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An Old Lullaby

Chapter Text

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For once it wasn’t any of the Gotham resident crazies. Not Two-Face or Killer Croc or even the Joker, just a seemingly freak accident. Bruce had been working in his office at Wayne Enterprises when he got the news. His secretary, Pamela, had come in without knocking, breathless and pale, and before Bruce could even ask her what was wrong, she had announced that there had been a gas leak and explosion in central Gotham. It had affected Gotham Academy, she gasped, and a part of Gotham High.

Bruce had immediately abandoned his work. He didn’t hear what else Pamela said to him, didn’t hear Lucius or his other coworkers call out after him; all he heard was the blood rushing in his ears and the frantic beat of his heart. Gotham Academy and Gotham High. Damian and Tim. His sons. His youngest sons. Oh god.

By the time he made it to his car, his mind was whirring with worst case scenarios. Dead children caught in rubble, covered in blood and dust, an echo of Jason — Stop. Bruce shook himself. Stop. Thinking like that isn’t going to help you. Stop it. He floored it to central Gotham, mind blank the rest of the drive, breaking a number of traffic laws.

When he arrived at the schools, he nearly fell to his knees, shocked at the damage that met his eyes.

Both schools were damaged far more than he thought they would be. Gotham Academy was all but leveled, and firefighters and other first responders worked to put out remainders of fires as ambulance drivers and paramedics stood anxiously to the side, waiting for the all-clear to rescue remaining children.

The damage to Gotham High was less extreme, having not been in the gas leak itself but rather just in range of the explosion. The west side of the building seemed most affected, the roof having completely collapsed, and the walls having been blown apart. Bruce recognized this part of the building as where the gymnasium was, and desperately hoped Tim had been in biology or trigonometry or some equally boring class when this had happened. Damian, on the other hand. . . Gotham Academy was all but rubble; how any kids would still be alive would have to be a miracle. . .

A cacophony of young voices snapped Bruce out of his dark thoughts, and he watched as children emerged from behind Gotham High. Most of them were high schoolers, unharmed but shaken, but some were younger students, uniformed elementary and middle schoolers covered in soot and tears, all clearly from Gotham Academy. Bruce’s heart leapt with hope when he saw them — maybe Damian was among the group. But all he saw he saw were white faces; Damian’s prominent bronze skin tone was nowhere to be seen. His heart dropped more, but he began to search for Tim as well, small and thin and all too breakable. He watched as the children gathered in a tight circle nearby, surrounded by teachers and paramedics, and made to step forward, but was stopped by an arm across his chest.

“Sir,” a woman said, and Bruce realized a police officer had stopped him from going forward, even as other police officers set up a makeshift perimeter around the scene and stopped others from rushing forward. Bruce recognized one of the bystanders as a fellow parent, the mother of a girl in Damian’s class, and barely heard the officer’s words to him.

“Sir, I’m sorry but you can’t come in here,” she said. “It isn’t safe.”

“My sons—” Bruce began, but the officer interrupted him.

“Once we secure the scene and account for the all of the children’s whereabouts and well-being, we’ll allow them to come to you if they are able. But you can’t come in here.”

It took all of Bruce’s willpower not to shove the police officer aside.

“But—”

“Bruce!”

Bruce whirled and saw Jim Gordon walking towards the makeshift perimeter the police had created, a deep and worried frown on his face. He already seemed upset and troubled, which was not a good sign.

“Jim,” Bruce greeted, “have you seen my sons?”

“I haven’t seen or spoken to any of the children yet,” Gordon said, shaking his head, “but a number of them have been rescued and taken to a safe spot nearby for evaluation.” Gordon dropped his voice. “Bruce, the damage here is catastrophic. I haven’t seen a thing like this since No Man’s Land.”

Bruce winced at the mention of the abandoned Gotham and swallowed against his dry throat.

“When can I see my kids?” he asked, and Gordon sighed. He turned to Detective Montoya, who was standing next to him, and she whispered something to him as she handed him a megaphone. With a crackle, the megaphone came to life and Gordon spoke into it, garnering everyone’s attention.

“Parents and worried bystanders,” he said, voice loud and booming, “this is Police Commissioner James Gordon speaking. I know you are all very concerned for the safety of your children, as am I, but the damage here is dangerous and unstable. In order to minimize casualties and maximize rescue efforts, I am asking all of you to stay outside the police-mandated perimeter. As of now, the explosion seems to have come from a gas leak and no known terrorist threats haven been made, but the GCPD will continue to investigate.” Hushed murmurs rose up from behind Bruce and he spared a glance over his shoulder, eyes wide; hundreds of people had gathered in the few minutes since he had arrived, most of them terrified parents and guardians.

“Where’s my daughter?” a man cried suddenly, and the question was echoed in different forms by fearful parents and relatives alike, some angry, some frustrated, but most just afraid.

Gordon tried to regain some semblance of control but was quickly drowned out by the voices of the crowd, their fear taking over the logic to listen.

Until Harvey Bullock stepped up and grabbed the megaphone.

“LISTEN UP!” he shouted, and his voice was so loud the speaker crackled and split, causing the people in the front to wince and clap their hands over their ears. “I know you’re all worried about your kids but we’ve gotta check on ‘em first, got it? Not to scare you but we’ve got a lotta hurt ones—”

“Harvey!” Gordon hissed.

“Mostly minor injuries,” Harvey corrected himself, “but we still gotta check ‘em out and make sure they’re okay before they can go home. We also have to know who got out of the schools and who’s still inside so we hafta account for every kiddo here, okay? That way we know who Search and Rescue has still gotta find.” Someone sobbed in the crowd and Harvey winced. “I’m sorry,” he said, voice softening, “I know this is awful, but you have to be patient. We’ll try everything to get your children back to you safely. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.”

He handed the megaphone back to Gordon, who clapped him on the shoulder before taking his place and pulling out a notepad.

“If any of you have high schoolers or middle schoolers, they were less effected by the blast than the elementary school,” he announced. Sobs and relieved sighs echoed amongst the crowd but were quickly hushed so Gordon could continue speaking. “Many of them are currently being seen by the paramedics and most are unharmed. Once we collect the names of these students, they will be released to you.” Gordon took a deep breath and Bruce saw how his hands trembled against the notepad he was holding. “The elementary school at Gotham Academy was the most heavily affected in the explosion and a number of classrooms have been completely destroyed. There are teachers and children who are severely injured from these classrooms and have already been transferred to Gotham General for emergency care.”

It fell silent suddenly, like the dead, and all that was heard from among the crowd were the few sniffles of parents and the rapid sound of fingers on phones as people began to text the news to loved ones. From far away, but also far too close, came the wails of ambulances, and Bruce couldn’t help but fear one of his children lay dying in it.

There was a strange man’s voice, suddenly, next to his ear, asking Gordon a terrifying question and holding a microphone up to his face.

“How many children have died?” he asked, and the crowd screamed then — in fear, in outrage, in terror, in what else Bruce wasn’t sure. Before Gordon could answer Bruce grabbed the man — a tabloid reporter he vaguely recognized — and shoved him away.

“What the hell?” he snarled, voice coming dangerously close to his Batman growl. “What kind of question is that?”

“A logical one,” the man said, rubbing his arms where Bruce had shoved him. “Not everyone can survive an explosion like this, Mr. Wayne. Surely some people will have to die.”

“Have to die? Have to die?” Bruce felt his vision going black around the edges, his hands curling into trembling fists. “We’re talking about children, not cows meant for slaughter!”

“Of course not,” the reporter said, “but both cows and children die, don’t they, Mr. Wayne?”

Bruce Wayne, playboy billionaire, was going to punch this reporter in the face, fuck it all. Comparing children to animals was unacceptable, even for a scumbag like a tabloid reporter.

Before he had a chance to even get into a proper stance, though, a young man about his own height with black hair and an ugly leather jacket punched the reporter right in the jaw with one of the finest left hooks Bruce had ever seen. The man howled and fell like a sack of potatoes. The photographer he was with scampered off hardly a moment later, not wanting to meet the same fate, leaving the now-moaning reporter alone with the mass of angry parents and guardians.

The young man who had punched the reporter turned and Bruce felt all the anger leave his body in one fell swoop.

“Jason,” he breathed.

For once, Jason didn’t roll his eyes or scoff or make some sarcastic comment, but simply stepped up to Bruce and wrapped him in a brief, one-armed hug.

“I came as soon as I heard,” he said. “I called the others too, since I figured you were too busy freaking out to tell them about it. Dick should get to Gotham by eight at the latest. Cass is flying back from Hong Kong already.”

“Thank you, Jay,” Bruce said; it was true, in his haste to find out about Tim and Damian he had completely forgotten to tell the rest of the family about what had happened. He’d probably feel guilty about it later, but right now he was too worried about his youngest sons to care.

“So, what did they say?” Jason asked, peering around Gordon and the dispersing cops to the rubble of the school beyond. He winced a bit, recalling some long-forgotten memory, and fought down the shiver that crept up his spine. “Why are we all out here instead of looking for the kids?”

“They have to do a headcount,” Bruce explained, “to figure out who’s missing and who’s injured, that sort of thing. Make sure all the children are accounted for. If we all go traipsing in there, it will be harder to know who’s missing in the rubble.”

Jason hummed in understanding. He stood quietly next to Bruce for a while until he could no longer stand his surrogate father’s silent brooding, turning instead to the woman beside him. She was in her 30s, blonde and petite, and was wearing leggings and an over-large sweatshirt printed with the Gotham Knights logo. She was wringing her hands anxiously, nails leaving bloody half-moons in her skin. She seemed vaguely familiar to Jason, though he couldn’t quite place her.

“Hey,” Jason greeted quietly, and allowed a reassuring smile to tug at his lips. “Are you all right, ma’am?”

The woman jumped, startled at being spoken to, before nodding quickly and putting on a fake smile.

“Oh, yes, yes, I’m fine. Just waiting for my daughter.”

“I’m waiting for my little brothers,” Jason offered. “Their names are Tim and Damian. What’s your daughter’s name?”

“Carter,” the woman answered without looking at Jason.

“How old is she?”

“Ten.” She paused. “How old are your brothers?”

“Tim is seventeen. Damian is ten too, like your daughter.”

“So, one was at Gotham High and the other at Gotham Academy?”

“Yep,” Jason said, popping the ‘p’ and putting his hands in his jacket pockets. He rocked on his heels, keeping a careful eye on both Bruce and the brutal scene beyond the police perimeter. Bruce was so tense he was about to snap in half, and it wouldn’t surprise Jason if the man ran past the perimeter if he even caught so much as a glimpse of Tim or Damian. But he also felt that he had a duty to comfort this woman standing next to him, for she was alone and was tearing her skin to shreds.

“I’m Jason, by the way,” he said, “and this is my old man, Bruce.”

