The following morning, Bruce woke up many hours past his regular time. Seeing the sunlight breaking through to his room was a new experience for him, almost a blinding sight since the night had become much more comfortable for him. Over the past years, he made it a point to be working the cave before the sun came up, especially after the nights he didn’t spend jumping from rooftops around Gotham.
Considering that he didn’t spend any time sleeping in the circus and most of the previous night was spent wondering how the boys were getting on next door, Bruce felt not at all relaxed.. Although he wanted to stay in bed and make up for the lost sleep, he knew better than to assume that Gotham would take kindly to the rest.
Feeling the weight of all the work he had put off, Bruce decided to get a slow start to his day by catching up on the things that had been pushed to the side. Reaching over to the nightstand and grabbing his cell phone, Bruce scrolled through all of his messages. Lucious was livid that he’d missed three meetings, Clark was wondering why he hadn’t shown up at the Watchtower last night, and Gordon wanted a meeting sometime later in the week. The JL was qualified enough to handle themselves for a few more days, although there was no telling how much trouble some of the board members of WE could get into unsupervised.
Bruce rose from his bed and made his way towards a quick shower, groaning at how busy his day was going to be trying to catch up. He would need to find time to contact everyone he had avoided over the past two days and make an appearance at both the Wayne Enterprise building and the Watchtower, but right now he was preoccupied by a need to shave the stubble that occupied most of his chin. Somewhere in the back of his mind he wondered what he would look like with a full grown beard but dismissed the thought when he imagined himself in a batsuit. Not feeling the energy to find a proper suit, he dressed in lounging clothes and made his way to the kitchen.
Alfred greeted the man as soon as he walked into the room. He was standing beside Dick on the table, helping the boy draw a picture on his napkin while they waited for the other residents to make their way to breakfast. Dick still seemed tired, especially with his messy hair, but he was fully immersed in the drawing before him, lifting his head only to say hello to Bruce.
“Good morning, Master Bruce.”
“Good morning, Bruce.”
Bruce pulled out the chair beside Dick and opened the paper waiting for him beside his morning coffee. Usually his meals were waiting for him when he was ready, but he couldn’t see anything cooking on the stove and his plate was empty. “Good morning. What’s for breakfast?”
“Pancakes, sir, but we are waiting for Master Tim to join us before we begin the cooking.”
Bruce was somewhat startled by the change in their regular schedule. He was prepared to eat quickly and then make his way to the office. Still, he was sure to not come off as rude when he asked, “It’s not ready yet?”
“No, sir. The boys mentioned last night they wanted to be involved in the process and Master Tim should be here in a moment. I have all of the ingredients ready and set out so it shouldn’t take much time.”
Dick decided to offer up some insight on his little brother, “Yeah, it’s hard to make Tim wake up. He falls asleep where ever he feels tired and only wakes up when he feels hungry.”
Alfred offered a smile down to the boy before asking, “One to the topic of breakfast, what kind of pancakes would you like to make, Master Dick?”
It didn’t take him long to come up with an answer. “Chocolate chip, definitely chocolate chip.”
Silently Bruce wondered how big of a change Alfred’s health requirements were going to be for the boys. From what he observed in the few hours he was in the circus, sweets and starchy foods were a large part of their diets. “While we are here, is there anything that we should know about your eating habits, Dick? Anything that you hate or love?”
This took much more consideration on Dick’s part. He sat in deep thought for a few seconds before responding, “I love cereal and hate broccoli. Tim loves to eat anything that’s red, but he doesn’t like spicy food. They make his tummy hurt. My favorite color food is blue, but I don’t like the blue ice cream that has the little nuts in it. Oh, we both don’t like nuts. I don’t like hot things, other than some soup, but I don’t like the chicken soup that I have to eat when I feel sick because it doesn’t taste like anything. I really like the soup that comes on the rice, but Timmy doesn’t like the big turkey. He like how they taste but he doesn’t like looking at it because it makes him feel a little sad for the turkey. Ummm…Timmy really like mashed potatoes, but I like sweet potatoes more. Tim won’t eat anything if you try to make him eat it, but he’ll eat anything if it’s on his plate. Sometimes it’s hard for him to eat hard things and I don’t like things that smell bad.”
While Dick thought about his brother’s eating habits, said brother walked in with Ace in tow. The great dane walked him to his seat beside his owner before turning to lay on his feet under the table, waiting to see if there would be an encore of last night’s feast. Absent mindedly the other three men at the table greeted the dog with a pat on the head and Dick was glad to have something to heat his cold feet. The younger boy, on the other hand, had much less energy and took a seat next to Bruce before laying his head down on the table. He didn’t bother talking to anyone while he waited to see what happens next. For everyone else, it was a funny sight of Tim’s head not reaching past the table when he sat properly, so he needed to rise to his knees instead.
