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Badlands

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Jon doesn’t struggle when they bring him into the viewing room. He doesn’t have the strength to do so. He isn’t quite sure why, has to wonder if they’d used kryptonite or magic on him but the lack of information isn’t good. His mother would have told him to know everything first before he acts but he isn’t certain it it would be safe to wait in his situation.

He stumbles as he is pushed into the room, feet giving out from under him. He feels sick and he still doesn’t know where he is. The room is as unfamiliar as everything else he’s seen so far.

He wants to go home, needs to know that his family and his kingdom is safe.

He doesn’t think he’ll get his wish any time soon.

They pull his arms behind his back and into restraints. His vision still blurs even as he tries to focus on any one thing. Everything seems so far away and it feels like someone has stuffed cotton and wool in his mouth and ears.

He glares at the man who inspects him and tries to kick at them. The man barks an order at the some of the guards and he gets a blow to the stomach. Jon sucks a sharp breath and grits his teeth before trying to headbutt the man who drags his head up by a tight grip on his hair. He gets a backhand for his effort and he spits his blood across the floor.

His ears ring a bit from the blow but he can make out the conversation from the men in front of him. “He’s a bit unruly but I’m sure Prince Damian will enjoy the chance to break his own slave.”

Jon freezes at the words. The word slave rings in his mind and he watches the men warily. When one of them comes forward to inspect him again, he snarls and spits out the words like venom. “I know who you people are but I am not a slave.”

The man in front of him hesitates and turns to the men who had dragged Jon in here. As Jon looks closer, he realizes that this stranger closest to him was blind, eyes blank and staring into nothing. The man cocks his head and purses his lips. “He wasn’t trained at all, was he?”

“The Lady Talia was certain that her son should be able to train his new slave himself. To prove his worth. We’re just here to bring him in.”

“Very well, we shall let Prince Damian decide for himself. Keep him under until the city. We would not want the slave to damage himself before the prince has a chance to see him.”

Jon opens his mouth to protest but the man had already reached for his neck. He feels the prick of something before the world slowly disappears into darkness and white noise.

-----

The sprawling palace of Nanda Parbat is littered with his mother’s people. Damian wonders if Talia plans on coming back so soon even though a part of him knows there is much more to think about than whether or not Talia is coming back soon. His father and Richard still has not come back and the stalemate between the Al Ghuls and the Waynes may collapse despite everything their family has done to keep the balance.

It rankles at him and he scowls at the blade in his hands even as he runs his thumb over the sharp point, testing it and letting his blood well up at the well-placed cut.

It will not do to show a weakness to anyone.

He has just returned the sword to its case and has taken up his brushes and paint to the canvass when there is a knock on the door. “It is open,” he calls out. “Enter.”

“Your highness,” Ravi greets him as he enters the room. The servant bows and stops a few steps away from Damian. He is followed by several other men, dragging a bound young man between them.

The young man looks younger than Damian, with dark hair and pale skin covered in bruises. There is a collar around his neck in the green and gold colors of the Al Ghuls. His clothes are in tatters but Damian still recognizes the red and blue of his shirt. The red and blue of the royal house of Kandor.

“What is this?” Damian demands, tilting his head to try and get a better look at the prisoner slave.

“A gift from the lady Talia,” Ravi answers. “He was delivered by her men earlier this morning, your highness. He is unbroken, yours to do as you wish.”

The young man is stirring and Damian rises from his seat. He crosses the room to stand in front of the men. He waves his hand to dismiss most of them except for the two still holding the young man up. The slave blinks, awakening, as Damian tilts the young man’s head up with a hand on his chin.

“He belongs to me?” Damian frowns. He tries to think of a reason why his mother would give him a gift, especially one that comes from Kandor. The kingdom of Krypton feels like worlds away from the allied thrones of Gotham and ‘Eth Alth’eban. Anyone born of Krypton would have power unimaginable. It seems unlikely for his mother to give up that kind of power.

“What does she want from me?” He murmurs, even as he watches the slave’s blue eyes go from confusion to anger. Damian removes the gag from the boy’s mouth but squeezes his throat for a moment before he could get an idea to attack Damian before he tilts the boy’s head until their eyes meet once again. “Tell me, what’s your name?”

The slave blinks at him and gapes. Damian has to wonder if this is where the catch is. Perhaps, his mother has chosen to give him a defective, brainless fool to be his slave. But, then, the boy scowls at him and tries to lunge forward only to be held back by the guards at his side. “I don’t answer to you or anyone here, little Robin.”

Damian feels his temper flare. He clenches his fists and takes a deep breath, calming himself like Richard has taught him ages ago. The title is a weight around his heart that makes him catch his breath. Robin. The youngest of the princes of Gotham was always called the Robin. There were times when he wonders whether to deserve the title that his brothers, older and, though he will not admit it, better than him in so many things, have taken before.

He feels he need for violence, to show his anger and to show the slave exactly how much Damian hates the spite and insult the slave had dared to put into that title, so coveted by many children in Gotham. A title Damian has cherished for as long as he’s held it.

“Jon,” one of the men who brought the slave in says. The man is not one of his own but Damian recognizes one of his mother’s trusted guards. “The Lady Talia said to call him Jon.”

“Jon,” Damian’s mouth twists at the word, at the name. “Like the prince? What was it? Jonathan Samuel Kent of the House of El?” He laughs but looks closer at the boy. Is that who the boy was supposed to be? He isn’t so certain. Surely, mother would not be so foolish as to earn the ire and wrath of Krypton’s royal family. The king was one of father’s closest ally and friend. It could not be but still it is something for Damian to think about.

Jon watches him with defiant eyes. He is certainly no simple man. Damian breaks eye contact and turns back to walk towards the painting he’s working on. “Teach him, Ravi. I have no time to train an unruly pet. I already have Goliath for that. I’m sure our guest will be grateful for his accommodations.”

Damian waits until the men and his own servant has left with a bow. Jon shouts protests and insults at him before the men finally placed the gag back. Once they have left, Damian slumps in his seat, staring at the paints and gripping the paintbrush in his hand tightly. He sighs, uncurling his fingers from the brush one by one before replacing it back on the edge of the table.

He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. In his mind, he can still see defiant blue eyes staring back at him.

-----

Jon pulls at the collar around his neck and winces as it hurts him, sharp pain going through his body. He groans and hisses, clenching his hands on his lap. They’d cleaned him up and sent him back to the prince’s rooms, chained to the foot of the bed.

He is thankful that the prince seemed to have dismissed the possibility that he was Prince Jonathan of Krypton. It would be more difficult to work out a way to escape if they knew who he was.

He keeps an eye on the door as he pulls at his chains, trying to break them. He makes a sound of frustration when he realizes that his strength, at the moment, is not enough to do it. There might be kryptonite or some spell in the collar. He couldn’t be certain. He hates it, hates the situation he’s in, hates Damian al Ghul Wayne and his arrogance.

He hates being trapped with no idea how to get free.

The door opens and he lets go of the chain to watch Damian stride into the room with all the confidence of the prince that he was, the prince that Jonathan wasn’t at the moment.

Damian stops a few feet away from him. His eyes narrow and Jon matches the look with a glare. “Tt, are you going to attack me?” Damian asks with a scowl, crossing his arms over his chest and looking over Jon, inspecting him. Jon isn’t sure if he should be flattered or insulted. He was in chains and collared and Damian thinks that he’ll somehow attack still. He wants to, though, but he knows it won’t help, not in this case, not right now.