As Jason introduced them, the woman turned and blinked at them, and her vision seemed to clear. For some reason as she gazed at Jason and Bruce, she paled even more.

“Oh, Mr. Wayne, Mr. Todd!” she said. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t recognize you right away!”

Bruce, however, wasn’t listening, his eyes scanning the ruined buildings and crowds of children for signs of his own. The woman flushed in embarrassment, but Jason hastened to reassure her.

“It’s okay, B is just worried.”

“I understand.” The woman’s eyes moved to a group of children surrounded by cops, the sound of a little boy crying piercing in the air. She sighed when she realized it wasn’t her daughter. “I never thought I’d want to hear my daughter cry before, Mr. Todd.”

“Hm,” Jason hummed, then paused. After a moment, he spoke. “Excuse me, but how do you know my last name?”

“Wayne Enterprises holds a number of fundraisers for Gotham Academy and Gotham High every year,” the woman said. “All the parents are invited. You’re Mr. Wayne’s son and your brothers go to these schools; of course, you’ve been to the fundraisers. Naturally I’ve met you before.”

Jason couldn’t deny having been to these fundraisers — they were generally more enjoyable than the galas since there was more food and alcohol — but he couldn’t remember this woman. Nor did he particularly like being called Bruce’s son by a stranger. (Their relationship was still strained, but it was definitely healing. Far be it for a stranger to label it, though.)

The woman laughed lightly after a moment, the sound forced.

“Damian is also in my daughter’s class,” she said, and everything clicked in Jason’s mind. Why she was so familiar, why she knew them. Her daughter Carter was that curly-haired brat in Damian’s class who picked on him nearly every day, the one who started all sorts of nasty rumors about him being a terrorist or something. Ugh. Of fucking course, he was standing next to that girl’s mother.

Bruce had met her a few times at the principal’s office concerning Carter and Damian, as had Dick, and Jason had met her once at a PTA meeting he had crashed for the fancy snacks. She had been rude to him, so he filed away her face, but he never thought he’d see her at such an important time.

Jason spoke to Bruce, saying something loudly in Spanish, but did not look away from the woman, carefully gauging her reaction. When Bruce responded in Spanish as well, a look of shock crossed the woman’s features, underlined by what Jason recognized as disgust. And that explained why Carter bullied Damian. Kids weren’t born racist assholes; they were raised that way.

Jason scoffed in derision and turned away from Carter’s mother, looking back at the ruined school buildings. The fires had been put out, allowing all the paramedics to rush onto the scene and care for those who were unable to leave the building on their own. The firefighters were now also free to care for the injured and help with search and rescue, calling the names of children anxious teachers had already pointed out as missing.

Jason was relieved to see that a great many number of students were milling around one of the larger ambulances and firetrucks, being triaged by first responders and interviewed by the police. High school students had taken it upon themselves to usher around the smaller, more terrified elementary and middle schoolers, their arms wrapped around the kids’ plaster and smoke-covered shoulders. It was a strong, silent show of support that both broke and strengthened Jason’s heart. Gotham’s kids had always been so strong. . . Stronger than they should have to be. . .

Jason’s eyes flicked to Bruce, whose gaze was also fixated on the group of children holding onto each other. His grey-blue eyes flicked from student to student, searching anxiously for signs of his youngest children, even as his face remained impassive, the only signs of anxiety the downturn of his lips and the deep frown lines around his eyes. Jason scooted closer to him, shoulder to shoulder, but didn’t say anything; there was nothing to say. Neither of them would appreciate any empty platitudes or comforts now anyway.

So, they stood in silent vigil, waiting for any sign of Tim or Damian.

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Chapter Text

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There were two little girls clutching to Tim’s sweatpants, one on either side of him, one sniffling as the other sobbed miserably. They looked exactly the same except for their different hairstyles and a large cut on the sobbing one’s chin. At first Tim had worried he had a concussion and was seeing double, but when the girls had introduced themselves as Emily and Elise, twin sisters and first graders from Gotham Academy, Tim had been beyond relieved. He may still have a concussion (knowing his luck, he probably did) but at least it wasn’t that bad. And the girls were definitely from Gotham Academy; their little yellow and blue checkered uniforms confirmed their statement, as well as the proper little shoes, knee-high socks, and tidy neckties.

Of course, they were a mess now. Covered in concrete, brick, and plaster dust, they looked like little ghosts, and their hair was coming out of its neat styles to stick out all over. Tears stained their little round cheeks and snot ran out of their noses unheeded; Tim badly wished he had a tissue to hand to the sobbing child — Elise — but it’s not like there was one to be had in this terrible building collapse or explosion or whatever this was. He honestly couldn’t remember.

He’d been in the hallway outside the gym, having just finished running the mile, when there was a loud booming sound from the west and part of the hall came bursting out to meet him. Tim barely had enough time to shield his face with his arms before something hit him in the head and he blacked out. He woke up an undeterminable amount of time later, lying next to a pile of rubble and staring at the empty space that used to be the gymnasium. Now there was nothing but stones and collapsed roof. He briefly wondered about the others in the gym before he shook the thought from his head. I don’t have time to worry about them, he thought. I need to get out of here. Who knows how unstable this place is?

Tim quickly took stock of his injuries; his head hurt terribly — no doubt a concussion — and his right arm twinged with a sharp pain whenever he moved it. Probably broken. Other than that, though, Tim was surprised to find no other immediate injuries, just lots of bruises and minor cuts.

He had gotten up then and began to make his way through the rubble when he came upon Elise and Emily. They clung to him, frightened and upset, and stammered through what had happened at Gotham Academy. Tim’s heart dropped. Damian.

When Damian had appeared at Wayne Manor, he was nothing but a terror. Tim had hated him. He had hated how stuck-up and obnoxious Damian was, how violently he acted out, how rudely he spoke to everyone and thought he had the right to do so. He acted more like an entitled rich twenty-year-old than a nine-year-old boy.

However, over the past year Tim had gotten somewhat used to Damian. He was still a little shit, full of vitriol and fire, but he was no longer as violent and his attempts at taking Tim’s life had decreased significantly.

And Tim had come to realize something important about Damian. It was embarrassing how long it had taken him to figure out too, especially since he was considered the “smart one” of the family.

Damian was a child. He was a kid. And he wasn’t a normal kid either.

He had been raised by the League of Assassins in the middle of nowhere, supposedly growing up around no other children his age. His mother and grandfather had raised him as a weapon and basically abused him his whole life; the stories Dick had told Tim of Damian’s early childhood were horrifying to say the least. It was no wonder the kid was so fucked up. Tim’s parents had been neglectful but at least when they were around, he was sure they loved him. But damn if Damian knew what love even was until he showed up in Gotham. Tim had met both Ra’s Ah Ghul and his daughters before and he was almost positive they didn’t know what love was; he knew for a fact they didn’t deem it necessary for their way of life.

Two weeks ago, Tim had overheard Damian asking Bruce a question about his homework just before dinner. He had stopped outside the office, curious to know why Damian had approached Bruce for help (he was stubborn and prideful about these things) and eavesdropped on the conversation.

“What do you not understand, Damian?” Bruce asked patiently. Tim couldn’t help but wish that Bruce had always sounded like that, but he knew the man had mellowed somewhat with age and practice. (Five kids really took it out of a man…)

Damian scoffed.

“This assignment is foolish, Father,” he said. “It’s just a big circle but we’re supposed to write people’s names in it and make it look nice. I’ve taken advanced calculus before — this is pointless.”

Tim frowned, confused. A circle that Damian was supposed to write names in? What kind of assignment was that? He couldn’t help but agree that the assignment was useless, but then again Damian was in the fourth grade. Elementary school was full of silly assignments.

Bruce sighed.

“Your teacher, Ms. Sawyer, assigned this to you?”

“Yes, it’s a project that she’ll hang in the hallways.”

There was a little edge to Damian’s voice then, small and nervous, and both Tim and Bruce suddenly knew what was wrong: Damian was anxious. It made sense — work of Damian’s was to be hung in the halls for everyone to see; of course, he didn’t want it to be bad, and in order for it not to be bad Damian believed he had to understand it.

Bruce’s voice was gentle when he spoke.

“Tell me what you don’t understand, Damian, it’s all right.”

“Tt.” There was a long pause then, complete silence as Tim figured Bruce and Damian sat next to each other at his desk. Finally, Damian spoke. “Ms. Sawyer said this assignment is intended to be similar to a family tree,” he said, and his voice was tight, “but it’s not a family tree. I have made family trees before, Father, I can trace my Ah Ghul heritage 300 years back by memory.” He said this proudly and Tim could practically see his chest puffing out. He rolled his eyes. “When I asked Ms. Sawyer if I could make a family tree instead of this circle, she tried to explain the differences to me. She said family trees are just people related to me by blood, but this circle can include anyone I love.” Bruce hummed and Damian hesitated. “But. . . but I don’t understand, Father. What is. . . love?” He paused again. “Does it make you a family? Can people who aren’t related to me be my family if I love them? In the same vein, can people who are related to me not love me?” These questions came out in a rush, like a torrent released from floodgates, and there was a moment of silence after the questions had been asked. “I apologize, Father,” Damian said, and the sound of papers shuffling almost had Tim moving away from the office door. “I won’t bother you anymore.”

“No, Damian, stop.” Bruce’s voice was gruff, more of an order than anything, and even Tim found himself freezing in place. Seeming to understand that his tone wasn’t going to help Damian, Bruce sighed and took a deep breath. “Damian,” he said, and this time his voice was the gentle, soothing rumble all of his children found comforting, “come here, son.”

Tim listened as the papers — which he assumed were Damian’s assignments — were laid back on the desk and his near-silent footsteps came to a stop.

“Damian,” Bruce said, “what do you think love is?”

A pause then, and when Damian spoke, he was irritated.

“I don’t know, Father,” he snapped. “That’s why I came to ask you. The Merriam-Webster dictionary has nine different definitions for it, but none of them seem sufficient.” He scoffed. “Arabic has at least two different words for love, Father, and some people say there are up to 80, and Mandarin has at least 20 words for different types of love. English is inefficient for only having one word. I think—”

“Damian,” Bruce interrupted, “I didn’t ask you about how to say love in Mandarin or Arabic. I asked you what you think love is.” Damian said nothing and Bruce sighed. “One of my favorite authors wrote that ‘Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.’ Can you tell me what you think that means?”

Tim listened intently, completely enraptured by this conversation. He couldn’t believe that Bruce was quoting “Stranger in a Strange Land,” but more than that, he couldn’t believe that Bruce was patiently working through Damian’s confusion and obvious hurt. Did he feel guilty for not knowing Damian existed for nine years and then vanishing shortly after he appeared? Was he using this as a chance to make it up to him? Would he use this opportunity to tell Damian that he loved him? Now that Tim thought about it, did Bruce ever tell any of his kids that he loved them? No, Bruce wasn’t really like that. He usually did things to show he loved them instead of saying it; actions speak louder than words and all that nonsense.

