AN: I was looking for some fluffy/bonding Bruce and Tim stories the other day, and I was surprised by how few there are out there...? So, I'm taking matters into my own hands. I don't usually take requests, but if you've got something you want to see, mention it in a comment and it might happen. (And if you've got recommendations, please send them my way, thanks. OuO'')

If That Happens

"It's almost evening."

Bruce glances up from where he's been sifting through the mail on the kitchen island.

Alfred's not wrong (The sun's just about to set.), but there's more to the statement than what meets the eye. Bruce decides not to address it in the end, just tosses another envelope onto its assorted pile.

As expected with Tim's arrival at the Manor, the media's in a buzz, and even though his mother's funeral was just this morning, Gotham reporters are a special breed of unempathetic, vulture-like so long as they get their story. Vicki Vale is the worst of them, and it's no question that she won't stop until the day after the end of time. And speaking of which…

"It's quarter after five," Alfred offers again, mixing something in the pot in front of him. Bruce is pretty certain the soup doesn't need the constant attention it's been getting, but Alfred keeps stirring it anyway, gaze lost on the backsplash crowning the stove. "He hasn't eaten all day."

Bruce's eyes glean another invitation from the Gotham Gazette before setting the stack down with a sigh. "Doubt he's hungry."

"He didn't eat yesterday either," the Englishman comments, almost dreamy like the knobs on the stove will listen if he only says it sad enough. He comes back to life after a long moment and begins tapping the spoon on the rim of the pot. The ladle is set down. "Might I trouble you to take this up to him?"

That catches Bruce's attention.

Alfred is the last person to ask for a favor, and hence, the question has far more meaning. Everything the older man says is the same, riddled with deeper purpose—whether that be subtle sarcasm or something more akin to what's transpiring between the two of them now. That's probably why Bruce respects him so much, because Alfred's a mystery that keeps him on his toes.

But Alfred knows that what he's really asking for is not the type of thing Bruce is good at.

The Englishman is already reaching for a bowl, though, silently informing Bruce that this is happening whether he wants it to or not, so Bruce relents, "Alright," and it's almost as if time has become moot, because in the next instant, the man's standing outside of a door with a small tray, staring down the handle like it's poisonous and liable to bite if he moves too soon.

It's silly, really. He's well-aware of what's waiting behind the door: a maze of expensive furniture with a thirteen-year-old lost in its midst. But for whatever reason, beating down the suspicious lot of Gotham sounds infinitely more appealing as Bruce scrutinizes the entrance.

This situation is calling up memories of when he was ten, and Alfred is so much better at these kinds of things, because that's a time Bruce tries not to think about, not to get caught up in. Ultimately, the only thing he can't ever get off his mind is the constant ache in his chest. That's because it's still there after all these years; the pain re-announces itself every moment with a worsening throb, so Bruce already knows there's nothing he can say to the boy in that room.

It never gets better.

But eventually, Bruce pulls down the handle with his free hand, and the door skirts aside, skittish, like it's been startled by the growl of its own hinge.

The man spends a while in the open doorway, trapped between the doorjambs because there's a second where he has to look, eyes scanning for raven hair or ocean eyes but not finding either. He won't find them, he realizes, because all that remains of Tim is a mountain of blankets on the bed. The form isn't moving, encased in the quilts like it's a casket that's waiting to be put under, and Bruce watches.

It takes an eternity before the man's eyes adjust enough to the darkness to make it out. A steady rise and fall rocks the upper-half of the shape, indicates there's still a breathing person somewhere in there. The air lightens a bit at the recognition.

Bruce would guess Tim's just asleep, but he knows that's not true. When it comes to trauma, the world is filled with two types of people: those who are too tired, willing to sleep through it all, and those who relive the pain, running it over and over to the point where sleep is less a necessity and more an inconvenience. Out of those options, Bruce and Tim are the latter, one in the same. It's an axiom that drives Bruce to take a step forward, followed by another and another.

One would think that the lessened distance would make Tim look bigger, but if anything, he's somehow grown smaller, juxtaposed with the overly-large mattress that looks more depressing than comfortable. The bedframe creaks slightly when Bruce sits down, setting the tray on the nightstand. As much as the mattress has shifted under the added weight, Tim doesn't move.

He's feigning sleep. But Bruce knows better, and he stays.

Tim must figure his plan didn't work after a while, because there's the rustle of the blankets that summon black lacquer hair and the eyes Bruce was searching for earlier. But Tim doesn't say anything still, and the both of them wait for something to happen that likely won't.

"How are you doing?" Bruce asks in the end. He instantly hates himself for the question, but it's the only one he could think of, so he lets it be.

