So this thing? Was supposed to be two, three pages long. *facepalm* I should know better by now.
It starts out with a phone call at two in the morning. Dick pauses, hands halfway up his thighs, Nightwing's tights bunched up in them, and frowns at hearing Tim's assigned ringtone. It's Dick Grayson's line, not Nightwing's, which tells him two things right off the bat: one, that it's not work-related. Two, that Tim is hoping that Dick won't pick up the call. Which tells him one more thing: it's a Tim-issue, something personal. And since this is Tim, always hesitant and afraid to reach out, the fact that he's actually calling shows how much he needs it.
The phone rings again, drowning out the Led Zeppelin drifting up from the kitchen radio. Dick snaps back into action, tugging his tights on quickly and leaving the rest of his suit hanging around his waist like a peeled-off second skin. Bits of machinery and papers holding clues or information for his current cases scatter out of the way as he scrambles to reach the phone on the table. He should have just backflipped for it.
There is nothing on the other line for a moment, and he's afraid that Tim has changed his mind and hung up already when he hears a sharp intake of breath. Dick frowns and strains to hear anything beyond that darkness.
"Tim? What's wrong?"
"You're not— out patrolling?" Tim sounds like there's glass in his throat making it painful to speak in anything more than a hoarse tone. He wonders where Tim is, what he's doing, if he's hurt, but there's nothing to give Dick any clues to form a picture in his mind.
Dick decides to answer Tim's question with as much nonchalance as possible to allow Tim to get his bearings, take his time speaking up. It's the way Tim works – he has to do things on his own time, because as soon as he's pushed, he bolts. Tim doesn't like to give straight answers. He lies all the time, even when he's not actually speaking falsehoods. Particularly when it has anything to do with feelings and vulnerability, and this is definitely a moment of odd vulnerability on Tim's part if Dick's ever seen one. "Tonight's special– got a big fish to catch, so I had to do some extra prep in order to be ready. Remember that drug-ring I've been tailing for a few weeks? Shipment comes in at four."
"Oh. I— good luck." His voice is trembling, a low-grade seismograph, and Dick can hear the raggedness of his breaths.
"Tim." Screw waiting for Tim. Patience was never one of his virtues anyway. His little brother is hurting and he wants to know why. Dick lowers his voice and tries to keep the rising alarm from squeezing his lungs. "What happened?"
Tim sucks in another breath, and there is a creak of bedsprings, morphing the darkness at the other end of the line into an image, one of Tim in his pajamas, sitting in bed, knees brought up to his chest and nothing but black surrounding him.
"Nothing. Just. Good night."
The line goes dead.
Dick tries to call back, but Tim doesn't answer. It's so typical of Tim that Dick wants to kick something. He lowers his head and grits his teeth and comes close to getting angry at Tim for being the way he is. He catches himself just in time and exhales, envisioning his breath as white smoke that rises and dissipates into the rafters. That's probably the most unfair thing he can do to Tim, though it doesn't excuse his way of being either. Instead, Dick texts him, repeating the question. Tim answers after a few minutes.
Bad dream. I'm fine.
Tim? Upset because of a dream? Dick doesn't know whether to be touched that Tim called him or more worried.
Dick can hear voices. Or more correctly, a voice. He tries to ignore it at first, thinking he's just imagining things— he trusts his security system to alert him to any intruders and someone sneaking in wouldn't be talking. He's just aware enough to realize that he dozed off in the corner of his living room, back against the wall and the spilled insides of his lamp still lying mid-surgery on his lap. Damn thing has been flickering for weeks and he finally decided to fix it. He shifts slightly and suddenly his body comes to life—he realizes there's still a screwdriver in his hand, and he can suddenly feel the cool ceramic lamp on his thigh through the thin cloth of his basketball shorts. His other thigh burns along the line of stitches he just sewed in that morning, and he wonders idly what time it is.