Tim was startled out of his thoughts when Damian spoke.

“When you love someone, you want them to be happy so that you can be happy too. If they’re not happy, you won’t be happy, and then everyone is miserable. Therefore, you should do everything in your power to assure that the other person is happy.”

Tim wanted to hit head against the door; the little idiot missed the whole point!

Bruce sighed.

“Look, Damian,” he said, now trying a different angle, “do you believe that Dick loves you?”

Damian answered without hesitating.

“Yes, Father. Grayson loves me.”

“How do you know that?”

Damian hesitated, seemingly taken aback, but answered after a moment.

“Grayson was the only one who sought to understand me,” he said. “I came here angry and frustrated and confused, but Grayson took his time with me. He helped me adjust. Everyone else just. . .” Damian trailed off and his voice grew quiet; Tim had to strain his ears to hear. “Everyone else just looked at me and saw a monster.”

Tim’s heart twisted with guilt. Why was he such an idiot? Damian had been dropped off in Gotham, knowing nothing, owning nothing, his only tie to life Bruce and Batman. He had been raised a killer, fighting was the only thing he knew, of course the mantle of Robin was what would give him the most familiarity in this new, strange place. People were kind to him in Gotham, and no one punished him for mistakes, though it was obvious Damian waited for a beating every time he did something wrong. Damian wasn’t used to kindness, and for a long time seemed to view the act as suspicious, as if he was waiting for someone to suddenly turn on him. 

Tim had never even bothered trying to imagine what it was like to be Damian. He prided himself on his intelligence but when it came to Damian, he hadn’t even tried to understand him. So, he took a few moments and tried, for the very first time.

He imagined he had been raised in a foreign country his entire life and the only way to survive was through violence, told that he would inherit a league of assassins and was basically a prince, only to be suddenly thrown away like he had never mattered in the first place. He had to learn English as his new first language, struggling to speak without an accent, as only two people in the entire city knew Arabic, and it seemed his father loved his adopted children more than him. It turned out Bruce didn’t even know he had existed. He had to prove himself when he so desperately thought he would just belong and be accepted.

Tim took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and gently hit his head against the wall.

Why am I so stupid? Tim thought. Damian was a fucking kid, desperate for approval and confused as to why his attempts to kill others didn’t garner the type of attention he wanted, when in the past it always had. The culture shock had clearly been a lot for Damian, and it was obvious he struggled in Gotham and didn’t know how to cope.

Bruce spoke.

“Dick isn’t related to you by blood, but do you still think he’s family?” he asked Damian.

Damian hesitated before he hummed quietly.

“Then you can write his name in the circle,” Bruce explained. “He wouldn’t be on your family tree, though. That’s why your teacher assigned this Circle of Love project instead.”

“I. . . understand.”

“Who else do you think goes in the circle, Damian?” Bruce asked after a moment, and again Damian paused before answering.

“Todd, Cain, Drake, Pennyworth, and you, of course, Father. You are all my family.”

Tim barely kept himself from making a strangled noise. It was a startling revelation to him that Damian, the spawn of Satan himself, would think of him as a family member. After all, he had tried to kill him multiply times.

But. . .

Lately the brat had calmed down. He still had a spitfire temper and an overall bad attitude, but he wasn’t trying to kill Tim anymore. He participated in family game night on Fridays, volunteered at the local animal shelter, and even watched dumb Disney movies when Dick asked without complaining (too much). He helped Alfred in the kitchen and taught the old butler Arabic when he asked; Alfred had learned quickly and was now nearly fluent — he and Damian could hold an entire conversation without a single English word, which seemed to delight Damian. His green eyes sparkled whenever Alfred, Bruce, or Jason spoke to him in Arabic. Lately, Tim had been debating on learning a few phrases but had hesitated in the off chance it would piss Damian off and send him on another killing spree.

Damian’s and Bruce’s next soft words were the thing that changed his mind however and sent him secretly learning Arabic through an online community college course.

“I think I understand this assignment, now,” Damian said, papers shuffling as he supposedly collected his homework. “Thank you, baba.”

Bruce laughed quietly.

“You are very welcome, habibi,” he said, and Damian squawked, sounding exactly like a startled robin. Bruce’s laugh got louder at the sound and Tim barely bit back a snort.

“Father—!” Damian began, but Bruce interrupted him.

“Show me your project when you’ve finished, son,” he said. “I’d very much like to see it.”

Damian made another little surprised noise, as if he didn’t expect his own father to want to see a project, he’d spend a lot of time on, before speaking.

“Of course, Father. I will submit it for your examination before I turn it in to Ms. Sawyer.” Tim heard his small footsteps then and beat a hasty retreat before either Bruce or the Demon Spawn caught him eavesdropping.

This morning, Tim caught sight of something new on the chaotic kitchen refrigerator. It was the only piece of furniture or appliance in the entire manor that Alfred allowed to be “messy,” since the rolls of silly photos, souvenir magnets, and smiley face notes made the huge manor feel more like a home. Amidst the massive collage of photos, funny magnets, and hastily written notes was a neat, white sheet of paper. In the middle was a large circle, the words “My Circle of Love” typed above it. Next to it was written “Damian Wayne” in the boy’s neat handwriting. Tim’s eyes, however, were drawn to the inside the circle. There, in different colored inks and in varying sizes, were the names of every one of their makeshift family members. Dick’s name in blue, Jason’s in red, and even his own in a golden yellow script. Cass was there, as were Barbara and Alfred, and, Tim was surprised to see, Selina and Stephanie as well, people Damian generally declared to dislike. Of course, all of Damian’s pets were included in the circle, little sketches and all. The middle of the circle was what caught Tim’s eye though. In it, Damian had written Father in silver ink, and next to it was scrawled what Tim supposed was the Arabic script for the same word. Despite himself, Tim almost cooed at how cute it was.

He nearly jumped out of his skin, however, when the demon spoke up from right next to him.

“What are you staring at, Drake?” he demanded, and Tim hastily pretended he hadn’t just almost spilled his coffee everywhere before looking down at his brother, who had clearly just woken up. His hair was uncombed, and he was still wearing those ridiculous Superman pajamas Dick had given him. (Damian claimed to hate the pajamas, but everyone knew he owned multiple pairs and wore them every night; although no one mentioned it for the sake of keeping both of their eyes in their heads.)

“I was looking at your project,” Tim said, and he pointed at the paper on the fridge. Damian froze for a split second, like he was surprised to see it, before he glared at Tim.

“Why are you looking at it? It’s none of your business!”

“Dude, it’s on the fridge. Whatever’s on the fridge is everybody’s business.”

Damian made a face.

“That’s stupid,” he said, and reached forward to snatch the paper off the fridge. Tim, who had been anticipating the action, grabbed his wrist to stop him. Damian froze again, green eyes glinting dangerously, and Tim would have feared for his life a year ago. Instead, he just released Damian with a snort, and the boy’s glare deepened.

“Let me take it down, Drake,” he said. “Or I’ll take you down!”

Tim scoffed.

“Am I supposed to believe that?” he asked. When Damian shifted, one foot sliding back and hands curling into fists, Tim sighed. “Alfred put this up, right?”

Damian blinked, confused by the sudden change of topic, but nodded, nonetheless.

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Don’t you think there’s a reason he put it up? He hardly ever put any of our schoolwork up when the rest of us were younger.”

“Tt. That’s because none of you are blood.”

Tim rolled his eyes.

“No, it’s because it’s cute,” he said. Before Damian could explode, Tim continued speaking. “Dick was younger than you when he came here, so apparently his homework was up all the time though.”

Damian narrowed his eyes, but he definitely seemed calmer at the comparison of his and Dick’s work both hanging on the fridge.

“What about you?” he asked Tim. “Or Cain or Todd?”

“Both Cass and I came to live here when we were in high school, so our fun little project days were over. Jason was in middle school when he moved in, but he was a delinquent, so his work was apparently too “edgy” to get on the fridge. Whatever the hell that means.”

Damian scoffed.

“So, what I’m hearing is that Grayson and I are superior to all of you,” he said.

“Don’t get full of yourself, brat,” Tim said. “It’s the fridge, not the Louvre.”

Damian sniffed.

“My work could get into the Louvre,” he said, then grabbed an apple before sitting at the kitchen island; he had effectively forgotten about taking down his project. Tim was looking at Damian’s project in closer detail when Alfred walked into the kitchen, a platter in his hands. His eyes sparkled when he saw Tim looking at the latest piece on the fridge.

“I see you’ve found Young Master Damian’s latest work, Master Timothy,” he said, laying the platter on the island and beginning to fill it with plates of breakfast. “I find it quite lovely.”

Tim grinned, noting that Damian wasn’t looking at them, but the tips of his ears were bright red.

“I think so too, Alf,” he said. He tapped the paper. “Did you see we’re both on here?”

“That I did, Master Timothy,” he said. “The whole family is there.”

“Mhmm.”

Alfred turned to Damian then and said something to him in Arabic. Tim had only been studying for a week, so he didn’t understand most of what they were saying, but he caught the words “brother” and “breakfast” clearly.

Damian hummed.

Na’am,” he said.

Tim was prouder than he cared to admit that he knew that meant “yes.”

Alfred left then for the dining room, the platter now full of food, and left Tim and Damian alone. Before Tim could stop himself, he found words falling out of his mouth.

“I don’t see your mom on here,” he said, then immediately wanted to slap himself. Idiot!! Why did you say that?! This is Damian’s project; he doesn’t have to—

Much to Tim’s surprise, Damian spoke.

“I chose not to put Mother in my circle because she did not add to my emotional growth,” he said, voice painfully neutral. “I only added those who I believe make me a better person.”

A crooked smile tugged on Tim’s lips.

“And that includes me?” he asked.

“Tt, of course.” Damian hopped off the stool and walked past Tim, heading towards the dining room. “I’m not trying to kill you anymore, am I?”

“Well, no, but—”

“Come, it’s time for breakfast,” Damian interrupted, and that was that. They didn’t talk about the project again; no badly how much Tim wanted to ask, he felt that he had messed up quite a bit when he questioned Damian as to why Talia wasn’t included.

At least the kid hadn’t tried to kill him and had spoken to him on the ride to school this morning.

But now, as he wandered around the ruins of Gotham Academy and half of Gotham High, Tim couldn’t help the fear that he would never speak to Damian again.

****************************************

Chapter Text

***************************************

Asha Shadid, affectionately referred to by her friends and family as “Ash,” had only been a paramedic in Gotham for a little over a month. During that time, she had already responded to numerous gunshot victims, drug overdoses, and sexual assaults. Gotham was not a cakewalk. Her easiest shift had been with a pregnant mother who’s baby they had to deliver in the ambulance; and the fact Ash considered that an easy shift was saying something. She usually worked nights, given that she was young, and the pay was better, but during large-scale emergencies she always got called in during the day.