“Why? Are you scared?” Jon says with a smirk. He looks the prince over and grins. “I bet I could beat you if we fought.”

Damian scoffs. “Unlikely,” he says. “I am well-trained even against a kryptonian. I have spoken with some of my mother’s people. It seems that you are a gift from Luthor to my family.”

“What?” Jon pales and swallows past the lump in his throat. He slumps where he’s seated on the floor, ignoring the weight of the chains on his wrists and ankles or the collar around his neck. “What happened? Is this--? Are we at war?”

They weren’t, as far as he knew. Gotham and Krypton were both part of an alliance of several nations but things could have changed. Damian ignores him and he watches the prince change his green and gold robes for a simple dark shirt. Jon stares at the back of Damian’s neck as he sits at the desk, sifting through papers.

“Answer me!” Jon demands, with barely restrained anger.

Damian lets the papers fall from his hand to the desk. He turns and regards Jon with cold eyes. “You do not command me. You do not have any right to.” Damian stands and crosses the room to stand in front of Jon. Jon could only kneel before the chains pulled him down where they were stuck to the floor.

“You won’t let me die,” Jon says, watching the other prince warily.

“And why not? You seem to be more trouble than you are worth. I will not have a servant who cannot follow orders.”

“You thought I was the prince,” Jon points out and watches as Damian freezes. Jon smiles. “You’re not sure, are you? You can’t be sure.”

“Can’t I?” Damian smirks. “If anything, being a prince makes you a much better target, your highness,” he says with a mocking tone and Jon flinches even if Damian has already moved away. “You should remember that before you challenge the scion of the Houses of al Ghul and Wayne.”

“I’m never going to bow to you,” Jon glares. “Never.”

“Never suggests such certainty and certainty is a luxury you cannot afford at the moment, Jon,” Damian smiles. “Tt, I thought you’d be smart enough to know that. Perhaps, I shall train you after all.”

As Damian moves to go back to his desk, Jon mutters under his breath. “Yeah, good luck with that.”

Damian stops and looks over his shoulder. “I am Damian al Ghul Wayne, Prince of Gotham and Nanda Parbat. I don’t need luck.”

Chapter Text

Jon pulls at the black sleeveless shirt they had him wearing and frowns. Black reminds him of his older brother. It was Kon’s preferred colors though his was always lined with red or bore the sigil of the house of El. The clothes Jon wore were lined with green and gold. Green and gold. Black and gold. The colours of the the al Ghuls and the Waynes.

“You don’t like it?”

Jon looks at the girl in front of him. Maya Ducard introduced herself as a member of Damian’s household and one of his closest advisors. Jon doesn’t think advisors were supposed to supervise the prince’s slave or maybe that was just the way Damian did things.

He hated that he still really couldn’t say for sure.

“Green is just not my colour,” Jon jokes with a smile. “Or black.” He scrunches up his nose. “It’s too depressing.”

"Oh, Jon, everything in Nanda Parbat is depressing." Maya said, shaking her head at him. She scrunches her nose even as she looks him up and down, walking around him with a frown. She blows out a breath and leans back. "How have you ripped the pants already?"

"Well, that's a different thing. That happened yesterday." Jon points out with a shrug. He thinks of how he kept struggling in his bonds yesterday and how the rip could have happened. "Besides, it gives the clothes some character."

"Character," Maya states.

"I mean, have you seen Prince Kon's outfits? Or Prince Jon's?"

"I don't care about your Kryptonian princes or the character of your clothing. Damian may care about those princes but it definitely would not be because of clothing. Now, should we get you fitted for different clothes. Damian didn't exactly say what he wants you for."

"Oh, I'm good for a lot of things," Jon nods to himself as he thinks of home and his family, as he wonders about what has happened. He wonders if they know he's missing, taken before he could reach Kandor from Metropolis. "But, I think you'll find I'll do them better in red and blue."

“You’re really something, aren’t you?” Maya laughs and cocks a hip to the side, placing her hand over it. “Covered in chains and with a collar around your throat and you still find it in you to joke about the clothes we dress you in.”

“How else am I supposed to seduce the prince into letting me go free if I don’t look pretty?” Jon shoots back with a grin.

“Huh,” Maya smirks at him. “Good luck with that.”

“What? Is he too good for the likes of us?” Jon scoffs.

“More like I’ve never really seen Damian interested. In anyone. At all.” Maya shakes her head and sighs. “If you do succeed, tell me. Colin and I have an ongoing net about it.”

“Colin?”

“You might meet him eventually,” Maya dismissed the question with a wave of her hand. She placed her hands on his shoulder and turned him one way and the other. “That should do it. You look presentable enough. Let’s bring you to Damian.”

——-

“You look festive,” Maya points out when she enters the room with Jon in tow. She looks him over with a raised brow. “Robin colors. Are we going back to Gotham?”

“No,” Damian pulls his hooded cloak over the whole ensemble of clothing, hiding the red, green and yellow. “But, Todd and Cain have both sent word that they might come here.”

“To ‘Eth Alth’eban?” Maya frowns. “I thought your brother was almost executed by your grandfather the last time he was here.”

“Yes,” Damian says as he unclasped the cloak, removing it from his shoulders and draping it over an armchair. He could see the kryptonian, keeping unusually silent but attentive. Jon. Jonathan Kent. Prince of Krypton. Maybe Todd could tell him more when the older prince comes.

“So why is he coming back?”

“Do not worry, Maya. My grandfather will not dare to order the death of one of Gotham’s favoured princes.”

“You just said he did it before!” Jon exclaims, incredulous and confused. Damian smirks as the younger man realises his mistake of calling attention to his person, cheeks flushing. “What’s wrong with your family? Why are they trying to kill each other?”

“And so he speaks,” Damian says with a grin that showed far too much teeth to be friendly. “I have not given you the right to question me or my family, Jon. You would do well to remember whose generosity you depend upon at the moment.”

Damian sees the flash of anger before the other hides it in an easy smile. So, he can act, after all. It makes Damian question Jon’s whole presence here. While Damian has checked and found that the younger man was indeed from his mother, it is also still possible for Krypton to have sent spies in his grandfather’s stronghold.

Few people in any kingdom trust Ra’s al Ghul and they are right to doubt the man. Damian is quite sure even he and his mother would not avoid his grandfather’s wrath if he ever finds that they have failed or betrayed him.

It made things so much more difficult for Damian.

He will have to wait for news from both Todd and Cain before he can move, before he can come back home to Gotham.

“Anything to say for yourself?” Damian asks the other young man. Maya frowns at him but he ignores it in favor of crossing the room until he stood in front of the slave. He looks him up and down, noting the colors of his family and how Jon seems to have already managed to rip up his pants. Damian smirks. “I like seeing you in my colors.”

“Your colors?” Jon scoffs. He copies Damian’s previous actions, looking him up and down like he was judging his prince and master. “I like the actual colors your wearing better. Black is boring.”

“It’s practical,” Damian says. “And the Robin colors were chosen by Richard. I had nothing to do with its brightness.”

Maya laughs. “You wore it easily enough when your brother offered it to you.”

Damian’s eyes flicks towards her, an easy and fond smile lifting his lips. “It’s a tradition for the princes of Gotham.”

“Sure, if you say so,” she says. She looks from him to Jon with a calculating glance before tossing her hair over her shoulder as she rolls her shoulders back. “I have tasks to get back to. Don’t kill your slave just to spite your mother. I don’t to fight my way out of another stronghold.”

“But we did so well the last time,” Damian teases her.

She rolls her eyes. “I’d like you to say that to the others.” She grins. “I don’t think they’d agree with you.”

