"Do I need to sedate you, too, before I leave?" Leslie asked Bruce a few hours later.
He looked up from his attempts to somehow pull the blanket covering his eldest even higher than his chin. "You can't sedate me."
"Will you promise not to go after the Joker tonight?"
"...Yes," he ground out. I should go after him, but...I can't leave Dick like this. I have to be sure he's going to wake up before I chase after that fucker. After what they'd been put through that evening, he knew he would need all the help he could get to keep from going too far once he got his hands on the psychopath. Hearing the younger man's voice before he set off would make a huge difference in his ability to control himself; he didn't dare depart until that had occurred.
"Then I won't insist." She yawned. "I think I'll take Alfred's offer of one of the spare rooms. There's no point in falling asleep at the wheel, and I'll want to check them both again in the morning anyway." A knowing smile crept across her lips. "I'm guessing it's a complete waste of time for me to tell you to call up to one of us if you need to switch out?"
"Yes. It is."
"You need to sleep too, you know."
"Both the beds are taken," she crossed her arms, still smiling.
"There are chairs. That's sufficient."
"Right. Of course." Shaking her head, she headed for the stairs. "Good night, Bruce."
When she'd gone, he let out a long breath and allowed his shoulders to hunch with exhaustion. My boys, he glanced at each in turn. What a night we've had. Let's never, ever repeat it. His eyes squeezed shut as his memory replayed six deceitful clicks and the two undeniable booms that had followed. Shuddering himself temporarily free of that recollected torture, he retrieved a chair from out by the computers and sat squarely between the beds. With nothing left to do but wait, he stared into the middle distance and tried not to think about anything.
Despite his best efforts, a hundred worries assaulted him. Leslie had said that Dick's leg would heal without permanent damage, but he couldn't keep himself from mentally redesigning the best prosthetic Wayne Enterprises' medical technology subsidiary had in order to make it suitable for night work. The Joker had played his game and was likely laying low in the aftermath, but he was still loose in Gotham and could put innocents at risk if the whim struck him. Tim had performed admirably that night, but had nevertheless evinced a deep doubt about his ability to be a good Robin...
The last one gave him pause. I'm going to have to talk to him about that, he grimaced. It would have been easier to have Dick take care of the teen's uncertainty, since the two were close and the elder had a knack for convincing people of their own worth, but he sensed that that wouldn't do the trick this time. It will mean more coming from me, if only because I never tell him he's doing well and Dick tells him all the time. It wasn't going to be an easy conversation, but the effort would be worth it if it made his youngest believe that he was appreciated.
Bruce turned to his right to find Dick shifting vaguely. "Hey," he grasped the arm from which two lines, one full of the blood and the other dripping painkillers, rose. "Calm down. You're safe."
...Even slurring and cursing, I'm glad you have the strength to talk, he almost grinned. "Come on, chum. Either calm down or wake up. Don't thrash," he ordered as the limb under his hand tried to jerk. "If you pull these needles out or yank your stitches Leslie and Alfred will have simultaneous conniptions, and I don't think anyone wants to see that."
"...Mphh..." Dick's eyebrows drew down, then shot back up, their angle pained. "Ow..."
"Quit moving around. Your nose is broken, remember?"
"Don't want...Bruce..." His mouth worked. "Bruuuuce..."
"Right here, Dicky. Wake up for a minute, okay? I'm right here."
For a moment there was nothing but a low, wordless whine. Then the injured man's eyelids fluttered to half-mast, his irises sliding back and forth suspiciously as he checked on the world. Finally he looked up, his gaze unsteady but present. "...Bruce?"
"Right here. You okay?"
"Is fine." He scooted over in order to make the other bed visible. "See?"
It seemed to take Dick a great deal of energy to focus, but once he'd managed to verify his brother's safety Bruce felt him relax. "...He's okay?"
"He'll be fine. His injury was nothing compared to yours. And I'm not hurt," he added before the question could be broached. Well...not physically, at least.
"Liar," came a murmer and a faint smile as his first-born discerned the truth. "Tell the truth."
The billionaire shook his head, knowing that Dick couldn't possibly have the energy to dive into the myriad upsets that the night's events had stirred up. There was no doubt that he would insist on playing therapist down the line, but this wasn't the right time. "Later," he urged. "We'll talk about it later."
"I know. I won't try to give any."
The tiny grin returned. "...Liar."
