Every day, at 3:45 in the afternoon, a woman comes into his room and slips a needle under his skin. He knows it's 3:45, because she tells him. He's in a hospital-or at least he hopes that he's in a hospital-because if he's not, then he's in an even worse position than he thought. The woman talks, usually to herself, as she goes about her business in the room. He can tell where she is by her voice, and something tells him that that's odd-that most people can't do that, at least not to the extent that he can. It doesn't matter, though. It doesn't change anything. He assumes that she's a nurse, but he doesn't know for sure. He does know, however, that it's the same woman. He can tell by her voice-her soft, sweet voice.
He can't speak, can't call out-can't even move. He tries anyway; it doesn't work. It never has. He can't get anyone's attention. Not that there are many people who come to visit him, wherever he is. There used to be more. He's pretty sure that there used to be more, but lately there's just one.
He wakes up in the middle of the night from terrible nightmares that he can't escape; dreams of clowns, and explosions, and of scarecrows, penguins, killer crocodiles, and so many more. There are clay creatures, a man with half a face, and moving destructive plants; people-he knows that he should know who they are-being hurt and dying. And it pains him, because he can't even scream out. There are dreams of birds and bats, too, but they aren't as frightening.
He cries...sometimes, but he can't sob the way that he wants to; but sometimes-not very often-but often enough, there's a person there willing to hold his hand and smooth back his hair. The person will usually leave a soft kiss on his forehead and whisper, "Tim, calm down. It's just a dream," before slowly moving away; but he never releases Tim's hand...not until he leaves for good. It's comforting, but he doesn't know why. He can't tell who the person is, but he does know one thing.
It's the only person who ever uses his name, or at least, he assumes that it's his name. He doesn't really know anymore. The person is only ever there really late at night...or maybe it's extremely early in the morning. He can't tell, but it doesn't really matter. The man-it's always a man-has a soothing voice, and he always speaks in low tones, as if he's afraid of breaking the quiet all around them. Tim doesn't know how to keep the man talking, because all he wants is for someone to break the silence around him-a silence which consumes him every second of every day that the woman isn't there...cleaning-his brain supplies the word for him-or that the man isn't there...watching him. Watching just seems like the right word to use.
He wants to talk to the man, to get his attention somehow, but the only time that the man moves or says anything is when Tim's heart rate changes-usually from a nightmare. There are monitors...he can hear them beeping in time with his heartbeat, which is another reason why he thinks that he's in a hospital, but there's a part of him screaming that that doesn't necessarily have to be the case. He doesn't know why his mind insists on taking away any amount of comfort that he can come up with, but it gets annoying sometimes. Tim is pretty sure that the man doesn't judge when he needs to move closer by the monitors though...mainly, because the man seems to be there even before the monitors start blaring at them. It's weird, and yet Tim thinks that it's not, all at the same time.
It's so confusing, being in this state. He's missing things, and he knows that he missing things beyond his ability to move and talk. He wants to be close to the man who visits-he thinks that maybe there was a time when they were close. The man often calls him 'little brother' when he's trying to calm him or when he's apologizing to him, but Tim isn't sure that that's the right term...he doesn't know...there's so much that he doesn't know, but he thinks that he used to-he used to know a lot of things that most people don't. He doesn't know why the man apologizes...isn't sure what he's apologizing for, but he is certain that whatever it is, it isn't the man's fault. He wants to tell him that, but he can't. He'll continue trying though; he always does.
The man is there now, sitting quietly, and holding onto his hand. Tim tries to squeeze it; he always does, and nothing ever happens, but trying is all that he has left. For some reason, that thought causes even more pain and depression than he normally feels when the man is sitting there, quietly hating himself for something that isn't his fault-something that Tim himself doesn't even remember. He tries to communicate; he's raised and lowered his heartbeat before to get a reaction from the man, but all that does is send the man into a fit of worry, and Tim doesn't want to do that. He always hates himself when the man worries more than he already does.
There's a new comer in the room. Tim can tell the moment that the man's hand tenses in his. He wants to tense, too, but he can't. He thinks that he may know the new comer; he's not sure, but the man definitely knows whoever it is that's in the room now. "He's not brain dead, you know? The EEG showed that much. You could talk to him. He might be able to hear you, and it sure as hell would beat just sitting here in silence, feeling sorry for yourself."