“Tt, you may be right,” Damian says, lips twitching as he fought a smile.

“Oh, Damian, you know I am,” she says as she shuts the door behind her.

Jon is smiling too, Damian notes as he looks at the Kryptonian. “What are you smiling about?” Damian asks as he removes his gauntlets and turns to look at the Kryptonian.

Jon shrugs. “It’s nice to know you’re actually human.”

Damian frowns and stops, a hand still on the gauntlet he’s placed on the table. Jon’s stance is relaxed but poised to change into an active fighting stance at any moment. Damian cocks his head as he regards the other. “And why does that matter to you? You’re not human.”

“What!?” The slave’s eyes widens like Damian has said something surprising. He looks indignant and defensive. Damian’s eyes are drawn to the gold and green of the collar around his neck. Ravi confirmed that it was Kryptonite and Damian had to wonder at the cost of it all.

“You’re Kryptonian, are you not?”

“Oh, that,” Jon says and the defensive posture slumps into the former relaxed one. “Only half. My mother’s human.”

“I see,” Damian says, regarding the other. Jon is shifting on his feet in a way that reminds Damian of his friend, Colin. In a way, Jon was more like Colin than Damian could be. Both of them are creatures of joy and daylight whereas Damian’s family, both his families, are forged in the darkness of the night and bathed in the blood of violence.

“Come here,” Damian orders.

Jon looks at him warily, hesitating before he follows the order, stopping about a foot away from where Damian has seated himself. He looks uncomfortable, raising his hand to rub at the back of his neck and looking at Damian from beneath the locks of his hair. Some would see it as submission. They would be foolish, Damian thinks. This was the wariness of something wild and powerful just waiting for the right moment to fight or fly.

“Kneel,” Damian says. “Help me with my boots.”

Jon starts in shock and Damian keeps his gaze on the other boy’s collar of gold. He wonders if it hurts him, if Damian could find a better way to keep his abilities contained. Perhaps, he’d ask Todd and Cain when they came back. If he remembers correctly, both have had dealings with Kryptonians in the past.

Jon mutters under his breath as he follows the orders given. His movements are stiff and unhurried, and Damian has to bite at his tongue to keep himself from lashing at the boy with insults. It was difficult at times to go against the training he’s had since childhood.

Jon rolls the red strings of Damian’s boots around two of his fingers. “So,” he starts innocently enough but Damian is immediately on guard, “I was wondering about stuff.”

“Were you?”

Jon peeks at him from where he is kneeling and Damian could see the calculating look hidden between bright blue eyes. “Krypton and Gotham are allies. Your father has visited both Kandor and Metropolis before.”

“Your point?”

“Why am I here? Krypton won’t be happy if one of their own was taken as a slave. Are we at war?”

“War,” Damian curls his lips to a sneer at the word. He leans back in his chair and allows Jon to pull the boots from his foot to set it aside. He could hear the clash of swords from outside and wonders whose cohort was using the training yards. “Gotham is always at war. So is Nanda Parbat. This is why ‘Eth Alth’eban was designed by my grandfather as a hidden fortress.”

Jon glares at him, a scowl marring his features for once. Damian thinks that the expression is more fitting of his actual situation. “That’s not what I asked.”

Damian still stares at the open windows of his room. There is the sound of large beating wings outside and he closes his eyes, could imagine Maya flying on Goliath’s back. He opens his eyes when he hears the slight shifting in the room only to find that Jon has risen to his feet despite the lack of orders to do so. Damian shoots his hand out, grabbing the other’s wrist and pulling him. Jon trips and spills into his lap. The only thing that keeps him from straddling Damian is Damian’s firm grip on his wrist and the hand wrapped loosely around his throat, just above the collar.

Damian presses at the pulse point on the boy’s neck and relishes the hiss of breath that Jon takes. “Did I tell you to rise?” Damian swipes his thumb on the cold metal of the collar and smiles coldly. “You only get what I give you, no more and no less, and you do not ask for more. Do you understand?”

For a moment, there is something murderous in the slave’s eyes and Damian wonders if he would have to go further than this but then Jon averts his eyes, hanging his head and staring at the floor. “Yes, your highness.”

Someone clears their throat and Damian releases Jon, allowing the Kryptonian to stumble backwards almost falling to the floor before he manages to correct himself. One of Nanda Parbat’s many warriors stand at attention by the door. “Your highness,” the man bows and Damian could see the quick look sent towards the chastised slave.

“What do you want?” Damian asks.

“I have been sent to inform you that Lady Mara and the Demon’s Fist have arrived. The Red Hood is expected in a few hours as well.”

“Prince.”

The man falters. “My pardon, your highness?”

“The Red Hood’s proper title for you and anyone else is Prince. He is my father’s chosen heir and has been recognized by my mother as well. You would do well to respect him as you respect my cousin and I.”

“Of course, my lord. Prince Jason Todd would be arriving with his Outlaws this evening.”

“Good, you’re dismissed.”

Damian watches the door fall shut once again before turning back to Jon. “Well, it seems we would have to prepare for a family dinner. I do hope you can follow orders and show better manners this time, Jon.”

Damian couldn’t help but feel a bit satisfied at the look of irritation and anger that crossed the normally jovial face. Good, he should be angry. Damian doesn’t want the lies he’s been shown by the slave prince. He’s had enough of lies from every court he’s been a part of. Perhaps, the truth would better suit them both. All they can do is wait. Something’s got to give.

Chapter Text

Dinner with the royal family of Nanda Parbat apparently meant an uncomfortable silence and a tense atmosphere that Jon expected would be broken by someone being murdered. He stands a step behind Damian’s chair, holding on to a bottle of wine he was expected to pour for Damian whenever he needed it. Damian, as heir of the al Ghul bloodline is seated at the head of the table, while the two other royals sat on either side of him.

There was a clink of metal and porcelain as the dishes were replaced by the next course. Jon watches the other two, trying to gauge how much danger they posed against him with his abilities sealed by the collar.

Mara al Ghul had come earlier that day with her group, the Demon’s Fist. She had a scar over her right eye, making the glares she kept sending Damian seem much more menacing. She seemed to be around Damian and Jon’s age yet Jon feels like she wouldn’t even hesitate to murder any of them. Then again, Jon could also say the same of Damian and his older brother. Prince Jason had arrived just in time for dinner and had clearly unsettled many of ‘Eth Alth’eban’s residents.

The man in question takes a bite of his meal before turning to Damian. “So, demon brat,” he says as an opening. He looks over Damian’s shoulder and at Jon, making the Kryptonian prince freeze in his position. “The war is still questionable but you already have a Kryptonian prisoner. Should I even ask?”

“He was a gift from mother,” Damian answers, calmly.

“A gift,” Mara scoffs and sneers at Damian. “For the prince who hides behind the walls of this city. You haven’t even proven yourself in any battle against Krypton.”

“I will not fight in a useless, illegitimate battle,” Damian replies with a click of his tongue. “Father would not have sanctioned this. It will ruin Gotham.”

“Metropolis attacked us,” Mara scowls. “You’ve grown weak, Damian. This is why you shouldn't be the heir of Nanda Parbat. You don’t deserve it.”

Damian’s gaze turns cold and Jon tightens his hold on the wine bottle he was holding. Maybe he could use it as a weapon if things turned bad. Maybe the murder that he was expecting would actually happen. He didn’t want anything to happen. Metropolis attacked Gotham or Nanda Parbat. His father wouldn’t have allowed something like that to happen and if the discussion turned into a fight then Jon might not have a chance to gather information again.

