Dick stayed in bed for half an hour, just breathing slowly and trying to rationalize everything he remembered from the previous night. He couldn’t comprehend what had happened last night or imagine what he was going to do from now on, especially in terms of his little brother. There was just too much he didn’t know for sure about their future, too much that could go wrong. He had always thought that the both of them would spend the rest of their lives in the circus, learning everything they could from their parents and performing for large crowds every night, but he knew it would be impossible now. The only thing he could be sure of was his main priority: to look after Timmy. Right now this would mean making sure he understood their situation. He almost envied his little brother for not knowing that their parents were dead, but he knew that Tim’s ignorance wouldn’t last for long. Soon he’d have to tell Tim about the fall and he was willing to prolong the inevitable conversation as long as he needed to, knowing that he wasn’t ready for the many questions Tim would have for him.
Bruce had left a few minutes ago to talk to the police officers leaving Dick some time to himself. He felt like this was the silence before the storm, the silence before everything went to hell, and he’d have to make sure Tim didn’t react too badly. He appreciated the fact that Bruce had asked if it would be okay to leave, but Dick regretted not telling the truth. He wanted to have some support around and if Tim woke while he was away Dick had no idea how to even talk to him.
As it turned out, Tim was just excited to find his older brother in his bed, something that happened occasionally but never frequently enough to please both of them. Once Dick was deemed old enough to perform, he went out with their parents any time he could and usually brought Tim with him. He was too small to perform with his family, Dick wasn’t even sure if they made outfits in his size, but he did spend his evenings training with them. Last night though, Tim had been coming off of a cold and needed some more rest. He denied feeling ill, he always did when he was sick, but their mother saw through the act and made him promise to stay in until the show ended and they could check if he was recovering properly. Dick had promised to come back before the end of the performance and help him get to sleep, but he was probably out soon after Mom had given him his medicine. His deep sleep was probably why he didn’t hear the noise Bruce and Dick were making, but it also meant that he was well rested in the morning.
Dick decided to divert away from any hard topics until Bruce came back concluding that to have the discussion properly he would need the support. He chose to greet Tim as he alway did, with a smile on his face and a squeeze to his chest. Looking down on the raven hair bouncing around as he tried to make himself comfortable, Dick sighed, “Hey, Timbo. How’d you sleep?”
He tried to keep the smile on his face genuine, like nothing was wrong. Like their whole world hadn’t shifted and he had no idea how to fix it. Like they were going to be on their own from now on. The last thing he needed was to make Tim as afraid as he was.
Tim, on the other hand, was still a little drowsy and rubbing all the sleep from his eyes. He moved off of his brother’s chest and stretching out the tension in his muscles with a sincere smile on his face. His hair was messy, probably from Dick subconsciously messing with it while he waited for him to wake up, and he moved it out of his eyes to get a proper look on Dick. He assured his brother, “Fine. I feel better now, I can breath without making any noise. Thanks though, you really helped.”
A little surprised by the thanks, Dick asked, “For what? What did I do?”
“It’s lots easier to sleep with you. You’re like a giant heater,” Tim giggled as he stretched out his arms waiting for his bother to move so they could get out of bed. He didn’t notice that Dick didn’t really laugh as he usually did, but it did come as a shock when Dick pulled him back on the bed and stopped him from moving. Not understanding the concern emanating from his brother, Tim conceded to Dick’s hug as he always did and laid in his hold waiting for him to feel content. This behavior was a little abnormal but not completely unheard of as Dick had always needed more human contact than anyone else Tim had come across and Tim was happy to indulge him. It had been a part of his fate ever since he was born.
After a few minutes of Tim slowly being lulled back to sleep, they heard the screen door open and Bruce surprised at finding the smallest among them awake. Knowing that Dick would have a hard time explaining the situation to his little brother, Bruce had made sure to hurry back as soon as he could, but judging by the lack of distress or tears on the younger boy, he was still unaware. Dick let out a sigh of relief at his return, but soon realized he had been hoping for the quiet moment between him and Tim earlier in the morning to last forever.