"How do you feel?" he tried to change the topic away from his personal mental state. "Do you need anything?"
"Uh-uh. Just...numb. Face hurts, but...numb." He frowned. "M'leg?"
"Leslie says it will be fine, so long as you stay off of it until she says otherwise."
For a second Bruce wasn't sure if Dick was asking if the bullet had done damage to his knee or if he was inquiring about his dislocated thumb. "Your knee wasn't affected. There shouldn't be any flexibility issues once the initial stiffness from recovery goes away. She popped your thumb back in without any problems. Tim's, too."
"Good," a relieved sigh was heaved. "...Ow," he repeated his earlier complaint.
"You might want to avoid doing that for a little while."
"Nothing we can't write off as walking into a door in the dark. You may have a little bit of a bump for a while, but Leslie doesn't think it will be noticeable. And if it is," he shrugged, "we'll get you a nose job."
"Papers'll love it..."
"If they don't obsess over that, they'll find something else. It's non-stop with them, you know that," Bruce grimaced. "But don't worry about it for right now."
"Nah." A beat passed. "...Bruce?"
"'M sorry you had...uh...thing...seeing...sorry you saw."
"Saw what? Tonight?"
"First off, don't apologize for something that isn't your fault."
"No buts," he cut him off. "No arguments about how you shouldn't have been taken by surprise, or whatever else you were going to say. Remember, he caught me, too, and from what Tim said he got us all in the exact same way. Second," he returned to his original contention, "...I'm sorry I saw it, too. But if I hadn't been there to see it neither of you would be here now, so it's a price I don't mind paying."
"Bruce...sometimes you're funny," Dick smiled. "Guess that's..."
His lips completed the sentence, but his voice dipped to to inaudible levels as he was sucked back into unconsciousness. The billionaire waited a moment to see if he would come up again, and then chuckled. Crazy kiddo, talking in your sleep, he teased as he tucked the covers in more securely. Standing, he leaned over the head of the bed and offered a whispered sentiment of his own. "...Rest, chum. Everything's fine. Just dream good dreams and get well." I'll take care of the Joker, he swore, and then you'll take care of me. The cycle goes around once more...
"...Bruce?" a fearful tone rang out behind him.
Round two, he thought wryly. "It's okay," he swiveled to face him. "Relax."
"Is he okay?" the teen asked, struggling to rise to his elbows.
"Stay down," Bruce stopped him. "Dick's fine. You just missed him."
"He was awake?!"
"Yes." Joy and disappointment mingled on Tim's face. "What?"
"Nothing, I just..." He looked away. "It would have been nice to hear his voice, that's all."
"Mm. Well, you know how stubborn he is about doing what he's supposed to when he's hurt; he'll be awake again soon enough."
"Yeah, I guess. Did Leslie say if his leg's going to be okay?"
"She said he'll be fine. She said you'll be fine, too."
"...She's sure? He looks awfully pale..."
"He lost a lot of blood, Tim, he's going to look pale. He's still getting refilled, but he was coherent when he woke up. He wouldn't have woken up at all if he wasn't in better shape than when we brought him home. Besides that, the first thing he asked about was you, so you know he's all there."
"...I was really the first thing he asked about?"
"Yes. You were."
The teen shook his head. "He's such a dork, always worrying about everyone else when he's way worse off."
"Tell me about it," he muttered. It wasn't hard to imagine the hounding he was going to have to endure from his eldest until he gave in and admitted to all of the fears that had gone through his head tonight, and he wasn't looking forward to it. Still, he shook himself, it was far better than the alternative that had nearly come to pass. "How do you feel?"
"Tired. Groggy, from whatever Leslie gave me, but at least there's no pain."
"Good." He hesitated. "...Tim, there's something I want to talk to you about."
Maybe, Bruce reflected, this wasn't the right time. Maybe he should wait until the teen wasn't on painkillers, or until he could have Dick coach him about exactly the right thing to say, or until... He sighed. The only thing waiting would do was make him less likely to say anything at all, and that wasn't fair to Tim. "I want to know why you think you should be a 'better' partner to Batman," he managed finally. "You knew that those might be the last words you ever spoke to me, so why the apology?"
"...Oh." He looked down at his hands, his mouth working. "I don't know, it was just...stupid. I was scared, and those were stupid last words. That's all."
"You wouldn't have said them if you didn't believe them."
