The shouting is first, and it always begins with Dick. In Tim's mind, few things are scarier than the roar of Dick's voice, raised to fever pitch and shouting bloody murder loud enough to echo up to the bedrooms.
Bruce's bellowing comes close. Because it sounds nothing like a raging Batman, or Brucie Wayne on the rampage in the company boardroom. Sentences break, twisting into cracked fragments, and words falter into shaky growls; this is a side of Bruce that only Dick and Alfred are allowed to see -- open, raw, exposed.
Only Dick has the privilege of knowing this Bruce, intimately. Tim and the others grab at flickers, in the secret looks that sometimes pass between Dick and Bruce, when they think nobody's looking, or in the intimate moments that are inadvertently walked in on. (Inadvertently for Tim. Damian might just do it on purpose.)
This is the true Bruce, laid completely bare during these fights, and he's matched entirely by the narrow-eyed, pinch-lipped Dick who lurks deep beneath the jokes and cartwheels. Other than Alfred, no one's got the stones to get between them.
"Up. We're going out."
Jason doesn't wait for an answer, and pulls Tim out the door by the collar.
"Get off." Tim shoves him off, and follows anyway. Jason always does this. At least, he does on the rare occasions that his presence in the manor overlaps with one of Bruce's and Dick's disagreements. There's probably a Venn diagram in there somewhere, but --
They're barely at the garage when it happens. A clamour as something explodes upon impact, followed by the screaming thud of a door being slammed, and concluded with a silence that creeps over the entire house in their wake.
Tim freezes, but Jason kicks his bike into gear, forcibly shoving Damian on behind him, despite the boy's protests.
Cass gets on behind Tim, and they leave the other two eating dust in their wake.
"What was it about this time?" Steph heard from Babs, who heard from Dick, who texted her saying im so mad at bruce right now, but only because she'd pulled it out of him after hearing from Alfred.
"What is it ever about?" Jason pours half the contents of a sugar dispenser into his coffee.
"Alfred was there," Cass observes.
"So that means Daddy-bats didn't do something stupid like walk out in the middle of banging our favourite acrobat, most likely."
Damian glares from behind his giant banana split sundae. "Say anything like that again, and I shall cut you, Todd."
Jason's got a point, though. Alfred stepping in means it's not as private as that. In fact, it's worse. Because that means it was an argument about stupid things that spiralled out of control, beyond even Alfred's powers of mediation.
Tim just pokes at his ice-cream, and doesn't say a word.
(Dick doesn't come back home that night, or the next.)
(Bruce doesn't come up from the Cave that night, or the next.)
It's the most obvious during nightly patrols. Tim's out on the prowl with Bruce, working a case together, when they almost run into Nightwing. Almost, because Nightwing just as soon changes course towards the bay, and Batman decides they should swing by old Wayne Tower after all.
Cassandra and Stephanie make similar reports, and Damian says tt, which they take for acquiescence. Even Red Hood has a story to share.
"I swear, they took right off. No lectures about breaking jaws or even a Bat-glare for the threatening those thugs with a shot-gun -- which wasn't even loaded, by the way, but it was totally a missed opportunity for getting all High and Bat-Mighty, not that I'm complaining. That's how much they're trying to avoid each other. And they say I'm messed up."
Woe betide any villain who crosses the path of Batman or Nightwing that week. Most end their encounters wide-eyed and trembling, swearing up and down that they'll never do wrong again, if it means getting Gotham's top two capes off their back.
When Tim stops by the loft, Dick lets him in with a forced smile. It twists into something mirthless the moment Tim asks, "what happened?"
Dick's eyes are red and ringed with dark circles, and those provide enough of an answer, but --
"It's stupid, Tim."
"What's stupid is this Cold War 2.0 that you've both got going on."
Dick's mouth quirks up. "So who's Russia?"
"Don't try to change the subject."
They stare each other down for all of five seconds before Dick exhales with a loud, frustrated sigh. He drops onto the couch, closing his eyes, and Tim sits down beside him.
"He behaved badly," Dick admits. "I overreacted, and... behaved badly."
"You broke his office laptop."
Dick palms his face, flushing deeply. "He was all... and I was just so... yeah."
By that, Tim figures it was a domestic fight of the kind that is usually mostly non-consequential, until it isn't. He tries not to let any of his exasperation show.
"And now you're both too proud to break the stalemate and talk to each other?"
That gets a grimace, which means he's right. Most of the time, it's Dick pissed with Bruce, or Bruce unhappy with Dick. Very rarely is it both of them angry at each other. It might explain why they're taking so long to make up, because if there's one thing they both are, it's stupidly, absurdly stubborn.
"Right." Tim pauses a moment before continuing, "Movie night, Friday. Your presence has been requested."
"By who, exactly?" If Dick's trying to look nonchalant, he's failing terribly.
Dick's love of Alfred is second only to his love of Bruce, but the slight hunch of his shoulders as he turns away says it's the wrong answer.
Tim frowns. "The invitation was all Alfred, but I'm pretty sure Bruce told him to make sure you turn up, too."
Dick just shrugs, and starts playing with a loose thread beside his leg on the couch. "I... I noticed Bruce -- " his voice cracks a little -- "Favouring his left side that day, when I met you guys in town."
(If by met, he means "flipped away from upon entering within a five-mile radius of them", then yes, Tim remembers this encounter.)
" -- I mentioned it to Alfred, but I don't know if Bruce got it checked out. You know what he's like."
"Yeah, I got your messages about that," Tim says. All twenty of them, he adds silently, not to mention the ones you sent Alfred.
"I'll remind him," is what he says out loud. His voice is firm enough that Dick glances up again. "And -- here. The new grapple hooks are in. Bruce wanted to be sure you got a set."
Tim makes his exit even as the other man engages in a staring match with the box.
