Bruce sighed as he watched Tim sit still in one of the chairs opposite his desk. He had been trying to introduce the boy to the rest of the Manor and hopefully get him interested in something, but Tim seemed content in following Bruce around and enjoying the silence. His new shadow didn’t bother him that much, but Bruce still wanted Tim to feel comfortable with everything else in his new home. Instead, the boy seemed intent on keeping Bruce in his sights even if it meant sitting in an office with nothing much to do. It might have had to do with the fact the Manor was empty or that Tim was all too experienced with spending his days alone. In either case, Bruce enjoyed have another person to spend his day with. Tim was content to sit in Bruce’s office and read one of his books while he waited for Alfred to bring Dick home.
Not finding much more for him to do with his work, Bruce looked up from the recipe he had been researching on his laptop and drew Tim’s attention away from his book. “How about we get a snack ready for Alfred and Dick, something to celebrate winter break and it being close to Christmas?”
Just as he expected, Tim jumped out from the chair and put his book to the side. “Can I help make it?”
“What did Alfred say about you helping?”
Thinking back to one of the many lectures Alfred had given him when he moved, Tim recalled, “He said I can help if I’ve been good and I’ve been very good.”
Bruce wouldn’t be the one to argue with Alfred’s judgement. Tim had been an excellent child ever since he had moved to the Manor, definitely more well behaved than Bruce remembered himself being when he was Tim’s age. He wanted to think it was a boon from the model parenting by the Drakes, but Bruce knew better. Tim had been taught, conditioned, to think that any bad behavior on his part would lead to his isolation, to long spans of time where he wouldn’t have any contact from anyone outside of those paid to take care of him and banishments to his room the few times his parents were around to find some faults in him.
It was a work in progress, an uphill battle to get Tim to open up and one Bruce wanted to see through until Tim was ready to not hide anything from him.
Looking behind to see the five year old race to try and keep up with his own much longer strides, Bruce couldn’t imagine what Tim’s former parents must have been thinking. He didn’t think he would ever be able to comprehend the abuse they had forced onto Tim, but Bruce was sure he would do everything in his grasp to give him everything he ever wanted if only to make up for not intervening and missing the signs for so many years.
Thinking about the past wouldn’t do too much for either of them. As he watched Tim carefully make his way down the stairs, holding on to the railing as he reached for the next step, Bruce tried to focus on the positives. In the few weeks Tim had been in the Manor, he had already grown attached to everyone in the family and was showing a lot of improvement. Tim wasn’t as nervous to reach out for them and had grown comfortable enough to go to Dick if he ever needed help falling asleep. When both Dick and Bruce were busy with their work, Tim would hunt down Alfred and offer him help with whatever he was doing. Tim’s reward was usually a treat of some kind, his favorite being the caramel Alfred kept in the pantry.
It was one the first victories for the family. Tim had previously been too nervous to ask for anything, especially food. He was still slightly underweight, but much better than a few weeks ago. Leslie’s professional opinion was that Tim was suffering from malnutrition and it had played a role in his slightly stunted growth but an improvement diet would . When Tim learned this, he was all too ready to eat more if it meant he could catch up to the rest of his peers and maybe someday be as tall as Dick. Every few days he would have Bruce measure how tall he was along the small wall he had used over twenty years ago and compare his growth to Bruce’s.
When they entered the kitchen, Bruce lifted Tim onto the counter and found mugs in the cabinet that he set down beside the five year old. Tim didn’t say anything, but he looked at Bruce confused about what they would be making. Reminding himself that Tim had little experience to the regular Christmas traditions Bruce had grown accustomed to, Bruce asked, “Have you had hot chocolate before?”
Tim shook his head, but he did add, “I saw some on tv in the Christmas movies me and Dick were watching. They seemed to like it.”
Looking through the pans to find one that matched the picture he had seen, Bruce told him, “I’m sure you’re going to love it. Dick told me chocolate is one of your favorites.”
“Yeah and I also like strawberry.”
As he gathered the ingredients he remembered from the recipe he had looked up online, Bruce also picked out a few strawberries for Tim to eat while they worked on the drink. After putting everything in, Bruce handed the saucepan to Tim for him to begin whisking as Bruce heated up the stove.
While he watched Bruce add in milk and continue mixing everything together, Tim looked over at the brown powder Bruce had explained was cocoa. It was the only brown thing in the pile of ingredients and sounded close enough to ‘chocolate’ for Tim to ask, “Is this where chocolate comes from?”
Bruce reminded himself to keep his explanation simple enough for a five year old. “It’s one of the things that goes into chocolate and the most important, but there are a few other things like milk and sugar.”
Picking up a spoon, Tim reached into the jar and tasted the powder. Instead of the sweet taste of chocolate, Tim was treated to something too dry and no where near as tasty. He cringed back and ate another strawberry to get the horrible taste out of his mouth.
Watching the reaction with a little smile, Bruce reiterated, “The milk and sugar are important parts of chocolate.” Placing another spoon in the mixture, Bruce blew on it until it was cool enough and held it out for Tim to try. At the unsure look the five year old gave him, Bruce promised, “This will taste a lot better.”
