Tim leans back in Bruce’s office chair, his feet kicked up onto the mahogany desk in front of him. All of the papers and files Bruce left are shoved to the side so Tim doesn’t accidentally kick them off onto the floor or crumple them up. He knows he should probably look through them rather than just scrolling through files on his laptop; even so, he’d rather do everything digitally than have to worry about making an irreversible mistake.
When he reaches for his coffee cup, his phone beeps. He’d set it on the desk beside his feet so he didn’t get distracted by it. So much for that, he thinks, as he reaches for the phone instead.
The notification left on the screen beckons his attention, letting him know he has a text message from Dick. Tim taps twice on the icon to open the messaging app. There, beneath Tim’s most recent message from this morning, sits a smiley face and I heard that B made you come to WE this morning. Bored yet?
Define bored, Tim writes back, before hitting send. He doesn’t even have time to tuck the phone away before Dick’s response comes in: You’re bored. Wanna grab lunch?
The quick answer makes Tim crack a grin. He peeks at the clock on his phone, doing a double take when he sees a slim 2:14 p.m. staring him in the face. Isn’t it too late for lunch? he asks Dick.
Not if you didn’t eat anything yet.
You’ve got me there, Tim replies, hoping that Dick will choose a time and place for him. Let me finish up this report first.
Instead of getting a message in response, Tim watches as the three dots appear and jump around, before they disappear for good. Seconds later, his screen is shifting to show Dick’s icon- a picture of him fast asleep, with a mustache drawn on his upper lip thanks to Jason- and two buttons, green and red respectively. Without thinking about it, Tim pulls his feet down and sets the laptop where his legs had been. Then he presses the green button and let’s Dick’s over-cheery Timmy! rush over him.
“Hey, Dick,” says Tim, as soon as Dick’s voice draws back. “What are you doing? I thought you were busy today.”
“Steph, Jay, and Dami all abandoned me so I’m all by myself,” Dick laminates. Tim imagines he’s draped dramatically over the couch like he always does when he’s complaining about something. “They wouldn’t even let me go with them to wherever they went! Something about a Dead Robin Club meeting- which, rude. I’ve died before, too, you know.”
Tim thinks it’s a testament to how bad their lives have been that Dick can joke about this so freely. He hasn’t gotten to the point where he can just laugh about them all dying so easily, but he can still reply, “You haven’t died as Robin, though.”
As Tim sits up straight in the overly cushioned chair, Dick sighs. Tim pulls the chair closer to the desk so he can keep working, and then he puts the phone call on speaker. Then he gets right back to work, closing one tab and opening up another. Black text against a stark white background bleeds itself into his brain and he suddenly doesn’t feel like finishing his work.
“True, true… Anyway, I figured you’d be just as bored as I am. I’ll come pick you up for lunch in…” Dick trailed off for a moment, probably to tap at his chin in thought. “...twenty minutes? Because if I wait for you to finish the file, you’ll end up moving on to the next file and then our lunch will become dinner.”
“Twenty minutes sou-”
Before Tim can finish, the door to Bruce’s office cracks open. Expecting it to be Bruce, Tim looks up from the laptop. Instead, he takes in the sight of a woman, hair pulled up into a messy bun, peeking her head through the door. Tim recognizes her almost instantly; the slightly smeared mascara at the corners of her eyes, the crisp button-up without any creases, the sharp pants on her legs and the heels on her feet. Molly Anderson, Bruce’s newest secretary and one of the employees Tim’s grabs coffee with from time to time. (Or, more appropriately, one of them brings coffee back to WE and they chat at her desk.)
Her face lights up when she steps into the room, like she’s much happier that she’s caught Tim rather than Bruce. In her arms sits stacks of stapled papers, sectioned off by colourful folders. There’s a messenger bag overflowing with more reports tucked over her shoulder.
“Tim! Nice to see you,” she says, stepping over. She sets the stack on Bruce’s other papers; her engagement ring glints in the sunlight coming through the windows and Tim blinks against the shine as she pulls the top folder back into her arms. “Actually, you’re the exact person I was hoping to see!”
That explains her reaction, Tim decides, setting his phone aside as he closes his laptop. “Nice to see you, too, Molly. Are some of these for me?”
“The only thing here for you is this.” Molly flits through the folder she’d picked up and pulls a few papers out. She sets it on the desk in front of him and the first thing to catch Tim’s eyes is the fact that she obviously printed this off of an online website. In thick, blocky, white letters sits ELIZA CARMEN MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP at the very tip of the page. The words sit on a pink and purple rectangle and beneath that rests a box for APPLICATION INFORMATION and AMOUNT AWARDED. It’s a decent amount of money.
Since Tim’s not going to college (and even if he were, Bruce would pay for all of it), Tim can’t help but look at Molly confused.
