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Step Right Up

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When he arrives, Bruce gives a cursory knock. Two sharp taps, against the tasteful, ultra-modern dark wood door. Then he lets himself in.

“Tim.” He half-says, half-calls. An almost-question. He closes the door behind himself, shrugs out of his coat.

And he hears, muffled from the bedroom, voice low, “In here.”

Unsurprised by his presence, then. 

Bruce puts his overfull bag of food on the kitchen counter, heading up the half-staircase toward the master bedroom. This time, he doesn’t knock.

“You know you wasted a trip,” says Tim, from the bed. He’s faced away from the door, laying on his side. He’s shirtless, blanket drawn up to his ribs. “Because I’m not getting up. Literally, not at all. Like. If my building is on fire, I will embrace it as my time.” 

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” murmurs Bruce, absently. Because getting closer, Bruce can see the bloodstained towel Tim’s lying on, the mottled blue-black-purple bruising down one side of his back. He draws the covers back, down past Tim’s hips, says, “Barbara caught some footage of you last night. Said you weren’t looking so hot.”

“Jealousy,” Tim says effortfully, shifting to glower at Bruce one-eyed. “Is an ugly thing, B. You can tell her I said that.”

Bruce just hmms, hardly listening. He’s focussed instead on the bruise-patterns, murmurs “You need a hospital?” following the line of the contusion down Tim’s side–

and Tim slaps his hand away from the waistband of his novelty boxer shorts, says “Not even going to buy me dinner, first? How gauche.”

Bruce rubs his knuckles. “I did buy dinner,” he says. Huffs. “It’s in the kitchen.” And, “Are you going to let me–?”

How did you not open with that?” Tim says, trying to prop himself up. “Do you just not get how people work?”

Bruce touches his hand to Tim’s bare shoulder, says, “I’ll bring it here.”

“I’m also parched,” Tim calls after him. “If you wondered.”

“Okay, Tim,” he calls back. The corner of his mouth lifting.

He digs around Tim’s kitchen for a minute, grabbing a Gatorade and two bottles of spring water from the refrigerator, a couple clean dish towels and two plates. 

“While you’re in a fetching sort of mood,” Tim says, when he comes back. Stepping over the melted icepack on the floor by the bed. “You want to help me with a shirt?” He’s managed to sit up, propped up against his pillows. He’s got streaks of dried blood on his right arm, from a thick laceration that’s been sloppily glued shut. He’s pointing left-handed to a t-shirt tossed over his drawers. 

Bruce sets the drinks on Tim’s bedside table, the plates and towels and food on the end of the bed. And he hands Tim the shirt– it says Much, much? which Bruce doesn’t get–and watches him pull it over his head and good arm. 

Bruce steps forward, kneeling his weight on the bed by Tim, and helps manually pull his injured arm through the sleeve, opting to ignore Tim’s short hiss of pain.

And Tim, curling up again instantly, juts his chin toward the dish-towels, says, “I appreciate the gesture, B, but my sheets are clearly done for.”

Bruce just sighs, sits at Tim’s feet. He cracks the top off the Gatorade for Tim, and gets one of the water bottles for himself. Then he starts unpacking the Chinese food. He says, “I forgot what you liked, so I ordered a little of everything.”

Tim grins, pearly white and sincere, says “My favourite.” And he says, “Bypass the plates?”

“If you want,” Bruce says, opening one of the containers. Peanut beef. He passes it over to Tim, says belatedly, “You want a fork?” but Tim– Tim’s ambidextrous, more competent than anyone he knows, even pale with blood-loss and exhaustion, even with his right arm wedged against his injured side.

And he smiles like he knows what Bruce is thinking, clicks his chopsticks together left-handed. Says, “I got this, B.” 

They start to eat in silence then, Tim occasionally pointing at another dish for Bruce to pass over, trading containers a few times. 

Partway through the lo mein, Tim pauses, dropping his chopsticks. Then he rummages one handed in his bedside drawer, coming up with a bottle of Tylenol. He shakes out four and downs them, along with a third of the Gatorade, makes a point of ignoring Bruce’s raised eyebrows. 

Then, through a mouthful of food, he says “How come you’re here?”

“Existentially?” Bruce says, chasing around a wonton in the bottom of his container. “Or–?”

Or, what did you do with Damian? He out front in the car, or did Alfred draw the short straw?”

Bruce gives him a look, part warning, part amusement. Says, “Damian is hanging out with Dick tonight. Something about a school project, apparently, but I’m sure it’s an excuse to play video games and spar. Alfred’s got a date.”

“Vivian, right? They’ve been seeing a lot of each other,” Tim says, and “That’s too spicy for you.”

Bruce nods, putting the container back down. “Alfred talks to you about his dates?”

“Not in detail,” Tim says, rolling his eyes. “I know he likes her, and I ran into them at Le Bouchon a couple weeks ago. Nice lady.”

“She is,” Bruce agrees. Though, “It goes on much longer and I’m going to have to do a background check.”

“Like you haven’t already,” Tim snorts. Dragging over the egg rolls. 

“Well of course I’ve done a cursory background check,” Bruce tells him. “I mean an in-depth one. Digging deep.”

Tim just smiles at that, against his chopsticks. Doesn’t make the obvious joke that Dick or Jason would have done, about showing his love in strange “and not-at-all obsessive ways, don’t worry about it, B”. And Bruce is grateful.

“So,” Bruce says, finally. “You going to tell me what happened last night?”

“Didn’t plan to,” Tim says lightly. And, “But hey, at least I know you remember where I live.”

Bruce’s hand stutters, chopsticks fumbling, dropping a greasy piece of beef onto his Givenchy pullover. And he says– “Tim–”

The boy shakes his head, lips turning up. Says, “Sorry, that wasn’t fair. Forget I said that last bit.”

Bruce clears his throat, says, “So the ribs and the arm, obviously. Are you hurt anywhere else?”

“I’m good,” Tim says. Meeting his eyes now. 

“You really should have stitched your arm,” Bruce tells him critically. Eyeing the flaky, cracking trails of dark blood that reach past Tim’s sleeve and into the curl of his elbow.

Tim nudges Bruce’s knee with his toes, twice, three times. Something like an apology, or forgiveness. And he says, “Do I look like I’m bleeding to death? No? Then I nailed it.”