they’ve been staying, they’re both so tense, one smartass comment from Tim is all it takes to snap them into an argument.
”I’m sorry,” Tim says after they’ve gone back and forth a few times, sounding hostile even to himself. “I’m so sorry I can’t see things the same way you do. I’m sorry I’m not perfect Dick Grayson , who always knows what to do without even having to think about it, who always does the right thing, who is totally fine letting all these people suffer, because it’s in the protocol!”
He doesn’t even believe his own words. Tim’s just upset, unable to handle living on the streets for a week in a universe where everything is unfamiliar and grim, lashing out against one of the only things he can control. Dick is all he has here—and spending that much time with someone, let alone one of his brothers, would be hard even in the best of circumstances.
Dick flinches, and Tim only has a second to feel bad before the flash of a reflection from a gun in the window above them catches his attention. He moves on instinct, stepping forward and trying to pull Dick down even as Dick tries to move towards the mouth of the alley, protective to a fault. The bullet hits Dick’s left shoulder with a sickening and familiar crack-thwack .
For a moment, everything is silent, slow motion. Dick sucks in a pained breath, stumbling back a few steps, and Tim hopes and prays the bullet hasn’t hit an artery.
And then Tim twists to face the mouth of the alley and books it towards him, jumping on the bastard and bringing him to the ground. He rips the gun away and lets all of his pent-up anger and stress out, punching and punching. It’s only Dick, gritting his teeth and clutching his shoulder, calling out his name that saves the guy’s teeth from actually being knocked out.
Panting and shaking with fury and adrenaline, Tim stands. “Are you okay?” He demands.
“Fine,” Dick replies. “We—we should go.”
“Yeah, okay.” But he bends down instead, patting the guy’s pockets until he finds what he’s looking for: a wallet. As he rifles through, searching for a driver’s license or state ID, he explains. “We need to know who he is. If he’s working for Harvey….”
They both shudder at the thought, but the truth is worse. The name is Italian, familiar to Tim from a bust a few years before. He’s one of Maroni’s men.
Another thing they learned during their hours of research at the library: seven years ago, Haly’s Circus came through town. Bruce Wayne didn’t attend, or more likely, couldn’t. Mary and John Grayson fell to their deaths, and once it became clear that little Dick Grayson, only eight years old, knew something about the murderers, he ran. He’s been missing ever since, and if he’s still alive, then the Maronis are probably still on the lookout for him. Tony Zucco, apparently, is still alive. Still working Gotham’s underbelly, terrorizing and murdering. The Dick Grayson native to this universe is a threat to them.
They probably heard me say Dick’s name , Tim realizes, tucking the wallet away in the man’s pockets. Which means he was shot because of me. Fuck.
Big brothers, Tim finds, are fucking heavy. Especially when they’ve been shot and are steadily losing blood. When they’re dead weight, fading in and out of consciousness. When they’re relying totally on Tim to drag the both of them to uncertain refuge in an unfamiliar city.
And Tim…he wants to be someone Dick can rely on. (Obviously, he already is, but his anxiety says maybe this is just who Dick is. Tim could be anyone and the situation would be the same. Still, it would be better for Dick if Tim was Damian, instead. Or Bruce. Or Donna. Or anyone but himself, really.) But more than anything, he wants someone who can help Dick, who can keep him alive. Living on the streets the way they are just doesn’t lend much in the way of medical supplies.
Tim drags Dick all the way to the clinic, based on a vague awareness that it exists here, too. When they get there, though, the building is obviously abandoned, Leslie nowhere to be found. Wherever she is, he doesn’t know, but he hopes she’s okay. He can’t think of a situation that would keep her from helping the people of Gotham. Still, he sets Dick up against the wall and breaks in, hoping for something useful, and finding nothing inside but rubble and evidence of homeless people using the space for shelter.
He goes back to Dick, feeling like the world is ending. They don’t have any first aid supplies, and even if they did, even if a first aid kit fell out of the sky right now and Tim could patch Dick up, it wouldn’t mean anything. This only happened because Tim wasn’t paying attention, wasn’t thinking to be careful. It could happen again. What does he do then?
What would Bruce do? Roy? Wally? Diana or Clark? Hell, Kon ? Any of them could help Dick so much more right now. More than Tim can or will ever be able to. And really, what good is Tim if he can’t even keep his brother alive?