He's debating whether to become fully conscious or indulge his body's pleas for much-needed rest. He doesn't usually listen, but the Alfred in his head always chastises him and reminds him that a well-rested body functions better and makes less mistakes. The Bruce in his head constantly reminds him that he can't allow mistakes.
Then he hears it again, the voice. This time he realizes it's calling his name, and it has risen in volume and panic, so much so that for a second he doesn't recognize it as Tim's voice. His body jolts awake and he shoves the lamp and its wires to the side, pushing against the wall to stand up. He hears feet running down the stairs from his bedroom and tries to call out Tim's name, but the stitches in his injured thigh yank apart when his quad contracts and the sound gets lost as he grits his teeth. Tim runs past the living room, where Dick is conveniently in the one spot that's not immediately visible, and into the kitchen, calling out Dick's name the whole time, and God, his voice is nearly breaking, he sounds so panicked. Dick's insides go cold, because for Tim to lose his cool like this…
All sounds from the kitchen stop for a moment, and then Robin appears in the doorway, pale-faced and nearly panting, and stares at Dick.
"D-Dick." His voice stutters, barely a breath, and so relieved at seeing Dick that he sways in place for a moment.
"Tim? What's up?"
Tim's body twitches forward like he wants to go to Dick but then he catches himself and instead grips the doorway. Dick scans him quickly, the action almost second-nature. There are scratches in his costume, a few scrapes and a pinkish swell on the side of his jaw that will probably darken in the next twenty-four hours. Dick hones in immediately on the twigs and leaves embedded in his cape, and the thorn on the side of his collar.
"Poison Ivy?" he asks, frowning and leaning against his reading chair to take some pressure off his leg now that he's convinced Tim isn't injured. But Tim keeps on staring at him, mouth twitching dangerously downward, and Dick holds his arms out. "Timmy? C'mere, what's wrong?"
Tim shakes his head, and even with the domino mask, Dick can tell his eyes are wide. Dick doesn't know what to do. He sees Tim's Adam's apple bob up and down nervously as he swallows, and he tries again. "C'mon, Tim, what are you doing here in Blud? Is everything alright? Does Bruce know you're here?"
Tim licks his lips once, fingers flexing on the doorway, and trembles slightly. He opens his mouth like he wants to say something, but then closes it and just nods once. God, what's got him so panicky?
Dick moves towards him, and Tim's gaze hones in immediately to the limp and now he looks even more anxious than before, chest rising and falling with his shallow breaths. His body does that funny thing where it twitches forward before Tim clamps his fingers around the wooden doorframe again.
"Remember the big fish last night?" Dick grins to ease the increased dip of Tim's eyebrows. "There were a few complications, no biggie." He reaches Tim and puts his hand on his shoulder, intending to comfort him. Tim flinches and the shaking increases abruptly, a shudder that ripples down Tim's whole body. Dick takes his hand off, shoving down the irrational hurt that sparked up. But he knows Tim can be funny about touches sometimes.
"Tim? C'mon, look at me? What's wrong?" Normally Dick would kneel down so that he could look up at Tim, since the chances of Tim looking up at him are slim at best, but with his leg that's not really an option he's eager to try out. Instead, he slides his fingers under Tim's chin, noticing the dampness of his skin and the heat that's almost but not quite feverish. He pulls Tim's reluctant chin upwards and flicks the lenses of his mask up.
"Tim…" he sees at once how dilated his pupils are, and the anxiety in them. Dick tugs Tim, having to do it twice in order to get Tim to let go of the doorframe, and then Tim is in his arms, a trembling mess of teenaged limbs and muscles and spiky hair. His breathing is still much too fast and shallow, dangerously close to hyperventilating, and Dick's pretty sure the only reason he's not is because he knows the training techniques—breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. Bruce always told him that the best indicators of a person's state of mind are their pulse and their breathing, because they're unconscious reflexes. They have better control over them than most people do, but that's when they're consciously exercising it. Otherwise, they're just as subject to the natural reactions of their body as anyone else.