So, it was just her luck when her cell phone rang after she had only gotten four hours of sleep after a late shift, telling her to report to her station immediately. There had been an explosion at Gotham Academy and Gotham High and it wasn’t clear how many kids and staff had been injured. They needed all the help they could get.

Ash had felt dread fill her stomach the entire drive from the station to the schools, the sirens blaring and the ambulance speeding down the road. Responding to calls about children was her least favorite part of being a paramedic; she could deal with the old people and their heart attacks, could cope with the gang members and their bullet wounds, could even manage the all-too-frequent cases of addicts and their overdoses. But children were a different story. Ash hated seeing them in pain, hated seeing them crying in fear, terrified of the uniformed people who had come to help them. She hated the way their little chests broke under her hands when she performed CPR and hated having to intubate them when they couldn’t breathe anymore. They were so small and fragile — it was too much.

Ash came from a large Muslim family and was the third of eleven children. She had many little brothers and sisters as well as cousins, nieces, and nephews. Of course, she knew all of their names and loved each of them dearly. Whenever she took care of a Gotham child, she saw her family’s faces. The big eyes, the missing teeth, the tiny, sticky hands — all were reminders of a child she knew.

Her only consolation was that the accidents that befell children on her shift were generally infrequent and the Arabic population in Gotham was extremely small. She had yet to respond to any type of call from an Arabic family and hoped she wouldn’t have to, especially if it was a call about a child. Ash didn’t know if she could handle responding to an emergency call for a child who looked exactly like her siblings. None of her training could prepare her for that.

As the ambulance pulled into the cordoned-off area that used to be Gotham Academy and Gotham High, Ash took a quick look around. There were already massive groups of ambulances and firetrucks present — like the whole city had turned up — and children of all ages were running towards uniformed adults, all of them dirty and terrified looking. Ash noticed that most of the children were older and in casual clothes — high schoolers — but some smaller ones were running across the rubble in torn uniforms, covered in dust and soot, crying and screaming.

She hopped out of the ambulance as soon as it came to a stop, followed quickly by her partners. She loved her co-workers; she worked with two other paramedics who led the team and two EMTs. The first person she spoke to was the lead paramedic, John, who had been driving the ambulance.

“We’ll be triaging the elementary schoolers,” he said, grabbing a trauma bag and swinging it onto his shoulder. “Ash, Ethan, stay here. Keep your coms on.” The two nodded and opened the back doors of the ambulance, beginning to set up cots and shock blankets to prepare for any children who were soon to arrive.

John turned the other paramedic and EMT on the team, Sam and Amelia.

“You two, with me. We’re going to start searching through the rubble for survivors. Are you good?”

“Yes, sir,” Sam and Amelia said at the same time and then they headed off together in the direction of the destroyed elementary school. Ash watched them go, dread in her heart for what they would find, and was only snapped out of her thoughts by the sound of Ethan’s voice.

“I’m sorry, young man, but this is an ambulance for elementary schoolers. We can care for the girls, but you’ll have to go to one of the designated high school ambulances.”

There was snort.

“Seriously? I’m already here and if you think I’m leaving these two alone then you can think again.” It was a boy’s voice, more specifically a teenager’s, and Ash popped her head out of the back of the ambulance to get a better look.

There was a teenage boy standing in front of the ambulance, dressed in disheveled and half-ruined gym clothes, two blonde children flanking his side and clutching at his grey sweatpants with white-knuckled grips. His t-shirt was ripped and dirty, printed with “Gotham High” in bright gold letters. A high schooler then. He was short, though, only a little more than five feet tall, so Ash guessed he was a freshman or sophomore.

She stepped out from the ambulance behind Ethan and spoke to the boy.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

The boy turned to her, his black hair framing a thin face and cautious blue eyes. He examined Ash warily for a moment before answering.

“Tim,” he said. He didn’t offer a last name and Ash didn’t push for one. She just smiled at him, thinking he looked vaguely familiar, before turning to the two little blonde girls clutching at his pants.

“Hi there,” she said, crouching down to the girls’ eye level and waving at them. “Are you Tim’s friends?”

One of the girls nodded, the other ducking behind Tim’s legs and hugging him tight. Ash focused on the one who wasn’t hiding, relieved to see she wasn’t badly hurt. (At least at a cursory glance.)

The girl pushed a strand of loose blonde hair behind her ear before speaking, her gaze even and unafraid.

“We met Tim today, but he’s been taking care of me and my sister,” she said.

“Ah, that’s so nice of him!” Ash smiled at Tim, who blushed and looked away; she bit back a laugh — her own brothers were the same.

“Do you and your sister have names?” she asked the girl. “Otherwise I’ll just have to call you Thing 1 and Thing 2.”

The little girl giggled, and her sister poked her head out from behind Tim’s legs, a tiny smile on her face.

“My name is Emily,” the first girl said. She pointed to her sister. “My sister’s name is Elise.”

“Well, hello Emily and Elise. My name is Ash, and this is my friend Ethan. We work on this ambulance. Do you know what that means?”

Emily nodded.

“You take care of hurt and sick people before they go to the hospital,” she said, and Ash smiled gently at her.

“That’s right! Good job, Emily. Ethan and I are here to take care of you and all of your friends since the school fell down.”

“It didn’t fall down!” Elise cried. “It went boom!”

Ash and Ethan exchanged a look before nodding at the girls.

“Well whatever happened, the police will find out,” Ethan said. “Our job is to take care of you.”

“And Tim!”

Ethan opened his mouth to object, but Ash spoke before he had a chance.

“And Tim,” she confirmed. She hopped out of the ambulance, ignoring the look Ethan gave her, and helped all three children inside. She and Ethan worked quickly to assess the kids and were relieved to find that their injuries were not severe.  Emily and Elise were covered in scrapes and bruises, but their vital signs were stable, and they were easily able to answer questions. Tim was a bit worse off; he had a nasty bump on the back of his head and was slow to answer questions, making Ash and Ethan fear a concussion, and his right wrist was clearly broken. It was already swelling, and Tim could hardly move it without pain.

Ash knelt in front of his cot.

“Tim,” she said, “your wrist is probably broken, and I think you have a concussion. You need to go to the hospital.”

Tim wasn’t looking at her, though, his blue eyes locked on the twins on the cot across from him, who were hugging each other tight while Ethan spoke on the phone.

“Emily and Elise?” he asked.

“They’re fine, Tim, just a bit shaken up. Ethan is on the phone with their parents right now.”

Tim deflated in relief.

“That’s good,” he said. “That’s great.”

Ash frowned and laid a gentle hand on Tim’s knee.

“Tim,” she said, “do you have parents or guardians we can call?”

Tim hummed and parroted a number at her robotically as he continued to stare at the little girls. Emily and Elise, noticing Tim’s gaze, clambered off their cot to come and sit next to him, hugging him from either side. Tim wrapped his arms around them, heedless of his wrist, and Ash opened her mouth to warn him to be careful but was cut off by the ringing phone being answered.

“Hello?” a man’s voice greeted, tense and worried.

“Hello, is this Tim’s guardian?”

“Yes, yes, this is Bruce Wayne,” the man said breathlessly. “Where’s Tim? Is he all right? Why isn’t he calling?” Another voice in the background, this one also male, swore, and Ash hastened to reassure them.

“Tim is just fine, Mr. Wayne,” she said. Bruce Wayne. She knew that name. . . Whatever, it wasn’t her priority right now. “He’s here with me.”

“Who are you?”

“Ash Shadid, a Gotham paramedic. Tim came out of the rubble with two little girls he helped. He is minorly injured.” She looked at Tim. “Tim, would you like to speak to your father?”

Tim nodded tiredly and took the phone.

“B,” he greeted. Ash pretended she wasn’t listening, cleaning up supplies she had used to examine Tim. “No, I’m fine. Head and wrist. No, I haven’t seen Damian. I don’t know what class he was in. I can ask the girls I’m with, though they probably won’t know.” Tim laid down the phone and looked at Emily and Elise, who were peering up at him curiously. “Can I ask you girls something?” Tim asked.

“Sure!” Emily said. Elise nodded.

“My brother was in Gotham Academy just like you,” he said. “His name is Damian Wayne. He’s ten years old so he’d be in the fourth grade.”

Emily shook her head, but Elise paused. Tim’s heart flared for a moment with hope.

“I think I met Damian once,” she said. “He looks like Ash, right?”

Tim nodded eagerly.

“Yes, he’s Middle Eastern. He has tan skin and dark, curly hair. He doesn’t smile a lot and has big green eyes.”

“The angry one!” Emily cried suddenly and Tim nodded.

“Yes, the angry one!” Tim said. “Did you see Damian today?”

The girls fell silent and Tim’s heart filled with dread.

“Did you see Damian today?” he asked again, though this time he didn’t want to hear the answer.

***********************************

Chapter Text

***********************************

“Tim!”

Bruce ignored the rubble and the shouts of the police officers when he saw his son, ducking under the yellow caution tape surrounding the area and dashing to Tim. He pulled him to his chest, careful of the boy’s obviously broken wrist and aching head and hugged him tight.

“Tim, thank god, thank god!”

Bruce hugged Tim a bit tighter when his son lifted his uninjured hand and tangled it in his shirt. He laid a gentle kiss on Tim’s forehead, relishing in the fact that his son was alive and warm and breathing, before allowing a police officer to escort them back beyond the perimeter.

Bruce never once released Tim, even when they were a safe distance away.

“Timmers,” Jason said, eyes lighting up with relief when he saw that Tim was in one piece, “how are you?” He laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder, carefully looking him up and down. He frowned at his brother’s pale, exhausted face. “You look like shit, dude.”

Tim laughed mirthlessly.

“Thanks Jay,” he said, “you’re looking good too.” He turned back to Bruce. “Have you heard anything about Damian?” he asked.

Bruce shook his head.

“No,” he said.

“Most of the younger kids haven’t been released to their parents yet,” Jason added. “Gotham Academy was fucking wrecked so they’re trying to count as many of them as possible before doing anything else.”

Tim nodded tiredly and leaned against Bruce, who squeezed his shoulders carefully.

“I informed the police and paramedics what you said about Damian,” he said to Tim. “They’re looking in that part of the building now.”

Tim nodded tiredly. Emily and Elise had told Tim that they had been late to school this morning and while walking hand in hand to their classroom, they had seen Damian in the hallway by the art studio, pinning up collages that the fourth-grade class had made. He looked like he was in a bad mood, Elise said, but that wasn’t unusual for Damian. There had been a girl with him, chattering happily as they hung the collages. Emily said she was Asian with short black hair and a pretty round face.

