The routine was as perfect as ever. Dick leapt high into the air before gracefully somersaulting to the edge of the beam and landing with perfect balance. He proudly stepped down to the mat and got ready to go through something even tougher, better, grander.
Bruce watched from the side and took mental notes of how easily Dick was progressing through a routine he knew most professional acrobats couldn’t master.
Once he was on his two feet again and giving him a bow, Bruce offered, “We should head up to the Manor soon. It’s almost time for dinner and you know how Alfred can get.”
Uncharacteristically stiffening up his back as he stepped off of the balance beam, Dick said, “Umm, I think I want to work some more. On the third turn I…it could have been better.”
Looking at his son a lot more critically than he ever had, Bruce could immediately see that something was different. The boy had always been small, that’s the price that came with being a lifelong acrobat, but this was something else. The Robin tunic that had been custom designed for the fourteen year old hung off his chest when a few months ago they had talked about adjusting it to make room for his growing body.
He tried stealing glances as he watched him change into his lounge cloths and Bruce knew it wasn’t a fluke. His ribs stuck out and he could see that Dick’s collarbones and jawline had become defined. Bruce could tell the boy had been losing weight fast and he could feel his chest tighten at the possibility that he had missed something important.
Walking up to the boy he tried to take in everything that had changed from his appearance. He found some more rings under his eyes and Bruce could tell the beginning signs of his hair thinning. Dick looked paler than before, losing his color in his cheeks and his eyes.
Dick was a little startled once he noticed that Bruce was staring at him, but he didn’t think that it was too strange, just one of the other weird quirks his dad had. He was always on call as the world’s greatest detective.
“How are you feeling, Dick?”
“I’m fine. Why?” He tried not to look Bruce in the eye and decided he found the bats getting ready for their nightly run around Gotham much more interesting.
Taking his chin in his hand, Bruce pressed the back of his hand against his forehead and noted, “You look a little sick.”
Trying to perk himself up, Dick promised, “I feel great, just a little tired.”
“Do you want to get some rest? I can write up the report for you if you want to lay down.”
Ready to deny that he felt anything wrong, Dick decided that this was the perfect opportunity and said, “You know what, I think I do want to go to bed. I have some homework to work on, but I can get through it pretty fast and I think the sleep will do me some good.”
Bruce let a small smile to come to his lips when he heard that Dick would be getting some rest and he said, “You can head up stairs, but you might want to take a quick shower to wash off all the sweat.”
Watching the boy head up the stairs Bruce decided it would be best if he looked over some of the footage from the last few days. He buzzed up to Alfred to tell him that he would be eating in the cave and got to work on the computer.
He pulled up some of the security footage from a week ago and could tell that Dick looked sick there too. He asked himself he could miss so much, how he could let so much slip away.
Deciding he wasn’t supposed to be thinking about himself, Bruce pushed his feelings aside and watched them have dinner. He saw Dick as excited as he ever was as he cut up his meal and told everyone about his day. He saw Tim paying at the utmost attention to everything his older brother said and he saw Dick steal some of the mashed potatoes off of his plate. He saw himself drinking some of his wine while Tim asked for some grape juice to play along and Dick as he drank his water. He saw Dick move some of his food onto another plate as he decided he was full and stacked up the plates ready to go to his room. The only thing he didn’t see was Dick actually eat anything.
Bruce pulled up the dining room footage from breakfast and dinner a few weeks before, a month before, two months before, three, four, five, six, and he could count with one hand how many times Dick ate something. Even then it was never anything more than a bite.
Bruce wasn’t stupid, he knew what it meant. He knew that he’d missed so much and that he would need to find a way to fix this soon. He looked over at the plate he couldn’t remember Alfred bringing down and threw it to the ground as he imagined just how much he had failed his son. The hunger he would feel when he crawled into bed in a few hours would be nothing like how Dick was feeling.
There was nothing he could think he had done right, nothing that made him feel like he had done some good as a father and he wanted to run up to Dick’s room but he knew he was in no state to do anything other than scare the boy and make him feel even worse than he already did.
Dick stepped out of the shower and dried off before he put on some boxers and stepped in front his mirror. He could tell that he looked different, the weight loss showed, even more so when he stuck his arms up and could count his rib, but he knew he had to be more careful. He could hide his stomach under shirts but his face looked thinner, his jawline looked sharper, and his hair was losing its glow and volume. Dick used to love the way his hair looked, it helped him pretend that he was actually Bruce’s son and that was his guilty pleasure the first few months he was in the Manor. He could see the difference when he looked at Tim and sometimes he couldn’t help but hate him a little for looking more like Bruce than he did but he always hated himself more after something like that even crossed his mind. He always wanted to run to the nearest toilet and throw up whatever remained of his stomach.
