Chapter Two: Anchors and Ships Adrift
Mr. Wayne stays with him until Dana is finished talking with the police. He offers to take them home, but Dana says she's well enough and thanks him with that soft grace she has even in the face of tragedy. Tim's not as well-versed; he just nods awkwardly when the man offers him a gentle clap on the shoulder, murmurs out a barely audible "thank you" that he means more than anything, and from there on out, the weekend goes by in a blur. It's all operating on autopilot, on Tim forcing himself to get up, take showers, plan funerals. A date two weeks from now is circled on the fridge calendar in a stark red. Tim can't help but stare at it when he sits at the kitchen table, catches glimpses of it when he's working on a eulogy, pondering how to summarize forty years of life gone too soon. In the end, the eulogy's both unfinished and generic. Unfitting. Jack Drake's face appears in the Sunday papers beside those whose ages peak in their 90s, a door-step-delivered slap-in-the-face that Tim buries at the bottom of the trash where Dana won't see it.
Come Monday morning, it's almost impossible to get out of bed. Tim spends a good hour staring at his ceiling, wide awake because he's slept as much of the weekend away as his body will physically allow. He just listens to the pavement crackle beneath car wheels outside his window, drowns in the thrum of the pipes when the person next door turns on the shower. Tim doesn't even know what he'll do anymore in the now-empty apartment.
Dana's been gone since yesterday.
That fact is just another reason he has not to get out of bed. He could stay here all day, curled up with three blankets as solace and one of Dad's too-big T-shirts on. The reality of that leaves Tim's eyes roaming the room purposelessly, tired. After an eternity, they settle on the plastic of a garment bag. His work clothes are dangling from a hook on the back of his bedroom door, the suit sliced by a sliver of light slipping through the shut window blinds. It's symbolic in the most mawkish way imaginable, but Tim still watches the dust twirl in the light for a while. It's something to do. That's what he's needing.
The dulled blue of his eyes find their way back to the suit, sharpen on it slightly before he lets out a sigh. He's exhausted, the kind that's sunk deep into his bones and is drumming in his head. The better part of him repeats, You need something to do. You can't stay here forever. Tim would like to, though. He really would, but he knows he has to leave the apartment eventually.
So, slowly, he comes to a decision, and he heaves himself up.
The moment after the elevator opens is one Tim tries to ignore. He can feel the silent tension on his skin, but he lets himself keep typing as if doing his normal work will make him stick out less than he actually does.
Tim's eyes flicker up from his computer, hands stilled over the keyboard mid-sentence. It's the draft of a speech, some hospital fundraiser that Bruce Wayne attends annually. The gala isn't until next month, but here Tim sits regardless, parked in the anteroom outside of the CEO's office at seven a.m. on a Monday. It's not abnormal, not really, but circumstance colors everything.
"Tim, what are you doing here?" Mr. Wayne asks, looking genuinely concerned as he gets off the elevator. The expression on the man's face is so divorced from his usually calm persona that it takes Tim a second to recognize the emotion for what it is.
"I'm here for work," the teenager replies simply, a bit lackluster.
Mr. Wayne continues to look thrown off, standing in front of Tim's desk like his bones have frozen over, so Tim ignores his first instinct to continue working. "Tim," the man tries again, his voice a mixture of shock and caution, as if Tim's glass and speaking too loudly will shatter him. "You should take the day off—or the week if you need to. Honestly, I can have the other intern cover some of this."
Tim shakes his head politely, surprising himself with how smooth the motion comes. "Tam's got her hands tied with the Mikalek deal," he answers, opting for typing in tandem with speaking now. "Besides, this is the last week of my internship, so if I took time off, it'd be a weird note to end on."
"You're more than welcome to come back next summer, Tim," Mr. Wayne counters. "But at least for today, I still think you might do better at home."
Tim removes his hands from his keyboard, putting on the bravest face he can. It's an expression he's learned from Mr. Wayne over the years, a fact that Tim only realizes right then, and he wonders how much of himself he's gained from other people, from Dana or Mom.
"I'm fine, sir. Honest."
Tim's voice must falter somewhere, as Mr. Wayne looks like he can see straight through the lie. Most people don't realize, let Tim keep saying the same cliché over and over without ever trying to refute it, convinced it's the truth when it's not. But for whatever reason, Mr. Wayne is the only person Tim can never quite trick into thinking he's more okay than he really is.
"It's just…" Tim finally concedes with a small flicker of pain. "I need something to take my mind off things. I promise it won't affect my work, so is it alright if I stay on, Mr. Wayne?"