Tim guessed that was probably Mia Mizoguchi. She and her brother were the few minorities at Gotham Academy besides Damian. She was also in Damian’s class, at the request of Bruce Wayne. Mia was a friendly, though slightly hyper girl, and didn’t seem to mind Damian’s abrasive personality unlike the other students. She declared herself Damian’s friend, though Damian vehemently denied it, and had even been to the manor once.

She got along famously with everyone in the house, which seemed to annoy the hell out of Damian, and she hadn’t been back since. But he never spoke poorly about Mia, or “Maps,” as she was nicknamed, which was a good sign.

Tim bit his lip.

If they were together when the explosion happened, there was no telling what had happened to Damian and Mia. The police believed the art studio was where the gas leak had occurred and if Damian and Mia were in that area, then —

Bruce’s voice snapped Tim out of his thoughts.

“Tim, why don’t you sit?” he said, and steered him over to a bench nearby, helping him sit. Tim fought off a wave of vertigo at moving from standing to sitting and hoped that Bruce wouldn’t notice, but, no dice. Of course not. Why would the famous Batman miss that?

“Tim, maybe you should go home,” Bruce suggested, crouching in front of Tim and taking his hands. Tim opened his mouth to object, but Bruce overrode him. “You’re clearly unwell, and you need to be checked out by Alfred.”

“The paramedics already checked me out,” Tim mumbled. “‘M fine.”

“They told me you probably have a concussion and a broken wrist.” Bruce sighed. “I know you want to see if Damian is safe, but you’re hurt too. I’m worried about you.”

Tim glared weakly at Bruce.

“The worried card?” he said. “That’s low.”

“It’s true,” Bruce said. “I wouldn’t lie about that.” He readjusted himself on his haunches and sighed. “Look, I know you won’t want to rest because you’re Tim,” Tim huffed a laugh, so let’s make a deal.”

“What deal?” Tim asked with narrowed eyes.

“If you go home and let Alfred take care of your injuries, I’ll let you come back here if the search and rescue teams haven’t found Damian.”

“And if they have?”

“Then I’ll tell you where to meet us.” He didn’t say it would probably be the hospital; he didn’t need to.

Tim paused, considering, before sighing in resignation.

“Fine,” he said. “You win, B. I’ll let Alfie fix me up. But just cause I hate the h’spital.”

Bruce smiled, though it did not reach his eyes, and helped Tim to his feet. He steadied him when he swayed, heart in his throat, then turned to Jason, who was watching them carefully. Jason immediately groaned.

“You want me to drive him back, don’t you?”

“It’s not like I can drive m’self,” Tim mumbled, rolling his eyes.

Bruce tossed Jason the keys to the Porsche.

“Don’t crash,” he said. “You can stay at the manor with Tim or—”

“No way, old man,” Jason said, “I’m dropping off the Replacement and then coming straight back here. You and the Demon can’t be trusted alone.”

Bruce smiled faintly, helping transfer Tim to Jason. It was relatively easy given that they were the same height, but Tim was tired and in pain, and he stumbled the first few steps through the crowd. Bruce watched his children disappear amongst the throng of worried parents and bystanders before turning back to the gruesome scene of rubble, wailing sirens, and sobbing children. Somewhere in that mess was his youngest child.

Bruce wrung his hands together.

Habibi. . .”

***********************

Chapter Text

***********************

There was still no news of Damian.

Jason reappeared around noon, telling Bruce that Alfred deemed Tim safe. He just had a minor concussion and two clean fractures to his radius and scaphoid. Tim fell asleep in the med bay while Jason and Alfred were casting his arm and they had decided to let him rest, deeming it appropriate for healing.

Bruce was relieved to hear that Tim wasn’t badly injured. All that he would have to do was wear a cast and a sling for a few weeks and be off patrol during that time. It would be annoying for him, but he would be fine.

But there was still no news of Damian.

At three pm, all the children began to be released to their parents. That’s also when Steph appeared, face puffy and tear-stained, followed closely by Selina Kyle.

“Steph!” Jason cried, surprised and relieved to see her. “You really did skip school! Tim said you haven’t been in weeks but I kinda didn’t believe him.”

“Of course, I’ve been skipping!” she said. “I hate school!” She hugged Jason tight before turning to Bruce and wrapping her arms around his waist. He froze in surprise; Steph hadn’t hugged him in years. “B, this must be so scary for you! I’m sorry.” She released him then, turning and speaking to Jason and asking him a bunch of questions.

That’s when Bruce saw Selina.

“Sel — Ms. Kyle?”

“Mr. Wayne.” Her pretty face was drawn up in worry, frown lines tight around her lips and eyes as she surveyed the destroyed schools and the students being slowly released to their parents. “I only just heard.”

Which meant that she had heard hours ago but didn’t come until now, when things were calmer, because she didn’t have a child enrolled at either school and didn’t want to draw attention to her and Bruce’s relationship.

“Why did you come?” Bruce asked, the question coming out harsher than he’d intended. He winced.

Selina raised a brow.

“Two of your children attend these schools. Timothy and Damian. Are they all right?”

“Tim is okay,” Bruce said. “He’s at home, resting.”

Selina stepped up to Bruce, laying a hand on his arm.

“And Damian?” she asked, voice quiet.

“I. . . I don’t know.”

He listened as a police officer called out the name of a little red-headed girl and her parents rushed forward, sobbing in relief.

There was still no news of Damian.

The names of dead and missing children and staff began to be announced at sunset.

By then, most children had been found and returned to their parents or sent to the hospital, but there was still a substantial-sized crowd waiting for news as the sun set behind Gotham’s towering skyscrapers.

There was still no news of Damian.

Tim and Alfred arrived from the manor as the sun set, joining the others to wait for news of Damian, be it good or bad. And as the minutes passed, each one feeling like an hour, Bruce felt more and more that it would be bad.

There were TV crews at the site now, journalists taking notes, cameras rolling and clicking as they documented the gruesome scene around them. Some reporters were interviewing distraught parents, who were all but begging the cameras to bring their child back, but all the journalists stayed a safe distance from the Wayne family, knowing better than to poke that bear.

Then silence, heavy as a death shroud, fell upon the crowd as Jim Gordon appeared. The only sounds were the soft sniffles of parents and the quiet whirrs of cameras as they live-recorded the footage for the news.

Bruce stiffened and watched as Jim Gordon took a megaphone from a junior police officer and then stood on top of a wooden box. The megaphone crackled to life.

“Hello, everyone,” he said. “I know today has been difficult and long. As of the last child you saw released, everyone else on the scene is either missing or dead.” There was a sob somewhere. Gordon took a deep breath. “I will begin with the dead, whose bodies have been kept in a neighboring building. If you hear the name of your loved one, please meet Detective Montoya there and identify the body. Thank you.”

Bruce stared at a brick, the red clay shattered in pieces, as Gordon began to recite names. He vaguely recognized some of them, and his heart did not fail to wrench at the screams of grieving parents, a feeling he knew and had never truly recovered from, even though his dead child was now standing at his side. He listened and listened and listened as Gordon read the list, staring at the brick, waiting to hear his youngest child’s name, but it never came.

“. . .and that’s the list of confirmed dead,” Gordon finished. Bruce looked up, eyes wide, almost not believing that they had not listed Damian, and heard his family sigh in relief around him.

“Fuck, that was awful,” Jason muttered. “It was like waiting for an execution or something.”

Steph sobbed.

“If you did not hear your loved one’s name, then they are missing,” Gordon said. “We have a list of those confirmed missing and likely trapped.” This time Bruce heard Damian’s name. His heart dropped.

“Trapped,” he breathed.

He thought back to Jason, who had only been a few years older than Damian when he had died, also trapped and alone. Was Damian scared, was he in pain? Would this child also die alone in a ruined building? Bruce couldn’t do this again, he couldn’t. His knees buckled and he collapsed on the rubble, cries of alarm ringing in his ears.

“Bruce!”

“B!”

Bruce realized there were tears on his face, but he couldn’t be bothered to wipe them away.

“B, are you okay?!”

“Master Bruce,” a calm, British voice said next to his ear, “Master Bruce, let us go home.”

Bruce blinked and whirled to face Alfred, who was kneeling next to him on the ruined ground. He shook his head wildly.

“No! No, no, Alfred, I can’t! Damian—!”

“Is being searched for. Master Bruce, you cannot do anything for him here. Do you understand?”

Bruce understood. Bruce Wayne was nothing but a civilian but Batman, the vigilante, the hero, could help the first responders with the search and rescue, which meant he could possibly find and help Damian sooner. At this point, hours after the explosion, finding Damian as soon as possible was probably a matter of life and death, especially if he was injured.

However, Bruce didn’t want to leave. He couldn’t make himself leave.

“I-I can’t, Alfred,” he said, squeezing Alfred’s wrists tight. “I need to be his father now. He needs his father.”

Alfred’s eyes softened.

“Of course, Master Bruce. Shall I try Master Richard, then?”

“Yeah,” Bruce said, shoulders slumping. “Yeah, try Dick.” Alfred patted his shoulder a few times as he pulled out his cell phone, and Bruce finally got to his feet and looked at the rest of his family, who were looking at him with sad and wary eyes. He sighed and ran a hand over his face.

“It’s almost night,” he said. “You know what that means.”

There was a pause before Tim’s eyes widened and Jason swore.

“Seriously, B? Tonight? What the fuck!? Is this—?”

“I hope that Batman and Gotham’s other vigilantes can help out here,” Bruce interrupted, turning back to the ruined schools. Flood lights had been brought and were now being switched on as the sky darkened, helping the rescue efforts go on well into the night. “That’s the point of these caped crusaders, right? To help the ones who need it?”

There was a pause before everyone began speaking at once.

“Yeah, yeah, of course!!” Tim cried eagerly. There was no way Red Robin would be able to assist in the rescue efforts, of course, but Bruce knew that Tim would find a way. He always did.

“Those villains better not cause any cause any trouble tonight or I’ll break their fucking necks,” Jason growled under his breath; a promise that Red Hood would be here. “On a different night, obviously.”

“I’m sure the Birds of Prey will come,” Steph said, elbowing Selina, and the woman nodded discreetly.

“Birds of Prey is still the dumbest name I’ve ever heard,” Jason huffed, crossing his arms over his chest.

Steph glared at Jason.

“Oh, I’m sorry, like the Outlaws are much better? What are they, a gang from the Wild West?”

“The Teen Titans are the best group,” Tim said before Jason could yell at Steph and make a scene. He grinned. “A tried and true team like no other. All the Robins have been in the Teen Titans.”

“Except the second Robin!” Jason said. Tim winced; he always forgot about that.

“Master Richard has arrived at the manor,” Alfred said suddenly, slipping his phone into his suit jacket. “Miss Cassandra will be arriving at midnight. I suggest we all return to the manor now.”

“I’m not leaving,” Bruce said, seating himself on a nearby abandoned bench. He watched paramedics and firefighters carefully shift rubble around as they searched for the missing children and staff, hoping they would find Damian soon.