The standoff between the cousins breaks when Jason throws his head back and laughs.

“What’s funny, bastard?” Mara snarls, her grip on her glass tightening as she turns her glare to the older prince.

“You. The alliance between our kingdoms. The fact that you think Ra’s al Ghul will ever give up his own throne.” He throws his drink back and leans comfortably in his chair. “I think even Talia has given up at this point, hm?”

Damian seems to relax into his seat, the tension leaving his shoulders as Jason smirks. Damian gestures to Jon and Jon hurries to fill his glass with the wine.

“‘Sides, Luthor’s actions are not necessarily the same as that of Krypton’s royal family,” Jason says with a frown. “Kandor is unnaturally silent about the state of affairs though. It’s like the royal family had up and vanished.”

Jon starts and almost spills the wine. He fumbles with it, muttering a simple apology. As he steps back, he still feels the gaze of the older Gothamite prince on him. Jason’s gaze narrows at him before slipping to Damian. “And father?” Damian asks, leaning forward.

Jason grimaces. His eyes flicks from Jon to Mara before going to Damian. “Still missing, probably dead,” he says, setting his glass with a heavy thump on the table. “Timmy doesn’t think so and is running himself ragged looking for him while fending your grandfather off.”

“Our grandfather wants what was always promised,” Mara says. “The union of Gotham and Nanda Parbat.”

“Yeah,” Jason laughs again. “With Damian as his puppet king. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

“I will not be anyone’s puppet,” Damian states, glaring at both his guests. “The two of you would do well to watch what you imply.”

“It doesn’t matter anyway, demon brat,” Jason says, pointing the hand that held the butter knife at Damian. It seemed a strangely aggressive action to witness at a dinner table, Jon thinks with a frown. “Do you think Gotham is just gonna pass over their golden prince? Dickie may be busy being the young Lord of Bludhaven that he is but Gotham ain’t just gonna fall on your lap with him there.”

“Richard is still in Bludhaven?” Damian frowns, his face scrunching up as he looked at his older brother. “Why hasn’t he returned to manage things instead of Drake?”

Jason shrugs. “Don’t ask me,” he says. “From what I’ve heard, Bludhaven isn’t any better than Gotham at the moment. Dickie won’t be abandoning anything just like that.”

Jon looks from one prince to the other. He hopes for more information on what was happening on Krypton, on the supposedly missing royal family. He hadn’t thought there was any situation worth mentioning the last time he was home. His father and Luthor had seemed to be in a friendlier situation at least.

“You say grandfather is with Drake at the moment?” Damian asks and Jon snaps back to attention. The ruler of Nanda Parbat, and Prince Timothy who was currently acting regent of Gotham would be some of the important players if there really was a war. At this point, he really should stop trying to deny that there was one. Damian cocks his head with a calculating look on his face. “And my mother?”

Jason glances at Jon. “I think you should know that.”

“She’s acting like you should be, cousin. She’s in Metropolis, working for the good of our family.”

“Oh, she’s definitely doing something. I’m not sure what. Talia can be like that,” Jason says.

“I see,” Damian frowns at his meal before pushing it away. He clicks his tongue in his mouth as he stands and Jon tenses in anticipation, feeling dread somehow. Damian doesn’t do anything but beckon Jon to follow him.

“Are we done then?” Jason calls out. “Just like that? Don’t have anything else to say, demon brat?”

“You can enjoy your dinner, Todd, Mara,” Damian says, nodding to each before turning away. “I have much to think about with the information you’ve brought me. We shall speak again tomorrow. I trust you both know the fortress enough to navigate it yourselves. Good night.”

Jon follows Damian through corridors that were slowly becoming familiar. Servants scurry from their path with bows and muttered greetings that Damian doesn’t acknowledge. Jon keeps looking over his shoulder, wondering if they should be watching for the other two royals that have been left in that room.

Damian’s room is dark and quiet when they enter. Jon stops at the threshold, after closing the door, wondering if there was anything he was supposed to do.

“You should have left that behind,” Damian says with a scowl. Jon looks at the wine bottle he still has in his hand with a grimace before placing it on an empty space in Damian’s desk. He gets to work, lighting the braziers around the room one by one. He misses his own abilities, thinking of how easy it would be to light these with his heat vision.

When Jon finishes with his task, he finds Damian already peeling off the formal attire he had worn for the dinner. Green and gold robes are strewn on the floor and replaced by a thinner but still as intricate night robe. Damian is slowly working through the laces of his boots with a frown. Jon purses his lips, hesitating before he crouches in front of Damian and helps him through it.

“Your family seems terrifying,” Jon comments. He peers at Damian who leans back, fingers splayed on the soft covers of the bed as he looks at Jon with narrowed eyes as if he’s forgotten he’s there.

“Fear is a helpful tool in ruling,” Damian says. “You would know. Fear has kept you from acting out too much. Fear and lack of information. I imagine part of the latter problem has been addressed by all that you’ve heard tonight.”

Jon freezes, the laces of the boots still curled around his finger. Damian chuckles, bending down to remove his boots himself and pulling his legs to a cross-legged position on the bed. Jon clears his throat and smiles at the other. He shrugs. “It would be boring not to listen.”

“You were doing well enough when the subject strayed from the topic of Krypton and Metropolis,” Damian points out. He looks smug as he smirks at Jon, looking down on him from his perch on the bed. “You didn’t listen then.”

“I’d rather not listen to your family drama, thanks,” Jon chuckles. “It’s really not that interesting.”

Damian still looks dubious as he cocks his head. The firelight from the braziers cast his face in golden shadows and Jon couldn’t help but think of how they looked, like a supplicant kneeling to their god. It was there, after all, the idea of divinity in the gold that Damian still wore around his fingers on the intricate lines of it on his beautiful silk robes and the way his skin gleamed in the light, far darker and beautiful than Jon’s own. Jon once heard that the royals of Nanda Parbat had found the way to immortality, a cure to death. Like this, he found himself wondering if that was true, if Damian had the elixir to life itself running through his veins.

Jon swallows and shakes his head to clear his thoughts. Maybe in another life, he would have willingly courted the other prince, brought him courting gifts and offerings like you would to a beloved god. But that was a vastly different world where a collar had not been forced upon his neck by Damian’s own mother.

In another world, they might have been friends.

Jon blinks in surprise at the genuine amusement in Damian’s expression. “If you say so.”

Jon’s breath catches in his chest and he blows out a breath, watching the shifting shadows on Damian’s face. The heir of the demon. He really shouldn’t be so affected. Jon curses himself in his mind and bows his head to hide whatever expression he had. “Am I free to go, your highness?” He says, winding the laces of the prince’s boots around his fingers.

“Do as you wish,” Damian says, attention already waning from the Kryptonian. Jon sighs and gets to his feet. He looks at Damian and opens his mouth to say something he himself isn’t sure of. He shuts his mouth, thinking better of it and turns to walk out the door.

-----

Jon hurries down the halls of the fortress. He stops by a balcony, staring at the view outside. The painted stone walls of ‘Eth Alth’eban is cold underneath his palm and he stares at the shadow of the flying beasts circling the skies outside.

Jon thinks that that night could either be his best or worst chance of escape. The entourage of both Prince Jason and Lady Mara should be roaming around the city fortress. It might mean an added vigilance on their part or the lack thereof. Jon clenches his fist and slams it on the stone wall. In the past, he would have broken the column or made a hole in it but now he shakes his newly bruised knuckles with a frown.

