Damian feels like he's dreaming. The afternoon has that kind of hazy quality to it, warm and soft around the edges like a favorite childhood blanket rediscovered after years of being missing.
It’s yet another dreary Gotham day, cold rain pelting against the floor-to-ceiling windows of the penthouse apartment where Damian has taken refuge from his family for the time being. Well, all his family except for one - Grayson is visiting from New York. It's the first time he's back in Gotham since he initially left the city shortly after completing his mission with Spyral. He and Damian were supposed to visit the dog park with Titus today, but the weather drove them inside so Grayson had selected a movie to occupy their time instead.
Damian has to admit that Mad Max: Fury Road certainly was intriguing even if he has zero desire to watch any of the earlier films in the franchise. It was action-packed with a surprisingly insightful message, unusual for films of its type, and yet, despite the fast-paced music and fight scenes, Grayson had still managed to fall asleep before the end of it. Damian had been unwilling to wake him up, knowing that his mentor was usually in dire need of every wink of sleep he could get, and had changed the TV to the Gotham news channel once the movie was done to act as background noise.
He sits now at the end of the couch, Grayson’s feet tucked under his legs from where they stick out past the bottom of the afghan Damian had draped over him. While he idly sketches the familiar lines of his brother's face to pass the time, the news anchor on screen (a determined young woman, more seasoned and brave than she’d been upon first starting out back when Grayson initially made him Robin) discusses some corrupt politician’s latest endeavor to “reduce crime.” In a way, it makes him feel like he’s in his first months as Robin again, like the past few years have been nothing but a bizarre dream.
Damian’s missed this, these moments of quiet companionship with his first Batman. Between his own time dead, the Spyral mission, and Grayson moving back to New York they’ve barely seen each other over the past year or two (and that’s not even getting into all the recent timeline drama courtesy of the Flashes). Of course, he’d rather Grayson was awake so they could properly hang out, but he’s hardly about to complain. That would just make his brother feel guilty, and Damian’s witnessed enough of his self-destructive habits to know that the last thing Grayson needs is any more guilt over having the audacity to take care of himself.
He’s not sure how long he’s been sitting there when his phone lights up with a notification that the bunker's elevator is approaching. Damian tuts, irritated at having his peaceful afternoon interrupted. His mood doesn't improve when he pulls up the elevator's camera feed to find that his visitor is Todd. His second oldest brother is a pain in the ass on the best of days, and is very close to burning through what remains of Damian's good will earned on Apokolips fighting to bring his body home.
The bunker's elevator arrives without any customary ding! and Todd's footsteps are silent; he must be wearing a pair of his stealthier boots. When he rounds the corner into the entertainment area, Damian can see that he’s in his Red Hood get-up, minus the helmet and domino. Without any gear obscuring his face, it’s easy to see how his expression goes carefully blank upon catching sight of Grayson dozing on the couch.
“Hey, brat,” Todd says, though he doesn’t tear his gaze away from their sleeping brother. “I didn’t realize Dickface was in town.”
It's no secret that Todd and Drake are still displeased with Grayson's fake death. While Damian understands the betrayal they feel (a feeling he shares, believe it or not, though his is not so deep), he thinks Todd in particular takes his bitterness too far. It's rich of him to be so upset with their brother when he concealed his resurrection from their family for years; at least Grayson didn't behead anybody or become a crime lord specifically to spite Father. It's also quite bold for him to have spent the last few years insisting he's not part of their family only to turn around and use the family card now. It’s frustratingly hypocritical and leaves Damian feeling like he can't voice his own complaints about the mission.
“I invited him,” Damian says with a defiant tilt of his chin, “and if you’re smart, you’ll keep your voice down. I will not be pleased if you disturb his rest.”
Todd rolls his eyes.
“I won’t interrupt your precious bonding time,” he says mockingly, tossing a thick file secured with a rubber band down on a nearby empty seat. “Here’s the intel you asked for on the Falcones. Do you have the stuff I wanted on the drug smuggling ring?”
That’s right, they had agreed to an exchange of information. Damian sighs and gets to his feet, setting aside his sketchbook on the couch.
“Just a second,” he grumbles, and heads to his room to fetch his agreed half of their deal. Now that he and Pennyworth are back to living in the manor with Father, Grayson working with the Titans again in New York, the penthouse is technically vacant. Damian could claim any room he wants when he stays here, but habit, or perhaps nostalgia, dictates he sticks with the room he used when it was just the three of them.
The file is right where he left it, tucked away in a false drawer bottom in his desk, and he returns a moment later to hand it over to Todd. The man flicks through the file, glancing over it to make sure everything’s there, and nods.
“Alright, I’ll get out of your hair now and let you two get back to your riveting play-date,” he says sarcastically, tossing one last irritated glance in Grayson’s direction. Damian gets the feeling Todd would have lingered if not for the one snoring, but nods, not exactly eager to draw out the intrusion any longer. “See you around.” He turns to leave.