Keeping his voice steady, Alfred asked, “Master Tim, how was your sleep?”
Tim lifted his head and sighed, “It was good, but I didn’t like waking up. Dick wasn’t there and I didn’t know how to come downstairs.”
The brother in question was humored at the thought of Tim roaming the halls confused but knew better than to let it show and insult the slightly frustrated little boys. “Did you get lost, Timbo?”
“Yeah, but that was when Ace found me and brought me to everyone.” Underneath the table, Ace barked at the mention of his name and rested his head beside Tim. He patted the dog on head in thanks, not wanting to think about how much time he might have spent roaming the halls if the dog hadn’t found him. Even with both of them on the chair, there was a lot of empty room and Bruce could not remember interacting with someone as small as the Tim for this long before.
“I’m sorry, Timmy. I didn’t want to wake you up because you looked like you needed the extra sleep.”
Knowing that his brother felt bad about the situation, Tim replied, “I got confused about how to go to the kitchen and how to go outside.”
Bruce offered, “After breakfast I’ll give you a full tour. We wouldn’t want you to get lost in the halls everyday. Honestly, there are a few people my age who are still unable to find their way around.”
Tim felt the need to make up for his mistakes, especially considering his older brother found his way here without a problem. He didn’t want everyone to know that he was not capable of taking care of himself. “I know how to get hewe now. I’ll find my way tomorrow.”
“I’m sure you do, but there are three other wings to the manor that you haven’t seen and I don’t want either of you to get lost.”
“What does manor mean? Is it like a castle?” Dick had heard the word a few times, but never understood what it meant. This was the perfect opportunity to clear it up.
Instead, Tim was the one to answer the question in a matter-of-fact tone unimpressed by the fact that his brother didn’t know the one thing that made castles so special. “Castles have to have ghosts in them, Dick.”
Dick wasn’t satisfied with his brother’s answer but Alfred cut in, knowing that everyone on the table was waiting for a large meal. “All of the ingredients for our breakfast are set out on the counter, Master Tim. Would you also like chocolate chips in your pancakes?”
The mention of food was enough to improve the boy’s mood and he no longer cared about the his struggles through the morning. “Yes please. Can I help you make them?”
Alfred smiled at the offer, pleased that their new residents were excited about some menial chores that he usually completed by himself. “I would appreciate the extra hand.”
“I wanna help!”
Tim jumped out of his chair, making sure to avoid the dog also occupying his seat. Before turning away, he promised Ace the scraps and leftovers from his own breakfast as a reward low enough that no one could hear him. Tim followed the butler to the stove and sighed contentedly at the smell coming from the food already set out. Because he couldn’t see past the counter, Alfred lifted him up next to the ingredients so he could watch over everything that went into making the meal while at the same time helping with some of easier tasks.
Looking over to his younger brother, Dick giggled before turning to Bruce and whispering, “You see, he only wakes up when he feels hungry.”
Bruce looked up from his paper to see the young boy eating some of the stray pieces of chocolate when Alfred wasn’t looking before asking, “What about you, are you a light sleeper?”
Dick wasn’t very sure what it took to wake himself up, but he responded thinking about how many times he woke up to Tim talking in his sleep or hogging their blanket. “Yeah, I can wake up pretty easily. Sometimes when Timmy has a bad sleep, I make sure he doesn’t feel scared so I make sure I can hear how he’s sleeping. When he sleeps by himself, I usually wake up hearing him looking for something to eat.”
Bruce was surprised by the respect he felt for such a little boy; there were few people he knew to care for their family as much as Dick did, especially after such a hard time. He responded with honest praise. “You’re a dedicated older brother. Tim’s incredibly lucky to have you looking out for him”
Dick tried to hide his blush by looking down at the table and playing around with his drawing again. “Thank you. It’s not that hard to look after Tim and it’s just what a good brother would do.” He looked up a little curious but not sure if asking the question would be considered rude, “Do you have a little brother?”
He hadn’t thought about having a younger sibling in many years. Sure there were some younger league members that he was close to, not that he would ever admit to loving them like family, but there was always a massive distance between them. Many of their interactions did center around the possibility that the world might end, but he was always glad to have them in his corner and knew that feeling was well returned. “No, I was an only child. I’ve always wanted a younger sibling, though, I begged my parents for one. Growing up here was a little strange, there is far too much room for so few people, but Alfred made it easy.” He could see his friend trying to act as if he hadn’t heard the praise, but the world’s greatest detective didn’t miss the slight red tint that took over Alfred’s ears.
In return Dick proudly, and quite innocently, assured him that his family was growing. “Oh…well now you can have two little brothers.”