Tim's breathing is telling Dick that his first task is to get Tim calm again. He pulls Tim to the couch and sits him down. The cushions sink underneath them, dragging them both downward into a comfortable embrace. "C'mon, Tim, head between your knees, that's it."
Tim closes his eyes, back curved as he lowers his head, and Dick tucks the cape to one side and begins to rub Tim's back. Tim takes a deep shuddering breath, arching into the touch, and then it's back to stiff muscles and timed breathing. Dick rakes two fingers down each of Tim's shoulder blades then digs his thumb into the side of each vertebrae, going carefully down his spine. Tim shudders but Dick can see him biting back his moans.
"Tim, you have to tell me what's wrong."
Tim opens his eyes, unfocused gaze landing on the cranberry juice stain on the carpet from two months ago, courtesy of a visit from Roy. He stares at it for a while and then murmurs, "Water."
Tim clears his throat once and repeats, his breath wavering as Dick digs both hands into the muscles between his neck and shoulders, "Water."
He sees it at once for what it is: Tim asking for space.
"Sure thing, Timmy," he says, giving him a last squeeze and knowing that Tim will read it as understanding. "How 'bout I make you some green tea, getcha calmed down, yeah?" He can't help one last touch to brush Tim's hair away from his forehead as Tim nods. Then Dick stands and goes into the kitchen.
He searches for a cup that's not dirty, and in the end finally has to rinse out one of the mugs in the dishwasher. He fills it with water from the tap and puts it in the microwave for two minutes. It may be longer than is actually needed, but it will give Tim the time he needs to compose himself. Dick stares at the timer the whole time, and the only reason he's not pacing or climbing the counters is because the stitches are stinging and stretching uncomfortably, and sometimes he remembers that acrobatics are not good for a healing body. As it is, he spends that two-minute-long eternity fiddling with the sugar spoon and thinking.
1:55. There's nothing particularly off, but there's clearly something wrong. It's written all over Tim's body. 1:34. He's pretty sure that it's nothing too serious, at least, in terms of the Mission. Tim is rational and calm under pressure, devising plans and working on solutions—this is not the Tim of a crisis. 1:14. Dick has never seen Tim so tense and anxious, but his reluctance to speak tells Dick that this is something more personal in nature. :46. He thinks back to the night before, the phone call in the middle of the night and Tim's text. It has to be linked. :21. But Tim's not really the type to let a bad dream get him this upset, is he? :07.
Dick grips the counter and bites his lip, straining to hear anything from the living room above the microwave's hum.
:03, :02, :0—.
He takes out the steaming mug before the microwave even beeps.
He nearly panics when he goes back into the living room and Tim is gone, but a quick glance around finds Tim at the window, where a gentle pattering of rain drums against the glass now. His arms are wrapped around himself, squeezing tightly enough to deform the Kevlar padding.
"Got your cup of yummy antioxidants here," Dick calls, raising the mug. Tim doesn't respond, doesn't even appear to have heard him. His gaze is focused on the rivulets slipping haphazardly down the windowpane, and he looks faintly pained, like the raindrops are telling him a tragic story and Tim is sympathizing—no, empathizing. Dick bites his lip because he doesn't like seeing his Tim like this and not understanding why. Not that Tim has ever been easy to figure out, or that Dick has a handle on him the way Tim has shown he's got on him, but over time Tim has been less and less of a closed book—until Dick comes across the pages either left blank or scribbled in some foreign language.
When Dick finally reaches out to put his hand on Tim's shoulder, Tim jerks violently, bumping into the window and turning wide eyes onto Dick, and his hand doesn't even come up to rub at his head, despite it sounding like it hurt. Dick pushes down his immediate instinct to hug Tim and rub his back, if only because Tim sure is responding fabulously to touch. He sighs and says, "C'mon, couch and then confession time."
It takes another nudge to get Tim to move. He settles on the couch, back straight and eyes cast downward, and his breathing is still too shallow and there are still tremors running under his skin like his muscles are having a minor seismic tantrum.