Much to Bruce’s surprise, Tim sat down next to him.

“I’m not leaving either,” he said, pulling his phone out of his jacket pocket.

“Tim—”

“Master Timothy—”

“I can help out here,” Tim said, not looking up from his phone. “I have tons of tech on this thing.” He waved it in Bruce’s face. “Wayne Enterprises, baby.”

Bruce sighed and exchanged a look with Alfred. They had an entire silent conversation before Alfred sighed in defeat.

“Fine,” the butler said. “Very well. Master Bruce and Master Timothy will stay here, but everyone else shall return to the manor.”

“Sure thing, Alf,” Jason said, and ruffled Tim’s hair before striding towards the car. Tim glared at Jason’s back, annoyed, before turning back to his phone and beginning to text with one hand, the other being incapacitated by the cast and sling.

The others followed Jason to the car after saying farewells to Bruce and Tim, and Alfred was the last to go. He laid a steady, firm hand on Bruce’s shoulder and squeezed it tight. He said nothing, only meeting Bruce’s eyes with his own for a few long moments, before leaving.

When everyone was gone, Bruce deflated. Tim leaned into him, and Bruce wrapped an arm around him, careful of his injuries.

“How are you feeling, chum?”

“Fine,” Tim answered, lying about the headache building behind his eyes. “I texted Oracle and she’s helping arrange everything.”

“Good. Then you don’t need this anymore.” Bruce plucked the cell phone from Tim’s hand, ignoring his son’s cry of protest. “You have a concussion, Tim,” he said, “you shouldn’t be using electronics.”

“I was hoping you’d forget about that,” Tim mumbled.

Bruce laughed quietly, pulling Tim’s head to his shoulder. Tim was exhausted; he could tell that the day, the danger, and his injuries were taking a toll on his second youngest son. 

“Why would I forget that?” he asked. “I can also see that you’re getting a headache.”

“D’tective Wayne,” Tim mumbled, closing his eyes.

Bruce laughed again, laying a hand against Tim’s cheek.

“I’m afraid not, kiddo. I just know you very, very well.” He sighed and fell silent, waiting for Tim’s breath to even out in sleep, and when it did, tugged him closer. “I know all of my children very well,” he murmured. “I could feel in my heart if one of you was gone. Damian’s not gone. He’s not.”

Not yet.

***********************

Chapter Text

***********************

Damian really didn’t understand what was happening. One second he was glaring at Mia, telling her to shut up and properly pin up the class’ collages, and the next everything was loud and too bright.

Then he had wrapped his arms around Mia, protecting her, and the next moment there was pain, sharp and piercing, and then nothing.

Then pain again. So much pain all he wanted to do was scream or sob like a child, but Mother would not like that, so he just laid on the ground, not understanding what was going on, chewing through his lip, until he passed out.

And then nothing.

For a very long time.

Then Damian woke up again, confused but not hurting. He was glad he wasn’t hurting. A part of his brain knew this was bad, that he should be hurting, but he was so, so tired and didn’t really care.

Where was Mia?

Damian tried to move his neck but that hurt, and he choked on a little sob before falling quiet again, gasping for breath.

Owowowowowowowow. . .  

Forget Mia, why did his neck hurt? Didn’t he have a new spine? Didn’t Mother give him a new spine a while ago? Was it dysfunctional? Wait. No. Did she hack into it again?

No, Grayson wouldn’t let that happen. Neither would Father. Neither of them trusted Talia and Grayson had the chip in his spine removed as soon as he found out about it. Father wouldn’t even let Mother in the country, much less into Gotham to mess with his spine.

But why did it hurt?

Damian wanted to cry.

Things were starting to hurt again, and it was getting hard to breathe or stay still.

Where was Grayson? Where was Father? If they couldn’t be there, he would even settle for Drake or Todd.  He wanted them.

He wanted them now.

Suddenly there was a girl’s voice, frantic and scared, and soft hands on his face. Oh, there’s Mia. If she could move, she must not be badly hurt. That was a relief. She was speaking but Damian didn’t really know what she was saying, his heartbeat too loud in his ears.

Mia shifted a rock by his feet and there was pain again, this time a terrible, crushing feeling, and Damian blacked out.

**********************************

Chapter Text

**********************************

Ash was surprised when almost every vigilante in Gotham turned up at the scene of the ruined schools, volunteering their help. The police didn’t seem shocked; neither did anyone who had been in Gotham for a long time, but Ash was still new here. She wasn’t quite used to the habits of these masked heroes yet. (Or masked menaces, depending on who you asked.) They usually disappeared the moment a uniformed professional arrived on scene.

Batgirl, Black Canary, Huntress, and Batwoman were present, and even a few more controversial vigilantes were there, ones that were usually considered “villains:” Catwoman, Red Hood, and Lynx to name a few. All of the Teen Titans team were present. Surprisingly, even a few heroes from outside Gotham were there: Wonder Woman, Superman, and the Flash.

Batman was there, of course, but Robin was noticeably missing. He was young though, and maybe Batman wanted to keep him from a place that would likely have dead children. That was the running theory, anyway.

The police commissioner seemed relieved to have more hands and the fire department was impressed by the level of technology and equipment the vigilantes brought with them, so they were all quickly enlisted to help. Three vigilantes/heroes were paired with a team of firefighters, paramedics, or police officers and carefully searched the rubble for survivors, and each team was given a flare to signal the others if they found anything.

Ash was working with Batman himself as well as Red Hood and Superman. It seemed an odd team, two known heroes of the Justice League alongside an antihero who worked with drug rings, but they seemed comfortable around each other. Ash noticed that Superman seemed concerned about everything, but especially Batman, but she didn’t comment on it.

“All right,” she said, clapping her hands to get their attention, “my name is Ash. I’m a paramedic. I know all of you,” she said, cutting off Superman when he opened his mouth to introduce himself. Red Hood snickered at the look of surprise on Superman’s face. “You’re all heroes or vigilantes or whatever, but I’m in charge now.” She raised her eyebrows. “Understood?”

Red Hood saluted at her.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Ash glared at him and Batman sighed.

“Hood, not the time.”

Much to Ash’s surprise, Red Hood winced.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “Yeah.” He looked at Ash again and seemed to be smiling under his ugly red metal helmet. “Yeah, you’re in charge.”

Ash nodded in satisfaction, leading the trio to their designated spot by what used to be Gotham Academy’s art studio.

“Rubble from building collapses is always incredibly unstable,” Ash said as they walked. “And since it’s likely the children and teachers have been trapped for hours, some might be pinned. Moving the rubble too quickly can cause the building to collapse more, worsening injuries or killing someone. You need to move slowly, even if you find something.”

“Will we find any survivors?” Batman asked, and he sounded. . . scared?

Ash sighed.

“The police and firefighters think the explosion — which started from a gas leak, as far as we know — started here in the art studio. The survivors we find here will be badly injured.” She took a deep breath. “But it’s been hours since the explosions first happened,” she said. “I would brace yourselves.”

Batman seemed to weave on his feet and both Red Hood and Superman grabbed his shoulders, Red Hood leaning towards his ear and whispering something to him. Ash frowned and then turned around, staring at the rubble at her feet.

It was awful. The ceiling and walls had all collapsed, leaving nothing standing. There was nothing to indicate that this had once been a classroom art studio besides the broken fragments of paintbrushes and pencils here and there, as well as a case of pastels embedded into the dirt. What had once been the tile floor was obliterated into dangerous splinters.

“Fuck,” Red Hood breathed behind her and Batman took a deep, shaky breath.

“Where do we start?” Superman asked, and his voice was small.

“Here,” Ash said, pointing at what seemed to be iron and lead rafters and crushed stone ceiling. It had collapsed into a somewhat tripod position, though it was slowly collapsing, and Ash figured there was probably an air bubble under there somewhere. If there was an air bubble, it would be a good place for survivors to be.

The men nodded in understanding, seemingly following her train of thought. They worked together to carefully move large pieces of stone and metal rafters, Superman effortlessly removing the largest pieces.

Batman spoke after ten minutes of silence.

“The fact that Gotham Academy was an old stone building makes things more complicated,” he said, laying a piece of rebar aside. “Crush injuries from rocks this size are sure to be catastrophic. The bricks from the high school would have been better.”

Ash didn’t say anything, but she didn’t need to; Batman was right.

They searched and searched, moving rubble for thirty minutes, but still no one appeared, dead or alive. Ash could tell Batman and Red Hood were losing patience.

“This is stupid!” Red Hood growled, tossing aside a loose stone. “We’re never gonna find—!”

“Shh!” Superman interrupted and Red Hood instantly fell silent. Everyone listened, hoping to hear whatever it was that Superman’s enhanced hearing could catch, but there was nothing.

“Superman?” Batman asked.

“There are two children down here,” Superman said. “I can hear one of them crying.” He began to move the rubble more quickly, heedless of Ash’s earlier instructions, and both Batman and Red Hood helped him.

“The other one?”

“Quiet,” Superman said, tossing aside a large piece of wall. “But I can hear their heartbeat. It’s faint, I think they’re hurt.”

“You’re moving too fast!” Ash warned, rushing up to the heroes; they weren’t listening to her, only moving faster at Superman’s declaration of an injured child. “You’ll hurt the child if they’re pinned and you shift the—!”

Superman then picked up a huge piece of stone, one that seemed to be part of the ceiling, and exposed the air bubble.

Ash saw two children in rubble, a young girl and a boy, both filthy and terrified, a moment before the boy’s eyes widened in pain. Superman lifted a stone from the boy’s feet before Ash could cry out a warning, and a moment later the boy screamed.

It was a bloodcurdling scream, young and agonized, followed by a choked sob.

“Damian!!” the young girl sitting in the rubble cried, running her hands over the boy’s cheeks. She began to cry hysterically. “Damian, it’s okay! It’s okay! Don’t cry!”

Superman went white, looking like he was considering putting the stone back on the boy’s feet, before he laid it aside. He followed the other adults into the hole the children were lying in, watching as Batman cradled the boy’s face in his hands and Red Hood ran to the girl, separating her from the little boy. He watched the paramedic begin to pull supplies from her trauma bag, triaging the boy’s injuries with her eyes, before his own eyes settled on the boy’s dirty face, held gently in place by Batman.

The tan skin, the big green eyes, and the black curls were all-too familiar to Clark despite the blood, burns, and filth that covered his small body.

Robin.

Damian Wayne.

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Chapter Text

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Damian didn’t understand what was happening.

He knew Mia was there — he’d been hearing her voice for a long time — but now there was pain again. Terrible, terrible pain. And there were so many new voices, and big, gloved hands on his cheeks.

“Dami,” a voice said. Damian knew that voice. It was a comforting voice, he liked it, but he couldn’t remember it right now. Why couldn’t he remember? “Dami, it’s okay, you’re safe now. I’m here. It’s me, I’m here.”