Bruce was stunned, shocked by what Dick said. He didn’t know how to respond to the comment and Dick didn’t seem to think too much of it as he returned to the picture he was doodling on the napkin. He didn’t need to see to know that Alfred was smiling, but it was still not the kind of assurance he expected when he woke up this morning.
After a short and comfortable silence, Bruce tried to hide a small smile and explained, “A manor is a large country house with a large estate. There is a different history to the word considering the different areas that the house is in, but manors are generally old. As a matter of fact, the official title of this house is ‘Wayne Manor.'”
Curious, Dick asked, “How old is your house?”
“It was built in the late 1700s. I think it was 1796, not long after the American Revolution.”
Dick considered this for a moment before his mind turned back to what his brother had said. “Are there ghosts in here?”
Bruce erupted in laughter. He had dismissed the possibility many years after Alfred caught him searching through empty room no one used after a particularly scary movie but the idea always seemed to come with every new guest. Dick hadn’t expected this reaction, but he welcomed the smile on his face. “I spent many years of my childhood looking, and I can assure you there are no ghosts in the manor. I looked through most of the empty rooms looking for any sight of something paranormal, but there was never anything around.”
“I don’t know what I’d do if I saw a ghost, you can’t really fight them.”
Before Bruce could explain an experience he’d had with the long dead, Tim called them over to help with breakfast. Bruce watched as Tim uncapped the milk and helped him pour it into the batter while Dick mixed everything together. Alfred dealt with everything involving the stove knowing that none of them had any experiance with it.
For the most part, Bruce was the heavy muscle Alfred ordered around while Tim and Dick watched and taste tested to make sure everything was in order. They couldn’t find anything to complain about, but more chocolate was always appreciated and they tried to sneak some past the adults to no avail. Not wanting them near and flames, Alfred also asked the two boys to set up the table and gather the glasses. Because neither of them were tall enough to reach anything, Bruce handed Dick and Tim glasses from the cabinets so they could get their seats ready.
Once all the prep was finished and Alfred wanted to finish the meal by himself, the trio took their seats at the table and patiently waited for their breakfast. Bruce told them a few stories about visitors that also got lost after spending a night over, especially the ones involving Hal and Oliver. If the boys ever met the two, he wanted them to think of them as the idiots who locked themselves in the pool house after breaking into the manor to enjoy a swim. Some of the minor points might have been exaggerated, Bruce couldn’t know if they did contemplate calling Batman for help, but it was all worth it if Dick and Tim kept their distance.
Alfred brought a pitcher of orange juice for the boys and a second serving of coffee for Bruce before some toast and jam to start off. The much awaited pancakes came last, after Alfred made sure everyone ate some fruit and meat before the pancakes that were stuffed with too much chocolate. Smelling that breakfast was underway, Ace rose from his place next to Tim and ignored the dog food set out in his bowl for a chance to clean out the batter used to cook the pancakes.
The maple syrup was a new treat for the boys, something they weren’t used to and were cautious of using. To stay safe, the boys each took a piece off of Bruce and Alfred’s plate to test out the condiment before adding it their own stacks. Although helped make the pancakes easier to cut through, Dick went a little overboard until everything on his plate was floating on a sea of syrup and he needed extra flapjacks to clean it up. Still needing help from the adults to get pieces small enough to fit in his mouth, Tim was also given a plastic fork so he couldn’t accidentally poke himself trying to aim for his mouth.
After letting Bruce take over, Tim quietly claimed, “Uh-oh, it’s sticky.”
Dick looked up curious about why his brother was having trouble with his meal. He knew that at some point Tim wouldn’t need his help anymore, so he loved these small moments where he could take in just how small he was. “Why? What happened?”
Tim wasn’t ashamed, he showed his hands and how he’d lost the ability to move his fingers independently from each other. “It’s on my hands. I can’t move my fingers.”
He wanted to offer his hands to Ace, but Bruce didn’t feel like a dog qualified a proper clean up, especially in a household run by Alfred. Instead he lifted the boy from his chair and carried him towards the sink so he could run water over the mess. Not wanting him to get Tim’s hands on anything and spread the mess, Bruce held between the counter and his chest before taking the small hands into his own. He only needed one hand to hold both of Tim’s and scrubbed them thoroughly with what he learned was too much soap. Tim enjoyed the bubbles, but between maneuvering the boy enough to reach faucet and making sure he was free of any residue, the surrounding area was left a mess. Bruce rubbed a quick paper towel through the mess before grabbing drying off Tim’s hands with a proper towel.
Once the meal was finished, the boys helped Alfred clean the table off, sneaking some scraps for Ace while the adults pretended not to notice. Bruce ended up spending much longer than he’d ever imagined on such a simple meal, but he left the kitchen ready to get back to work.