"This should help." Dick hands the tea to Tim and ripples immediately appear in the liquid. "Um, should I—"
"No, I— got it," Tim cuts in, tightening his grip on the cup. It's the most he's said all night. He takes a sip, hissing inwardly as the heat scalds his tongue. Dick sits next to him and puts his hand tentatively on Tim's back. Tim only winces slightly, and Dick begins scratching gently through the cape. Tim's breath doesn't even out, but the tremors do seem to slow to the occasional shudder and there is some color back in his cheeks, so Dick counts that as a small victory and nudges him.
"So, what's got you in such a tizzy, Tim?"
Tim tenses immediately, but he closes his eyes and makes an obvious effort to relax. "You know Scarecrow's fear gas?"
"What?" Dick's mouth drops open. "Tim, you're not telling me you're under it, are you? There's an antidote in your belt—" There's no way Bruce let Tim walk around under its influence, and it's second-nature for them to carry around the antidote and administer it immediately, and Tim knows better than that—
"It's not fear gas," Tim says quickly, scrubbing his face and taking a steadying breath. "As you guessed, it was Poison Ivy. But I believe she's developed a new toxin, based off the Scarecrow's fear gas. It induces a state of high-grade anxiety." His lips quirk humorlessly it what might have been a smile at any other point. "Hence my 'tizzy'."
Dick frowns and bends down to peer at Tim, rubbing his back a little harder and squeezing his arm with his other hand. That explains it. The breathing, his pallor, the dilated pupils and his anxiousness, the odd way he was acting. But…
"Bruce already took a blood sample and is working on an antidote, but until then all I can do is wait it out and…" Tim trails off and stares at his cup. For his part, Dick is infinitely relieved to hear Tim speaking normally or at all, really. His voice sounds a little strained, but now he can attribute that to the toxin. Tim and Bruce's voices have always had a calming effect on Dick. When Dick is feeling overwhelmed by his inevitable attachment to his feelings, their matter-of-fact, pragmatic stance is— usually— a grounding force for him.
Dick is silent for a moment and then stands up, squeezing Tim's shoulder briefly, "Well, first things first, little bird. Let's get you out of costume and cleaned up, and then we can have a nice round of teeth-flossing and bookshelf organizing to relax you."
Tim freezes for a moment, and Dick gets it. It's hard sometimes to relinquish the safety and comfort conferred by the costume. Dick gives him his most encouraging smile and Tim finally relents, beginning to peel off his mask.
Satisfied, Dick goes back into the kitchen, rummaging through the pantry for the marmalade-filled biscuits he knows are Tim's favorite pick-me-up snack. He always keeps a pack handy.
When he comes back out, he finds Tim is back again at the window, staring at the water droplets and worrying his lower lip with his teeth. His mask is off, along with the cape and gauntlets, allowing Dick to see the contours of his shoulder blades as he hugs himself, knuckles poised like claws around his arms. The skin between his eyes is bunched into a mishmash of wrinkles with the force of his frown. But worse, his breath is stuttering again, fast and breathing in little hitches.
Dick comes up behind him, lifting his gaze from the thin, prickly hairs on the back of Tim's neck to the window, trying to see what has grabbed his attention. Outside, all he sees is the rain-blurred outline of Bludhaven's pitiful skyline against a grey sky. There are three lights on in the building across the street, and Dick can recite the name, current and past affiliations and employment of the occupants in each apartment. A yellow taxi car meanders slowly past them, hoping to catch a poor sod looking for a way out of the rain. With the rain, Dick can't see the license plate but he follows its path nonetheless.
"What do you see out there, Timmy?"
It takes Tim a while to respond. "Water."
Dick can't tell if Tim is making a joke or not. Judging by his tone, he's not, but he can't think of another explanation for the nonsense answer and decides to go along with it. "Enough to make anyone look like a drowned rat, right, Timmy? Lucky you got here just before it started."