His boss spends another moment analyzing him, mulling the question over before the man nods in defeat. "I understand. I suppose I have a few things you can do for me—on one condition." A look of calm exasperation crosses Mr. Wayne's face for an instant, the kind that makes Tim straighten. "It's been two years. I promise, I don't mind if you call me by my first name."
Tim takes a moment to wipe the surprise from his own face. It's not that big of a request (Just about anyone Mr. Wayne interacts with on a daily basis is told to drop the formality.), but formality is a defense of sorts, so Tim's kept it.
"I…" the teenager starts in protest, words slowly failing before he lets out a deflated "okay" instead.
"Good," Bruce encourages, leaving Tim still confused as to how a two-year-old tradition can crumble so easily. "In terms of what you can do, I have a meeting with Dr. Baird from GU later this evening. If you're up for it, I'd like you to—" (It's at this point Tim realizes he should be jotting this down and scrambles for a pen. Bruce provides one like clockwork.) "—skim through his research, summarize, and find any inconsistencies that stick out. Also, check in with Lucius for me and make sure he has everything he needs for tomorrow's meeting. I have some paperwork you can take over to him while you're at it." There's a long pause in which Tim can feel Bruce's eyes on him while he finishes scribbling down the notes, too focused on whether or not he got it all down to notice the contemplation in his elder's face. "…And I'll need for you to clear my schedule from eleven to noon for the rest of the week."
Tim's eyebrows pinch with surprise. "All week?"
"All week," Bruce affirms seriously.
Rescheduling that alone will take Tim hours, and the teenager's left questioning what it is that's making Bruce flip his entire lunch schedule. (Blonde or brunette? Maybe Vicki Vale?) Regardless, most of those meetings have been penned in for months, and there's a particular one with LexCorp that's going to be a nightmare to reorganize. Being busy was what Tim had wanted, though. He'll just skip a meal or something. He hasn't been very hungry anyway, not since….
Tim shakes the thought from his head before it can get any deeper. "Alright," he breathes, crossing a "t" decidedly, "anything else?"
"I think that should do it," Bruce nods. His eyes find their way to a clockface on the wall. "I'll be at the Biotech labs for most of the morning, so if you need a break, call Ms. Crown. Understood?"
"Yes, Mr. Wayne—" A pair of eyes refix on Tim. "Er…Bruce."
"You'll get use to it," the man replies with something close to a smile, the most genuine one Tim's seen in a while. "I'll be seeing you later, then."
"Oh, okay," Tim voices, wondering why he's second-guessing an exchange they share every morning. The curiosity only becomes clear a few hours later.
"That'll be fine, yes," Tim says into the phone. Bruce steps off the elevator then, 11 o'clock sharp, and Tim offers him a polite wave. "The third?" he says into the speaker. "Yes, I think there's an opening then at 2. It's only for thirty minutes, but…yes…yes…" Tim glances up again from the desk calendar to see Bruce still there, sitting calmly in one of the chairs lining the wall like he's waiting to pick his kid up from school. "I see," Tim drones into the phone, faintly curious. "I can definitely pass it by him." He cups a hand to the speaker and angles it away from his face. "Is next Monday an okay time to meet with Mathis?"
Bruce gives a look like he just ate something sour (Mathis isn't the best person to see first thing on a Monday.), and Tim would laugh at the expression if today was a normal day.
But it's not.
Instead, Tim settles for a smile, the small kind that starts in his eyes but doesn't go much further.
"Now that I look at it," Tim answers, "that time isn't going to work out. I'll have a talk with Mr. Wayne and see if we can't schedule for another day instead. Uh-huh…yes…sounds good. Thank you very much." Finally, the handset is placed back, and Tim reclines in his chair with a careful exhale.
"I'm surprised," Bruce segues, drawing himself back to a stand. "Don't you usually have lunch around this time?"
Tim sets to rearranging the office supplies that's since desolated his desk. "Too busy. I rescheduled your noon meetings for today, so if you're here about that, don't worry: You're free to go to lunch if you'd like."
"What do you have to do next?"
Tim jogs some papers before returning them to their designated pile. "I still have to reorganize the LexCorp meeting, but it'll only take an hour or two if things go well. I should have that mostly done by the time you get back from your break."
Tim blinks once. "Beg your pardon?"
"We're going out for lunch."
Tim blinks twice, and he's grateful there's nothing in his grip for him to drop. "But I… What about the meeting I have to—"
Bruce holds up his hand and presses his cell to his ear. "Hello, Ms. Crown?" (Instantly, Tim wants to melt into the floor.) "Would you be able to handle rearranging the LexCorp conference for later on the twenty-eighth? …You would? Wonderful. Thank you very much." It's almost melodramatic when Bruce taps the end call button, and Tim's confused for the second time that morning as he slowly pushes himself up. "You might want your jacket," Bruce is saying, already pulling the cloth off the back of Tim's chair. "It's pretty cold outside with the wind."