She must see the confusion; Molly’s quick to explain. “Well, I heard the recent news and all! Since you’re emancipated, I figured that when you went off to college instead of working for Mr. Wayne, you could always try to knock off a few thousand dollars.” She taps the paper with a manicured fingernail, right where it reads, Description: This scholarship and internship… “It’s for anyone going into photography! You like photography, don’t you?”
“Yeah, actually,” Tim says. He picks up the papers and starts reading through it. The fact that it’s an annual thing is cool, even if he’s not sure he’ll ever apply to it. He skips straight over the APPLICATION DEADLINE section and skims the description for himself.
Description: This scholarship and internship opportunity is available for female photography and art majors who reside in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
At first, the thing that catches Tim off guard is the use of New Jersey and the lack of the word Gotham, before he remembers that the two always go hand-in-hand. Then, the words register in Tim’s head and he feels everything in his chest go ice cold. Female photography and art majors, he reads. Female.
He feels sick.
It’s no secret, anymore, that Tim’s transgender. All of Gotham’s news stations blew up about it a few months ago when someone decided to, ever so rudely, reveal that he was going on T on social media. While it worked to strengthen Tim’s status in Gotham, (because the LGBTQA+ community really did look up to celebrities who were like them, apparently, which felt amazing), it also worked to ruin it. People were furious by him and his mere existence. No matter how much Tim liked to say that he powered through that with spiteful happiness that he was indirectly ruining transphobes' lives by just living, it didn’t really help his mental health very much.
(Still, seeing all of his siblings stand up for him at galas and online? Even in person- That really helped him feel better about himself. A lot better, actually. His family’s support was more than he thought he could ask for.)
But, no one at WE had ever commented on it. No one. And Molly had always used his desired pronouns. She didn’t suddenly stop when the news came out. She kept using his chosen name, too, even when his dead name was leaked online. (Before Barbara took it down, of course.)
“I… I don’t think this… applies… to me,” Tim tries, softly. Even if he’d tensed up and froze, he now watches his hands shake. Tim sets the papers down and folds his hands in his lap. He hopes she’ll understand and apologize without him having to say anything.
She doesn’t. She tilts her head, questioningly.
Tim really doesn’t want to admit it out loud, so he just tells her, “I’m not planning on going to college just yet, Molly.”
“I thought you might say that,” Molly says, with a smile. “Still, it’s a good thing to consider! It’s given out annually, so when you want to apply, you can! And it’s for anyone in the state-”
“-all women going into photography and the like,” Tim points out. His gut swims and he finds himself glad he hasn’t had lunch just yet. If he had, he probably would’ve thrown it all up. That, naturally, doesn’t stop his stomach from doing an Olympic flip and dive. He feels sick that he even had to point out the big problem with this, but with Molly’s wording, he finds himself hoping that she just hadn't seen this part of the text.
Molly only continues smiling at him. “Yep! And it’s not even a specific school!”
Tim can’t make himself do anything more than stare at her.
“What’s wrong?” she asks, face contorting. “You look like you just ate something really bad.”
“This doesn’t really apply to me,” Tim repeats, feeling lost. “I’m not…”
Tim’s cheeks flush. There’s nothing more that he wants to do besides set all this aside and thank her, but- He needs to tell her. She needs to know why this is wrong. She needs to know why this hurts him. Why he feels like he’s about to be physically ill.
“I’m not a girl,” he says, finally.
Molly opens her mouth, and then she asks, “Do you not want to accept you were born female?”
Tim wants to crawl out of his skin and tear himself apart. He wants to beat at his own body with a hammer until it falls away into ash. He wishes that he were clay and that he could mold himself into something else. He wishes, he wants, he- He’s going to throw up. It doesn’t matter if he hadn’t eaten lunch. He ate breakfast and breakfast is becoming alarmingly close to climbing up into his mouth.
“I know you’re still figuring out who you are,” says Molly, realizing he’s not going to speak, “but, you really don’t want to be here how you naturally are?”
What the fuck. What the fuck. Did those words actually come out of Molly’s mouth? The Molly that buys Tim coffee just how he likes it? The Molly that listens to him complain about Bruce and in turn tells him all about her fiance? The Molly that calls him Tim and refers to him with “he/him” pronouns because he asked?
How you naturally are brands itself into Tim’s brain-
No. No. Tim isn’t having this conversation. At all.
“Thank you, Molly, really,” he says, feeling like he’s worlds away from this conversation. “I’ll think about the scholarship, but I’ve got lunch with Dick. I should- I should go.”
To this, Molly has the gall to look upset. She lets it slide with an, of course! Anything else that she says slips right into one ear and out the other; Tim grabs his phone and shoots out the door faster than Molly can say “born female”- No. Don’t go there, Tim tells himself, as he leaves Bruce’s office behind. Do not think like that.
