The first thing Damian wanted to do as his eyes fluttered open was to go back to sleep.
The darkness he had been entrapped in had been heavenly, it felt like he had fallen asleep for the first time in a very long time. The exhaustion that had been hanging over his shoulders had been lifted slightly, and the pressure on his chest wasn’t nearly as hard as he floated in his mind.
His responsibilities had disappeared and for a while, he could just… pretend. Pretend that nothing around him was real and that he hadn’t been raised by assassins or fought to the death and killed innocents before he lost all his baby teeth. All he wanted was a little bit of freedom from the shackles of his upbringing, and when he had a taste of it, he was reluctant to let it go easily.
When he opened his eyes, he was greeted with stalactites far above him, and the sinking feeling of dread filled him once more, this time much stronger.
“Dami? Are you up?”
Grayson? Damian thought with a hint of panic. What was the older man doing there? As far as he knew, he had been in Bludhaven working on a case for a drug ring. What reason could there have been for him to-
And with a rush, almost all the events from before he passed out had come back with a vengeance. The knife, his panic, Jason’s questions, Tim and him bursting into his room, his sobbing …
“Dami?” Damian ignored his voice, taking a shuddering breath as subtly as he could manage before sitting up in the bed, ignoring Dick’s protests as he did so.
“I’m fine,” He managed to force out, shaking his head. “You may return to Bludhaven. To your responsibilities.”
The horrified look on Dick’s face proved his words had the opposite effect than what he intended.
“Dami, you can’t just- this isn’t something you can ignore, it’s-”
“I said ,” Damian interrupted, teeth-gritting a little. “I’m fine. There’s no need to waste any more of your time past what little you already have.”
“You wouldn’t be wasting my time , Damian, what? You’re my brother, I care about you.”
“But is it really because you want to? Or because you have to?”
The question had slipped from Damian’s lips unbidden, and he bit down on his bottom one nearly hard enough to draw blood as Dick flinched.
“Damian, I…” Dick sighed, running a hand through his hair as he took a seat on the edge of the medical bed he had been laid on. “Of course I care about you of my own free will. I don’t feel obligated to be worried about you, I’m worried because I love you and I just found out you’ve been hurting yourself , and thinking about you hurting so bad that you have to turn to that makes me feel so, so bad.”
Damian frowned a little, eyes flitting away from Dick to his hands. “I’m sorry for upsetting you. I didn’t mean to.”
“Dami, no, that’s not-” Dick was starting to look a little desperate and Damian looked up as Dick moved to sit in front of him, holding both of Damian’s hands in his larger ones. They were a comfort for him, as Dick rubbed his thumbs over his hand gently.
“I’m only upset because I’m scared for you,” He said softly. Damian’s heart jolted as he frowned, eyes blurring up a little as the words registered in his mind.
Dick was scared for him. Not of him, like almost everyone else was. He wasn’t holding Damian an arms-length away out of fear that he’d snap and murder everyone around him. He was… He cared. About him. Enough to admit his fears in front of him.
Damian sniffled slightly, pulling his hands from Dick’s to press the heels of his palms to his eyes, taking a quiet gasping breath in. His older brother almost immediately took him into his arms, wrapping them around him gently as Damian left his hands pressed to his eyes, sucking in breaths through his teeth to keep himself from collapsing more.
“It’s okay, I’m here, I’ve got you. You don’t need to feel alone, I’m here, It’s okay.” Dick had been murmuring the words on repeat until Damian couldn’t take it and he let himself sob into Dick’s shoulder, pressing his face into his shirt and wrapping his arms around Dick tightly.
The older boy simply rocked him gently, continuing in his quiet promises as he let Damian cry himself out.
After he had cried himself dry and Dick left with the promise of getting him hot chocolate that Alfred had been making, Damian had been left alone with Tim, who was one of the last people that he had wanted to stay with at the moment.
Not out of hatred, but, it felt wrong for someone other than Dick to see him so vulnerable. Tim was someone he never wanted to seem weak in front of, because he was slowly starting to get fond of the older boy and he didn’t want him to be driven away by how pathetic Damian himself was. It was shameful in his eyes, and he couldn’t bring himself to look at Tim.
“Hey,” Tim called out softly as he made his way across the room to sit next to his chair. Damian kept his mouth shut, looking away from Tim.
“You kinda worried all of us, kid,” He said softly. Damian drew in a quiet breath, hands fisting the bedsheets into a scrunched up ball.
“Did we- Was it something we did? To make you…” Tim’s voice was uncharacteristically quiet, and Damian’s head snapped up at the insinuation that he had wanted to punish himself simply because of his family.
“No, not. Not all of you. I was…” Damian trailed off, drawing his legs up to his chest to wrap his arms around them and tuck his chin on top of them. He ignored the soreness of his thigh and stared straight ahead, ignoring Tim in his peripheral vision.
“Wasn’t anything you did,” He said simply. “In the Leauge, they had… Punishment was necessary. Used to address that we had made mistakes and not to make them again. Here it was. Different, I suppose.”
Explaining this was harder than he thought.
“I had grown accustomed to punishment for my mistakes. It was natural. So, when I had been sent off without anything like. What they had. I couldn’t- It wasn’t right, ” Damian explained frustratedly, trying to fix his words for his point of view to make sense, and so he sounded less like a sociopath.
“I couldn’t handle the dread. Or anticipation. Waiting for someone to come and reprimand me. After I had… done it myself,” Damian paused for a moment, taking a deep breath to settle himself down. “It was easier. Less time spent waiting. Not as… frightening .”
Tim was silent for a long time after Damian had finished, the younger slumping back into his cot, suddenly incredibly tired. The day had been exhausting, all he wanted to do was sleep.
“The way you were raised wasn’t healthy at all, you know that, right?”
“Yes, I know. My mind just. Tt.” Damian’s voice was slightly frustrated as he rubbed at his eyes roughly. One of Tim’s hands came to gently pull them away as Damian turned a little to face him.
“It’s hard,” Tim admitted, “I know how just… expecting the worse and never getting it feels. It sucks, and it’s hard to get over. I know. It might… you might feel like it’ll never work out. That you won’t be able to get away from it. And that it’s just inevitable, but I just want you to promise me that next time you feel like that, you find one of us. I’ll read to you, or watch a movie with you, or talk or distract you, anything you need. Just please,” Tim said firmly, eyes shiny. “Please come find someone. Me or Alfred or Dick or- or Jason. Just. Get someone.”
Damian closed his eyes and nodded once, slumping forward slightly to let his head drop low.
“I’m scared,” He admitted quietly, voice much weaker than he had wanted. “That I’ll get worse.”
“And that’s okay,” Tim replied patiently, voice soft. “We’ll be with you every step of the way, whether you want us there or not. You couldn’t get rid of me if you tried, and we both know you already have.”
A weak smile flit across Damian’s face at the light teasing, leaning back to wipe at his face again.
“I... Thank you.” He hesitated before looking up at Tim with a slight sense of apprehension. “Could you read to me?”
A smile softened Tim’s face. “Of course.”
Dick had Damian’s hot chocolate ready ages before Tim and Damian had finished speaking, standing just outside the area to listen in on the conversation. Maybe Tim wasn’t as bad at prioritizing as he thought, Dick conceded reluctantly.
Jason was long gone, phone number scribbled inside the front cover of Damian’s most recent sketchbook. Just in case.