Aware the thoughts aren’t helpful right now, he shelves them for later and looks back at Dick, cataloguing everything he sees like Bruce taught them to do. Dick’s still steadily bleeding out, and though that’s most concerning of all, Tim finds the only thing he can think about is how they don’t have clean clothes so Dick can walk around in something not soaked in blood.
With a strangled shout, Tim kicks the wall. It doesn’t affect him, much—thank god he’d been wearing steel-toed shoes when they were transported here—but the brief release feels good. Sort of. It’d be a lot better if he were still laying into the Maroni guy, if he’s honest.
“Tim,” Dick says, both reproachful and concerned.
“Shut up,” Tim replies, dragging his fingers through his hair. His mind is racing. He wants to go home so badly his chest aches with it.
Dick knows him well enough that he can sense what Tim is thinking. Slowly, he shakes his head. “No, Tim. No . We can’t.”
“Where else are we supposed to go?” Tim cries out. It’s a stupid idea, it’s against the protocol, and they’ve already talked about it anyway. They’d agreed it’s stupid and they can’t do it and moved on. But he can’t help feeling the impulse, especially now.
“Stephanie’s,” Dick shoots back immediately. But they both know it’s not possible—here, Steph is another face on the dozens of missing persons posters that litter the city. He realizes it a second too late, and stumbles over his next words. “Just, anywhere but there.”
Jason is dead, has been for years now. Damian doesn’t exist. Cass is in Star City with Dinah Lance. Luke and the other members of the Fox family have never lived in this Gotham. Duke’s parents are still alive—they recently moved to Blüdhaven, and took their young son with them. Harper and Cullen are nowhere to be found, but Tim tells himself that’s a good thing—it means they aren’t in the obituaries. Kate is overseas on a honeymoon with her wife. Half of the Titans and Justice League don’t seem to exist, and the ones that do wouldn’t step foot in this cesspit of crime and drugs.
‘Anywhere but there’ means nothing. Nowhere. There’s no place for them to go, no one who can or even would help.
The words, or maybe the thoughts that come with them, wear Dick out. He starts to fade again, eyes slipping closed, and that means Tim’s in charge.
And Tim? Tim wants to go home .
He grabs Dick, keeping him from sliding down the wall, throws his brother’s arm over his shoulder, and starts off towards the Manor with every ounce of determination he can muster.
Several hours later, when it’s dark and Dick is pale and mostly silent, barely keeping up, they make it home. Everything feels different: the security that allows them to get all the way up the drive (after only a little effort on Tim’s part), the trees oddly placed and the doors and shutters all painted a light blue instead of the rusty red he’s used to. It’s disorienting and upsetting. Home is supposed to be familiar and it’s not and he hates it.
Tim knocks on a side door that only family knows about, hoping against hope it won’t be Bruce that answers. He doubts it, but he’s positive he won’t be able to keep his composure in front of his dad. It’ll be a little easier with Alfred. Probably. In any case, Alfred is the better option of the two.
While they wait, Dick mumbles, “This is stupid.”
Tim presses his hand against the wound, trying not to be impatient. Trying not to feel sick with nerves. He doesn’t reply, knowing Dick isn’t really paying attention right now.
When the door finally opens, Tim could collapse with relief. Alfred stands there, one hand hiding his rifle out of their sight in an all-too-familiar pose, while the other holds onto the doorjamb. His hair is darker than Tim is used to, his face less wrinkled. He’s staring at them like they’re weird, strange boys, standing at what’s supposed to be a virtually unknown entrance to a private, secure home in the late hours of the night.
Blood covers Dick’s upper body and Tim’s hands, and they both look and smell rough. They don’t make a pretty picture, and Tim knows that, but there’s nothing he can do except get Alfred to let them in somehow. He’s been thinking about what he wants to say, what’ll appeal to Alfred’s compassion or curiosity or both. Please, help my brother before he loses too much blood. Please, don’t tell Bruce about this. Please, I’m so exhausted and I need a cup of your chamomile and a cookie and also maybe a hug or I’m going to explode.
What he says instead is, “ Alfred .” It’s a relieved sob, leaving him without permission, and Alfred’s shocked and confused reaction is much more noticeable than it should be. “I—we didn’t know where else to go. He’s hurt.”
There are more words on his tongue, an avalanche of them wanting to come out, but Alfred stops him there with a raised hand. He doesn’t put the rifle down, but he says, “Come in, then,” and opens the door wide enough for them.