"Have you passed the grapple hooks to Nightwing?"
Deep breaths. It wouldn't be prudent to shout at Batman. Never mind that Red Robin has been asked this every five minutes for the past few days, and that Batman probably has cameras set-up to check these things, anyway.
"Yes. Uh... have you had your hip checked out?"
It's a whole five minutes before there's an answer. "Hn."
That's a no, then. The cowl's up, it and the lenses masking Batman's eyes and most of his face, while the cape holds up his shoulders like some kind of majestic aegis. Still, for all the usual opacity, he just looks lost. Like a little boy adrift in the wide open space of life, wanting only to find his parents.
Tim is careful to keep his voice neutral. "Dick was saying you ought to."
Batman doesn't reply.
("They're supposed to be the World's Greatest Detective and his number one lieutenant respectively, right? Or have they been replaced by brainless robots? You'd tell me if they were, wouldn't you, O?"
"They're stubborn, hopeless men, Batgirl. Need I say more?
"You'd think neither of them wants the other to know how much he cares."
"Well, let's just say they've had a lot of practice at that.")
The next evening, Tim spies Bruce on the examining table, being checked out by Alfred, and much later, Nightwing swinging over rooftops with one of the new grapple hooks.
Timothy Drake prepares for all possibilities, and so, he prepares himself for movie night to be cancelled. If it means not having to watch whatever horrible slasher flick Damian's picked out, he won't even be sorry about it.
But Dick is there, too, making popcorn and milkshakes with Alfred in the kitchen, and Tim thinks he can sit through pointless blood and gore, if it means things are back to normal. The smile in Dick's eyes as he revs up the blender will see him through, if nothing else.
"I wasn't sure you'd show," Tim admits, as they straggle behind the procession to the TV room.
The lines around Dick's eyes, that made him almost haggard the night before, have turned into laughs. There's a shy hesitation when he replies, his voice low.
"Was Bruce out yesterday?"
"For a couple of hours, I think." It was hard to miss, given that Bruce had been a looming, brooding fixture at the Cave for the better part of a few days.
Dick nods a little, more to himself than at Tim. "When I came back from patrol, there was a box of Ovaltine chocolate bars waiting for me at the loft."
Tim raises an eyebrow. "Ovaltine chocolate bars?"
Dick loves that stuff. Tim does, too, but Dick? Loves that stuff. Would liquidise it and take it via IV drip given half a chance. Between the nutritional demands of their chosen lifestyles, though, and the fact that it's not readily available outside of continental Europe, it's a rare luxury.
"Direct from Switzerland. Delivered by Batarang." Dick's grin is positively foolish, and Tim's tempted to swat him on the back of the head for it, just to make sure things are really back to normal. But. Dick reaches over to tousle his hair before he can even lift a hand.
"Don't worry, Timmy. I saved a bar for you. And I vetoed Damian's film choice, too. We're watching Bladerunner."
As Tim ducks away, Bruce appears in the hallway across from them. His face lacks its usual studied blankness, rather mirroring Dick's rueful smile.
Tim slips into the TV room, leaving them to follow at their own time.
"That's all it took? Fucking chocolate?"
"Ovaltine chocolate," Red Robin appends.
"That boss-man went to Switzerland just to buy." Batgirl waves her waffle around, the gesticulations acting like punctuation to her words.
Black Bat is as serene as she always is, regardless of the fact that she's sitting on a gargoyle eating a blueberry waffle. "Nightwing brought flowers."
"Dark red roses," Red Robin notes.
"Well, that has to mean someone's getting laid tonight."
"Shut up," everyone choruses. If Red Hood's abashed, it doesn't show through his helmet.
"He's got the big bad Bat whipped, is all I'm saying."
"Don't you get it, Hood?" Batgirl rolls her eyes. "Batman took the first step. It's usually Nightwing who does that, because that's just what he does."
It's entirely true, yet Nightwing is also human, even if the grace of his quadruple-flips and high kicks say otherwise. Sometimes, he gets irrational. Angry. Holds a grudge. It almost always involves Batman in some capacity.
"Stop laying about and stuffing yourselves." Robin drops down in front of them, arms crossed and sneering. Clearly still disgruntled at being told by Batman and Nightwing to make himself scarce for the night's patrol.
"You heard Little D, Boy and Girl Wonders." Oracle's voice, buzzing over their comms. "There's a fire on Robertson and Fifth that could use your kind attention --"
Much later that night, when it's really more accurate to call it morning, Tim's winding his way back up to the Manor. It's quiet. His path includes Bruce's study, where the door is ajar, soft murmurs drifting outward. More often than not, Dick and Bruce have loud, noisy reunions that leave everyone else scurrying for alternative accommodation, so Tim can't help peeking as he tip-toes past.
The glowing embers of the fireplace provide the room's solitary light, throwing shadows and silhouettes into sharp relief and everything else in semi-darkness. Tim can make out Dick, perched on Bruce's lap, though he's surely too big to be doing that, no matter that the other man is easily larger than him. Bruce either doesn't notice, or doesn't care, because he appears to be getting a little handsy himself.
Silver flashes in the dim light, and Tim catches the glint of foil in Dick's hand as he feeds Bruce a square of chocolate. They're lost enough in each other's eyes that they don't notice Tim at all.
He has known them for years -- even before they knew him -- and he's never seen that softness around Bruce's eyes, or that little smile curving up Dick's mouth. It has to be the part of them reserved for the other only, that is unmasked only during stolen moments like these, that -- that was never meant for Tim's eyes.
Bruce is threading his hand through Dick's hair and pulling him down for a kiss when Tim makes a hasty escape. He can't help laughing a little to himself, equal parts embarrassed and relieved. Things were always going to be okay, eventually, but -- it's always good when it does happen.