Surprise, it’s Tim.
Only children can sense him fully (though sometimes Alfred thinks he can hear him, can see the gentle nudges of things moved slightly out of place; sometimes they play chess) but once they’ve become “adults” that’s it. No more.
Tim remembers when Bruce was young, how they would play together. Remembers how his parents had indulged his “imagination” (though Thomas finds it quite the coincidence that his son’s ‘imaginary friend’ is also named Tim). And then, after the incident, how Bruce was so sad and brooding. In mourning. Something Tim knew about but never really understood until Bruce explained it to him.
But grief ages a person, and not long after, Bruce stops being able to see him anymore. Tim is alone, again.
Until Dick. And, see, even though Dick’s parents died before he came to the Manor, he wasn’t as rapidly changed as Bruce was. And Tim loved him for it, this new friend who could see him and play with him–even through his teenaged years.
Except, lately, Dick and Bruce have been fighting a lot. And Dick spends more and more time away, and suddenly their last fleeting goodbye becomes their final goodbye. Dick doesn’t come back until he’s Nightwing and can no longer see him.
It’s a while before anyone can sense him as completely as Dick did. Barbara, as Batgirl, on the rare occasions she came to the Manor (and not the Cave) had never been able to perceive him fully. Had perhaps seen glimpses of him from the corner of her eye, or heard a question in an unfamiliar voice, but they had never really met.
Jason, Tim thinks, came to the Manor old and learned to be young. Had been able to sense Tim better as time passed, an unusual direction, but one that Tim had been grateful for. Because Jason was interesting and fun and so full of life that Tim forgot, sometimes, whenever they were together, that he was a ghost.
Except that was cut short (and Tim wonders, sometimes, if it was his fault. If he might have wished that Jason could join him forever. If somewhere, in a land far away, Jason’s ghost is scared and alone and cursing his name).
The years that follow are long and cold and difficult. Worse, even, than when Bruce stopped seeing him and went away, coming back a stranger with a familiar face and always going to the Cave.
(Tim remembers, when Bruce was younger, the way they’d play at being brave but never daring the Cave. It was deep and dark and what if something were to happen to Bruce? Tim couldn’t get help. And so they avoided it, were awed by it. It was the bottom of the ocean and far flung space, a frontier that maybe they would explore when Bruce was older. But now look at it: Bruce has conquered it, made it into a home of sorts, a base from which his new legacy spreads. And still Tim cannot go in)
But things get better. A new Batgirl, one that can sometimes see him but not hear him–which is just as well, since she does not need words to understand him–and then another, one who can occasionally hear or see him, but not touch him (which he is grateful for, that first meeting, when her instinct is to punch a strange boy suddenly manifesting in front of her).
It is better, yes, but not the same as having a Robin or a Wayne child in the house.
Until, suddenly, there is.
Both even, though this one is far more interested in training in the Cave than indulging a ghost. But things start to come together somehow anyway, Dick and even Jason (somehow alive, not Tim’s fault, didn’t curse him to the same horrible fate) return to the Manor. And while Dick still can’t sense him, he remembers Tim, talks to him and pesters Damian into relaying responses. And Jason–touched by death, yet alive again–can still pinpoint Tim’s location, even without sight, and wrestle him into a playful headlock.
Stephanie and Cassandra and Barbara, who can see or hear him in bits and pieces, belief and perception bolstered by Damian’s honest, if reluctant, words. Alfred, of course, continues to do his best, their chess matches somehow cheerier.
Once, Bruce writes a note and leaves it on the desk in the study, before going behind the grandfather clock. Tim reads it and cries–or the ghostly equivalent of it, having no body or tears–but it is a thing more sweet than bitter, apologies, yes, but gratitude and nostalgia as well. Joy and affection.
Bruce has built a family around him, has filled the Manor with people who know Tim, and while it’s not the same as having his best friend back he thinks that this can be an acceptable replacement.