Dick groans when Tim drags him up the steps. Blinking sluggishly at Alfred, he says, “Alf…?”
“Yeah, it’s Alfred. Come on, help out here a little bit. We’re just gonna sit down and hopefully get you patched up, alright, Dickie?”
Tim bites his lip at the Bruce noise, stupid tears stinging in his eyes.
He’s home. It’s unfamiliar. Dick is hurt. He’s in charge.
Now is so not the time to cry.
Alfred leads them to a nearby couch in a sitting room they’ve never used in all the years Tim’s known Bruce. Rifle still in hand, he seems much more unsure than their Alfred, who would’ve already had the situation on lock by now.
“We need a first aid kit, please,” Tim says. He glances at the weapon, and adds, “We won’t cause any trouble, I promise. I—I know this is probably super weird, but….”
But what? Tim can’t think of a way to end the sentence so he just doesn’t. Instead, he turns to Dick and starts pulling his brother’s shirt off, something they really should’ve done hours ago. While he uses the fabric to put pressure on the wound again, he hears Alfred moving around behind him.
If this Bruce is anything like theirs, a first aid kit shouldn’t be too far away. There’s one in every bathroom back home.
It’s not long before Alfred is back, shooing Tim away and setting a large first aid kit on the couch. His rifle is gone, but Tim knows it can’t be far. There’s no way this Alfred trusts them enough to not have it close at hand. “Do I dare ask what happened?”
God, it’s good to hear his voice. “My brother got shot,” Tim says, reverting to his natural instinct to reveal as little as possible. Normally Alfred is someone he can give a full mission report to, but Tim is just Tim right now, not Red Robin, and this is not his Alfred, so he’s going to keep his mouth shut up tight.
“Well, my word. You wouldn’t know it from looking at him.” And there’s that Alfred sass. It doesn’t make him laugh like it usually does—no, it just reminds him again that he isn’t actually home. “Care to explain more? Should I be concerned you were followed?”
Tim thinks on it for a minute, but really, there’s no way Maroni’s guy got up in time to tail them. The rest of the mob family have probably heard about them by now, but Tim isn’t too worried about it. He can’t find it within himself to be. All he can really think about is Dick, Alfred, Bruce. If coming here was a mistake after all. If they’ll ever make it home to see their Bruce and Alfred. Eventually, he says, “No. We weren’t followed.”
Dick groans as Alfred starts to prep the gunshot wound to get the bullet out. He sways a little, dizzy, and mumbles an apology when Alfred has to readjust him.
Alfred says, “Just hold as still as you can, and you’ll be alright.”
Hearing the tenderness in Alfred’s voice does something to Tim. This is Alfred , he thinks. He can help us with more than just this.
He blurts out, “It was one of Maroni’s men.”
“Sal Maroni?” Alfred sounds suspiciously uninterested, not even bothering to look away from his work. “The mob boss?”
“Hmm. Alright, young man, I’m going to get this bullet out now.”
“Tim,” Dick grits out, reaching out his hand. Tim takes it, sitting down on the other side of his brother. He forces himself to watch as Alfred goes through the familiar motions. Dick doesn’t actually squeeze his hand that much, too used to this kind of pain, but Tim thinks maybe they both feel better having the lifeline.
He stays there until Dick is stitched up and accepts a dose of Tylenol—no matter how much Alfred gives them concerned looks and insists on something stronger, a Bat doesn’t take hard drugs.
Not quite huffing in exasperation, Alfred acquiesces and leaves Dick alone, sitting back against the cushions. Then he turns to Tim. With his hands on his hips and his sleeves rolled up, he’s honestly kind of intimidating. “Now you, young man,” he says.
“Um. What? I’m fine. I didn’t get shot, I don’t need anything.”
Alfred raises an eyebrow. Tim can out-stubborn almost anybody, even his other family members, but Alfred Pennyworth is not one of them. Everyone bows down to him.
Tim sighs and scoots a few inches away from Dick, and when Alfred shoos him all the way into the other corner, he goes. Surprisingly, the older man sits next to Tim, between him and Dick, and instead of reaching for the kit, he just. Puts a hand on Tim’s shoulder. Which Tim finds extremely weird, considering how British and physically distant Alfred is. Oh sure, he hugs them all. He catches them when they fall, he reassures them with arm pats and shoulder squeezes. But it’s unlike him to just... sit here and rest his hand on Tim’s shoulder, looking him in the face with an expression Tim finds he can’t read.