"Um, th—thank you?"
Tim really just wanted to drown in work for today, but it's made very apparent when Bruce is punching the elevator button for the first floor that that's not going to be the case.
Even twenty minutes later, it's remained a bit of a whirlwind. Tim's still trying to process the sensory things, the sun blazing the black of his hair and the faint ocean wind on his skin. The sidewalk's hard beneath his oxfords, and despite it being midday on a Monday, throngs of people are bustling between random food stands and trucks like it's a Sunday bazaar. It reminds Tim of the circus he went to as a kid. Smells the same, like deep fryers and salt air. There's even cotton candy being sold somewhere around here, too, Tim's sure of it, can almost taste the sweetness on his tongue.
Instead of looking up and taking in the sights, though, Tim keeps his head down and hones in on the pavement. The family in front is researching the weather ("Looks like sun all week."), but it's not much more than idle chatter, just something to focus on in the sea of people so he doesn't get swept away.
"You're not lactose intolerant, right?"
Tim looks up at the man next to him. Bruce Wayne is still there in the whirl, and Tim keeps waiting for him to vanish like a dream. They work together on the daily, yes. But Tim can't remember a time when it was just the two of them outside of work.
All except for the police station the other day.
Just that once.
"I'm alright, sir," Tim manages politely. Bruce shoots him a look, eyebrows raised. It's the kind of expression that says, "This is happening whether you want it to or not," so Tim relents. "Yeah, milk is fine."
"Good. Two please." A ten crinkles as it's handed to the person operating the concession. "It'd be a shame," Bruce goes on as he stuffs his wallet into his back pocket. "This stand's well-known around here for its shakes."
"Never been," Tim extends. He's watching the ocean, waves churning in the distance off the pier and kicking up wind. Tim has to close his eyes when his bangs get caught in the air.
"I'm surprised," Bruce comments good-naturedly, pressing a cup into Tim's hands. (Who would've guessed the man had a sweet tooth?) "We'll have to make a point to come again, then. I'm guessing you've never been to Joe's either?"
"The tavern? I've heard of it."
"That's the one. Their steaks are famous. The coffee's pretty good as well if I remember right." Bruce glances at Tim. The teenager's been eying the milkshake in his hands politely, and as much as the chocolate shavings on top look safe enough, he still doesn't have much appetite.
"That'll melt soon if you don't get to work on it," Bruce advises, something close to sympathy caught in his eyes before he harpoons his own shake with a spoon. The cajoling convinces Tim to scoop some whipped cream off the top and take a bite.
Tim takes another bite with a civil hum of agreement. "It's good."
"Glad to hear it," Bruce smiles (Tim's pretty sure someone takes a picture nearby.) before directing Tim away from the stand to a collection of cheap, tree-canopied tables a short walk away. "Maybe we can try somewhere in Haysville too. There's a cafe near the park with a great view, the street-kind that's—" Another photo snaps, and Bruce shades his eyes in an urbane look of embarrassment. "—more low-profile. You understand."
Tim stirs at his shake. "That's really nice of you," he mutters, eyes gleaning the speckled plastic that composes the tabletop. "You don't have to go to so much trouble, though. Honestly, I'm getting along alright."
Bruce's face saddens a bit, like he's calculating how much weight Tim's lost in only a weekend of not eating. It can't be that much, but Bruce has some extrasensory ability to know anyway, and Tim can't actually remember the last time he ate something. He continues stirring his drink in avoidance.
"How's your stepmother doing?"
Tim pauses before taking a scoop of chocolate, mulling over how best to phrase his answer. Eventually, he dumps the contents back into the cup and continues stirring.
"She's in the hospital."
Bruce flinches horribly, and Tim's never seen him crack that noticeably—not even in meetings with Luthor. "It's not serious," Tim hurries to add, but Bruce's face gets even grimmer somehow. "Everything's happening so fast that…she's just having a hard time with it."
A hard time.
Tim could almost laugh at himself.
Dana can't even remember Dad's dead anymore, like memories stopped for her the second Dad's heart did, the moment an officer knocked on their apartment door with his hat in his hands and a look that stung with story.
"I see," Bruce exhales smoothly, still looking unnerved. His eyes are drilling Tim like he can see straight into his mind. "I'll have some flowers sent over for her, then."
"I'm sure she'd appreciate that..."