Tim doesn't respond, but when Dick, unable to resist any longer, carefully pulls Tim towards him, making him stumble backwards, Tim lets himself. Nothing more, just his back leaning against Dick's chest, the push and pull of their lungs expanding with each breath and the white noise of the rain. Dick tracks with satisfaction the slowing of Tim's breath and the way his shoulders drop little by little and his head leans back to bump against Dick's shoulder. Dick gazes at the thin scrape on the left shoulder, a tear in the red of Robin's fabric that has gone even through the padding, revealing a glimpse of skin made whiter by contrast of the dark Kevlar and the trickle of blood that had oozed out, now coagulated. He traces it with one finger, digging out a tiny thorn embedded in the padding, and rubs Tim's arm with the other.
"Ready to go back? Get cleaned up, little wing?"
Tim nods slowly, and even though Dick can't see more than the edge of his eyelashes, he's sure that Tim is still staring at the window. There's something off, and Dick hasn't put all the pieces together yet, but at least this he can do. He can do aftermath: showers, bandaging, hugging and comforting. He maneuvers Tim around, up the stairs, snagging the cup of tea and snacks, and leads him to his bedroom. It's pretty indicative of his personality if he does say so himself: several case folders that should be in his official Nightwing base are splayed on the desk along with a half-eaten cereal bowl, and his train-surfing blindfold hangs on the back of the chair. The movies Wally brought over a week ago clatter when Dick nudges them out of the way, but at least his mini-trampoline is tucked neatly against the corner and his CD collection is pristine. Mostly because he's been listening to the radio lately, but hey. His Nightwing costume lies in a blue-black heap in the corner closest to the bathroom, needing some repairs, and the covers on the bed are messy, all lumped to the side and hanging off the edge to pool on the floor. He forgot to make the bed this morning—afternoon—having woken up to a headache and the immediate concern of blood still seeping from the knife wound in his thigh. Ah, he loves his job.
"Pardon the messiness," he says cheerfully, knowing Tim has seen worse, but that it will doubtlessly grate on his nerves. Tim stares blankly at it for several seconds, and the lack of reaction begins to worry Dick until Tim shuffles over and begins to tug his covers into some semblance of order. His movements are sluggish and mechanic, as if he's doing this on autopilot, but the simple task gives his motions a sense of purpose that's reassuring to Dick. He shakes his head with a little chuckle when Tim struggles to gather the overly fluffy comforter in his arms and ends up toppling onto the bed with it. Tim slowly sits up, moving like his joints and gears have become loose and unstable, and wraps the comforter around him so that only his face and a tuft of black hair are visible.
"What I wouldn't give to have your camera right now." Dick laughs, getting the cup of tea and the snack and wiggling a little gap in the comforter to place them in Tim's hands. "Eat, drink and be still for a moment while I get you clothes." Tim watches him with one of his characteristically intense looks. It used to unnerve Dick to feel like someone was probing into him, but now he likes having Tim's undivided attention. What he doesn't like is the way his pupils are still too dilated, Tim's baby blues nearly swallowed up in black and swirling with distress. At this point, he's well-versed in the subtleties of Tim's body, not that it makes him any less inscrutable. Just because he knows from the way Tim's jaw is set that there's something bothering him doesn't make it any easier for Dick to figure out why.
At least there's a little more color in his face, and he doesn't flinch when Dick cups his cheek and strokes gently with one thumb. "Stay still, little wing."
He throws opens his closet and begins to gather clothes for Tim. Dick could use his old clothes, which he's kept exactly for this reason, but over time enough of Tim's actual clothes have been left behind to form a small, multi-occasion collection. Dick isn't sure how Tim would take it if Dick confessed that sometimes he bundles Tim's shirts under his pillow, pleased not only by the scent, but by the feel of touching something that belongs to Tim. He has one of Babs's old jackets he does that with too. He tosses the clothes on the bed, and goes into the bathroom to hang an extra towel for Tim on the hook.