Not being able to read people, especially someone he knows so well, freaks him out.
Tense, Tim says, “What?”
Alfred is quiet for a moment, then asks, “Where have you boys been staying?”
Oh. Yeah, okay. He’s suspicious of them. Tim can understand why. “We have a place.” It’s a disgusting alley behind a pizzeria they can’t afford to eat at, scraping by with the last of the money they had on them when they were sent here, but it’s not a lie.
Alfred backs off, picking his battles and probably recognizing this one for what it is: unwinnable. He’s more than perceptive enough to read between the lines anyway, add up all the clues—their clothes are dirty, their hair greasy, and Tim knows he’s looking pretty gaunt. And considering how jumpy Tim is acting, it’s likely Alfred thinks they’re homeless. Which they are.
“Are you injured anywhere?”
Tim holds out his hand, his knuckles split and raw from earlier, and ignores how badly he’s shaking. Alfred takes his hand, and grabs alcohol wipes from the kit. He dabs at the wounds, glancing at Tim’s face like he’s expecting a reaction. And yeah, it stings a little, but he’s had much worse. This is nothing.
“Hmm.” Alfred moves Tim’s hand around, looking for other wounds, finding a few little cuts. “So your brother’s name is Dickie?”
“Dick,” Tim corrects. Bruce and Jason are the only ones who call Dick that usually, and Jason almost always does it because it’s his ‘little brother duty’ or something. The only reason he said it earlier is because he hoped it would be comforting. “Short for—”
“Richard, I assume.”
“Yeah.” Tim falls silent, trying to keep his hand still. When a few moments of silence go by, he looks up at Alfred, finding him making an expectant face. “Oh! Yeah, sorry. I’m Tim.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Tim. You seem to already know my name.”
Yeah. Shit. Unable to think of a lie beyond ‘you look like my grandpa’, Tim laughs nervously. “Lucky guess?”
Dick snorts. “You jus’ look like our gran’pa, that’s all. His name’s Alfred. Yours too, huh?”
Alfred doesn’t look convinced, but he goes along with it anyway. “Yes, mine too.” What an odd coincidence , he doesn’t say, but Tim hears it anyway.
It doesn’t take long after that for Alfred to finish up Tim’s knuckles. He offers to put some band-aids on, but Tim shakes his head. “No, no, I’m fine. Thank you.”
Dick gives him a look, and despite the fact that he’s still acting loopy, there’s a strength to it. Tim can tell what he’s thinking—that if the cuts weren’t on the knuckles, a very awkward place to put bandages, Dick would be insisting on it. Well, whatever , he thinks, resisting the urge to stick out his tongue. You’re not in charge right now anyway.
Alfred stands and looks them over for a brief moment, hesitation obvious in the way he pauses, inhaling deeply. Then, with determination, he says, “I will prepare you something to eat. Do either of you have any allergies I should be aware of?”
“Sulfites,” Tim says at the same time Dick says, “Shellfish. And pet dander.”
“Dick, man, I’m pretty sure they don’t have pets. And even if they did, pets aren’t allowed in the kitchen under any circumstances.”
“Oh yeah,” Dick says with a faint chuckle. “Forgot.”
“Mister Tim,” Alfred cuts in before Tim can reply. It’s unspeakably weird to be called Mister Tim instead of Master Tim, even though Alfred called him that for years. “Will sandwiches suffice?”
The thought of eating Alfred’s food—and even more than that, something they haven’t fished out of a dumpster—is drool-worthy. Quickly, he agrees, “Yes, that’s perfect. Thank you.”
Alfred nods and leaves, probably thankful to get the heck away from them for a few minutes. Once he’s gone, the brothers fall quiet, both a blessing and a curse. Not having Alfred asking questions that Tim has to evade is great, but it does give him the opportunity to keep freaking out.
What do they do next? Alfred might not let them leave while Dick is healing, and that means the chances of running into Bruce raise astronomically. Tim knows that he won’t be able to handle that. Not at all.
“Stop it,” Dick whispers, loud in the overwhelming quiet. “I can see your forehead vein from here.”
“Shut up. I’m trying to think.”
“Don’t hurt yourself.”
Tim sighs, letting the banter drop for a moment. “Look, I’m sorry you got shot. I know it’s not my fault,” he says, speaking over Dick’s immediate protest. “I know that. But I’m still sorry.”