He can risk it, find his way home, make sure his family is safe. But, he could also stay here. Stay here and serve at the prince’s side, watching all the while and gathering the information that his family might need for victory.

He thinks of other things too, of other reasons to leave or stay. He thinks of Damian in the firelight, talking about fear with a smug look on his face. He thinks about Lady Mara talking about the war. Metropolis attacked Gotham. Jon rubs his knuckles with a grimace knowing that an attack on his best friend’s city-state isn’t something his father would do. But, it is something that Jon would expect now and then from his father’s sometimes ally, sometimes enemy, Luthor.

It means he’s not sure if his family is safe. It means, Jon thinks with a sharp intake of breath, that he cannot stay here. No matter how much easier it would be to stay. No matter if he thinks Damian can be changed and Damian doesn’t really want that war to happen.

There are a lot of other things he needs to consider. He nods, determined, and storms down the halls in a direction different from the one he was taking earlier. He doesn’t plan on retiring for the night. There are preparations to be made and an escape to accomplish.

-----

Jon doesn’t find navigating the city of ‘Eth Alth’eban easy. There are too many unfamiliar twisting hallways, too many rooms he doesn’t know, and too many strangers who could be enemies. He grips the small satchel he’s managed to pack with a few essentials. He doesn’t think it would be enough to survive the desert that surrounds the city but he’s hoping it would be enough for him until he gets to a village or encounters a merchant caravan.

It was death for him to fail either way. At least, he didn’t think any of the al Ghuls would be forgiving of his attempt at escape if they ever catch him.

Getting out proves to be more difficult than he first expected. He keeps forgetting that he doesn’t have access to the rest of his abilities. He pulls at a locked door again in frustration, locked and unfortunately, at the moment, too strong for him to break. The golden band around his throat is suddenly a weight he cannot ignore. He wants to remove it, wants to break it apart. He feels sick of the kryptonite no matter how modified it is.

He sighs and goes down a different hallway, trudging with heavy footsteps. Maybe he gives it up now, he can find better information to use for later attempts. He hasn’t really managed much in the time he’s spent here. Damian has kept him too close.

He hears the approaching footsteps of other people and he backtracks and slides into a shadowed alcove. The soldiers of Nanda Parbat wear light clothing and they barely make a sound as they moved. It takes all of Jon’s training and what remained of his Kryptonian abilities to strain and listen to them move along the hall.

“There might be a duel again by tomorrow,” one of the guards said as they moved past Jon.

“A duel? Oh, Lady Mara and Prince Damian?” The other answered with a snicker. “Nothing surprising about that. Going to place your bet?”

“I’d rather not,” the first answered. “Not with the Red Hood here. I won’t risk anything against one of Lady Talia’s chosen.”

Their voices and footsteps fade as they turn to another hallway and Jon steps away from the shadow, looking at the direction they’ve taken with a frown. A duel between the cousins? It sounded foreboding but it also sounded like something that happened often. He runs towards the other direction but he must have not been paying enough attention because before he knows it, he hears the sound of someone’s alarm, and a blade that goes past his head.

His heart stutters in his chest and he flinches as he hears the sudden chime of bells. Alarms, his mind provides, as the bells, so many of them, start ringing one after the other. Jon abandons any attempt at stealth and takes a different direction, jumping and climbing down from a balcony, hoping he isn’t just trapping himself into some inner courtyard.

He’s suddenly thankful for all the games he’s played with his half-brothers without the use of their abilities. It may not have been much but at least he knows how to break his fall when he lets go of the stone brick he was holding on. Just in time too, for an arrow had buried itself on his former position just as he landed on the ground with a groan.

He’s very much aware of the shouts as they point out his position or the silent footsteps dogging his every movement. They know the fortress better than he could ever have and his heart is a constant aching thunderous rap in his chest. He still manages to run past, dodge or beat the common guards but he knows his luck won’t last long.

Jon isn’t really surprised when he finally runs into Prince Jason. The prince takes one look at him, and Jon flinches at the too-bright green eyes that almost seem to glow in the darkness. Realisation dawns in the prince’s eyes before he kicks the blade that comes at him. Jon loses the weapon he’s managed to steal from one of his assailants but he’s had other training. He strikes with his still-bruised knuckles but it is easily dodged by the older prince. The prince grabs his wrist, pulling it behind his back and slamming him to the wall. Jason has a tight grip on his wrist even as he pulls Jon back with a fistful of hair.

“You’re Damian’s. Where the fuck is he!? Did you do something?” Jason growls in his ear, angry and terrible. Jon remembers his earlier conviction of the al Ghuls’s ability to murder each other. He’s sure they’ll have an easier time with him.

“I didn’t do anything to Damian.”

“You better hope not,” Jason releases his hair and pulls him away from the wall, still keeping him in a tight grip. Jon hangs his head like, dejected. He’s sure there’ll be terrible consequences now. “Kryptonian or not, you will die. I’ll find a way to make sure of it.”

“That won’t be necessary, Todd.”

Jon looks up, and even with his hair falling over his eyes from how Jason has messed it up, he can see Damian striding towards them with barely repressed fury in his very movement. His eyes seem to gleam with reflected firelight from the torches. It is different from the almost inhuman glow of Jason Todd’s eyes. Damian’s eyes are more human but at the same time, much more terrifying. Jon gulps, feels the collar around his throat like a noose ready to tighten at any moment.

“Damian,” Jason’s voice is even but Jon thinks he can feel the exhale of relief from the prince, can feel the very same relief from the loosening of his grip on Jon’s wrist. For a moment, Jon is tempted to take advantage and run, but it would have been stupid to. Jason’s grip wasn’t that much looser and Damian was right in front of them.

“I’ll be taking care of him.”

“He didn’t hurt you?”

Damian scoffs, offended. “Do you think someone like him can harm me?”

Jason laughs in a mocking tone. “I don’t know. He almost escaped, didn’t he?”

Damian smirks and it makes Jon’s blood run cold. “You think he would have survived that?”

“Are you going to kill him, demon brat?” Jason asks. Jon thinks its a strange question from someone threatening to do the same to him just minutes ago.

“No,” Damian answers. He catches Jon’s eye and their gazes hold for a moment. Jon remembers his earlier thoughts and remembered the old stories of Krypton of angered gods and destruction. He wonders if that was appropriate in this situation. He blanchs when a small smile graced Damian’s lips, somehow turning his expression crueler in the moonlight. “That would be a waste. I’m sure Jon can learn his lesson. Don’t you think so, Jon?”

Jon stills and for a moment, he wonders if this was the stupidest decision in his life. Looking at Damian, he wonders if death would be the kinder option. He doesn’t even know if he had a choice in anything.

-----

Chapter Text

-----

Jon barely has the strength to look up when he hears the sound of footsteps approaching. The red glare from the lamp above is draining and he’s been wondering what kind of dark magics and deals the Al Ghuls have entered to have somehow harnessed the effects of a red sun. He squints weakly at the two people on the other side of the bars as he hears the clatter of the unlocking gates.

Jon sees Maya together with another young man enter. The young man crosses his arms over his chest as he leans on the wall, watching Jon with wary eyes. Maya crouches in front of Jon, reaching out to remove the chains that kept him tied to the wall.

“So this is Damian’s new pet?” The young man asks with a somewhat skeptical tone. “He doesn’t look like much.”

“Suren, don’t be cruel.” Maya sighs. “And he’s kryptonian surrounded by his weaknesses. Of course it’ll be like this.”