Tim, even though he had never seen the man before, assumed that he was one of the many people who worked for the circus. He peered over his brother’s body to look at the stranger, studying him, before concluding that he wasn’t a risk and asking, “Do you wanna talk to Mamma and Daddy? I can show you where they are.”
A pregnant silence fell over the room as Dick buried his head in Tim’s small chest, smelling the fruity soap their dad had used to clean him of the dirt that came with running through the animal enclosure because it was Tim’s favorite and reminded him of their mother, and Bruce lowered his head confusing the youngest even more. Tim didn’t know how to read the shift in the environment and only pushed further.
He tried to free his arm out from beneath his brother and point to the trailer next to the one they were in, but he meet too much resistance. Instead he elected to use his head to point before explaining, “Do you need to talk to them? They’re in the trailer wight next to us. I can help you get there if you’re lost.”
Refusing to remove his face from where it rested, Dick just pleaded, “Stop Timmy…Please. Don’t talk about them.”
Feeling the weight on his older brother shoulders and the strain in his voice, Tim immediately recognized that something was out of place. Although he would never be able to imagine what happened last night, he knew that Dick was hiding something and that the tired man at their door had something to do with it. He felt worried by the way they had reacted to him mentioning their parents, the tension and inability to look him in the eyes, but for the life of him couldn’t figure out why his brother sounded so sad. With a worried look on his face, one that Dick wanted to avoid at all costs, he asked, “What’s wrong, Dick? You sound sad.”
Bruce decided to chime in, not wanting to intrude in on the conversation and make them any more uncomfortable than they already were. “Dick, do you want me to wait outside?”
“No!” Dick shot out from the position he had been in for the better part of an hour and pleaded with Bruce, “Please, I don’t know how to tell him. I…I don’t know what to do. Please.”
Bruce knew his heart was going to break when the young boy buried his head in his hands and murmured with a completely defeated voice, “Please help.”
He let out a heavy sigh, not really sure of his place but assuring Dick that he would stay and support him. “Okay. Okay, I’m not going to leave.”
“What’s going on? Did something happen.” By now Tim was frightened about what had scared his brother and the large man in their trailer. His breathing was growing more panicked and he decided to turn to something he could never question, “I want Mamma and Daddy! Dick what’s going on.” He was frantic, not knowing what to imagine but he did try to fight his way out of his brother’s hold and run off to their parents.
Bruce made his way to the bed and sat in the chair he had gotten acquainted with over the past night. Dick cemented his place next to his brother and kept his hold, unsure of how to act and placing his trust in his instinct to hold Tim.
Bruce let out another sigh and began his practiced speech. Taking the smallest hands he had ever seen into his own, he made Tim look him in the eye before explaining, “Tim, last night there was an accident at the show where your parents were performing…They fell, it looks like the ropes snapped, and there was no net to catch them…I’m sorry, but they didn’t make it…They’re dead.”
Once again a silence swept the room as Bruce and Dick waited to see how Tim would react to the information.
He squinted his eyes, unable to process what he’d just learned, and asked, “What does that mean? ‘Dead.’ What does it mean? Are they hurt? Do we need to get a doctor?”
Any planning on Bruce’s part had left him as he hung his head and tried to think about a way to explain the situation to someone who couldn’t even comprehend what death meant. The boy had no idea how absolute his separation from his parents was and it was up to Bruce to explain it to him, it was a position he had never been in before and one he would never wish upon his worst enemy.
Dick looked just as surprised as he was, but he also looked completely lost. It shouldn’t have surprised him that his little brother wouldn’t be able to comprehend something as ugly as death, but it would have made the situation easier, and he almost envied his ignorance.
Thinking back, Dick turned Tim to face him and refused to break eye contact as he asked, “Timmy, remember when Mrs. Casent was feeling sick and we never say her again? When she couldn’t stop coughing and Dad had to go look after her, but then she stopped feeling sick? We never saw her after she was sick. That’s what dead means, we don’t get to see them again.” Begging his brother to understand, he slowly finished, “We don’t get to see Mom and Dad again.”