“…Thanks. I’m accepting your apology but not your responsibility.”
“Duh.” Tim fiddles with his hands, satisfied but also knowing, in his heart of hearts, that it is in fact his fault and Dick is totally wrong. “I’m not sorry I brought us here, though.”
“Duh,” Dick repeats, sounding more than a little peeved. Not that Tim can blame him, really. If Tim and Damian had agreed to something, and then Damian went back on it… that’d be really annoying.
Still, that little brother duty Jason talks about means he has to defend himself. “Dick, we were gonna end up coming here anyway, don’t you see that?” He shoots to his feet and drags his hands through his hair, pacing in front of the couch. Despite his earlier flip-flopping, he’s sure now. This was the right decision even if it does suck a lot. “Where else could we possibly go? We don’t belong here. The only way we can get home is by ask—”
Tim cuts off immediately when footsteps echo down the hall. They sound different from Alfred’s, a third tap that sounds a lot like a cane.
This Alfred doesn’t use a cane. The only person who could is—
Both Dick and Tim tense as the doorway is filled up by Bruce freaking Wayne.
“Um,” Tim says.
Bruce looks different. Not just in the sense that he is, in fact, using a cane, but just. Everything. He looks younger, a neat beard covering much of his face. There’s barely any salt in it at all. The scars that litter the skin of his face and arms, mostly bare considering he’s wearing only a t-shirt and pajama pants, aren’t there. Worst of all, there’s no recognition in his eyes.
His sons have become strangers. But no, this man is not their father. Tim has to shout it at himself. He’s not! Bruce Wayne would never look at them like this. Especially not Dick.
Dick makes a noise, a small and sad little whimper, and Tim thinks, shit. Shit shit shit. Unable to do anything to help, Tim shuffles closer to him, hoping it’s enough to comfort.
“Who are you?” Bruce asks, moving further into the room. He says it casually, like this is a totally normal situation, but there’s steel there, too. Of course there is. This is Bruce Wayne. He doesn’t mess around, especially when it comes to strangers invading his home. And as much as that feels like a knife to the chest, that’s what they are. Strangers . The word lingers in his mind, leaving a bad aftertaste.
Tim gets the distinct feeling that the cane, for all that it serves to help Bruce walk, is a weapon. One this Bruce will have no issue using against them. “Um. We—we’re homeless,” he blurts out, trying to push the thought away. “And my brother got shot, so we came here looking for help. We’ll be gone soon, I promise. Don’t worry about us, this is just a one time thing, and we won’t tell anyone else. I know this is a house and not a triage center.”
Bruce is already looking at him like he’s an intruder, but at that, the man’s eyebrows furrow in confusion. Oh, right. That’s something the other—the right —Bruce would say. Has said many times. Because it’s something their Alfred has always said, and apparently this Alfred too.
Scrambling, Tim keeps going, pasting a fake smile on his face. “Alfred knows we’re here. He’ll be right back. It’s okay, we’ll just wait right here and not steal anything, so you can go back to bed. Goodnight.”
“Tim,” Dick bites out, obviously trying to communicate that he thinks Tim is being a weirdo, and that he’s doing nothing but tipping Bruce off to the fact that something is wrong.
“I’m freaking out, okay?” Tim exclaims back, curling and relaxing his fingers in an effort to control himself. It’s impossible, though—this is their dad , for crying out loud. Their dad, who they haven’t seen in a long time, not since before they were attacked as civilians and flung through the wormhole that deposited them here. Their dad, who Tim really, seriously needs a hug from right now.
Bruce comes closer, leaning against one of the two unused chairs. Where Tim tenses further, unsure of what he’s about to do or say, Dick relaxes. He’s really out of it now, the blood loss and medicine finally catching up with him. He’s blinking heavily and listing to the side. “Hand me that, will you?” He asks Bruce, gesturing to a throw blanket resting on the top of the chair.
Suddenly feeling very protective of Dick, Tim says, “I can—”
“No,” Bruce interrupts, the corner of his mouth curling up like he thinks this is funny. “I’ve got it.”
He grabs the blanket and walks over to the couch. Tim stumbles back a few steps to give him room. For a second, it seems like none of them breathe—but then Bruce tucks the hook of his cane under his armpit, bends down, and lays the blanket over Dick.
Tim has seen Bruce tuck people in before, usually Damian. All those times, he either didn’t care much, or a swirl of jealousy had tightened in his stomach. He can remember wondering why Bruce didn’t tuck him in. Why his parents never did it, why Mrs. Mac and all the nannies hadn’t either.