"I'm fine," comes the expected response. The two haven't known each other for that long, only a year now, but Bruce understands him well enough to get that the phrase is Tim's "go to" when he doesn't want to talk. Alfred is downstairs waiting, however. He'll want to hear that Bruce and the young man have had some semblance of a conversation, and the thought keeps Bruce there.

It doesn't make it easier to find something to say, though, so he looks over the boy's face instead. Tim's not making eye contact, irises pulled to the side, almost glowing in the dark quiet, but Bruce doesn't break away. The boy is tired, exhausted, and there's a redness to his skin that contrasts oddly with the pale. Bruce knows it's not embarrassment, and he knows it's not a fever—Anyone would be a bit overheated if they were holed up under three comforters like Tim has been—but Bruce's hand moves to the boy's forehead anyway.

Tim flinches a bit at the touch. It's probably something he's not used to, and to be honest, it's not very familiar to Bruce either. But the boy doesn't move away, giving silent consent, so Bruce tells himself the contact is okay.

His skin's warm to the touch like it's had sunrays beating on it even though the blinds are drawn. Bruce vaguely remembers that Dick felt the same. Jason did too. But Jason's gone—has been for a long time—and Dick has moved on. Bruce is here with Tim now, matching black hair and blue eyes that link the two of them in lieu of blood, and it's as if he's stuck in a perpetual loop of reincarnation, a new boy always filling the space where an old one once stood. But Bruce is determined to get this one right. He's not good at it. He'll admit that, but he's not losing this one. Not if he can help it.

There's the small sound of someone swallowing beside him, tentative and quiet, and it draws Bruce's focus back.

"Do you ever…get scared?"

Bruce's head tilts slightly at the question. That's not what he was expecting—not from Tim, and he's trying to get a better view of the boy's face, a clue to suss out the meaning there because Tim is as much of a puzzle as Alfred and Bruce is trying to understand them both. But the boy's eyes haven't moved; they're fixed on some unimportant space past the rest of the world.

"Sometimes," Bruce answers thoughtfully, brushing back a piece of the boy's hair, because he's trying to get his attention. It works: Blue eyes flicker in his direction, a faint twinge of desperation lost there.

"But you're Batman."

Bruce could almost smile at the innocence of the comment. There's a lot left for them to learn about each other, and it leaves Bruce there, smoothing black strands back off white skin and trying to understand. "Sometimes that's what's scary," he replies, and he leaves it at that. Tim already knows what he means. He's seen Bruce at his lowest, consumed by darkness, and the boy doesn't reply, digesting the thought as his eyes move back to whatever void he was lost in before. Bruce traces the path and finds only the wall; there's nothing there.

"And you?" Bruce tries, gaze pulled back.

Tim is quiet for a long time, and Bruce almost thinks he's misspoken, misread, misunderstood, and the effort will have been for nothing. An answer does come, though, nebulous but clear enough that Bruce can get it.

"I…don't like being alone."

It's something Tim would do: not admit that he's afraid of that solitude and instead casting it as something he dislikes. But this isn't something that's so easy to redefine. His mother's gone. His father might never wake up. And the world is changing.

Bruce considers that idea for a minute, how much everything is up in the air for someone who overthinks everything, analyzes and runs through every last possibility. It's something worse than torture when Tim's biggest worry should be getting his homework done and who to ask to the middle school dance. But no. He's buried under a pile of blankets, having just buried his mother and probably asking himself if he'll have to do it for his father soon too. That fear is solidified when Tim speaks again.

"What if he doesn't wake up?"

Bruce's fingers hesitate for a heartbeat, all Tim's hair in order now, but it feels wrong to pull away. In the end, he leaves his hand there. "He'll wake up."

"But what if he doesn't?" The boy sounds just a bit pained, more emotion than usual for Tim, but there's no hint of anything more, not even tears. They're probably locked up somewhere in his chest, unable to get out and instead thinning his voice as he continues, "What'll happen next?"

Tim's smart. He understands the chances of waking up from a coma after this long, and as awful as they are, he's trying to concoct a plan with those grim outcomes. Bruce can guess he's too overwhelmed to come up with one; he's asking Bruce instead.

The man breathes in slowly, shoulders coming up like soft steam before dissipating. "You'll stay here in the Manor, and we'll work from there." Two eyes refocus on Bruce, quiet but more attentive than they've been so far. "We're partners now, Tim, so don't worry so much."

The admission is something Tim doesn't reply to, searching Bruce's face as if he's trying to find uncertainty written there but never can. It takes a minute before the teenager exhales, weak as settling dust, and his irises make contact with the shadowed tray on the nightstand.

"Soup," Bruce clarifies at the silent query, "something light."

"Smells good," Tim murmurs, but he doesn't budge. It's like he's afraid the hand still resting on his forehead will leave if he does, so Bruce doesn't shift either, lets it be. They'll have to move eventually, but for now, this is fine, and so, they stay.