Starting to shake from what his brother was trying to explain, Tim argued, “No, we did see her again. We saw her, a few days after she stopped being sick.”
Shocked and utterly confused, Dick asked, “What?”
Holding onto his brother’s arm, Tim argued, “Remember. We went to the thing where Mamma said we had to wear black and we saw her sleeping?”
Realization swept through him and after finally breaking his eye contact with Tim, Dick shook his head and whispered, “Who told you she was sleeping?”
Unsure of whether or not he was winning the argument, Tim tried to rationalize, “I don’t know… She just looked like she was sleeping.”
Bruce decided to take over control of the situation; Tim didn’t need to be lost in this delusion forever and Dick was looking to him for direction. Once Tim’s attention was once again on him, he gave the boy a moment to collect himself before explaining in a soft voice, “Tim, it’s a lot like sleeping but she didn’t wake up. She’s going to sleep forever. It’s the same way with your parents. They’re going to be sleeping forever.”
With shivers and breathing growing more frantic, Tim grabbed onto Bruce and asked with a small voice, “Mamma and Daddy aren’t going to wake up?”
Holding him to his chest was the best way Bruce could think to calm him down. Tim sat on his lap with his head buried in his shirt, trying to avoid looking at anything in particular as he tried to finding something to hold onto. Bruce ran his hand through Tim’s soft hair as he said, “Yes. I’m sorry, but they aren’t going to wake up.”
Not wanting to accept anything that had been thrown at him, Tim still pleaded with Bruce to reconsider. “Did you try hard? Did you scream? Can I try? That always wakes them up when I try.”
With his other palm to his back, Bruce rubbed in circles to try and calm him down. “I’m sorry, Tim, I’m very sorry. There’s nothing anyone can do.”
With one last attempt at changing their minds, Tim asked, “Did you let Dick try? They always wake up when he jumps on their bed. Did you try that?”
A voice too stern and completely out of character cut through, “Timmy, there’s nothing that’s going to wake Mom and Dad up.”
Dick regretted his tone immediately after when he saw his brother go still at his words; he had made his little brother feel even worse and hearing the little whimper come out after hearing those sharp words made him feel like he was the worst brother to ever exist.
Refusing to look at Dick, Tim simply acknowledged him with a choked, “Oh.”
Looking down at him, Bruce realized that he was in shock, unable to process the information that they had just dropped on him. Even at this point he didn’t understand just how absolute the situation was, that he would never get the opportunity to interact with his parents again.
Letting him process everything for a few minutes, Bruce couldn’t help but think that no one his age was ever this still. The little contact he’d had with kids had shown him that they were the embodiment of hyperactivity and even though these were exceptional circumstances he couldn’t help but think about how he wanted to see what they would look happier. It would take a while, definitely more than a few hours, but he wanted to be there when they did eventually smile. The one thing that he knew was that he was that it would take dedication on his part and he knew he was ready to give them anything they needed. Resting his chin on the boy’s head and squeezing him close, he assured, “I…Tim…I know that I can never replace your parents, and I would never want to, but I want to help. I lost my own parents when I was a little older than your age, and I know how hard this is for you. Anything you need, you or you brother, I’m going to help you, okay?”
Once the tears started to fall and Tim started to shake, Dick took the initiative to move him a chair next to the two and take Tim into his lap. He began to rock his brother knowing that neither of them were okay and antagonizing the issue wouldn’t be productive. He hoped that his brother would understand his silent apology. This was the absolute worst situation to be upset with the most important person in his world, certainly the person who depended on him the most. He could tell that his apology had been accepted once he felt Tim’s hands dig into his shirt and his head find his favorite place on his chest.
They stayed like that for a while, embracing the silence as Tim nearly cried himself back to sleep. He held onto his brother, not letting him move from their position and risk separating them. When he did start to feel drowsy, Dick carried him off to his bed and positioned themselves as they had woken up as to lull his brother to sleep. It didn’t come without the assurance that he would in fact wake up from his nap and that both of them would be there alive and well.