This time, his eyes sting with tears. He forces them back, biting the inside of his cheek.
Dick snuggles into the cushions behind his back, pulling the blanket tighter around himself. “Thanks, dad,” he mumbles, slipping off into a nap.
Bruce and Tim both freeze.
“Um,” Tim says, because something has to be said, this needs to be nipped in the bud and stopped right now before Bruce can ask anything. But really, the chances of Bruce Wayne not asking questions? Less than zero. And Tim’s brain is screaming, because what the hell could he possibly say to explain that ?
Alfred enters the room again before anything can happen, carrying a tray holding a few sandwiches. He sets it down on a side table before looking up.
“Oh,” he stops short when he sees Bruce, hands hovering above the food. “Master Bruce, I thought you were downstairs.”
“I was just doing some reading,” he waves off, but he can’t quite manage to sound casual. “Now… did he just call me dad ?”
Oh fuck , Tim thinks. Awkwardly, he laughs, “No! What? No, that’s ridiculous.” Seeing that this tactic isn’t working—Bruce and Alfred both have legendary ‘bitch please’ looks that go beyond the confines of time and space, apparently—he shifts gears. “I mean, okay, yes he did. But—but it’s just because you look like our dad! A lot like him, actually. Haha.”
Bruce and Alfred stare at him, concern building as he keeps laughing, spurred on by a week of non-stop stress and the pressure of being in charge— maybe , he thinks, this was a bad idea all along and we shouldn’t have come here and Dick was totally right. It’s only when his laughter turns to hiccuping sobs that either of them move, Bruce managing to grab his bicep in time before Tim can sink to the floor like a puppet with its strings cut. Alfred hurries to his other side, fretting, “Come on, young sir, just sit down now.”
They lead him to one of the chairs, where he collapses, his head in his hands. Dick is better at this—at leading, at interacting, at not breaking apart. It should all be the opposite: Tim sleeping off a GSW while Dick lies through his teeth as he explains what’s going on. Not that Dick would’ve gotten them into this situation, anyway.
“I’m sorry,” he sniffles, refusing to look up. They’re both staring at him again, clearly unsure what to do with a strange, crying teenager.
After a moment, Alfred says, “You boys say I look like your grandfather, and now Master Bruce looks like your father. By chance, what is his name?”
“Bruce Wayne,” Tim replies to the floor. “But… not him. A different one.”
“A different Bruce Wayne?” The confusion and curiosity is clear as day in Bruce’s voice, and Tim can’t help but snort a little.
“Yeah. Um, this is going to sound really crazy, but my brother and I are from a different universe.” He peeks at their faces, not surprised at all by the blatant disbelief he sees. “I can prove it.”
Alfred and Bruce share a wide-eyed look.“How?”
“I know you’re the one who’s been sending the GCPD all those case files. And before you say you’re not, you just said you were doing some reading. Downstairs. In the cave below this property, right? Back home, it’s called the Batcave and you’re Batman.”
“Go on, Mister Tim,” Alfred says after a moment. “We believe you.”
Relief crashes down on him and more tears slip out against his will. “I need your help. We need your help. We’ve been here for a week, and—and—and we have no idea how to get home. None. There’s no one else we can turn to, ‘cause the people who would usually help us either can’t or wouldn’t, since they don’t know us here. And god, this world is nothing at all like ours…. I just want to go home. I don’t know what to do. Please,” he begs, desperate. “I need advice.”
Bruce hesitantly sets a hand on Tim’s back, rubbing up and down in a motion that is, wow, extremely soothing. “We’ll figure this out, Tim. I promise you, Alfred and I will help you boys any way we can.”
Before Tim can ask if it’s just because they’re his sons in some other universe, Alfred clears his throat. “It may take some time, mind you. But you and your brother will need to stay here anyway, seeing as that wound needs time to heal. I can’t, in good conscience, let that happen out on the streets.”
Tim wants to refuse. Wants to say thanks but no thanks, you can put us up in a motel or something until everything is worked out. Wants to cry and cry and wake up from this nightmare. Instead, mentally and physically exhausted, he just says, “Okay.”
Both men are concerned by the response, he can tell. Though he isn’t looking, he can practically hear the silent conversation they’re having over his head. Then Alfred stands. “I will make up two of the guest rooms, then, sirs. Mister Tim, could you help bring Mister Dick upstairs?”
