Chapter Six: A Premonition of Drift-Design (Epilogue)
Tim takes a deep breath of salt air. It's collecting on his face, weaving through his hair, and the sound of loose waves and bird calls thrum in his ears against the wind. There are cusps of sunlight, too, twisting on the water just below his sneakers. Part of Tim wonders if he won't get sunburned from looking out over the ocean for so long but decides the baking warmth is worth it.
Tim hasn't been out to these docks in a long time. He used to a lot, back when he was still adapting to life at the Manor. Anymore, it's a rarity that he comes here, but like he said, it's been a while, and this part of the pier remains a piece of Dad that's safe enough to interact with. It's all soft memories that Tim can enjoy without overthinking, more personal than the cemetery and less scathing than the alleyway.
Still, whenever he comes here, Tim's never quite sure what to say.
"Sorry it's been so long, Dad," Tim mumbles awkwardly, swinging his feet. His arms are crossed on the bottommost railing off the pier, the noon-heat from the metal easing through the sleeves of his shirt so hot that it's just shy of burning. An array of people are out on the boardwalk around him, couples and families and joggers with their dogs. "It's been kinda busy for me lately," Tim says, keeping his voice low. "You understand."
The waves kick up in response.
"Yeah," Tim nods. "Don't worry about her. Dana's doing fine. Alfred and I visited her this morning, actually. She's exercising again, thinking about running a marathon in a few months." Tim slouches deeper against the railing, sitting his chin on the tops of his folded arms. "I think she can do it. The doctors say she'll be well enough by then to try."
The conversation flatlines then. Tim and Dad weren't distant, but they weren't exactly close either. It makes it hard to imagine what all the man would want to hear about, so Tim does his best.
"Um, I'm starting senior year next week," the teen offers with strained optimism. "Ives and I still hang out, so that's going good. Been looking at colleges, too, but—well, I'm thinking of maybe making W.E. a full-time thing. I was wondering what you thought about that…."
Tim's gaze flickers up from his sneakers to notice the ocean's evened out.
Tim picks at his fingernails to distract himself. "I guess I've still got time to think about it," he admits. "I mean, I'm still seventeen, right? Got my whole life ahead of me. Or, that's probably what you'd say, anyway." Tim's not sure, and nothing in the air changes to supply celestial support. He does his best to keep the conversation alive. "But don't worry. I'm doing okay. You know me. And Bruce is great. I know you didn't get along when you were around, but he's really helped me out." Tim chews at the inside of his cheek for a minute, wincing a bit when he realizes he tore off a hangnail. The teen forces himself to lock his hands around his elbows instead.
"I'm still getting used to the last name, though," Tim laughs, albeit a bit uncomfortably. "The Drake's still there, but it's like an essay to write my name now. Got a nice ring to it, though. Timothy Jackson Drake-Wayne."
Tim wilts at that. "Well, I think it's cool, anyway," he mutters weakly before letting his forehead slip down into his arms, defeated. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm fine. But I still miss you, Dad."
What Tim craves at this exact moment is a sign. Something interpretable that means the sentiment is returned, as much as he's not really expecting it to be. He hears people talk about clouds giving way to sunlight, that it's a message from the beyond, but the time of day isn't right for anything like that right now. There's just stuccoed stratocumulus plastered over blue. Uneventful. Tim doesn't even bother to look up to see.
He sighs and tightens the cross of his arms, letting the condensation of his breaths get trapped in his long-sleeve while passerby continue talking around him. There's a privacy to the crowd that makes it a surprise when someone breaks through the din to address him.
"Is this seat taken?"
Tim blinks into the darkness of his sleeves for a moment. He knows who it is by the voice, but he still rotates his face so that his cheek rests on his arms, double-checking the blue eyes and business suit so sharp it's endemic solely to board rooms.
Eventually, Tim shakes his head. "No," he answers, still a bit taken aback. There's a gentle second in which someone settles beside him, a line of heat blooming where there's contact along Tim's side. The proximity is calm.
"Long day?" Bruce asks sympathetically, the tone of it implying he already knows.
"I just miss him more today," Tim shrugs, not looking away from Bruce but not looking directly at him either. He's watching a cluster of boats just to the right of the man's head. They're all a perfect-white with shimmering reflections that stretch and skip the waves.
Bruce maintains a pensive quiet, so Tim nudges the man's dress shoe after a while. "I'll be fine," the teen reassures, finally glancing Bruce's way with a half-smile. "Sorry if I made you worry."
Bruce doesn't return the smile, but he does drape an arm around Tim's shoulders, pulling him closer against him. He feels warm, and Tim closes his eyes. "I understand," Bruce says. "It's been a long year for you."
"Yeah…" Tim exhales, shifting until he's comfortable. It's been a long year for the both of them, actually, legal documents and press conferences for Bruce, moving boxes and a new name for Tim. The struggles were worth it, though, Tim thinks, as he breathes in the faint cologne of someone who nowadays means home. It's hard to imagine a time when they never knew the other existed.
"Anything I can do?" Bruce's voice rumbles in the present.
Tim shakes his head, opening his eyes to fiddle with the watch on Bruce's free wrist. It's the same one Tim got him last June, a sleek brown band with sterling silver. Bruce never takes it off. "Just wanna sit for a while," Tim says, tilting the watch face once to see the light slide. "Do you have time?"
Tim can feel Bruce nod against his head. "Of course."
If it weren't for the relief Tim feels at that, he would probably say something, because despite having recently finished off another summer, Tim still has ears at W.E. via Tam; he knows Bruce is shirking Mathis again. Tim doesn't point that out, however, merely leans back into Bruce's shoulder and people-watches. There's a younger family on the far end of the pier that's setting up outdoor chairs next to their tackle boxes, and one of the kids points to a flock of seagulls that likely means fish. The nostalgia makes Tim feel years over his age, almost tired with it.
Bruce's head turns in the same direction as Tim's, curious. Two pairs of eyes must be too many, though, because the oldest man in the family notices, the one wearing polarized shades and socks with sandals. Tim instantly moves to look away, politely embarrassed for staring, but both Bruce and the man wave cordially to each other like it's some kind of dad code to do so, and just like that, Tim's back to being a kid again.
"You hungry?" Bruce offers after another minute, clearly unfazed.
"Only if you let me pay, I am."
Bruce hums as if he's actually considering it, instilling a false sense of hope. "You can pick up the check next time," he promises, and Tim fights the urge to remind him that's what he said last time. (And the time before that, and the time before that...) But then Bruce pulls away enough to ruffle Tim's hair, effectively settling the argument, and really, Tim can't remember to stay upset after that.
"You're picking the place at least," Tim concedes sheepishly, letting Bruce help him to a stand.
"I think I can manage that."
"Uh-huh," Tim drones, battling away a grin when Bruce returns an arm around his shoulders. The teen's being honest when he adds, "Thanks, B."
"Anytime," Bruce replies instantly, easily.
Everything between them is that way now, having a comfortable naturalness to it. It continues to strike Tim how, even after a year of calling each other family, they used to be nothing more than strangers. Then again, perhaps that's just the way life is: that in the same way two people can drift apart, two people can also drift together, be made into something more by the tides of life. Tim likes to think, in quiet moments like these when he catches Bruce smile, that that's something by design.
AN: Thanks for reading!