It’s heading toward morning when Bruce finally gets back to the Cave. It’s that somewhat hazy time, between 4am and dawn, where the sky isn’t light and isn’t dark, where the air is still and caught between being warm and cold, and the world seems like it’s asleep.
He is definitely not expecting to see any of his children awake, but he’s been wrong before.
Getting out of the Batmobile, and shrugging off the heavy weight of the cowl and cape, he can see two of his boys still up at the console, under the dim overhead lights.
Tim’s sitting at the console, in the suit still, something faintly – guilty? –pained? in his expression when he glances at Bruce. Odd.
And Richard, as usual, is sitting on the desk and swinging his legs. He looks half-asleep, in a pair of grey sweats and a too-big t-shirt (Jason’s, Bruce recognises it), and he’s absently eating blueberry-flavoured frozen yoghurt from a single-serve tub.
Bruce says hello to the both of them, gets a smile-turned-yawn from Dick, followed by, “ ‘lo, B.”
“You look exhausted, Dick,” Bruce says bluntly, but not unkindly. “Why’re you still up?”
Dick shakes his head, crossing his legs at the ankles. He glances at Tim before he speaks. “I’m here as a mediator.”
“As a–” Bruce says, blankly. “What? Why?”
He glances down at Tim again, lets the spoon linger in his mouth for a moment to put off answering. Tim nudges his knee, eyebrows furrowed.
When he does eventually talk, it’s slow, the spoon tapping his bottom lip. “I’m here to keep things calm. Tim wants you to promise you won’t get mad at him.”
Bruce feels his eyebrows climbing toward his forehead. “Tim?”
The kid looks at him flatly, eyes blank and slightly disconcerting, like usual. His fingers are pressed lightly to his lips, but there’s no expression on his face. He’s immune to Bruce’s eyes narrowing at him, looks unimpressed, (which— rude) so Bruce turns back to Dick.
“Why will I be mad?”
Dick looks uncomfortable under the weight of Bruce’s gaze, but continues steadily; “B, if you promise that you won’t be mad, then he’ll tell you himself.”
Bruce pinches the bridge of his nose between his fingers, says, through his teeth, “What did you do, Tim.”
“Okay, firstly? That sounds mad,” Dick tells him. “And I am here to keep things calm, so just chill. He’s not talkin’ til you promise.”
“Just– tell me,” Bruce says, with remarkable patience. “And then I will decide if I’m mad.”
“That’s not how this works! You gotta promise.”
“I will do no such thing. Tim, why do you think I’ll be mad at you?”
Tim just shakes his head, resolute, while Dick starts, “Honestly, B, he’s not gonna say a thing until we get this over wi–”
“Get out, Dick,” Bruce snaps thunderously, pointing to the stairs.
“No can do, bossman,” Dick says, firm but calm. And Bruce feels like kind of an asshole for the way Tim’s hand reaches out hesitantly to touch Dick’s knee, though whether it’s gratitude or apology it’s unclear. The elder pats Tim’s hand with his own, says, “Honestly, it’s not even that bad. But Tim didn’t want you to shout at him, which is why I’m here.”
Bruce closes his eyes for a moment. Breathes deeply through his nose. “Okay,” he says. “Okay. I’m not going to shout, Tim.” He opens his eyes again. “Let’s get it over with, then.”
Dick and Tim both eye him for a moment, and then turn to each other. They share a moment of silent conversation– the quirk of Tim’s brow, the inclination of Dick’s head. A half-shrug. And then Dick smiles encouragingly at Tim, setting his empty fro-yo tub beside him on the console. Then he hops down.
“That’s me out,” he says, and Tim reaches out to grasp the hem of his t-shirt, a silent plea. Dick gently removes his hand, and pats Bruce’s shoulder on his way past. “Remember, you promised,” he says.
And Bruce looks expectantly at Tim, waiting.
After a moment, the kid sighs, spits a wad of bloodied gauze into his palm, and looks up at him. “Okay, tho I might have lotht a toof. Or two.”
Bruce strides forward, grasping Tim by the chin– decidedly not acknowledging Tim’s flinch– and thumbs his top lip up over his gums. His front tooth is… mostly gone. There’s a sharp, angled half-tooth where it used to be, and Bruce says “Goddamn–”
“You promised,” calls Dick, nearly at the stairs, and Bruce takes a calming breath.
“When you say ‘or two’,” he prompts.
Tim opens his mouth further as an answer, and Bruce peers in, cringing away from the hole that was once a bottom molar.
“I need to keep a dentist on goddamn retainer,” he says, while Tim pulls away from his hand.
He hears a snicker from the other side of the Cave and calls out shortly, “Orthodontists make retainers, Dick, and it’s not that funny. Goodnight.”
“Yeah, yeah,” says Dick, and at last disappears into the Manor.
Bruce takes Dick’s vacated spot, leaning against the desk. Closes his eyes again to centre himself. And he says, “Were they your teeth, or–?”
“Thith one,” Tim says, tonguing the sharp remains of his front tooth for demonstration, “Wath already fake. The other one wath thtill mine though.”
“Well the front one we can get fixth— fixed more or less immediately, but we’re probably going to have to wait for the molar to heal a little before they can do anything with it.”
“I know the drill,” Tim says, giving him a little half-smile with his bloodied lips. And he’s leaned back in his chair as far away as he can from Bruce, something wary and tight in the set of his shoulders, and Bruce sighs.
“You know I’m not that mad, right?” he says. And then, “Did you really think I would be?”
Tim’s shoulders drop a few inches, slow but steady. And he says, light, “Latht time you thaid you’d dithown me– which, by the way? Thuper unfair, becauthe I’ve thinthe been legally emanthipated.”
Bruce just shakes his head, feeling more like an asshole by the minute. Because even for him, that’s a pretty terrible joke to make at his injured kid. Especially this injured kid.
So instead of responding, he just leans in, tilting Tim’s head up with his palm. He presses their foreheads together, feels the surprised stutter of Tim’s breath against his skin, the ghost of eyelashes against the bridge of his nose. Tim’s skin feels a touch too warm against his.
“I’m sorry you got your teeth knocked out,” he murmurs, and Tim gives a short, startled laugh.
He pulls back after a moment, but doesn’t take his hand off Tim’s cheek, still half-leaned over Tim in the chair, looking into Tim’s bright blue gaze. And he says, “How’s the pain?”
Tim makes a face, says, “Not my idea of fun.”
“Did you take anything?”
“Not tho far.”
Bruce nods, stepping away from the console and Tim. “I’ll bring you something.”
“I’m fine,” Tim says, brow wrinkled. There’s a tiny dribble of dried blood at the corner of his mouth.
“I know,” Bruce says, because it’s true, “But it’s going to feel worse as soon as you lie down. It’ll help you sleep at least.”
Tim stands from the chair, trailing just behind him on his way to the Cave’s medbay. “Thankth, B.”
“Maybe we should look into making you a face-grill,” Bruce muses aloud, to hear Tim’s snort. “They work okay for NFL players.”
“Good look, too.”
“Or maybe you could just go full face helmet, Red Hood style. I’m sure Jason wouldn’t mind giving you pointers. I mean, if you insist on consistently getting hit in the face…”