“Just set up one, we can share,” Tim replies. It’s late and he doesn’t want Alfred to have to do anything more than he’s already done. Than he’s already doing.
“If you’re certain….”
“I am. Thank you.”
He’s not gone for long, and thank god, because Tim can hardly stand to be alone with Bruce without spilling even more. He’s already said so much tonight, he feels empty and hollowed out, kind of like a balloon that’s been blown up only for all the air to wheeze out of it, leaving it sad and stretched. Holy shit, that metaphor. He needs to go to bed, and he needs a mattress instead of another cardboard box laid over hard cobblestone and concrete.
Shaking his head to stop his thoughts, he moves over to Dick and wakes him, a hand on his uninjured shoulder. “Dick, wake up,” he says a few times until his brother is blinking heavily at him.
“We’re gonna go upstairs and sleep. Come on, I’ll help you.”
“Hrn,” he says again, and this time, Bruce hears it. Tim glances at him, almost surprised to see the emotions on Bruce’s face. Apparently that’s a Bruce noise in this universe too, and it only helps to cement Tim’s story.
Tim helps Dick stand up, swinging Dick’s good arm over his shoulders. Together, they slowly ascend the stairs, something Tim is more than familiar with considering how many times something like this has happened at home. At the top, they meet up with Alfred, who takes them to a guest room that is thankfully unused in their version of the Manor.
Alfred helps Dick get settled into the mattress, his shoes and belt shed. “I could get you both some pajamas,” Alfred says when he sees the way Tim flops down, both of them still in battered, dirty, expensive chinos.
“We’re okay,” Tim says, aware that the only pajamas in the house must belong to Bruce and Alfred, and that neither size would fit them. He’s not sure he could handle it right now even if they did. “Thank you though. For…for all of this. It means a lot.”
Alfred graces him with a gentle smile. “Of course, young sir. I would like to think that your Bruce will appreciate this.”
He leaves, and then it’s just Tim and Dick. They’ve shared a bed plenty of times before, on nights when there was no one else around and they didn’t want to be alone. Dick was the one who taught Tim one of the best parts about having siblings: cuddles. Dick is a cuddle monster, but maybe tonight Tim won’t wake up being held protectively to his brother’s chest.
Under the covers, Tim stares at the ceiling. His mind refuses to shut off even though they’re finally somewhere safe. Somewhere he can sleep and not worry about what might happen when he’s not paying attention.
He feels a little better, now that there are actual adults in charge, who are going to help. Who can keep Dick from getting hurt again, especially from Tim’s carelessness. But it makes him miss home, just reminds him how far away he and Dick are from their real family. He’s curious, on some level, about this Bruce Wayne. He trusts him to take care of them long enough for them to return home. How long that’s going to take is a question, though, one that he thinks can probably be answered by: a long time.
It’ll be good for Dick, at least. Give him time to heal.
God, Dick shouldn’t have been hurt in the first place. But of course he did, and of course it was because of some dumb argument, because of Tim—
“’M not perfect,” Dick whispers, making Tim, who was certain he was asleep, jump. When he turns to look, he finds Dick’s eyes are closed. Squeezed shut. “’M not . I don’t know what I’m doing, Tim. I didn’t wanna come here ‘cause of the rules, and ‘cause it’s hard… hard to see them. ‘M lucky I getta sleep through it, I guess.”
“I woulda done the same thing, okay?” And now he opens his eyes, meeting Tim’s head on. “This was the right choice. Coming here. Alfred gives the best advice.”
“Yeah.” Tim’s throat feels thick, the word hard to get out.
Dick reaches out his good hand and rests it on Tim’s cheek. “Thank you for bringing me here. You saved me. Now go to sleep,” he says, and then teasingly smacks him. “I can hear you thinking all the way from here.”
“You’re like two feet away,” Tim points out, but he tries to listen anyway. He closes his eyes, thinking maybe he will be able to rest. Dick is the best at comforting people.
“Shhhh,” Dick says, grinning. “Doesn’t matter. Sleep.”
“ Shhh !”
Tim laughs, and for the first time in a while, it’s real. He feels safe and warm and not alone, and while he can’t exactly say he’s happy right now, he’s a lot closer than he was just a few hours before.
Tomorrow , he decides, settling down, I’m going to take a shower and eat a real meal. And then, then I can finally start figuring out how to get us home.