AN: Finally getting around to cross-posting this story here on FF. I was originally planning on having it as a new chapter in If that Happens, I'll Catch You, but at 17k+, it's kind of too long for a one-shot anymore. (Oops.) Good news is, this whole story's already done, so expect frequent updates. ^^
*The title of this fic is lifted from a line in Joanna Klink's poem "Winter Field."
Chapter One: Slipstream (Prologue)
Tim's first thought is that Bruce Wayne is so much taller in person. He's seen pictures of the man, sure. (He's in just about every paper these days.) But Tim never had to crane his neck to see the Gotham Gazette, unlike he is now. That fact leaves Tim torn between melting into the floor and outright staring—himself doing the latter until he gets caught.
The CEO flashes him a gentle smile, laidback if not a bit intrigued by the teenager who's stumbled into his office. It's one of those expressions that's markedly kind. Tim's not sure what to make of that.
"This is the applicant we accepted for the summer internship," someone next to Tim is saying over a clipboard. Caroline Crown if he remembers correctly. "He's young, but he met all of the qualifications. He came highly recommended."
A thoughtful sound comes from the other side of the office, and Tim fights back the urge to watch the floor when Bruce Wayne draws a bit closer, back straight as a flagpole while his hands are clasped behind his back. The Gotham sky is glowing out the window behind him, all white clouds and white sunlight, and it makes for an impressive image.
Bruce Wayne's directly in front of him now. "I look forward to having you with us, Mr. Drake—" A hand extends, gold cufflinks sparkling. "—or do you prefer Timothy?"
It's a given that Tim's entire hand could fit into the man's palm, a dogma that is overwhelming as the teenager sizes it up, like he's fallen into Gulliver's Travels or Wonderland or any place other than reality; he's never dealt with corporate suits before. A small breath leaves before Tim shifts to take the hand. "Tim is fine, sir."
The gentleness of the handshake isn't what Tim was anticipating, firm but not bone-crushing.
Maybe his nerves are obvious. He hopes not.
"Wayne Enterprises takes great pride in how we treat our employees," Bruce Wayne is saying, hands in his pockets now. Casual. "If you ever have trouble, feel free to let me know. I'm always happy to help."
Tim's pretty sure that's a lie. Someone like Bruce Wayne wouldn't have time enough to spare on him, no matter how nice he might be. Tim doesn't point that out, though. He opts for a "thank you, sir" instead, short and sweet.
"Just Bruce is fine," the man waves off coolly.
First name basis? That can't be right either. But Tim nods anyway to show he's understood, and Ms. Crown looks antsy to clarify what exactly Tim will be doing for the next three months, eyebrow quirked over her glasses as if to imply urgency. Mr. Wayne must pick up on it, as he dips his head in her direction.
"Right this way, Mr. Drake," Ms. Crown indicates, quick to usher Tim out broad doors before a voice catches them.
"Ah, one more moment, please."
Both Tim and his guide turn in tandem. A strange expression has settled over Mr. Wayne's eyes, clouded as the skies behind like some premonition has dawned or a ghost has appeared. For a few seconds, the man looks at a loss for what to say. "Just…" he elucidates, "if you do need help—anything at all—don't forget: You're always welcome to speak with me."
The man remains conflicted looking, but he tightens his jaw as if to say the reply is finished. Ms. Crown processes the signal, herding Tim out of the room without missing a beat. Tim's too perplexed to protest, eyes cast off to the side in thought, because Bruce Wayne was…different. Different from what he was expecting, at least.
Still, he doesn't think too long on the words.
Two years pass without much fanfare. School years fill with homework and generic thoughts while summers balloon with paperwork and conferences. Wayne Enterprises takes Tim every time he applies, and Bruce Wayne always tells him the same thing, like he can see something on the horizon that Tim can't. They run into each other frequently, actually—more than Tim thought they would. At first they would simply catch each other in passing, a short hello and a warm smile, but it steadily became a daily tradition that the CEO linger by the front desk to ask Tim how his summer was going or what his family was up to. Dad doesn't care for the man much, but Mr. Wayne continues to be a rock of sorts, dependable. Tim doesn't mind that. Maybe he even enjoys it sometimes.