He leans against the doorway for a moment, watching the bundle of covers-and-Tim. Tim is staring at his cup again, or more specifically, the tea inside. Dick can't figure out what's off, but it seems as if every time he leaves Tim on his own he finds something to fixate on – the tea, the raindrops. The odd thing is that now that Dick looks closely, Tim isn't just staring with a far-off look at the tea, but actively observing it. He swirls the cup slowly and dips his finger in it, entranced. It reminds Dick of when they come a particularly gruesome death scene, and you can't stop looking at it. You can't help noting the layer of skin and adipose tissue, the glistening muscle underneath bundled in choppy fibers, and the shiny ivory glint of bone, but it makes you dazed and you're observing it with half of your brain while the other half is floating away looking for a sane place to hold onto. But there's nothing horrifying about a cup of tea, or a rain-covered windowpane, so Dick can't figure out why Tim would be wearing that pained and completely enthralled expression. He swallows and rubs his knuckles, a self-conscious gesture.
"C'mon, Tim, let's get you undressed and in the shower now."
The cup slips from Tim's hands. It only falls a few inches before sinking into the comforter, but it lies on its side and the bit of liquid left in it soaks into the fabric. Tim makes a small noise, hands frozen in the air and staring at it with a horrified expression.
"Oh, woops," Dick says looking around for a spare rag. Tim jerks and looks at him with wide eyes.
"I— I'm so—"
"Relax, it's just tea, it's not even that much." Dick gives up on finding a rag and pulls off his t-shirt, dabbing at the comforter to soak up the tea. Lucky it was green tea—hardly a stain. He glances up and sighs when Tim still looks as if he's broken a million-dollar vase or let the Joker escape and he's expecting a beating. "Tim, it's really not a big deal. It'll dry in a jiffy, it's not even going to stain." He pauses to rub Tim's arm comfortingly. "Please don't worry about it?"
Tim scrubs his face and takes a deep breath. "I—I know. I know that, you're right but. I'm not… not exactly myself right now. The toxin is throwing off my sympathetic nervous system." He scrunches his eyes shut and grits his teeth, blows out a breath and sucks one in. Repeats the process. "I—I can't seem to control my pulse or breathing. The effects are— a bit more pervasive than I initially thought."
Of course Tim is only talking straight when it's something about the toxin or the symptoms or something generally technical. But it's better than not talking at all. Dick bunches up his shirt and tosses it on top of his Nightwing costume before turning to sit next to Tim and rub his cheek with one thumb. Tim sighs and though he doesn't lean into the touch, the frown lines in his face relax. "I hear ya. Which is why I want to get you into bed and get you relaxed. The shower will help." He gives in to temptation and the frustration in Tim's eyes and kisses his brow, pressing his forehead against Tim's and feeling the burst of heat. "I'm gonna take the cup downstairs, bring the first-aid kit, so go on and get in the shower so I can fix you up when you get out, yeah?"
He smiles at Tim before he leaves and the sight of his baby brother still bundled up in the comforter fills him with a heady rush of affection. Tim means so, so much to them. Dick can't express it enough. He doesn't know how to make Tim understand that, even though he's tried on numerous occasions, only to have Tim give him this doubtful look— and Dick can understand that, sort of. He's been told that he's so sincere about everything he does that it's hard to tell what's truly meaningful based solely on his sincerity. He doesn't see how that makes sense— everything is meaningful and important relative to its context.
Tim is… the chance at redemption for his lack of involvement with Jason, his lead into a renewed relationship with Bruce, the center of their family, the broker of new meaning into his life, a source of inspiration. Tim makes him feel needed, and that's something integral to Dick's being, something that Bruce always refused him.
Without even thinking about it, he stops, turns around to hobble back into the room, grab Tim and hug him tightly, ruffle his hair through the comforter on his head, and leave again.
And this is purely my excuse to have a freaked-out Tim being taken care of by Dick. I'm unashamed. Next chapter up soon.