"I...hell. No, I...I guess I wouldn't have. But..." Tim shrugged. "It's true. I could be a better partner, but I'm not. What the Joker said was true," he added, his eyes flickering over to Dick briefly. "I'm not as good of a Robin as he was, and I never will be. I don't resent him for it or anything – it's not like it's his fault – but it's a fact that I have to live with. And it's a fact that you have to live with, too," he looked up, "so...yeah, I apologized for it. I wish I was as good as he is, Bruce, but I'm not. And I'm sorry for that."
"Tim..." Did I do something to make you feel this way? He wondered. Am I at fault here, even a little? "You're not a worse Robin than Dick was, you're a different Robin. There are things that he can do that you simply can't, and that's not your fault. Hell, there are things he can do that I can't, too. You bring a different skill set to the table as a partner for Batman, that's all. That doesn't make you better or worse, regardless of what the Joker, of all people, says."
"He was right, Bruce," Tim insisted. "He said he knows us, and he does. He knows us better than we know ourselves, in some ways. Yes, I'm a different Robin than Dick was. Part of those differences, though, is what made him a better partner for Batman. You two..." he waved his unbandaged hand between them, "share something special. I don't even know how to describe it, because I've never been a part of anything like it. But it's there, and it does affect your ability to work together. There's an extra level to your communication, to your familiarity with each other, that is completely unattainable for me.
"Don't you get it?" he peered at the man. "I...I wasn't apologizing to you. A little, yes, for the reason I said a minute ago, but...not entirely. I was also apologizing to myself, because...because I've never been truly close to someone in the way you two are close to each other. You're more than friends, more than partners, more than family, even. If I had died tonight, my biggest – maybe even my only – true regret would have been that I'd never found someone to be that way with."
"You're close to people," Bruce argued. Damn it, this is my fault. "You and Dick-"
"Yes, I'm close to Dick," Tim cut him off. "Maybe I'm closer to him than I am to anyone else. I don't know, I haven't really sat down and analyzed it. He's my friend, and the brother I never had, but our relationship is on a whole other planet than yours is. That's not anyone's fault; I figure most people in the world don't ever have the sort of interplay that you two do. But it is something I wish I could experience from the inside someday. That's why I apologized, I think, Bruce. There might have been some guilt wrapped up in there about us getting caught, but the fact that the Joker got you the same way he did us kind of took care of that. They were dumb last words, and I'm sorry I said them just then and like that, but...I'm not sorry I feel that way. Okay?"
The billionaire considered his youngest for a long moment, surprised by his openness but grateful for it. "Okay, Tim," he nodded finally. "Okay. So long as you know that...that Batman doesn't think of you as a lesser Robin. You do know that, right?"
"I know. Thanks," the teen smiled. "And thanks for not going right out after the Joker tonight, too. I don't think I would have enjoyed trying to pin Dick to the bed if he'd woken up and found you gone."
"It would be just like him to pull a boneheaded, stubborn move like trying to come after me with a lacerated femoral artery," Bruce snorted.
"Yeah. But hey, that boneheaded stubbornness is part of why we love him." With that, Tim settled back against his pillows. "...I'm going back to sleep now."
"Good. You need to rest."
"So do you."
"I will." Once you're both asleep, I will. I think I might actually be able to, now. "Good night, son."
A happy smile bolted across the teen's lips. "...Night," he whispered back, his voice not quite steady.
A few minutes later, Bruce rose and turned down the lights. His chair had shifted under his movements from one bed to the other, and he placed it back dead-center between them before sitting down again. From there, he discovered when he reached out for physical contact with his injured children, he could rest a hand on each of them, one set of fingers entwining with Dick's while the other lighted on Tim's forearm. The shelves that supported various medical monitors, some on, some dark, sat directly behind him, giving his head a place to rest when he tilted it back and closed his eyes.
...My boys, the thought trembled. I'm so proud of you both. The Joker may know us, but he can't possibly fathom how fortunate I feel to still have you both with me tonight. He'll never understand that, and that's his weakness, and his loss. I would almost feel sorry for him, except... His grip tightened slightly. Well. It doesn't matter. Sleep well tonight, boys. Tomorrow, he swore, justice will be done. I'll see to it.
Author's Note: I hope you enjoyed this last chapter, and the story as a whole! There should be a new story in 'A Spot of Tea' tomorrow, and new 'Turkey Song' in two or three days at the most. Happy reading!