The clock has been ticking for an uncomfortably long amount of time for the past hour.
Damian’s been counting the sound the second-hand makes every time he hears it, losing count sometime in the 2000s. The silence that filled his head when he wasn’t counting was too loud for him to bear, leaving him little choice but to continue to list off things absently to keep himself from being left alone to his thoughts.
The world had seemed slower the past couple of months, Damian noted absently. Time seemed to stretch out days longer, and words took longer to register in his mind. The energy he needed to speak up with the usual amount of snark he had hand-made for each of his siblings was beginning to slip away from him out of his own control.
His work on the field seemed fine, though, so he didn’t bother telling anyone. Nevermind the homework piling up that he could do nothing but stare at for hours, he was fine. Everything was fine.
He was just tired, is all. As anyone would be after spending most of their lives fighting for their right to live.
Damian sat up with a huff, hands uncurling from where they had laid on his stomach. He shook off his thoughts, frustrated with himself. His eyes were sore, even after he rubbed at them restlessly for five minutes. He stared at his hands for a moment before looking around the library he had laid in, eyes following around nothing before he finally stood up.
He could hear the sound of shuffling just away from earshot in the distance and it took almost everything he had in him to get up and walk slowly towards the sound, starting to settle as he walked closer. Damian noted that it was nearby the fireplace that had been surrounded by two large plush chairs to read or sleep in. He could certainly attest for the sleep part, a good chunk of his random naps completed in the library.
When he turned the corner, he came to see Tim sitting in one of those chairs, flipping through a leatherbound book with a mug of coffee on the small table in front of him. Damian watched him for a moment before walking up to the chair and taking a seat by his feet, resting his head back against the front of the couch-chair. Tim didn’t mind the action, simply moving one of his hands to rest on top of his hair gently.
“What’ve you been reading?” He questioned, not moving as he asked. He heard pages rustling for a moment before Tim answered.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” Tim stated. “About a kid who goes back to school and has to cope with his friend killing himself earlier in the year, and his aunt dying a couple of years before that.” Damian nodded once before he spoke again.
“Would you read it to me?” Tim didn’t answer, instead scratching his nails against the younger’s scalp gently. Damian didn’t move as he did, simply shutting his eyes with a soft sigh as Tim began reading aloud, voice quiet as he did. As he read, Damian could feel his body slumping against the couch, paired with a growing sense of apathy at how he could compare his own feelings to the character in the story. If it was any other day, he would be unsettled, but today he was just… tired. Blank.
He didn’t think about mental health that much, as most of the Bats hadn’t. It was expected that you would come out messed up if you had been shoved in a costume and put on the streets to fight crime. It was less likely to come out healthy than it was not to. The costumes felt more like uniforms each passing day and what they had done with joy was slowly fading into a part of a routine that seemed inescapable.
Damian knew that Dick had tried to teach him to value his health more than he had been at the moment, though the efforts were fruitless. Once Bruce had come back, he immediately left for Bludhaven again. Not that Damian blamed him for that, but the lessons were much harder to learn from a distance with a few overlapping patrols.
He let himself slip, he supposed. His eating habits were shaky at best, and without Dick’s constant badgering, he had let himself go days without eating simply out of habit. Damian was conditioned to the League’s way of living after ten years with them, that couldn’t be erased in a couple of months and love (As much as he wanted it to be.)
Hurt was to be expected, most of his life had proved that. He just didn’t think it could go beyond physical in this case. It didn’t make sense, not to him. That was the type of stuff he would expect from Jason or Tim, not him. Anyone but him, really. He didn’t have a reason to be hurting, so he wasn’t.
To Damian it was this way, at least. He didn’t think he was depressed or hurting. Just… tired.
He let himself sink back into Tim’s legs, closing his eyes.
A knife was set on the desk in front of Damian, the younger sat there for what had to be half an hour by now.
Patrol was rough for him today, seemingly messing up more than he had beforehand. His mind was wandering and his body went on autopilot for much longer than he had wanted it to, leading to sloppy mistakes when it came to proper detective work. He had even been caught watching a drug deal go down, letting the criminals they had been tracking the past couple of weeks to immediately disappear again, leading to what would be another month’s worth of work to be done. The scowl that Bruce had worn behind his cowl was evidence enough of the man’s disapproval, though the lecture in the Cave hadn’t helped.
( “You are making this much more difficult than it needs to be,” Bruce’s stern voice floated through the cave, bouncing around the rock and bounding back to hit Damian where it hurt. “I cannot be watching you every moment we are on patrol. You have a job to do and when I accepted you into this role, it was with the knowledge that you had learned enough with Dick and were ready to be out in the field. Your actions today are making me severely question his judgement.”
Damian had nodded numbly, waiting for him to finish before he had gotten changed and moved to go upstairs, walking past the kitchen without pausing for dinner or listening to Alfred asking him to join them. He didn’t want to face anyone after feeling so humiliated and useless.)
Usually, his go-to after a rough day had been to accompany Tim with what he had been doing. He would sit with him in silence if he was working on cases or robotics, and when he had been in the library, the teen would read out to him until he had left or dozed off.
Today, however, Damian did neither. He had locked himself in his room and sat at his desk with a knife he had kept from the League of Assassins, and was staring it down in a battle of will.
Old habits would force him to wait for punishment that wouldn’t come. If he had messed up this badly with the League, he would have been lashed and left in his room for the night to nurse himself into better health by the morning for a sparring session with the other soldiers. There was nothing like that here, and that made Damian uneasy.
It seemed stupid to him, honestly. Wanting to have punishment and feeling uncomfortable because there wasn’t any. It’s not like he was a masochist, he was just…
It didn’t make sense , Damian surmised desperately. He was waiting for something, anything to happen so he could get it over with and relax after knowing the worst of it was over.