The man stands immediately, and tears his hand from Tim's. Tim can hear the scrape of metal against the floor from the chair that the man was sitting in being pushed back. Tim misses the hand...wants to scream at him to put it back, but he can't, and he has a feeling that he's never felt this helpless before, and he knows that he's not used to this feeling...or at least that he shouldn't be used to it. The man growls at the other one in the room. "What do you want, Jason?"
The other man, Jason, sighs. Tim knows that name-he knows that he does. He just can't think of why he knows that name-what significance it has. But he definitely knows it-knows the other person that has clearly put the man with warm rough calloused hands-who sometimes cries when he thinks that Tim has returned to a calm sleeping state-on edge. "I just came to see, baby bird. That's all."
The other man is still tense and ready for a fight. Tim can hear it in his voice. "Why? You never have before. He's been lying here in this bed for years, and you've never once come to visit him. Why would you bother now?"
Jason heaves another long sigh, and Tim imagines that he looks exhausted. "Look, the others are dead. It's just you and me now...and, well, baby bird. I didn't come before, because I couldn't; let's just leave it at that, but things are different now, and I don't think that he deserves to be here alone all of the time. Do you, Dick?"
Dick...the man's name is Dick, and that sparks something within Tim. He does know him. He knows that he knows him-and knows him well. He just can't think of how. He knows that the man has called him little brother before, and he knows that that isn't completely accurate, but it's like there's something blocking him from the rest of the information.
"No, he doesn't deserve to be here alone all day, but I don't have any other options." Dick sounds sad now-defeated-like he's lost everything, which Tim thinks is probably accurate.
Jason steps closer. Tim can tell from the sound of his footsteps, which are so much softer than the nurse's, but still discernible in the still and quiet room. "You have me, that is, if you want me."
Dick scoffs at him. "Right. You've spent every waking moment since your return denying that you're a part of this family, and now that there is quite literally no family left, you want to join back up. I swear, you make no sense, Jason."
The two of them start arguing, and Tim wants to shake, scream, throw things, claw at the mattress beneath him, or do something...anything to get their attention. He's here; he can hear them; he's family; they still have him-but he can't. Tim can feel the tears welling in his eyes. He knows the wet cool sensation of the tears trailing down his face, unable to wipe them away, all too well. Not for the first time, Tim wishes that he could breathe on his own, just so that he could sob...just once...sigh...change his breathing just a little to get their attention. He knows that they would pick up on it immediately. They always do, although he's not sure how he knows that. Before Tim can make himself stop crying-he's gotten good at that after spending so many nights alone in the dark after the horrible terrifying nightmares, Jason's at his side, leaning over him. "Hey, why's his heart rate up like that?"
Dick is on the other side of him immediately. "I don't know. That usually only happens at night or early in the morning. I assumed that he was just having a nightmare or something, but his EEG shows that he's awake."
Jason gently places a hand on Tim's shoulder. "Do you think that he knows that we're here? Do you think that he can hear us? Do you think that he can actually comprehend what we're saying?"
Dick slides his hand down onto Tim's, and squeezes very lightly. "I...I don't know."
Tim can't think of anything to do to let them know that he can hear and understand them. If only he could twitch, or blink, or something, then...well, he's not really sure what good it would do, but at least they would know that the time that they're spending with him isn't wasted. Jason squeezes his shoulder a little harder. "Um, crazy idea here, but what if he can hear us and the only way that he can let us know that is by elevating his heart rate."
Dick tightens his hold on Tim's hand as well. "You're assuming that he's still able to control his heartbeat the way that Bruce taught him. That's one hell of a long shot."
Bruce...that's one of the names of the people that he often dreams about...so maybe the dreams aren't nightmares, after all-maybe they're memories, but that would mean that he's... Tim loses the thread before he can actually put it all together. He tries focusing on the conversation happening around him instead.
Jason's hand leaves Tim's shoulder, but Tim can hear metal scraping the ground again, so he assumes that Jason just wanted to sit down. It only takes a few moments before Jason wraps his hand around Tim's wrist. Tim definitely isn't used to this hand. It's heaver than Dick's, and seems to be rougher, but it's still comforting; although it seems strange that it is."Look, I'm not saying that it isn't one hell of a long shot, but it's better than no shot, right? So, what do you say? We tell Tim that if he can actually understand us to slow his heart rate to thirty beats a minute."