That didn’t matter right now because Bruce was catching on and he didn’t want to ruin things anymore than they already were. That was the last thing he needed.
Absentmindedly pouring the milk Alfred had left for down the sink, he decided he could try eating some toast tomorrow morning, just to throw him off. He knew he wouldn’t put any jelly or honey on it though, that would be going too far.
He put the empty glass back on his nightstand and pulled on a loose shirt; it had clung to him a few months ago but now he could get lost in it.
Before he crawled into his bed Dick made his way to his door and left it ajar and pulled his blanket over himself. In a few minutes he heard Tim’s soft footsteps make their way to the bathroom before the toilet flushed and the sink ran and he could imagine just how cute Tim would look as he stood on his tippie toes to reach the water and end up making half of his shirt wet. Soon enough the water stopped and Dick knew Tim was pulling down his towel to try and dry off his shirt before he walked out of his room and the footsteps stopped right in front of Dick’s door. Even though his back was turned to the door Dick knew Tim was peeking in to make sure he as welcome and the door squeaked as he made his way in and closed it behind him.
Feeling the bed dip as Tim crawled up beside him and turned off the lamp, Dick lifted up his blanket so Tim could find his way next to him. With a happy sigh as Tim moved into his favorite position, Dick ran his hand through his soft, thick hair and closed his eyes.
Dick let himself feel weightless on the soft sheets with his little brother so close to him but knew he would hate just how heavy he was when he woke up in a few hours.
Waking up to find his bed empty, Dick made his way through his morning routine before he found himself downstairs with a full meal set out before him.
He could tell that Bruce was watching him and trying his hardest to make sure he wouldn’t notice so Dick made sure to keep his promise to himself as he ate one whole piece of toast before saying, “I forgot I had to finish a worksheet so I’m going to run up and…”
Bruce gave him a sad look and held onto his wrist to beg, “Please, Dick. Try to eat some more.” Seeing just how much his fingers overlapped when he wrapped them around Dick’s wrist, Bruce tightened his grip and made sure the boy couldn’t move.
Not wanting to make a scene in front of Tim, Dick sat back in his seat and slowly got through the rest of the toast. He broke it up into smaller pieces until he could trick himself into thinking he was actually eating a lot less and drank about a full liter of water before Bruce stopped looking at him.
After they were a few minutes into their little battle Tim got curious and he asked, “Is something wrong, Dick? You’re acting a little weird.”
Before Dick could think of a convincing enough lie, Bruce cut in and said, “Dick isn’t really feeling well today, Tim. He’s not going to school but if you want I can bring him with me when I come back to pick you up.”
Nodding his head, Tim made his way around the table so he could give his brother a kiss and wished him well before he ran upstairs to change into his uniform.
With just the two of them in the room, Dick asked, “So when did you decide that I was going to play truant and miss school?”
“Dick, you know why. I’m taking you to go see a doctor.” Bruce knew that Dick wanted to make light of the moment, try and hide how he felt, but he wouldn’t let him.
Bruce took Dick’s hand into his own and took note of just how thin his fingers were. “Please, Dick, don’t fight me on this.”
Even though he knew it was a dead end, Dick argued, “I just…I don’t see why. It’s not like anything bad has happened because of this.”
Not letting the anger take over, Bruce challenged him, “Say what it is.”
Confused, Dick glanced over to him and asked, “What?”
“You said ‘nothing bad has happened because of this.’ Tell me what ‘this’ is.”
Angry that Bruce would pull something like this when all it could do was hurt him some more, Dick muttered, “You already know. I know you know.”
“I do, but I want to hear you say it.”
“I don’t see why it’s important.”
Bruce tried to show just how sincere he was when he said, “It’s important to me, Dick. It’s really important to me.”
Dick looked down onto his lap so he wouldn’t have to look at him and he begged, “Bruce, please don’t make me.”
Getting out of his seat and putting his hand on Dick’s back, feeling just how much his shoulder blades protruded, he promised, “Okay. Okay. I won’t push you too much but you are going to see a doctor, Dick. I won’t compromise on that.”
Looking up to see the hurt on Bruce’s face, Dick gave him a weak smile and got up to get ready to go to see whatever doctor Bruce had lined up.
Getting out of his school uniform and into something more comfortable, Dick tried his hardest to avoid looking at his reflection in the mirror. That was the last thing he needed right now.
