AN: Skater Tim, my beloved!
Context: This story is set a few days after the 1996 Contagion Arc. (TL;DR There's this lethal disease called the Clench. Lots of Gotham gets it + Tim, who almost dies. Batfam develops an antidote. Tim is fine. The end.) Tim is fourteen at this point and is still living with his dad in the house next to Wayne Manor. He's met Steph but is dating Ariana.
I thought it was for you—but it was for me
The skateboard reconnects with a sharp click, the front end, then the back, as it nosedives into the bowl. Wheels rattle on the buildup back to the top—a kick turn, and the process repeats. Tim's gotten good at them. When, Bruce couldn't say.
Eventually, Tim lets his momentum carry him out and back onto the flat concrete of the skate park. He's not wearing a helmet, but he's got knee and elbow pads on over his jeans and GU sweatshirt. "You gonna say anything?" Tim finally asks, practicing his nose stalls on the grind box nearby.
Bruce doesn't respond. He sat down on the bench fifteen minutes ago. Tim probably clocked his car five minutes before that, even.
Tim laughs and shakes his head. "Seriously, Bruce. Alfred cleared me." He lets himself coast by, fingers splayed at his sides as if to advertise, "I'm the picture of good health."
Bruce understands this. Tim's vitals were fine. Perfect, really. "The Clench didn't seem to have any lasting effects," he concurs.
"And yet, here you are." It's not snappy. More sing-songy as if to point out how silly Bruce is being. It's obvious that Bruce isn't here for crime-related business. He told Tim to take the week off, after all. But here Bruce sits in his dress pants and button-up shirt, tie undone and jacket thrown over the backrest of the bench he's sitting on. It's hot tonight. 11 o'clock. The lamps around the park are on, and moths are beating themselves against the bulbs.
"Does your father know you're out here?" Bruce finally asks.
Tim shakes his head unapologetically. He does a kickflip and looks a bit surprised that he lands it. "Nah, Dad goes to bed early. Physical training wears him out." He glances at Bruce. "What about you? Alfred know you're out here?"
Bruce goes tight-lipped at that. Tim, of course, smothers a smirk.
"How has school been?"
Tim's eyes dart around in his head, probably trying to figure out where this conversation is going. "OK?" he answers. "You know. Homework. Essays. It's school." He kicks his board up onto a ledge and grinds it for a second. "And work?" he asks.
"It's…work," Bruce mirrors. He went home for dinner afterward, so Bruce doesn't have his briefcase with him right now. Just his wallet, car keys, and mobile phone. The bench beside him is occupied by a backpack that's decorated with pins of cartoon robots. Must be Tim's.
"Cool," Tim replies after a while. He doesn't sound uncomfortable, more just puzzled, and he does an ollie off the funbox. The board pulls out from underneath his skate shoes then, so when Tim lands, it's on his feet at a jog. "So, was there something you needed?" he calls, trotting after his rogue board.
"Wanted to check in," Bruce answers.
"Oh. Well, thanks." Tim strolls back, board held by its nose. "But like I said, I'm good. You should probably sleep. Or call in Dick."
Bruce should. Doesn't know why he hasn't. "What about that girl?" he tries against his better judgment.
"You mean Ariana?"
Tim puts the board back down but keeps one foot on it, rolling the wheels back and forth . "She's…good? Hasn't been answering my calls lately, but…" He shrugs. "She's probably busy with her aunt and uncle. It happens."
Tim's brow furrows, and he looks up. "Are…you asking about this because of work stuff? If that's the case, I'm all good up here." He taps the side of his head. "Like, I know the Clench was scary, but…I'm surprisingly at peace with it? I'll be all good to join you next Tuesday."
Bruce watches him for a few seconds, hands cradled in the space between his knees. Below, a grasshopper leaps across the pavement, a little shadow highlighted by the orange lamplight.