There's a long pause, and Tim isn't sure if Dick is going to bother. He doesn't know why Dick wouldn't, but Tim fears the worst...that is, until he hears Dick speak. "Okay, yeah, let's do it."
They speak in unison when they ask him to lower his heart rate to thirty beats a minute, and Tim knows that he can do it, even though he's never tried to lower his heart rate to a specific number-at least, not that he remembers. He concentrates and tries to count. It doesn't take him very long at all to lower it, but it does take more effort for him to make the thirty beats. It's apparently been a while since he's done something like this, and his body doesn't seem to want to cooperate-or maybe it's his emotions causing problems. Tim's too excited about finding a way to communicate to really focus, but he knows that if he doesn't, then he's going to lose all hope of making them hear him.
After what feels like forever, he hears the other two gasp in shock and relief at the same time. Then Dick hugs him as tightly as the wires and tubes will allow. "Timmy...little brother...I..." Tim isn't sure what Dick is trying to say, because he trails off into gasping sobs as he tries to clutch Tim tighter. After a few moments, Dick loosens his hold on Tim, but keeps him arms wrapped around him. "Jason, what are you doing?"
Tim notices immediately that Jason's hand isn't on his wrists anymore, and he can hear Jason walking away. He doesn't want Jason to leave, but he can't get him to stay. No amount of increasing or decreasing his heart rate is going to get Jason to stay when he wants to leave. Tim knows this...he just doesn't know how he knows it. Before Tim can work himself into a proper freak out, Jason stops walking away. "I...I shouldn't be here. I doubt baby bird wants me here. I mean, he has you."
Tim wants to scream at Dick to argue that. He wants Dick to fight and force Jason to stay. Tim may not remember a lot, but he knows that they're family, and it doesn't matter why Jason thinks that he doesn't belong...he obviously does. Dick relinquishes his hold on Tim, and for a split second, Tim is worried that they are both going to leave; but he listens to Dick's footsteps, and immediately calms when they stop mere steps away from the bed. "What makes you think that? I'm sure that Tim wants whatever company he can get right now."
"No, I should have been there sooner. I knew Joker was out, and had an idea of where he was headed. I didn't know that he was after Tim, but I should have gotten there sooner."
Tim can hear the rustle of clothing, and he's pretty sure that Dick is hugging Jason now. "No, come on. It wasn't your fault. No one knew that he was going to specifically target Tim. There was nothing any of us could have done, and I'm sure that Tim doesn't want you blaming yourself. You got him out of there before The Joker could finish him off." Tim can hear the tears in Dick's voice, and he wants to reach out and hold his brothers-more than anything.
"Yeah, because living like this is so much better. Don't you get it, Dick? This is why I've never come here before. I can't look at him like that without hating myself. I still shouldn't be here. I don't belong here." Tim can hear Jason struggling to get out of Dick's hold, and he just prays that Dick has the strength to keep him here. Tim doesn't want to be alone again, and Jason needs to stay-even if it is only long enough for Dick to at least try to convince him that this isn't his fault, and he did his best, and Tim doesn't blame him one bit.
"Jason, we're the only family that Tim has left. We have to stick together...for Tim. You saved his life, and ended Joker's reign of terror for good. I don't blame you for what happened, and I'm sure that Tim doesn't either. You can't leave. We need you. Tim needs you...I need you."
If Tim could move, he'd hug Dick right now-because even if Jason doesn't listen, doesn't believe him, or doesn't care, it's all true. Tim knows that like he knows the square root of 144 is 12. It's irrefutable fact. He just hopes that, for once, Jason will listen. Although, he has a feeling that that doesn't happen very often.
After a few moments, Tim can hear the two of them step closer, and if he could breathe on his own, Tim would let out a sigh of relief, because, for a moment there, he really did think that they were both going to leave, and Tim doesn't think that he could face the silence this soon after finding out that they know he's in here-aware and awake.
Jason grabs a hold of Tim's wrist again. "It's okay, baby bird. I'm not going anywhere, and don't think I didn't notice that spike in your heart rate when I walked towards the door. We know that you're in there, and we're not going anywhere."
Dick takes hold of his other hand, and squeezes once again. "Definitely not going anywhere, little brother. We're all going home together, and we'll find a way to make you better. I promise." Dick leans down and places a soft kiss on his temple.
Jason brushes Tim's bangs back. "Whatever it takes, I'm in."