On the TV, the news changes from a sappy feel-good story about pediatric ward service dogs to live coverage of a Lexcorp press conference for some business endeavor Father hadn't been able to reasonably block. Luthor smirks down at them from the screen.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Luthor begins, “thank you for welcoming me to Gotham today. I’m pleased to announce - “
In the blink of an eye, Grayson goes from being sound asleep to wide awake and on his feet. He hurls the remote at the TV with such force that it shatters the glass and becomes lodged in the screen where Luthor’s smug face had been just a moment prior. Todd, who was just around the corner, whirls back into the room at the noise. The screen glitches and then goes dark, leaving the room in stunned, awkward silence.
Damian stares. Grayson’s eyes are wild and his breaths are quick and shallow, sure signs of panic. It’s evident his mind still hasn’t fully woken up like the rest of him.
“...Jesus,” Todd exhales after a moment, hand falling from where it had rested on one of his holstered guns. “The fuck was that? ”
Their brother blinks, slowly lowering his arm from where it’d still been outstretched after throwing the remote as he becomes aware of his surroundings.
“I…” His mouth opens and shuts a few times. "I hate that evil Mr. Clean-looking motherfucker," he finishes eventually, but there's no smirk or twinkle in his eye to lighten the mood. Instead, he just looks angry.
“Grayson?” Damian asks, voice cautious. “Is everything okay?” If that was a nightmare, the reaction was unlike any he’d ever seen the man have before. The quick concealment of negative emotions isn’t anything new, but such a violent transition from sleep to awareness is.
"Of course," Grayson says, but he's tense under his and Todd’s probing stares. He's still not smiling, his mouth a tight line of discomfort instead, and he holds himself much too still. Damian casts his mind back to his first weeks as Robin, when Grayson had instructed on how to deal with him if he ever had a panic attack or something similar in the field.
“Don’t touch me,” Grayson had said. “Even if I’m looking right at you, don’t touch me unless I give you explicit permission or I’ll die if you don’t.” Damian was liable to get judo-flipped if he didn't listen, so Grayson had given Damian a list of exercises that didn't rely on touch to help ground him instead. He's debating on which one to use when Todd speaks again.
“Dick,” Todd says, uncharacteristically serious, and it’s a warning and concerned question all wrapped up in one.
“What are you looking at?” Grayson snaps, bending down to collect the afghan twisted up at his feet. Neither Todd nor Damian say anything, unsure of how to proceed, and his shoulders inch closer to his ears under their combined scrutiny. “What!” he repeats, defensive.
“What the hell just happened?” Todd demands, gesturing at the ruined TV screen and the shards of glass littering the floor below it.
“What does it look like?” Grayson replies flippantly. “I had a nightmare. Nothing new; quit making such a big deal about it. I'll replace the TV before I leave.”
Damian looks over at Todd. No one in their family is a stranger to nightmares, and Grayson is usually among the first to offer a hug and sympathetic ear or shoulder to cry on if he’s around. It's only fair that one of them offer the same for him.
“Do you...want to talk about it?” Todd asks, awkward and sounding like he'd rather do anything except that.
“Like you’d really want to listen,” Grayson says bitterly, then his face twists with guilt when Todd’s expression shutters. “No,” Grayson says after a moment, quieter, “I don’t.” His words are clipped, and he holds the bundled up afghan closer to his chest.
There’s something fragile about his expression, and Damian realizes his brother is probably waiting to release his emotions, whatever they may be, in private. He rarely lets anyone see him at his lowest points, and it hurts to realize that even now, Grayson doesn’t feel comfortable expressing that kind of vulnerability around him.
“Are you certain…?” Damian asks, hesitant to brush the matter aside so quickly. He can’t help but hope that maybe this time will be the time he can be the shoulder Grayson needs to lean on.
“Damian,” Grayson says, voice sharp, “I said no.” It’s a Batman command, and Damian takes a step back in shock despite himself. “Sorry,” he adds, gentler and cheeks flushing with shame, “but I’d really rather just be alone right now.”
With that, he turns and disappears down the hallway into his old master suite, leaving Damian and Todd staring after him. They hear the door shut and lock.
“Geeze,” Todd huffs, sounding bitter. “What crawled up his ass and died?” He doesn’t bother sticking around for Damian’s answer, glass crunching under his boots as he exits the same way he came. Damian doesn’t protest; it's not like he knows any more than Todd does.
He can’t tear his eyes from his sketchbook, sitting on the floor where it had fallen during Grayson’s sudden panic. It’s mercifully undamaged, and the sketch he was working on earlier stares up at him from its open pages.
Maybe it’s a trick of the light, but somehow, his illustration of Grayson’s slumbering form doesn’t seem so peaceful anymore.