People continue shifting about around them, seagulls scattered along the pavement as they pick at stray trash. A few of the birds squawk back and forth to each other, and Tim's thinking of the time he and Dad went fishing off the pier not too far from here. The fish were few and far between that day, so much so that they wound up throwing spare bait onto the wood planks to see how many gulls they could attract. Dad was thoroughly disappointed then ("Freighters're chasing all the fish off."), but still, Tim would go through life all over again just to see Dad pull in a reel and shake his head one more time.
It's such a stupid thing to miss, really.
"You're living at home by yourself right now, then?"
"Just until Dana's better," Tim breathes. (He almost forgot to for a moment.) "The doctor said the prognosis was good, so we'll just have to see." It's not a lie. Not necessarily. Tim's just not mentioning the sick feeling he has in the pit of his stomach. Because although it's hardly been a day, Tim's not sure how long CB will let a sixteen-year-old live alone before…
The teenager zones back in.
Bruce watches him for another moment, concern written in his eyes. Tim doesn't reply, just waits until, finally, the man breaks the silence for him. "Want to go for a walk around the pier?"
Tim nods smally. He's still not all that hungry, and all in all, it's a pretty nice day. A bit cold right near the water but if Tim puts his hands in his pockets, it's not too bad. The sun's out and hot white, clouds weaving over and blanketing patches of earth in shadow on whimsy. The ocean top catches what light it can, deep enough that the bottom's lost, and Bruce lets Tim walk on the inside closer to the edge so he can look in to see if he can spy any fish. He sees a few and hates that Dad isn't here to try and catch one.
"Don't want you falling in," Bruce explains, a hand pulling Tim closer by the elbow and away from the water. Maybe he was getting a little too close; he didn't even notice. Tim notices when Bruce's hand leaves, though, and he's wondering if he's making the man uncomfortable by staying silent. Tim thinks he's said too much already.
Bruce looks genuinely confused, so Tim elaborates. "The other day, at the station. I'm sorry if I—"
"Tim." Bruce comes to a sudden stop, and the teenager follows suit. "Can I ask you a question?"
Tim gives a hesitant nod, hit with a pang of dread like he's somehow messed something up but doesn't know how.
"Why did you ask Gordon to call me that night?"
It takes a moment to digest the question. To be honest, Tim's not sure how to answer, not sure why, out of all the people in the world, Bruce was the one person he wanted to have there when it felt like his life was crumbling around him.
The teenager turns his head to look back out at the ocean, evasive. A few freighters are there, drifting on the horizon with low horns following, the sounds deep enough that they resonate against the bottoms of Tim's feet and in his chest like he's hollow.
"I guess because…you're the only person who's ever told me they'd be there if I needed them."
Tim pauses, and some part of him that didn't realize feels sad about that. It's sad because it's the purest truth Tim knows. Dad would come, maybe, but he never said he would, never made sure Tim knew, so Tim just…doesn't know. It's too late to.
"I remember that feeling."
Tim's eyes flicker back.
"I've waited in police stations before," Bruce says, and Tim realizes the man's been watching the ships too, a look in his eyes like he's adrift at sea himself, a little lost. His voice has changed as well, and there's a darkness there that brings to mind people with deep scars and heavy burdens. "I remember," Bruce repeats. "So, whatever it is you're going to apologize for, you shouldn't. I'm honored you trusted me to be that person for you."
A faint breeze fills the silence before Bruce clears his throat. "We should probably get heading back," he says, voice still haunted by a distant sadness. Tim wonders why that is, realizes he doesn't know Bruce half as well as he thinks he does. It's the kind of change Tim recognizes in himself, because there's a piece of Tim now that keeps looking for someone shifty in the crowds, for the kind of person who shoots fathers in alleys.
Maybe Bruce knows what that's like.
Maybe that's why he's doing this.
"Would you like to get lunch again tomorrow?" Bruce says abruptly, ripping his eyes away from the ships, and there's a faint gleam in his irises that throws Tim for a loop, that says he's more Bruce now and less…whatever he was a moment ago. "There're a few other places around town that are worth checking out, and I've got the time. I was thinking we could try Joe's tomorrow if you'd want, considering how fond you are of coffee."
It takes a moment for Tim to adjust to the shift, but soon enough, the teenager snorts. "I don't drink coffee that much, Bruce." The man tilts his head in response, as if to imply he doesn't agree but isn't going to argue. Tim writes it off with a small smirk, more and more himself. "But sure. Any place claiming to have good coffee is worth checking out, right?"
"Right," Bruce concurs, a smile in his eyes, sympathetic still but looking closer to the real thing. "But before that, we've got a while left 'til we have to be back. We can grab some more food if you're still hungry."
And Tim's surprised that he means it when he answers, "I might just take you up on that."