Oh. Grayson. It was Grayson.

Grayson was here. Good. That meant he could sleep then.

“No, no, Little D, can you open your eyes for me?” Someone made a tiny noise and Grayson cooed. “I know you don’t want to, but it’s okay, Damian. I promise. I promise.”

If Grayson said so, then it must be true. With a tremendous effort, Damian opened his eyes, though his eyelids felt heavier than lead, and blinked tiredly.

He was lying on his back, he realized belatedly, and was staring at the moon, which didn’t make sense because wasn’t he inside? — before Batman’s cowl slid into his vision. Father.

Baba. . .” Damian said, flailing for Batman.

Batman caught his fingers, which hurt, but not as much as the rest of his body.

“Your dad will be here soon, Damian, it’s okay.”

What was Batman talking about? Batman was his father. Damian frowned, trying to pull away but failing.

Baba,” he whined. “Baba.”

“Shh, Damian, it’s okay.”

There was a woman suddenly at Batman’s side, wearing a pink hijab and a worried frown. She began to speak to Damian, but he didn’t know her. Was she from the League? But any other color than black for hijabs was forbidden. . .

“Damian, she asked you where it hurts,” Batman said. “Can you tell her?”

No. Damian was not going to tell a League member where he was hurt. They would only take advantage of his weakness. And then they would incapacitate him and drag him back to Mother and Grandfather for punishment.

Baba,” Damian repeated, a little more urgently this time. He wanted Father to understand. “Baba.”

“Hush, Damian,” Batman said, and Damian was confused because Father suddenly had Grayson’s kind eyes and soft voice. “It’s all right. Bruce will be here soon.” Then, without warning, there was a prick in his arm; the woman in the pink hijab must have injected him with something. Damian lashed out, flinging an arm at the woman, heedless of his own pain, and blacked out when his arm collided with her knee.

*****************************************

Chapter Text

*****************************************

“Shit!” Ash swore, grabbing the arm that Damian had swung at her when she had poked him with an IV. It was clearly broken, swelling in multiple places, and Ash was surprised the boy had the strength to lash out at her when he was so badly injured.

At a cursory glance, Ash could see at least five fractures, most of which would probably require surgeries to repair: one on his cheekbone, another on an arm or wrist, and more on his legs and feet. Both of his legs and feet had been pinned under a heavy stone for who knows how long, so the risk of crush syndrome was also very real.

The girl with Damian had been much luckier. She had a few minor burns from the explosion and a ruptured eardrum, but that seemed to be it. She had told Red Hood through hitching sobs that Damian had shoved her out of the way of the explosion, taking the brunt of most of it. Which made sense to Ash, given the boy’s appearance.

He was badly burned, but luckily his face seemed to have been spared; most of the burns were on his arms or legs. He was also covered in soot and ash, which was a bad sign for his lungs. Who knew what shape his heart was in.

Ash sent Superman for an ambulance and more paramedics as she pulled out trauma shears and cut off Damian’s ruined school uniform. She heard Batman gasp at the damage that met his eyes, but Ash couldn’t say she was surprised.

Damian was struggling to breathe regularly, likely due to rib fractures or lung damage — probably both — and his abdomen was bruised and purple. Internal bleeding. One of his eyes was also damaged, though she couldn’t tell how badly.

“He needs a hospital as soon as possible if he’s going to make it,” Ash said, unstringing her stethoscope from her neck and quickly listening to Damian’s lungs. His lung sounds were awful, as she suspected, but his heart was not doing well either. “He’ll need surgery.”

“Wh—?”

“Ash!”

The voice of another paramedic from above interrupted her and Batman’s conversation, as well as the blare of multiple sirens.

“Ethan,” Ash said, “I need oxygen, a cardiac monitor, c-collar, bandages, and ketamine.”

“On it!”

Ash turned to Batman.

“You need to go.”

“No,” Batman said. “I’m not leaving him.”

Ash threw Batman an unimpressed look, clipping a pulse oximeter onto one of Damian’s little fingers. It beeped to life and flashed with 83%. She had heard him call Damian by name, well, by nickname, actually, and had seen the way Damian relaxed around him. She had also noticed how Damian repeatedly called him “father” in Arabic but did not bring this up.

The boy probably had a head injury, though that didn’t explain Batman’s behavior. . .

“He needs oxygen,” Batman said, eyes locked on the flashing red numbers.

“No shit,” Ash said, rolling her eyes. She grabbed supplies from Ethan as he scrambled down into the rubble, telling him more things she needed. She blinked in surprise as Batman began to attach the leads of the cardiac monitor to the correct places on Damian’s chest without instruction, even setting up the machine with the proper settings for a child Damian’s age and size.

“How did you know how to do that?” she asked, looping oxygen prongs into Damian’s nose. The boy whined before falling quiet again; Ash quickly pushed ketamine into Damian’s IV, eager to keep the boy under.

“I know how to do lots of things,” Batman said, helping Ash place the c-collar on Damian’s neck to keep him from moving his head; skull or brain damage was likely, and they had to be careful of a spinal injury. “Being a secret vigilante means I can’t show up to hospitals, you know.”

“I never thought of that,” Ash said with a light chuckle. She took the immobilization aids from Ethan and handed a few to Batman, satisfied as he stabilized Damian’s fractured limbs for transfer. Then they covered his more obvious injuries in bandages, taping them in place. The entire time, Damian’s heart showed a relatively stable rhythm on the monitor and his oxygen sats rose to 93%. Not as high as Ash would like, but not low enough to be worrying.

She turned up the oxygen flow as she hollered up to her team.

“He’s ready to be moved!” she called.

This time Ash made Batman leave as she and her team moved Damian onto a backboard and lifted him from the rubble, loading him into the back of the ambulance. The other paramedics and EMTs immediately swarmed around Damian, providing him with further care, and before they rushed off, sirens wailing, Ash turned to Batman.

“You know Bruce Wayne, don’t you?” she asked.

Batman nodded slowly.

“Tell him to meet us at Gotham General,” she said. She forced a smile over her face. “Thanks for your help, Batman.” She clapped Batman on the shoulder before hopping into the back of the ambulance and shutting the doors behind her.

Batman stood blankly amidst the rubble, black cape fluttering in the wind, Damian’s blood on his hands, before finally coming to himself and turning to find Bruce. He paused as he turned, considering, then grappled to a nearby building, instead deciding to follow the ambulance. He pinged a message to Superman before turning off his communicator and making his way to Gotham General, hidden in the shadows.

************************************

Chapter Text

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Bruce didn’t need to wait for anyone to tell him that they had found Damian — he had heard him scream.

Bruce knew the sounds of all his children’s screams. He knew the sounds of their laughter, their cries and whimpers, and their delighted yells. He knew their whispers, their tired sighs, and their singing voices. But he knew the sound of their screams most of all; they were seared into his heart and mind like twisted burns.

At the sound of Damian’s scream, Bruce had jumped to his feet, heart in his throat, Tim nearly falling over on the bench. He had tried to dash past the yellow caution tape, once again ignoring the police, and only Superman’s strong hold and steady voice snapped him out of his trance.

“Cl— Superman,” he corrected, staring up at his friend; he looked pale, sad, and guilty. Why—?

“Superman!” Tim cried, rushing up to stand next to Bruce. “Did you find Damian?” Clark paused and Bruce’s blood ran cold. Next to him, he heard Tim gasp. “He’s not. . .dead, is he?”

“What? Oh no! No!” Clark cried, shaking his head wildly. “No, he’s alive!”

Bruce really wanted to punch Clark in the face for scaring him like that; why would he pause there? What the fuck-?!

“But he’s hurt,” Clark continued. “Badly.” His blue eyes moved to Bruce, sad. “He kept asking for you.”

Bruce stiffened.

“If he’s asking for me, then I should be there,” he said, making his way towards the scene again; once more, Clark stopped him.

“Bruce,” he whispered, “you need to stay here. You can’t make a scene.”

Bruce glared at his friend.

“No offense, Superman,” he hissed, “but I don’t see any of your kids hurt and scared out there.”

“Batman is with him,” Clark said, “and the paramedics knocked him out. He’s not awake anymore.”

Bruce deflated. Dick was with Damian. No one loved him more. No one else would make sure he was safe and sound and well-cared for. Bruce shook Clark’s hand off of him, motioning that he wouldn’t run past him at a moment’s notice.

“Do you know what happened?” he asked Clark, running his hand over his face.

“I heard Red Hood asking the girl who was with Damian about it.”

“Mia?” Tim asked. “Mia was there?”

“Yes, she’s all right. It sounds like Damian protected her.”

Bruce nodded. Of course. Of course, Damian would get hurt protecting his friend. It made sense — it was the only reason he could be so badly hurt in the first place. Otherwise his League instincts would protect him from being severely injured at all.

Clark’s communicator pinged and he looked down at it, eyes wide.

“They’re taking Damian to Gotham General,” he said. “Batman is following them.” He tsked quietly. “He was supposed to come back here.”

“As if Batman has ever listened to other people,” Tim said with a tired, slightly amused huff. “He does whatever he wants.”

“We should go,” Bruce said, looking at his watch. 9:53 pm. “If we drive fast, we can get there in ten minutes.”

Tim nodded and ran off before Bruce could say another word, heading in the direction of the parked car. Clark grabbed Bruce’s arm as he moved to follow his son.

“I can fly you there,” he offered.

Much to Clark’s surprise, Bruce shook his head.

“We’d get there before the ambulance,” he said. “It would look strange. And if you flew us you would have to fly every injured child’s parents.” He shook Clark off of him. “It’s fine, I’ll drive.” He didn’t mention that he needed a few minutes to compose himself; he didn’t need to.

Clark just nodded.

“All right,” he said. “Be careful.”

Bruce jerked his head and ran to the car, which was already running thanks to Tim. He hit the gas the second he was in the driver’s seat, forgetting his seatbelt and going twenty over the speed limit. Tim pulled out his phone again and began to text everyone the news.

Found Damian. Gotham General.  

************************************************

Chapter Text

************************************************

Dick was arguing with a receptionist at the front desk when Bruce and Tim rushed into the hospital.

“He’s my brother!” Dick said heatedly, nearly ripping his hair out of his head. “My little brother! I used to have legal custody of him!”

“Now your father does,” the woman said in a short tone. “I'm sorry, but I can’t give you information on your brother unless he’s here.”

“But—!”

“I’m here,” Bruce said, running up to desk. He clapped Dick on the shoulder and smiled reassuringly at him before turning his smile to the receptionist. He pulled his ID from his wallet, handing it to the woman. “Bruce Wayne, father of Damian Wayne. I think he was just brought in?”

The woman, a tired-looking brunette in her mid-40s, looked at the ID before nodding. She threw an unimpressed look at Dick.