Tim took the spoon in his own hand and blew on it a little more to make sure it was cold enough and carefully tested the mixture. To his surprise it tasted as good as Bruce had promised and he could see why everyone in the movies seemed to like it so much.
Bruce found a small bowl and he placed a few more spoonfuls of hot chocolate for Tim to go through while they waited for Alfred and Dick to come home. It was all he could do to keep the kid away from the hot stove and the rest of the hot chocolate. He kept Tim settled in the chair with a promise that they would add marshmallows to the drink and make it even better.
It was the smell that woke him up first. It carried all the way to Bruce’s bed and he follow it back to Tim’s room. Bruce forwent knocking and slowly opened the door to look in. He found Tim silently crying on his bed and trying to edge himself away from the puddle of his vomit. It didn’t seem to work in his favor because he only ended up shifting the vomit around his sheets and getting it stuck to his hands and clothes.
Bruce reached over the bed and carried Tim into the bathroom. He tried to comfort the crying boy with the assurance that, “It’s okay, Tim. It’s going to be okay.”
Tim couldn’t do much other than wipe his hands clean on Bruce’s night shirt and try and clean his mouth on Bruce’s shoulder. Supporting him over the sink, Bruce turned the faucet on and helped Tim rinse out of his mouth. Once Tim was rid of the bitter taste in his mouth, Bruce let him down and allowed the boy to clean off his face while he readied the bath. Just to get rid of the smell, Bruce found some of the bath bubbles and added a liberal amount before helping Tim out of his clothes.
The only worse than having the vomit on his clothes, was the feeling of it growing colder and the way it struck to his skin as Bruce took them off. It was enough for Tim to begin feeling sick again, but this time Bruce was able to lift him up to the sink quick enough to not make any mess.
In the neighboring room, Dick quickly rose up to investigate the source of the noise. Before he was even in the hall the smell made him cringe back, but he soldiered his way over to Tim’s room to make sure he wasn’t in trouble. He found the bed empty but soiled and followed the noise to the bathroom where he found Bruce helping a naked Tim into the bathtub. He could see Tim’s puffy red eyes that he knew were the result of tears and it he immediately kneeled down beside Bruce to see if he could help.
“Timmy, what happened? Are you okay?” Dick had only been a big brother for a few weeks and he didn’t want something to go wrong so early.
Looking down to his lap defeated as Bruce cleaned his back, Tim mumbled out, “My stomach, Dick. My stomach hurts and my insides feel hot and I threw up.”
Reaching away from Tim to grab some shampoo, Bruce asked Dick, “Do you feel sick? It might have been something in the food.”
Dick shook his head. “No, I feel fine.”
Pouring the shampoo into his hand, Bruce thought for a moment before instructing Dick, “Go wake up Alfred. He’ll probably have something that can make Tim feel better.”
Accepting his mission, Dick rushed out to Alfred’s room and woke up the sleeping butler. He quickly explained, “Tim’s been throwing up and feeling sick and Bruce needs your help.”
Alfred rose from his bed and quickly made his way to Tim’s room to see the mess for himself. He looked over the sheets before pulling them off the bed and dropping them on the corner before they seeped into the mattress. When he checked in on the duo in the bathroom Bruce had succeeded in distracting Tim with a few of his bath toys and finally had the boy clean of any remains of vomit. Feeling Alfred’s eyes on him, Bruce rose from his seat on the toilet to discuss whether or not this was serious
Knowing that Alfred would have already figured out what was wrong, Bruce asked him point blank, “What do you think? Should we take him to go see a doctor?”
Smiling slightly at the concern Bruce seldom let himself show, Alfred assured him, “I think we can take a reasonable guess as to what the problem is. There’s no reason to rush him to a doctor just yet.”
Bruce trusted Alfred’s opinion, but still asked, “What do you think happened? It can’t have been the food because no one else is showing any signs of being sick.”
“I think Master Tim has been eating a lot more than he is used to.” Softening up his expression, Alfred added, “We all thought it was a good thing, that he was shedding more of what his parents had conditioned into him, but in doing so we forgot that’s it’s best to take everything in moderation.”
Bruce’s lip thinned at the explanation. It definitely made sense and he had full trust in Alfred and his knowledge in raising children. “If we watch over just how much he eats, there shouldn’t be an issue right?”
“I don’t think so, Master Bruce. Simply keeping Master Tim from eating too much should be enough.”
Peeking around to see the time on Tim’s clock, Bruce told Alfred, “The boys should probably get back to sleep. I think Tim’s going to want company when he goes to sleep and I’ll see if Dick wants to join us. Tim will probably be hungry considering how much he threw up but I don’t want to risk anything upsetting his stomach so a milkshake might be a good middle ground.” Looking between the bed and soiled sheets Alfred had moved off to a corner, Bruce added, “You don’t have to set new sheets on the bed, but please take those sheets out and do something about the smell.”
Alfred assured him, “Of course, Master Bruce. I’ll set the milkshake on your nightstand with some water in case he prefers it.”