Bruce just doesn't know how to say it. The thought hadn't occurred to him during the Clench. It was too chaotic, a disease that turned even the best civilians paranoid. When Tim was infected, there was no time to fret over him. No use in doing so, either, and it all worked out in the end. He doesn't know why he's stuck on that.
At his core, Bruce is a compartmentalist. It's why he's so good at what he does, but in the aftermath, the compartments got a bit shuffled, files in one place sinking into another. It's the only way Bruce can put it, can explain why he looks at Tim and still sees the trace symptoms, the red tear ducts and shaky limbs.
As it happens, the reason he's needed Tim to take a break has only partially been for Tim's benefit.
It's just…too distracting for Bruce. Too soon.
With the metal bench cold beneath his thighs, an annoying mosquito buzzing around his head, Bruce focuses on Tim. The teen's hair is wild from the air, a faint rise and fall in his chest from chasing after the skateboard. Otherwise, his complexion is healthy, fingernails clean where they hang loose at his sides.
Tim was on death's doorstep the other day. He should be traumatized, but…maybe the teen's even better at keeping himself and the job separate.
"I see," Bruce repeats. He doesn't remember what it was he asked.
Thankfully, Tim doesn't press him on it, just watches the ebb and flow of his board as he pushes it around. They have a deal with one another that if something is bothering Tim, he has to communicate it. It's not a control thing for Bruce; it's purely due to the life-or-death nature of their work. Anything—stress, worry—Bruce has to know about it so he understands what to look out for. It's why Tim's so clinical about himself now. His family's fine. His school life's the same. By all accounts, he's a happy healthy fourteen-year-old. But still… Would Tim feel comfortable sharing such things under different pretenses? If they were just talking to talk?
The skateboard wheels roll. Forward. Backward. The sound is large in the cicada quiet.
Tim hesitates, looking at him innocently. Bruce maintains the eye contact for a time but ultimately can't. There's the clack, then, of Tim stepping on the tail of his skateboard, of it snapping up into his hand.
"I'd always wanted to try skateboarding, you know."
Bruce blinks up at him. Tim just smiles and walks over, plopping down on the bench between Bruce and his backpack. "No, really," he says. "I thought it was the coolest thing growing up. Dad used to have all kinds of sports playing on the TV when he was home. He liked the usual stuff, sure, but there was surfing, fencing, table tennis. The types that don't get much airtime normally."
Tim rests his board over his knees and traces the scuff marks on the wheels. It's the first time Bruce has a clear view of the Florida Gators logo on the underside. "Dad never really cared for skateboarding, though. Too deviant for him, maybe. But events were on some mornings when he and Mom were away, so I tuned in."
"You're very good," Bruce says.
Tim flashes him another grin. His adult teeth have all grown in, but one of his lateral incisors came twisted. It helps him look his age, boyish and carefree. "I ate concrete more often than not—if you can believe it. But still, I never would have tried it before I met you."
"It's true." Tim runs a thumb along the board's tensor truck. "I mean, there was the thought of what Dad would say, but mainly, skateboarding always looked so…dangerous. I could break my arm. Get a concussion. The fear was paralyzing." Tim pats the board once, affirmative. "And then I realized that it's actually pretty safe if you know what you're doing."
For the first time, Bruce wonders if there's a double-meaning to all this. If there is, Tim doesn't explain it, just reaches into his backpack to retrieve a plastic water bottle. He cracks the tamper-evident seal off, fast and crisp. The beverage looks like something he got from the Sunoco station down the street. Bruce can spy the pylon sign for it from here, neon-bright over the horizon. The only things around this part of Bristol are forested hiking trails, schools, and the nearby outlet mall peddling to the gated communities. Bruce can't even see Gotham proper.
Tim takes a swig of his water, then wipes his mouth on the back of his sleeve. "Anyway," he says, screwing the cap back on, "I guess I'm trying to say thanks. I'm glad I got to do this."
Bruce watches him stand. He wants to say, "You shouldn't be," and, "You're welcome," simultaneously, the two caught in his throat. By the time he has any kind of response, Tim's already back on his board.