Both of them probably needed the rest, Dick more so than Tim, but Bruce knew that he would stay awake much longer than just to ensure their safety. He also knew that Dick felt it his role to protect his little brother and Bruce understood his motivation. Alfred had stayed beside his bed for days when he went through his own tragedy, and he understood just how much he understood the need for the assurance that they would be fine.
Before anyone actually went to sleep, Bryce was able to convince Tim to eat a small breakfast and made sure Dick had enough to keep his energy up while he took up Bruce’s spot on the chair, leaving his brother to rest by himself. At first Dick had been a little stubborn about needing to eat something, but after seeing that there was no room for argument he poured himself some cereal and took up his post. Once everything had been settled, Tim asleep and Dick sitting beside him and his hand running through his hair, Bruce felt it a perfect time to finally talk to Gordon.
Putting on his jacket and gathering his phone, Bruce whispered to Dick, “I’m going to go talk to the police, okay? It won’t be as long as last time, I’ll make sure of that.”
Refusing to look Bruce in the eye and show his worries about him leaving again, Dick tried, “Do you really need to go again? You just came back.” Dick knew it wasn’t true, they had been talking for hours, but it just didn’t feel right to have Bruce leave so soon.
Straightening up and giving the boy a sympathetic look even if he couldn’t see it, Bruce explained, “I’m sorry, but we need to make sure everything’s in order for you two.” A question came to his mind just as he finished the sentence and he had to ask, “Before I go, I need to know something: Do you two have a legal guardian your parents wanted to look after you? An emergency contact? Understandably, you never answered me the last time I asked.”
Taking a moment to properly think about the answer, Dick rambled, “Nope. A lot of the people in the circus aren’t really good at taking care of themselves and they wouldn’t do a good job with kids. Their nice and all, but they’re not good enough to look after Tim. Sometimes people get angry very fast or they say mean things and they scare him. It’s the worst when they’ve been drinking. They’re nice most of the time and they’re our friends, but I don’t think Mom and Dad never liked having them look out after us.” With a sad little smile down to his brother, Dick concluded, “I don’t like it when Timmy’s scared and he doesn’t like it when people are angry.”
It would makes sense for someone Tim’s size to be afraid of drunk adults and Bruce admired the dedication in Dick, but he found himself asking, “Is he sensitive?” It was an honest question, he would need to make sure that he didn’t accidentally scar the boy, but judging from the grimace on Dick’s face he seemed to find it insulting.
With a cold voice meant to show Bruce just how he’d messed up, Dick said, “No, he’s not sensitive, he’s gentle, and I make sure that nothing hurts him.” It was obvious Dick took pride in his role as a big brother and saw it as his responsibility to protect Tim and he didn’t take that post lightly.
They must’ve had great parents.
Forcing himself to remember the mistake he’d made, Bruce simply apologize with, “I understand.” He looked at his watch and estimated that it wouldn’t take too long to talk with the police and finalize the boys’ arrangements. Right before he left, an idea came to his head that he realized their fates weren’t up to him at all. He couldn’t force these kids to do anything and he didn’t want to start off their relationship, whatever it might be, with an act of force.
Standing in the middle of the door, in the awkward zone between the warmth of the trailer and the chill outside, Bruce asked, “If it does turn out that there is no one responsible to look after you, would you like to move into my house? I know I’m a stranger and that you don’t know me real well, but I think-”
Seemingly having forgiven Bruce for his small mistake earlier, he finally looked at him and begged, “Yes! Please, that would be great! You…You did a cool job of taking care of the two of us, especially me right after…after, yeah, I think it would be cool if you took care of us. I don’t know exactly why, but I trust you. You’re the only person to talk to us and help us and we are going to need it. Thank you.”
Bruce didn’t know what to say to that so instead he walked back beside the small boy and place a small kiss on his head before making his way out and saying, “I’m going to take care of you two, Dick. I promise.”