And it's almost ironic, in a way, because the summer Mr. Wayne's personal secretary takes leave, the month Tim offered to fill in, is the time life changes…
It's a form of hyperawareness, Tim's guessing.
Thoughts aren't really registering passed the AC air that's biting, piercing the thinness of his T-shirt and raising goosebumps along his skin. In spite of the cold, Tim doesn't do anything but sit still, watching cops pass him by. Badges on hips catch the light, some officers in uniform while others wear suits, yet they all look the same to him: a pair of shoes that he's shadowing aimlessly with his eyes. Doors are closing somewhere in the mess, too, interrogation rooms, offices, but Tim can't process any of them, like life is something he's waist-deep in but can't surrender himself to. The closest he can get is letting his vision drown in the floor and the shoes that swim by.
Two of them stop directly in front of him.
Tim's seen this pair before; there's familiar cigarette ash and dirt caking the tops. They belong to someone who's been in the field quite a lot, he thinks, someone who knows how to handle robberies and homicides and…whatever this is. The man's qualified and kind, but no matter how many times he comes, Tim doesn't look up to meet his face, hasn't done it for anyone. Just watches shoes on tile.
"Timothy?" the voice finally arrives, a bit gravelly but grandfatherly still. "We're still speaking with your stepmother. We should be done soon, but in the meantime, I did make that call for you…."
The older man says something more, but the words drift.
Tim almost forgot.
She's been talking with officers for a while now, swept off somewhere in the creak of a door hinge. Tim hopes she's fine, hopes that some semblance of life will stay the same after all this. She's fine. She has to be.
Tim can hear an uncomfortable pause, like he's zoned out again (probably has) and everyone's afraid if they touch him he'll break. Tim doesn't know if he really would or not, is too tired to think about it. Instead, he watches a new pair of shoes shift in front of him, noting they're not the shoes of officers or detectives. The tops are scrubbed raw enough that they reflect everything, beaming bright as a surgical light. It's almost as if Tim's going under at a hospital fifty times over within the span of that one second, and he closes his eyes and waits for something like a scalpel or anesthetic.
Instead, something settles around his shoulders, the heft of a jacket, maybe, and the jolt brings things back into focus—just a bit, but enough.
"Thank you, Commissioner."
Tim recognizes the voice of the newcomer, an identity snapping into place with the timbre, low and calm, as if this person could speak and the world would fall back into order. Something about that's comforting, familiar and in control.
Tim's surprised he came.
A weight sits down next to him on the bench, air void of smoke smell and telling Tim the commissioner must have taken his leave. He doesn't even recall the sound of someone walking away, but the past hour has all been that way, time bleeding and stretching before skipping forward a few beats in the pause.
Who knows how long this silence stretches before it breaks, how many words the person next to him says before Tim processes them. There's only one thing setting in, and it's all Tim can say.
"…It doesn't make sense."
Tim can feel what he knows are blue eyes focusing on him. He doesn't meet them. "My dad—I was on the phone with him. He was just out on a walk, and I... How did…?"
How did it go so wrong?
Time stretches, skips again, and Tim barely registers the arm reaching around his shoulder. "…I don't understand," he breathes into someone's chest, surrendering to the strain in his voice and eyes. "He was going to come back. He… He wasn't supposed to…"
"I know," someone says into his hair. "I know."
Does he, though? Tim doesn't really know himself, but he doesn't move, soaks in whatever warmth he can. It's probably selfish and childish and he'll regret it because Dad doesn't care for this person much. ("Didn't care." It's past tense now, Tim.) But for just this moment, for right here and right now, he closes his eyes and breathes, tries to tether himself to the present and a voice.
Tim hopes so, hopes Dana will be fine and that life can go on without Dad here. Somehow, things will get back to being like they used to, right? Get back to being able to look people in the eye and not wish they were someone else?
It's possible. It has to be, because right now—
—He just needs to believe it.