With pointedly heavy steps, Tim makes his way for the stairs. There’s a white cloud expanding in Tim’s mind, pushing away all of his thoughts and tearing away his senses. He hears someone say something- (he’ll realize later that it was Dick, still on the phone)- and crashes right into someone else’s broad chest.
Tim stumbles back a few steps, reaching up to gently prod at his nose. When he looks up, he comes face-to-face with a worried looking Bruce Wayne, who has his hands up like he was about to set them on Tim’s shoulders before he thought better of it.
“Tim?” he asks, as Tim becomes hyper fixated on Bruce’s rumpled shirt and crumpled, skewed tie. The hell did he do? “Did something happen?”
The ‘did something happen’ comes paired with tense shoulders. Bruce is ready for trouble; not the kind of trouble Tim just stepped out of. His cheeks burn worse. The tips of his ears must be red hot, like Damian’s do when he gets angry. Everything inside of Tim has been thrown into a blender and shaken to bits and pieces, and then has been poured right back into his body. I’m a soup, he thinks, distantly, as Bruce keeps staring at him.
“Tim?” Bruce repeats.
While Tim can’t bring himself to say anything, Dick- (Tim had forgotten about the call, and oh god, does he feel mortified now that it turns out Dick heard all of that)- is the one who speaks up. “Your secretary’s in your office,” he says, bitterly. His words sound like static to Tim’s ears. “She was being a transphobe. Do me a favor and talk to her- and send Tim down to the lobby. I’m here.”
Bruce’s eyes turn cold and rock hard. He sets a hand on Tim’s shoulder and guides him towards the elevators. When he situates Tim inside of it, he presses the first floor button and steps back. “I’ll deal with this.”
Tim opens his mouth to say something, even if he doesn’t know what it was going to be, but the elevator doors shut on his face.
“Hey, Timmy,” Dick urges, “can you say something, buddy? Let me know you didn’t hang up on me.”
“I think you’d know if I hung up on you,” Tim forces out.
“Maybe I would. Maybe I wouldn’t. What floor did you just pass?”
Tim relays the information, feeling stupid. He should’ve just told her thank you in the first place. Then, at least, he wouldn’t be here, with Bruce going off to yell at her. Tim really liked her. He doesn’t want her to get fired, but- There’s this little part of him that wants to never see her again. There’s this tiny part of him that wants her to leave because Bruce tore into her. Then there’s that other, larger part of him that wishes he’d never made it such a big deal and hadn’t sent his dad to go yell at her like he’s a preschooler on the soccer team.
How you naturally are rings louder, and Tim shoves all of those little parts of him down. He breathes in through his nose for four counts, and then holds it for two. Then he lets it all out in a sigh.
Dick keeps talking to him until the elevator hits the first floor. Tim slips out into the lobby, past a few men in suits, and meets Dick by the glass revolving door. Once Dick terminates the call and slides his phone into his hoodie pocket, he holds his arms out wide.
Tim falls right into them without remorse.
“I have a spare change of clothes for you in the car,” says Dick, as he sets his chin on Tim’s head. When he pulls away, he loops an arm around Tim’s shoulders and leads him past the revolving door. “I’m sorry about what happened, Tim-”
“Don’t be,” Tim mumbles. “There wasn’t anything you could’ve done.”
“I could’ve spoken up for you- but that’s besides the point. It still sucks, Tim. Is there anything I can do to help?”
They step outside. The sun shines down onto Tim’s face and the car- which is undeniably Dick’s, with it’s dark blue sheen, and stolen from Bruce’s garage, with it’s expensive looks- glimmers in response. Tim stares at it, the way he hadn’t continued to stare at Molly’s engagement ring when it’s rocks shone in his eyes. That was blinding- this feels right. He and Dick stand right there in the middle of the sidewalk as Gotham’s midday population circles around them; this feels right, too.
“Can we just get lunch?” Tim asks.
Dick cracks a grin. “Certainly, little brother.”
At that exact moment, a car- sleek red in colour and definitely from Bruce’s garage- plummets straight past them and nearly slams into the nearby fire hydrant. Gotham’s population barely bats an eye in response as the car skids to a halt, (though they do pick up the pace to avoid any unsavory figures), and carries on with their day. Tim and Dick, however, peer closer.
A dark head of hair, with a single, curling white streak, pops out of the sunroof. Sea green eyes land on Dick, and then shift to Tim, before Jason Todd says, “You didn’t see us,” and disappears back into the car.
Seconds pass and then the car is peeling right back out of the sidewalk, Stephanie’s blonde head of hair popping out of the sunroof, golden locks dancing in the wind. She cups her hands around her mouth and shouts, “See you later, Timberly!”
And just like that, they’re gone.
Tim and Dick both look at each other. Everything from earlier forgotten, Tim asks, “Should we follow them?”