The tap Bruce gave Alfred’s shoulder was a silent, “Good night,” to the butler and he turned back to the boys in the bathroom. By now Dick’s clothes were covered in water from Tim splashing around in the tub and Dick trying to get as close to his little brother as possible.
Bruce grabbed cut into the boys’ conversation and left no room for dissension. “I think it’s time to get to bed.” Once he had their attention, Bruce added, “If you want you can sleep in my bed tonight-”
“Can I come too?” Dick didn’t want to leave his brother just yet.
“Sure, but change out of your clothes so you don’t get everyone else wet.”
As Dick rushed out of the room to get changed, Bruce opened the drain and ran through Tim’s drawers to find him a change of clothes. Once he came back to find the tub mostly without any water, Bruce reached down and covered Tim in the hooded dog towel Tim had fallen in love with before setting him on the counter. While Bruce looked for Tim’s baby lotion, Tim tried to look at anything other than him. He focused more on the dog ears coming out of the hood and the paws that covered his hands.
Bruce found the response weird, but he imagined Tim was too tired or still felt unwell so he decided to forgo addressing it. That changed as Tim flinched away from his touch as he started to rub the lotion onto him. Bruce made extra care to not hurt Tim as his skin was still sensitive from the bath but when Tim continued to feel uncomfortable Bruce asked, “Is something wrong? Does it hurt when something touches you?”
Tim didn’t give him much other than a quick shake of his head as he looked at the floor leaving Bruce with only the sight of the dog ears peeking back at him.
Trying again, Bruce asked, “Do you still feel sick, like you might throw up again?”
When Tim only gave him another shake of his head, Bruce reached beneath Tim’s chin and brought his face up until he couldn’t avoid looking at him. Slowly, he asked, “What’s the matter, Tim?”
Although he tried to fight out of looking at Bruce, Tim eventually gave in and mumbled, “I made a mess.”
“On your bed?” He had been sick and Bruce couldn’t see why the mess would be the part to bother Tim the most.
With the little freedom he had in moving his head, Tim nodded and said, “I made a mess on your bed and woke you up.”
Bruce’s mind immediately went to the conditioning he had discussed with Alfred as he realized Tim thought that he would be more upset about the mess on the bed than he would be concerned about Tim’s health. Bruce dropped his hand and quickly looked into his reflection in the mirror to make sure he didn’t come off too threatening before promising Tim, “I don’t care about that, Tim. I care about you feeling better.” The look Tim gave him didn’t emote much confidence so Bruce tried again. “I used to be much messier than you and I put Alfred through hell years ago. You won’t believe just how much I wet the bed when I was your age. Sometimes I wouldn’t even tell anyone just crawl into my parents’ bed and deal with the mess in the morning.”
Tim tried his hardest not to smile at the image of Bruce wetting the bed. To him a young Bruce looked the exact same as old Bruce except he was shorter. Once he remembered they had been having a serious conversation, Tim quietly asked, “You’re not upset?”
“No I’m not upset. I don’t care that you made a mess or you woke me up, Tim. I care that you’re okay. Plus, it’s not my bed, it’s yours.” Bruce didn’t know if Tim was aware, but he let out a small smile and looked perked up at a declaration. Hoping that it was enough, Bruce told him, “Alfred and I think that you’ve been eating too much and it upset your stomach.”
“Am I still going to be sick?”
Bruce assured Tim, “You don’t have to worry. Alfred and I’ll take care of it and if you feel sick in the morning we can take you to see the doctor.”
Shaking his head, Tim tried to say, “I can-”
“No, Tim. It’s my job to make sure you’re healthy, that’s why I’m the parent.” He didn’t like having to be stern, but he didn’t want to leave any room for misinterpretation. Bruce knew Tim was prone to thinking the worst and it was his responsibility to make sure he broke that habit. Looking down at Tim sitting still on the counter with only the towel on, Bruce decided this was neither the time nor the place. “We should get you changed; Dick’s probably waiting for us.”
After going through their regular debate over whether or not Tim should be allowed to sleep in his dog towel, Bruce finally had Tim dressed in his pjs and carried him out to his room. Dick was already sprawled on the bed half asleep, but he shifted to the side as Bruce sat down with Tim. When he saw the milkshake still cold on the nightstand Tim realized just how hungry he was. Before he could down the whole glass in one go, Bruce took it out of his hands every few sips to make sure he paced himself. The room was silent as Dick adjusted on his side of the bed with the only exception of Tim sucking on the straw.
Tim felt as if he was in a daze as he watched Bruce set the empty glass to the side and waited for him to lift the blanket up so they could sleep. As soon as Bruce shifted over to the middle of the bed, Dick and Tim took their regular positions on either side of Bruce.
After a few seconds Dick peeked up to make sure Tim was asleep before he whispered a question to Bruce. Still half between sleep and awake, Dick practically slurred out, “Is Tim going be okay?”
Careful enough not to shake his chest too much, Bruce assured Dick, “Tim’s going to be fine.”