He picked up the knife on the desk, looking at himself in its shiny metal. The weapon was clean, unrusted and gleaming.
If he did it himself, Damian thought, he wouldn’t have to drive himself insane through paranoia.
With this in mind, he rolled his shirt up, lining up the knife on his hip where he could see an old scar from his back stretch out to, and bloodied himself until the prickly feeling of dread had dissipated. With a clatter, he dropped the knife to the ground and reached into the same drawer in the desk for a cloth and bandages, cleaning off the blood welling from the cuts multiple times until they had stopped sprouting up immediately after he wiped them clean before bandaging them.
A knock at his door startled him into alertness, throwing the knife into the drawer and shutting it quickly and quietly as he could. Damian yanked his shirt down and opened the door to Tim’s smiling face, letting an apathetic air settle into the atmosphere around him.
“Yes?” He asked dryly, heart pounding in his chest.
“D’you wanna read with me today? We haven’t in a couple days and I miss my favourite leg warmer.” Damian scowled at the nickname before rolling his eyes.
“As long as we don’t read those juvenile books you insisted I hear.” Tim’s grin grew wider, stepping back and letting Damian exit the room before beginning the walk to the library.
“The Geronimo Stilton books are a wonderful example of civilians such as ourselves fighting crimes and going on adventures, you just need to learn to appreciate the fact that they’re all mice and you’ll like them much better.”
Tim laughed. “We’ll try Harry Potter today, how’s that sound?”
About an hour later, curled up near the fireplace as Tim read to him softly, Damian slowly came to realize something.
This was the most relaxed he had felt since he came to the Manor, and with the outlier of his… incident from earlier, it couldn’t be a coincidence that when he had punished himself he had felt better as a result.
He wouldn’t tell anyone, he concluded.
“What’s up with those?”
Damian’s blood ran cold at Jason’s voice, freezing in his movements to change before continuing as though he hadn’t said anything, stripping himself of the top half of the suit and replacing it with a sweater afterwards.
His ritual of punishing himself for minor transgressions had only grown more frequent over the past few months. As a result, his movements were usually pain-filled and harder to execute than usual, but it was simply a consequence of his own behaviour that had led to that struggle for himself.
Damian had slowly grown withdrawn as a result, finding it easier to not mess up should he not speak. This had led to a chain of events that had toppled like a line of dominos, starting from fewer meals as a result of not telling people when he was hungry to his reading sessions with Tim going from infrequent to non-existent.
Maybe the worst part about everything was that no one had really bothered to ask about him. Damian’s mind had been warring with the argument that the group of them not noticing meant that they couldn’t stop him versus the insinuation that they hadn’t cared enough to bother asking if he was alright. The latter hurt much more to think about than the former and that simply led to punishing himself further.
That night, Bruce and Damian had to wander into Jason’s territory to follow an investigation with a mob boss that had ended with bullets riddling down upon them, and nicking Jason in the waist. He had been brought back to the cave as a result, and Damian hadn’t expected him to stay, or even knew he did until he was interrupted by him while changing long after Bruce had left the cave.
When he noticed Jason hadn’t moved from the doorway of the changing room where he stood, he took a small breath before answering.
“The League,” He said simply, moving to walk by him before a hand on his shoulder pushed him back.
“Ah, ah, ah, kid. I’m notta fucking idiot. Those’re fresh. Now what’s the deal?” Damian pursed his lips, staying silent at his question as he struggled to think of an answer. If he told him it was just something from patrol, he wouldn’t believe it, considering they had been attacked with guns and not knives. The neat rows hardly seemed anywhere near accidental, so nicking himself on accident wasn’t an excuse either.
“Lift your shirt, kid, I gotta see what you’ve been-”
His mind worked itself into a panic at the words and before he could process what he was doing, he shoved his uniform into Jason’s hip and swerved around him quickly, ignoring the startled yelp and practically sprinting upstairs and slamming his room door shut as soon as he was inside.
The fear that was pulsing through Damian only grew as he staggered away from the door, hearing faint yelling from the other side, hands shaking slightly in anticipation. He couldn’t shake the feeling and threw open his drawer, grasping at the weapon he had hidden at the bottom desperately. He ignored the minute slices that littered his hands as he grabbed at the blade before wrapping his hand around the handle.
Fuck, he was so stupid for thinking he could simply solve his problems by running away from them and hiding, hoping that Jason wouldn’t follow up on him. He was so fucking stupid.
Damian cursed himself, thoughts growing louder until all he could hear were jeers made of his own voice. They drowned out the knocking at the door and any rational attempt to dispose of the evidence, instead going for the habit he had developed over the past month.
His shaking hands pulled up his shirt, but it led to the cuts going deeper than he intended for them to go in the process, jagged cuts replacing the neat ones that had lined his hips.
This one was much, much deeper and on his thigh rather than his waist, leading blood to pool out under him where he lay under his desk, the dark corners leaving him feeling claustrophobic but stayed where he was anyway. He couldn’t face them, couldn’t face his mistakes. It was terrifying, he couldn’t face Jason or Bruce or Dick, or Tim, especially not Tim.
The sudden slamming on his door startled him and his panic ran deeper, eyes dilating as he threw the knife away from him just as the door broke down and both Tim and Jason had entered, the angered expressions quickly replaced with horror.
Damian only pushed his feet out to get away from Tim’s reaching hands, crying out when a hand circled around his ankle. The touch felt like fire on his cold skin, too-cold skin. He pushed weakly at Tim, not even noticing the tears working their way down his cheeks as he choked on air, barely able to breathe as he struggled away from Tim’s arms.
How the fuck did everything go wrong this fast? Was Damian’s last coherent thought as his vision went black, high-pitched whining filling his ears as Tim and Jason’s panicked shouts faded away.