“I don’t need to be cruel,” Suren says with a scoff and a sneer. “Damian accomplishes that just fine.”

“And yet you remain by his side,” Maya says with an amused smile. “What does that say about you?”

“You’re here too,” Suren shoots back. “So, what does that say about you?”

“Maya?” Jon manages to say though his voice still seems weak after the days spent in the prison after his attempt at escape. “Are they going to kill me?”

Maya smiles at him. “I think we both know why we stay, Jon, and that’s because we believe that Damian isn’t quite as awful as everyone thinks he is,” she says. Suren makes a strange disbelieving sound from across the cell and Maya shoots him a glare. She gently rubs at the sore skin of Jon’s wrist where the shackles have left their mark. “He’s not going to kill you.”

Suren shifts from his position as Maya helps Jon to his feet. He groans as he stands, feeling someone has beaten the fight out of him. The other young man reminds Jon of Damian with the way he carried himself and the arrogant way he spoke. He wonders who Suren really is. Is he another Al Ghul that Jon has to watch out for? Suren’s gaze roves over Jon like he’s sizing him up and Jon fights the urge to spit out some insult, fights the urge to prove them all wrong and show that he hasn’t given up yet.

He wants to prove it to them, no, he wants to prove it to himself.

Suren smirks and turns away, opening the gates for them to pass through. “You shouldn’t give the kryptonian promises that might not be true, Ducard,” he says. “That might be more cruel than anything me or Damian has ever done.”

Maya rolls her eyes and Jon wonders, for a moment, if everyone in Nanda Parbat was somewhat crazy.

-----

“That won’t work, demon brat,” Jason drags his finger through the map, drawing out a clear line. “If I was any competent tactician, I would set up blockades all over the border. We can’t just send supplies to Gotham and Bludhaven without thinking about how those supplies would pass these things.”

Jon looks at the proceedings in the room with widened eyes. There was a round table where maps and documents laid scattered. Damian sits, scanning the papers with impassive eyes while Mara gaze at it with barely disguised annoyance. Jon wonders what she was annoyed about, if it was the battles that was occuring, their results, or the discussion she was having with her cousins. Jason paces around the table, picking up some documents before putting it down again. There are other people that the Kryptonian prince doesn’t recognize.

They had walked into a war room and Jon knows, without a doubt, that he wasn’t supposed to be there.

“We need an escort for it,” Jason declares, hands bracing on the edge of the table as he leans down to scan the maps. “Anyone you trust to send, demon brat?”

“Why not have Damian go?” Mara offers with a scoff. “After all, he hasn’t done any kind of contribution to the war.”

“It is my duty to stay here as heir, cousin,” Damian says as he glances at her with challenge in his eyes. Mara sneers at him and there is a tension between them that cannot be hidden. Jon remembers the talk of a duel and notes the bandages that peek out from under Mara’s sleeve or Damian’s bruised knuckles and split lip. Maybe the duel did happen, he thinks with a grimace.

“You’re growing soft in these walls, Damian.”

“Wasn’t soft enough that I couldn’t beat you, was I?”

Mara’s eyes flare with murderous rage before Jason slams his hand on the table. “Stop,” he orders with a snarl. “Am I babysitting children now? Is that it? Cause that’s what I’m getting from you both.”

“Shut up, Todd,” Damian says through gritted teeth.

“Yeah, you don’t even belong here,” Mara laughs mockingly. “You’re just Talia’s stray. You’re not an Al Ghul.”

Damian glares at Mara despite his own words just moments ago. Jason, on the other hand, seems amused. He throws his head back and laughs. “Like I ever want to be one,” he says, still snickering as he moves one of the pieces over the map. “Now, as I was saying,” he looks up then pauses. It takes Jon a moment to realize that the prince is staring right at him, at them who just arrived.

The pause takes too long. Mara, Damian, and the rest of the people in the room turn their heads towards the new arrivals. Suren moves with assured grace and takes a seat beside the young red-haired man who sat beside Damian. He takes the documents from the young man’s hands and scans them himself. Maya steps away from Jon and shrugs at the rest of the room. She seems to unconcerned and it is a great contrast to the way Jon feels the panic rising in him.

He had come to many close calls with death but this feels too much like inviting danger itself.

“You’re late,” Damian says. “We had to start without you. Mara was too impatient.”

“That’s fine,” Maya crosses the room to sit beside Damian. “Knowing you, you’ll have stuff for us review later on anyway.”

Damian hums in amusement, a little smirk playing on his lips. His hand strokes something on his lap but the table keeps Jon from seeing what it is. The rest of the room is still staring at him like they couldn’t believe his presence in the room.

“You haven’t killed him yet?” Mara laughs and sneers at Jon. Jon flinches at the sound and the look of her sightless eye as her gaze roves over him. It is different from Suren’s calculating assessment earlier. She looks more like she wants to devour him and Jon almost steps back, feeling like the collar on his throat could be some kind of target, some kind of guide telling people where to slice to kill him.

“I never said I would,” Damian states plainly.

Mara gives her cousin a look of disgust as she shakes her head. “You really have grown soft, cousin.”

Damian frowns. “Because I prefer not to have my toys broken?” He scoffs. “Please, I’m just being practical. Right now, he’s more useful to me alive.”

“Damian,” Jason says in a warning tone. The older prince is still staring at Jon and Jon shifts under that inhuman gaze. In daylight, the older prince’s eyes look normal but the Kryptonian still remembers the strange light of it during his escape. “You should know what your playing at.”

“I don’t need you to look out for me, Todd,” Damian says, raising his chin and giving the older prince that same smug look. “I know what I’m doing.”

Jason sighs as he looks at his brother and he shrugs in defeat. “Sure,” he concedes.

Damian presses his lips in a line as he looks from his brother to his cousin. He shifts his gaze between them before smiling. “And no one is to touch him, are we clear?”

“I don’t follow your orders,” Mara snarls. “But, I don’t want anything to do with your unruly slave.”

Jason shrugs. “I don’t care, demon brat.”

“Good,” Damian nods in satisfaction. He turns to address Jon and it is the first time Damian’s looked at him since he left him in that prison cell. There is a bitter taste in his mouth and the familiar taste of bile and blood. He reminds himself that the pain he’s felt the past few days or week has been Damian’s fault. He thinks of the red light and the sharp pain of kryptonite all around him. He’s angry and he wants so badly to show Damian how it feels to be helpless.

But, the people in this room would stop him if he even tries anything threatening against the young prince. Jon still feels the ache in his shoulders from when Jason had threatened him after his failed attempt, can still remember the prince’s threat of death if Jon had harmed his younger brother.

“Jon,” Damian’s voice rises over the din of the anger in Jon. Jon looks up at him and meets his eyes from across the room. He curls his hands into fists, digging his fingers into his palm to stop himself. He takes deep breaths even as he wants to take those fists of his and drive them into Damian’s smug face. “Come here.”

Jon jerks at the prince’s command and hesitates. There are eyes staring at him, waiting for him to move. Jon finds himself freezing even as his mind screams at him to move, to stop resisting. He can’t stop resisting. It’s been too long. He doesn’t know exactly how long but anything could have happened to Krypton since he’s been gone.

“Shall I put the dog down, cousin?”

“Shut up, Mara,” Damian says, voice cold and unforgiving. He scowls at Jon and repeats his order. “Come here, Jon. You’ve learned your lesson, haven’t you?”

Jon takes a deep and buries the resentment inside. He can’t die yet. He still has to come home and if Damian is stupid enough to give him this second chance then he’ll take it. He has to for he has no other choice. He jerks a nod and crosses the room to stand a step behind Damian by his side. He could now see that Damian had been petting a big, black dog.