Except for Damian. It’s not as if Tim is jealous, he is dead and well aware of his role in the Manor–there is no competition, for how could a ghost ever compete with the living? But for some reason, Damian sees just the opposite.
Oh, he will repeat Tim’s words to the others when asked–grudgingly of course–but he will otherwise not acknowledge Tim’s presence. He doesn’t speak to Tim as himself, doesn’t interact with him, doesn’t engage. It’s as if he takes pleasure in making Tim feel as nonexistent as possible.
At one point, it seemed like he might even be trying to exorcise him (thankfully, Alfred put a stop to all that nonsense) though he might very well have continued if it weren’t for Bruce’s death.
It’s stupid and selfish and so untrue, but Tim thinks it hurts him most of all.
He knew Bruce the longest, knew him when he was first brought home to the Manor as a baby. Bruce was his long before he was anyone else’s–before Alfred even–and it seems like his mourning, no longer an unfamiliar creature (and, oh, how silly and foolish he had been, how cruel he must have seemed to a young Bruce newly orphaned so long ago), should be far more than everyone else’s.
But that is not how grief works. Because that is not how family or love work, either, and during this time it cannot be said that isn’t what they are.
Grief works in mysterious ways, though, and while Dick and Jason and Cassandra and Stephanie all spend more and more time down in the Cave (all the better to honor Bruce, Tim knows, the legacy he left them with) Damian spends more time in the Manor. With Tim.
It’s not too little, too late–though he wishes Bruce would have been able to see them get along–but it is, at first, something strange and strained.
He and Damian are not friends yet, but they can learn to be; both of them a different but complementary parts of the Wayne family. Damian tells Tim about the Mission, about Bats and Birds and all the things in the Cave that Tim can never go to. He tells him about his mother, of his grandfather, of a childhood of being trained for two different roles; of swords and death and demons.
Tim teaches Damian his other branch of family history, two boys going down the long row of portraits, going further along each day.
Tim has been part of the Wayne Manor for so long, has watched generations of Wayne children grow up, and while he can remember each of them individually it’s true that sometimes the memories blur. He’s uncertain if it was Thomas or Bruce who broke a window and blamed it on Tim, or if it was Kenneth that unleashed frogs in the kitchen instead of Patrick.
Oh, he knows what they did as adults–even if they stopped seeing Tim by then–but he thinks Damian appreciates the more silly stories from their childhoods. It humanizes them, makes them family and not just genealogy.
Except. They reach the painting for Mordecai Wayne.
And Tim knows: he knows with such a strength (not the guilt ridden thoughts of Jason trapped in a foreign land, away from the Manor, away from Tim) that Bruce is alive.
The others don’t believe him (the others can barely see him–an imaginary friend they’ve outgrown, a child ghost unaware of the world) but Damian does.
It doesn’t matter that they are just children–one of them is a centuries old ghost and the other is Robin–they can do this. They can find Bruce and bring him home.
And Tim and Damian are no longer strangers stuck in the same house, they are friends. They are partners.
When Bruce comes back, he comes back to see his youngest son getting along with his oldest friend, and all is well in the Manor.
… for now…
Because maybe at one point in the future, Damian wants to figure out who exactly Tim is. No longer trying to exorcise him, but to give him a past–a name, a history–that isn’t just the ghost haunting Wayne Manor. How long has he been the Wayne family’s ghost; befriending Wayne children, watching over their home? Who was Tim before that?
And probably–even though Damian doesn’t intend for it to happen–unearthing the truth leads to Tim moving on. No more guardian ghost for the children of Wayne Manor. No more Tim.
But maybe there’s hope. Maybe, ten years after that–when Damian has finally taken up the mantle from his father–a little boy comes to the Manor. One that everyone can see and hear. A little boy named Tim.
Batman needs a Robin, and the Wayne family needs Tim.
A/N: a weird brainstorm/fic combination, highly influenced+inspired by @heartslogos’ DCU fic.
Also, written on my phone while I was on a seven hour bus ride so… take that as you will.
BASICALLY, I am always having Tim feels. Always.