Dick didn't know how long he stood in front of the door, his fist hanging breaths from the surface. He took a deep breath and knocked clearly and heavily, the firm sound betraying his nerves. The sound echoed around in the frigid air of the street outside, but no answer came in reply. He smiled awkwardly at a young couple who walked by on the sidewalk.
Tim was home. He knew it. The fact that he wasn't answering troubled him. Dick talked himself into knocking again, but just before he was able to, a voice came from the other side of the door.
"What do you want, Dick?"
Dick was grateful for the response, as much as it didn't sound very happy; it was a start. "Open the door. I want to talk to you."
A moment of tense silence passed before he heard a bolt click out of place, and without a sound, the door cracked open to reveal a young man standing in the doorway. He had hardly outgrown the appearance of a teenager, but he was dressed in business attire and his expression was even more business-like. "What is it?" Tim asked coldly.
"Can I come in?"
Tim didn't move, his tired eyes surveying his brother skeptically. He finally heaved a short sigh and allowed Dick to step into the apartment, if nothing more than to let him out of the cold. The place certainly screamed of modern, high-class taste, but the mood was uninviting at best. A few paintings hung lackluster on the white walls accompanied by a neglected grand piano that was banished to the living room. Dick pulled open the debonair curtains to let in some light.
"What do you want, Dick?"
Tim hadn't moved out of the entryway, still eying him tiredly. He looked thinner and paler than Dick remembered.
"You haven't been returning my calls."
"I've been busy."
Another moment of silence.
"Tim," Dick paused hesitantly, searching for the right way to start what would either be a very long or very brief conversation. "I'm worried about you."
Tim's expression remained blank and cryptic; he showed no signs of wanting to reply. This was the response Dick had been dreading: They'd had the same exchange when Bruce had died, only this time, no one was coming back. Life was going to keep going despite Conner's death. And as much as this time, Tim may have accepted the fact that Conner was truly gone, he was not handling it well. Tim had never handled any of it well – not since his dad had died. Dick could tell it was all eating him alive, the feeling of loss, the pressure to keep face, the complete loneliness.
"I'm fine," Tim finally answered stone-facedly, still gripping the door handle. "Now, I have a lot of work to do, so if you don't mind…."
Dick remained in front of the window for a moment, surveying the sliver of gray October sky that peered out above the other buildings before making his way back to the entrance where Tim stood. They stared at each other for a moment, Tim stubbornly willing his brother to leave. His eyes flashed irritably, tiredly, as Dick pushed the door closed.
"We need to talk."
Tim exhaled sharply from his nose and made his way across the apartment. Dick shadowed him, half castigating, half pleading.
"It's been two weeks since Conner died—" Tim's jaw tightened. "—and you've been doing nothing but work. It's not healthy."
Tim let out a sour laugh without turning around. "You're not going to recommend that shrink in Metropolis again, are you?" They were in the kitchen now. Tim was mindlessly filling up a kettle with water and setting it on the stove-top; Dick was standing five feet away from him, trying to meet his eyes.
"No, but you can't cut yourself off from everyone. You and I both know you're not fine. You need to talk to someone, anyone. You and Conner—"
"Conner's dead. I know," Tim said matter-of-factly, anchoring his focus on fiddling with the knobs of the stove, anything to keep from meeting the pair of concerned eyes staring him down. "He's dead and that's all there is to it. Now can we please stop talking about it?"
"No, not until you deal with it."
"What do you think I've been doing?"
"You've been running from it, not dealing with it. You need to talk about it."
"That's not—!" Tim exploded suddenly but caught himself, bouncing his fist in the air in front of him, trying to reign his emotions back in. He let his fist fall soundlessly to the table, his eyes closed with a look of defeat written on his face. "That's not what I need right now."
Dick watched him silently, trying to read him, trying to find a life preserver to throw at him instead of watching him drown.
"What do you need then?"
Tim didn't reply, his face resting in one of his hands. It seemed impossible that the teenager could have looked more exhausted than before, but somehow, he did. The usual shine in his raven hair dissipated, and with each exhale he seemed to be shrinking smaller, smaller. Dick had trouble believing that this person was once the happy kid he had met four years before.
"I don't know."
A long stretch of silence hung in the air. The kettle started screaming on the stove but neither of them moved to save it. It was like Tim wanted to be tortured, deserved every ear-piercing shriek. Finally, Dick lazily lifted a hand to turn off the heat with a long sigh, and the screaming died down.
"Tim," Dick began quietly. The addressed person didn't shift at all, silently giving him permission to continue. "Come home. Just until you get your head straight at least. I think… I think it might help." He watched his brother intently for a few moments, waiting for some kind of sign.
Eventually, his head still in his hand, Tim nodded faintly, as if the motion drained him of all his energy.
Dick's breath caught from the wave of relief that washed over him. Tim was going to be okay now. Alfred, Bruce, and himself, they'd keep track of him, make sure he was taken care of. Sure, Dick would have to talk to Damian, but that was a problem for another day, he convinced himself as he came back with Tim's winter coat. His brother put it on without protest.
"Do you need anything else?"
Tim shook his head weakly. He still didn't meet Dick's eyes, but it didn't matter. So long as he was coming home, it would be alright.
Dick didn't give him time to change his mind, swiftly but gently helping him out of his apartment and outside onto the street. Tim hesitated at the door. It was comfortable here in the warm solitude. Outside was nothing but bitter air and watchful eyes. He couldn't find it in him to leave.
A soothing hand slipped around his own and eased him forward. The first step was hard, like moving a mountain, but with each rotation it grew easier to lift his feet off the ground, to keep going. The frosty wind bit at his nose and ears, and the stoic echo of the pair's footsteps hung silently in the glacial vacuum.
It wasn't long before he found himself in the taxi that Dick had had waiting for them. The cab was filled with the sound of the heater, bravely fending off the chill autumn air that gnawed at the cloudy windows.
"Wayne Manor, please."
Dick was suddenly beside him, an arm swept protectively around his shoulders.
The car lurched forward and slowly pulled away from the curb. Tim didn't resist as Dick pulled him closer. It felt good to be close to someone again, hear the sound of someone's heartbeat, feel that there was still someone next to him.
"Dick," Tim whispered weakly.
The man tore his gaze from the window to rest his eyes on the person next to him.