Damian doesn’t even look at him to see if he follows when he gives his next order. “Kneel.”

Jon thinks about how much he doesn’t want to spend another week under the effects of a red sun, how he probably can’t, not without truly damaging himself. He sinks to his knees even as the older prince of Gotham smoothly goes back to his discussion of their plans to send some supplies to Gotham and Bludhaven in order to help their efforts in the war.

Jon ducks his head and listens. It is all he can do for now. He doesn’t even flinch when Damian stops petting his dog and shifts his hand to card them through Jon’s own dark hair. And if he leans in closer to the other prince’s touch? Well, he tells himself it’s been a while since he’s had someone familiar touch him so gently.

Maybe Maya thinks that Damian isn’t unredeemable. Jon, though, still isn’t quite convinced.

-----

“Damian,” Jason says, stopping Damian with a hand on his arm as they leave the meeting room. He’s dismissed the others but Jon is still beside him, his eyes lowered and strangely quiet.

A week ago, Jon would have been trying to have a conversation with him as they made their way to Damian’s room. The other had always been cheeky, had always acted too familiar with a prince. It only ever served to support Damian’s suspicions about him. He misses it though, the banter and conversation, Jon’s easy smiles and behavior. This quiet subservient boy beside him isn’t quite the same. A part of Damian hopes that he hasn’t quite succeeded in breaking Jon. Another part of him knows that it’ll be much easier to deal with a broken Kryptonian especially if it turns out that he was also a broken prince.

“What is it, Todd?”

“I need to talk to you,” Jason says. His eyes flick to Jon and then back again. “Alone.”

“Just tell me,” Damian says. He hasn’t got time for mysteries and uncertainties. There is too much of those at the moment. His father is still missing and they have yet to receive missives from both Drake and Richard. It is quite unsettling.

Jason sighs and runs his fingers through his hair. The white streak is missing today. He wonders why Jason bothers to hide it in the halls of ‘Eth Alth’eban where everyone knows of the Al Ghul’s Lazarus pit.

“Spit it out, Todd,” Damian says through gritted teeth. “Everyone’s already left.”

“And your...servant?”

“Jon?” Damian turns to the other who lifts his head at the sound of his name. “You won’t say a word of this to anyone.”

Before Jon could answer him, Damian’s brother speaks once again. “How well did it go when you ordered him to never try to escape?”

“Funny,” Damian scoffs. “I don’t remember ever giving such an order.”

“Whatever,” Jason says, shaking his head without waiting for the Kryptonian’s answer. “Fine. People will find out eventually anyway. Your grandfather’s coming back here.”

“What?” Damian stills. His grandfather should be in Gotham, bothering Drake and making plans about the war. “What about Drake? Why didn’t you mention this in the meeting?”

“I’m not supposed to know it,” Jason replies with a careless shrug. He waves a hand to dismiss concern but Damian could see the way his face scrunches up as he speaks. He blows out a breath and drops his hand to his side, fingers tracing the hilt of his sword. It isn’t the all-blades but Damian didn’t expect to see Todd use those so casually.

“So how do you know it?”

“I’ve got my ways,” the older says with a grin. “Unfortunately, those ways hasn’t been able to tell me where Tim has gone. He’s either still searching for Bruce or for Prince Kon.”

Jon makes a small surprised sound and Damian glances at him only to see his widened eyes. He seems to realize that he’s gotten both prince’s attention because he ducks his head. It is too late though because Damian and Jason have both already seen the several expressions that passed through his face.

Jason curses under his breath. “Please don’t tell me this who I think it is.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Damian says without hesitation. Jon stills beside him as Damian takes his wrist in his hand. “This is Jon. You already know he’s a gift from my mother.”

“Is that all he is, demon brat?”

“What else could he be?”

“I don’t know,” Jason’s voice goes low, almost something that they would not be able to hear. “Perhaps one of the lost princes of Krypton?”

“Is that what you think?”

“Am I wrong?”

Damian shrugs without concern. He has his own suspicions about Jon, of course, but he isn’t sure of his own mother’s motivations. He doesn’t want to act without that knowledge. He doesn’t want to either release or kill Jon without knowing the entire truth of why Talia had sent him here. Damian is almost entirely sure that Jon is Prince Jonathan of Krypton and he can see that Jason is suspecting it as well. Jason isn’t stupid. Unfortunately, no matter their antics, none of his brothers really are as stupid as Damian sometimes insults them to be.

“What if he is?”

Jason grimaces and sighs. “Then I wonder what the fucking hell T was thinking when she sent him here,” Jason says, staring at Jon with something akin to fascinated horror. “Ra’s al Ghul will have your head if he knows.”

Damian sees Jon pale. When Jon speaks, his voice seems hoarse and soft from disuse. Damian feels guilt about abandoning Jon but he cannot have his cousin or anyone else in the fortress question his authority which they wills surely do if he ever allowed Jon to go without punishment. The thought of apologizing has crossed his mind but he wonders if the Kryptonian prince would even believe it to be sincere.

“Why?” Jon asks. “Why would he want me dead?”

“Why wouldn’t he?” Jason scoffs. “It’s Ra’s fucking al Ghul. He takes what he wants.”

“You’re a prince,” Damian states. “Princes are threats.”

“They’re also bargaining chips,” Jason says with a grimace. “Believe me, I know. So, who knows which one you’ll be? Better start praying to Rao, your highness, your time is ticking. And Damian? Nevermind. You can take of yourself, right?”

“Of course, Todd,” Damian scowls at him. “I am better than you. I can do just fine.”

Jason still looks between the two of them. Damian sees his gaze linger on Damian still holding on to Jon’s wrist. Jon still hasn’t pulled it back. He still seems like he’s trying to digest what he’s been told. Damian figures being given a deadline to your life can’t be called easy or anything as such. The fact that he’s not even trying to hide his royal lineage is, perhaps, further proof of Jon’s exhaustion.

“Good,” Jason nods and turns to leave. Damian watches him go and his older brother seems to sense his gaze because Jason stops at the end of the hall to shoot a look at Damian. “I’ll be here for some more time, demon brat. Come see me if you need anything, I guess. Or not. Your choice.”

Damian nods. It has always been his choice. It was his choice to leave Gotham as well, to try and figure out his real birthright. It was his choice to stay in ‘Eth Alth’eban when he heard about his father’s disappearance, when he felt like they didn’t him there after his year of atonement. It was Damian’s choice to stay in Nanda Parbat to see if he could change it and make it his the way it now belonged to Ra’s.

If he had never made those choices, they wouldn’t be here now. He wouldn’t be pulling the younger prince along the corridors of this old fortress, one of the oldest cities in Nanda Parbat, and wondering if he’s made the right choice, after all.

-----

“Did you know from the start?” Jon asks the moment the doors close in Damian’s chambers. Damian ignores him in order to place the documents he took from the meeting on his desk. His desk’s a mess and it bothers him. He opens his mouth and almost orders Jon to clean it up while he changed his clothes.

But, that is something he did with the Jon before the escape, when there was a chance that they might actually become allies. It is a chance that Damian feels has long vanished.

“Know what?” Damian asks despite knowing for sure what the younger prince is talking about. He takes his sword from its sheath on his back and places it on its stand behind his bed. The gauntlets are removed from his arms and not once does he look to the other still standing by the door.

“That I was Krypton’s prince,” Jon says. He moves further into the room, steps as silent as any other assassin here in his grandfather’s kingdom, none of the clumsy and endearing prince of days ago.