Bruce sat out in the waiting room while Dick met with Leslie. The two of them had dropped Tim off to school and the eight year old had told Dick he hoped he would feel better after he got some rest. Tim didn’t have any idea what his older brother was going through; he thought Dick had a cold and that a few spoonfuls of medicine would make him better by next morning.
The hurt in Dick’s eyes wasn’t easy to miss, he wanted to get better from his little brother and Bruce knew he would try his hardest. He might even be imagining what it would be like if Tim was in the same position as him, if he felt like he shouldn’t eat or that he obsessed over how much he weighed, and it was too much for him.
After an hour he watched Leslie walk over to the receptionist and made sure she didn’t have any patients for the rest of the day, canceled the board meeting, and gave Bruce a soft glance before going back to where Dick was waiting for her.
It was another two hours before the two of them walked out and Dick ran out to squeeze himself against Bruce’s chest. It didn’t take long for him to feel how wet his shirt became after Dick started to cry and Bruce let him for however long he needed.
Once Dick was ready to let go, he held onto Bruce’s arm while he looked over to Leslie.
She enjoyed seeing the interaction between the two of them but she had to ask, “Can I talk to you, Bruce? Privately?”
Dick let go of his arm and watched him walk over to where Leslie was standing far enough away so he wouldn’t hear.
She was blunt when she said, “He’s going to need some therapy, Bruce, and I’d recommend not letting him go out at night. There’s a very high chance that it won’t end well. I want him to talk to a therapist everyday, someone who knows about his nightlife with experience with anorexia, but of the most important things is to make sure he knows he can come to you if he wants to.”
Bruce took it all in but had to ask, “What did you two talk about? What did he say?”
Giving him a weak smile, Leslie said, “I can’t tell you that, Bruce. He needs to know that he has some privacy, but I can promise you that I’ll keep you informed about his condition.”
Looking back to where Dick was playing with his hands, Bruce tried to force out something he was too afraid to know. “Is he…Is…Does he feel…”
Knowing just what he wanted to ask, Leslie sighed, “He didn’t mention being suicidal and I didn’t see any scars, but, Bruce, you’re going to have to be strong enough for the both of you. He needs you now more than ever.”
Looking at just how afraid Dick looked sitting in the too big for him seat, Bruce promised, “Just tell me what I need to do and I’ll do it.”
Dick crawled into bed as soon as he got home and decided against going to see Tim as he came home from school. That was the position Bruce left him in and that was how Tim found him when he looked in to see how he was feeling.
He tried to make his way into his brother’s bed but Dick kept turning his back on him, pushing Tim out of the bed and refusing to say a word. Tim eventually gave up and pulled out his desk chair and rolled it out to sit beside Dick. Giving Dick a moment before he decided to start the conversation, Tim said, “Daddy said you’re not the regular kind of sick, that you…need some help that doesn’t involve medicine.”
Once Dick didn’t say anything back to confirm or correct what he said, Tim offered, “Can I help, Dick? Can I help?”
Slowly turning around to look at just how sincere his little brother was, Dick felt even worse for making him feel so bad. “It’s not one of things that you can help with, Babybird.”
Taking a hold of Dick’s arm, Tim begged, “What can I do, Dick? I’ll do anything you want me to.”
Dick held up his blanket so Tim could crawl in and he tried not to feel jealous of how small Tim was when he settled on top of his chest. “Do you love me, Tim?”
Looking up at him surprised by the question could see just how different his older brother looked. Tim answered, “Of course I do, you’re my big brother. I love very much.”
Playing with the tips of his hair, Dick asked, “Do you think I’m pretty?”
Even more confused, Tim asked, “Like girl pretty? Like how Aunt Diana is pretty?”
Dick cleared up, “Well like boy pretty. Handsome. Like Dad and everyone…You know, handsome.”
Tim thought for a moment before he said, “You’re very handsome, Dick, you look nice. You look…I want to look like you.”
Feeling his chest give up on him, Dick tried to force air into his lungs. “No you don’t, Timmy. You don’t want to be like me.”
Not liking what he heard in the slightest, Tim argued, “You’re perfect, Dick. You’re a perfect brother and you’re a perfect person and you look perfect too.”
“You’re a perfect brother too, Tim, you don’t even know.”
Tim took the opportunity to ask, “Can we talk about it? About why you’re sick and not medicine sick?”
Dick moved Tim until he couldn’t see the look on his face when he said, “It’s very complicated, Timbo, I don’t even know everything, but I can promise you that I’ll try my hardest. Honestly it’s all I can do.”
Tim took what he could get and offered, “I’ll do anything, Dick, anything you want.”