Damian takes a seat on the lounge by the open window. He crosses his leg and stares at Jon with a smirk. “You didn’t exactly make it difficult for me.”

“Why didn’t you just kill me then?”

“You heard my brother,” Damian says. “Bargaining chip.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Jon twists his hands in front of him before hiding it behind his back. He looks around the room, his face slowly morphing into confusion. “None of this makes sense. I could kill you right now. There’s no one else here. Why take this risk?”

“Do you really think you could kill me?” Damian asks in surprise. His gaze goes to the collar around Jon’s throat, beautiful, delicate and so very dangerous. It could be deadly if it has been some other kind of Kryptonite placed there. It could have made him so sick he’d barely be able to move yet the Kryptonian prince still believed that he could win against Damian. Damian has been his grandfather’s heir since he was born, was trained in the art of death for that end and knows every trick he could use to kill Jon even at his full strength. The younger prince would never have stood a chance.

Yet, Jon just shrugs as if he didn’t comprehend the danger he was in. Damian narrows his eyes at him. Jon just smiles at him, cheeky and charming at the same time, as he finally relaxes enough to drag Damian’s desk chair so he could sit across Damian. “You don’t think I can do it?”

“You’re at a disadvantage,” Damian laughs mockingly. “You’re not even at full strength.”

“Maybe it just levelled the playing field.” Jon grins at him. He was wrong then, Damian thinks. The Kryptonian prince is far from broken, just cautious and clever enough to appear subservient in a crowd.

Damian leans forward and decides to humor the other prince. “And what is your plan if you do manage to kill me? Die by my family’s swords?”

“Who says I can’t get out of here?”

“Please, Jon,” Damian shakes his head and smirks. “We already saw how that attempt went.”

“Why is your brother looking for mine?”

“Pardon?” Damian blinks, startled at the sudden change in subject. He watches the slight shift of Jon’s movements and wonders if the sudden change wasn’t quite so sudden. The young man has shown that he is capable of clever plans if he feels like it. It wouldn’t be suspect for him to be trying to fish for more information.

“Kon,” Jon bites his lips and Damian so clearly feels the need to make him stop. A kiss would do it, a traitorous part of him whispers, that diversive part of him that also doesn’t quite want Jon to stop but instead wants to do it himself, wants to taste iron in his mouth as Jon’s lips are painted red with blood. He shakes his head as Jon continues speaking. “Prince Tim is looking for him?”

“Is it so strange to look for one’s beloved?”

Jon makes a choked off noise and Damian smiles in amusement. So, the other prince had not known of his own brother’s affairs. “Beloved?”

“Yes,” Damian says with a laugh. “Did you not know?”

“Kon didn’t,” Jon frowns and shakes his head. “He didn’t say anything. But, we weren’t always close and he was always in Metropolis.”

“Isn’t your mother born of Metropolis?”

“She lived there, yes,” Jon agrees. “But, we stay in Kandor more often. Why am I even telling you this? Why didn’t I know my brother and your brother had...a relationship?”

“As I understand it, they took up a quest together years ago.” Damian lets his gaze stray from the other prince to the view outside. The sun is setting. It would be dark soon and he is reminded once again of Jon’s attempt at escape. He wonders if he’d risk it again, if Damian should just decide to chain him up here so he doesn’t try anything as stupid. He’s sure that would cause another strife between them both. He just isn’t sure if it’s a conflict he has the luxury to afford.

“Why have we never met, Damian?” Jon asks in a curious tone. He speaks like they are equals and, in a way, Damian imagines that they actually are. They are both princes but one is a prisoner of the other. He should be angry. Mara would be. An Al Ghul would be. But, Damian hasn’t simply been just an Al Ghul for a long time. Richard would not have been angry, he reminds himself and turns a curious gaze towards Jon.

“What do you mean?”

“Our fathers have always worked together,” Jon points out with a small smile. Damian can almost convince himself that the young man holds no animosity against him with that smile. But, smiles can be just another form of lies. The courts of the different states would teach you that and he reminds himself that Jon had grown up in very similar circumstances. “It seems our brother worked together too. It would have made sense for us to have met before this...mess had happened.”

“We never needed to.”

Jon rolls his eyes, looking exasperated. Damian should order him to stop but the idea of a friend, of an equal, is strangely compelling. He has friends, of course, but it isn’t quite the same. Most of his friends are comrades, bonds he’d forged through adversity.

Jon should be the same, another convenient ally that might either become enemy or friend, yet Damian isn’t about to deny the fact that he’s never felt the need or curiousity to touch and kiss, or hold any of the others the way he does with Jon.

“Need doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

“Be practical, Jon,” Damian sneers. “Princes should be concerned with their duties and responsibilities not with useless diversion.”

“Friendship is not a useless diversion.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Maya and the others,” Jon grins. “They’re your friends, aren’t they?”

“It was convenient at the time for me to be friends with them,” Damian chuckles.

“Was it?” Jon snorts and scrunches up his face. “That’s a boring life you’re living, Dami.”

“Do not call me that,” Damian crosses his arms over his chest and rolls his eyes. “You’re being too familiar. I can always return you to a prison cell.”

“You won’t do that,” Jon says and his grin is entirely too pleased this time like he’s caught Damian in a trap he could not possibly get out of. Damian glares at him and wonders if it is too late to just leave him in some cell and not worry about him until he needs him again.

“Why wouldn’t I?”

Jon leans forward far too fast that Damian almost draws one of his hidden daggers thinking it was another attempt from the other. His heart races inside his chest and he wonders if the collar Jon is wearing allows for enough of his Kryptonian abilities that he would be able to hear it, sense the fear and uneasiness in Damian for being so close. This close, Damian thinks with a little wonder, that Jon’s eyes are so brilliantly blue. “You need me.”

“I need you?” Damian scoffs. He feels the pull to card his hair through Jon’s hair, continue petting him like he did in the meeting. He wonders what the other prince would say then. He wants to laugh though. It seems like a joke for a prisoner to tell a prince that he needed him. Damian hasn’t needed anyone since he was a child. He didn’t think he’d start with an upstart captive prince. “Don’t make me laugh.”

“Come on, Dami!” Damian imagines that Jon’s laugh then would usually be so infectious. He wonders how many people in Kandor had fallen for the young prince’s charm. “I can be a convenient ally. Wouldn’t you like a Kryptonian on your side?”

“You mean until you betray me?”

Jon smirks and winks at Damian before he leaps away playfully. “What? Are you scared, your highness?” Jon asks and he drags his finger over the gold and green of his collar. “I have this and you said you can always beat me without it. Was that a lie?”

“Of course not,” Damian says. He closes his eyes and thinks. The other prince is probably playing him but he doesn’t have the energy to argue with Jon every step of the way if his grandfather was coming back. He doesn’t think he wants to truly be set against the Kryptonian prince. No matter how much Damian hates to admit, Jon is right. He is a convenient ally that Damian could use on his side.

“Alright,” Damian says as he opens his eyes. He stands up until they are standing across from one another. Jon stands a good few inches taller than him and Damian almost scowls in displeasure as he offers his hand for a shake. “Do we have a deal?”

“Friends, then,” Jon agrees, taking his hand for a firm shake.

Damian glares and scowls at their joined at hands. “We are not friends,” he declares in a firm and sure manner. Jon laughs as if it is all a big joke that Damian’s making. Damian decides that he’d let it pass. For now, the prince is an ally though an obnoxious one that Damian should really be able to do without.

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