“This is your son?”

“Yes, my oldest,” Bruce said. “Is Damian here?” he asked again, more urgently this time. “He was injured in the school explosions.”

“Lots of kids were injured there,” the woman said. “Let me look him up.” She pulled up something on the computer and typed Damian’s name in, face carefully neutral. Bruce, however, did not miss the look of surprise that crossed her face when she saw what was on the screen.

“Where is he?” he asked.

“Surgery. One of the larger operating rooms.” She turned to a phone then and picked up the receiver. “Let me call one of the nurses to take you to the waiting room over there.”

The receptionist spoke over the phone to someone for a few minutes; as the conversation went on, Bruce turned to Dick. His heart softened.

His son looked awful.

He was wearing faded jeans and an over-large hoodie, so unlike his usual stylish clothing. Bruce had no idea what he had done with the Batman costume, but he couldn’t really be bothered to care at the moment. Dick was pale and clearly overwhelmed, baby blue eyes wide and frantic and hair wild where he had been tugging at it.

“Dick,” Bruce said, voice soft, “are —?”

“Bruce, it was awful,” Dick said, lurching forward and grabbing Bruce’s forearms tightly. “He was in so much pain and everything was broken and there was blood and - and - and—”

“Shh, shh, it’s all right, Dick,” Bruce said, pulling his son to his chest. “It’s okay now. Damian is safe.”

“I-It was horrible!” Dick sobbed into Bruce’s chest. “I never thought I’d see him like that!”

“I know, chum,” Bruce said. “I know. I’m so sorry.”

Dick sobbed again, wetting the front of Bruce’s shirt with his frightened tears, and Bruce hushed him, heartbroken. He couldn’t even begin to imagine the pain both Dick and Damian had been in.

As Bruce hugged Dick tight, soothing his hitching sobs, he made eye contact with Tim, who was standing some distance away, his young eyes big and afraid. Somehow, Bruce’s heart broke all the more.

“Tim—” he began.

“Mr. Wayne?”

A female voice interrupted Bruce before he was able to say more and the entire family turned to a young woman in pink scrubs who had just appeared, Dick’s tears immediately stopping and Tim stiffening to attention.

“Ah, I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said with an awkward smile. “Are you all right?”

“Fine,” Dick said. “Damian?”

“I can give you more information upstairs,” the young woman said kindly. “If you would follow me.” She led them to an elevator where she pressed a button for the third floor. “My name is Alice,” she said, pointing at her nametag. “I’m a nurse here in the operating rooms.”

“Are you one of Damian’s nurses?” Tim asked.

“No, I’m afraid not,” Alice said. She led the three to a cozy room with comfortable chairs, a couch, and a TV that was droning some late-night television program on quiet volume. There was no one else there.

Tim frowned at her.

“Where is Damian’s nurse?”

“Damian’s nurses and doctors are very busy with him and cannot leave him right now,” Alice said calmly, motioning for the Wayne’s to take a seat. “However, I got report from one of them so I can tell you how he’s doing.”

“You can?” Dick asked eagerly. “Is he all right?”

Alice cocked her head to the side and nodded slowly.

“He’s badly injured,” she said. “He’ll likely be in surgery until morning and then will be moved into the ICU.” She took a deep breath. “His heart is not doing well, and neither are his lungs. He’s been intubated and placed on a ventilator.”

Bruce nodded; this news he had been expecting. Patients were usually hooked up to a ventilator during surgery — Damian would be no exception.

“His blood pressure is very low, and he has some heart arrythmias, but he hasn’t flatlined as of yet,” Alice continued. Dick sighed in relief and Tim reached over and squeezed his hand tightly.

The nurse, however, bit her lip.

“Damian is very young, Mr. Wayne,” she said, “and his injuries are catastrophic. The surgeon he’s with now is a renowned trauma surgeon but I would not expect any miracles from him. Your son will need many more surgeries after this as well as specialized care. Care that Gotham General cannot provide.”

Bruce frowned.

“What are you talking about?” Dick asked.

“I’m saying that once Damian is stable, the doctors will likely recommend that he be moved out of Gotham General to a hospital equipped to specially care for children.”

“You mean a children’s hospital,” Bruce said; it wasn’t a question.

“Yes. Our pediatric supplies are limited and if Damian has complications that need further care a children’s hospital will be able to give him care that we cannot.”

“Gotham doesn’t have a children’s hospital,” Tim pointed out.

Alice grimaced.

“I know,” she said. “Which is a crime considering how many kids here need one.” She waved her hand. “But that’s beside the point. Metropolis has one. And it’s the closest.”

“Are you saying we should move him there?”

“I’m not saying anything,” Alice said. “I’m just letting you know what the doctors will probably recommend once Damian is stable.” She looked down at her pager and sighed. “I have to get back to work, but I’ll try to update you every hour on Damian’s condition.”

“Thank you,” Bruce said, getting to his feet and shaking Alice’s hand. “It means a lot.”

Alice smiled.

“It’s no trouble. There’s coffee somewhere in here but if you want the good stuff, I can get it for you from the nurses’ station.” She winked. “The pay here might be bad but the coffee is great.”

This got a faint laugh from Tim and Alice’s smile widened.

“I’ll be back in an hour,” she said. “Take care.”

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Chapter Text

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Doctor Manish Raval had been a trauma surgeon for almost thirty years. He loved his job and he was good at it. He’d seen it all and done it all. From open fractures to gunshot wounds, he’d operated on it. His hair was turning grey now and he was getting wrinkles, but his skill had not diminished in the least; some would say he had improved. He had moved to Gotham about fifteen years ago and the amount of work he did tripled — the trauma here was insane — but his reputation also increased tenfold. He was now a world-renowned trauma surgeon and researcher and had given speeches around the globe.

Most of his research was funded by the Wayne Foundation and Bruce Wayne himself, the man Dr. Raval was walking down the hospital halls to see this very moment. Bruce Wayne was Gotham’s resident billionaire and had philanthropy efforts in almost aspect of Gotham’s world. (“Fingers in every pie,” Dr. Raval’s wife would say.) Dr. Raval thought the amount of money he had was ludicrous, but he held his tongue for the sake of his research grant. Bruce Wayne was a nice enough man — polite and kind whenever Dr. Raval met him with a soft smile and intelligent eyes; Dr. Raval often got the feeling he knew more than he let on. Bruce Wayne was also the adoptive father of at least four children and the biological father of one — his kids ranged in ages from 24 to 10. The youngest, Damian, had been Dr. Raval’s patient today.

The gas explosion at Gotham Academy that had completely destroyed the school and part of Gotham High had also injured and killed a number of children and staff. The entire hospital had been overwhelmed all day caring for the victims, being the only public hospital in Gotham with the equipment and staff to do so. Damian had been one of the last victims brought in, apparently having been trapped in the rubble for hours.

Considering the severity of the boy’s injuries, Dr. Raval was honestly surprised that Damian was still alive. He was now settled in the ICU, sedated and resting, but it had been touch-and-go for a while. The doctor had a lot to discuss with Bruce Wayne.

Dr. Raval pushed open the door to the surgery family waiting room and blinked at the sight that met him.

There were people everywhere.

He saw Bruce Wayne first, sitting in an uncomfortable plastic chair and fiddling with his phone, and standing next to him was an elderly gentleman in a perfectly pressed suit. On the two comfortable armchairs nearby were a teenage girl and boy, respectively, both with blankets tossed over them and the girl curled into a tight ball. Sprawled across the couch was a strong young man in a leather jacket who was snoring softly, an arm tossed over his eyes. On the floor next to the couch lay another young man, head pillowed by his hands; he seemed to be sleeping uneasily.

The moment Dr. Raval opened the door, all of the eyes in the room snapped open and onto him, and Bruce Wayne was on his feet within half a second.

“Doctor Raval,” he said, sounding relieved.

“Mr. Wayne.”

“Are you Damian’s doctor?” the young man on the floor said, getting up and nearly tripping over his feet. “Agh! Sorry.”

“I was his surgeon, yes.”

“How is he?” the young man asked, blue eyes shining. Dr. Raval wished he could remember which of the Wayne children this was; his concern was touching.

“He’s stable and resting,” Dr. Raval answered. “I’ll take you to him after we talk.”

“Thank god.”

“Thank goodness,” the older gentleman said, laying a hand on Bruce Wayne’s shoulder and squeezing tight. Mr. Wayne seemed to almost fold himself in half in relief, tears briefly shining in his blue-grey eyes.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” the man on the couch muttered, running his hands over his face. “That scared the shit out of me.”

The girl who had been sitting in the armchair said something in a foreign language, and the boy in the other armchair scrambled up; Dr. Raval saw that his arm was in a sling.

“You can sit here, Dr. Raval,” the boy said, motioning at his abandoned seat. The doctor recognized him. Timothy Drake-Wayne. Former CEO of Wayne Enterprises. Dr. Raval remembered him from when Bruce Wayne had disappeared. They had met a few times, here and there, and he had been impressed by the boy’s maturity.

“Thank you,” Dr. Raval said, taking Timothy’s seat. He ignored the uncomfortable warmth from it, instead opening the large file on Damian he had brought with him. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the Asian teen latch onto Bruce’s elbow and murmur to him in that same foreign language. Bruce smiled at her, faint and kind, before responding in the same language and seating himself opposite Dr. Raval in her former seat. The girl perched herself on the arm of the chair and jerked her head at the other young people in the room, all of whom came to surround Bruce Wayne in a moment.

Timothy sat on the other arm of the chair, and the two young men went to stand behind Bruce Wayne, shoulder to shoulder. The taller one had a shock of white in his black hair and stretched as he muttered something under his breath to his brother.

“Let me introduce myself,” Dr. Raval said. “I’m Doctor Manish Raval, lead trauma surgeon here at Gotham General. I’m also the head surgeon in your son’s case.”

“We’ve had the pleasure to meet before, Dr. Raval,” Mr. Wayne said, leaning forward and shaking the surgeon’s hand. “I knew you did wonderful work but this. . .” he swallowed roughly, “this is something else. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Damian did half the work,” Dr. Raval said, pulling away from Bruce’s handshake with a small smile. “It wasn’t easy, and if he didn’t want to make it, he didn’t have to.”

The young man with black and white hair stiffened.

“What the hell does that mean?” he demanded.

“Master Jason,” the elderly man sighed.

Dr. Raval looked up at the young man.

“And you are?”

“Oh, these are my other children,” Bruce said, forcing a smile across his tired face. “This is Jason.” He motioned to the other three. “Dick, Tim, and my daughter, Cassandra.” Then he motioned to the elderly gentleman. “This is my butler, Alfred Pennyworth.”

They waved in turn.

“Answer my question,” Jason growled.

Dr. Raval shoved down the urge to roll his eyes. Honestly. . .

“Damian was badly injured,” he said. “It was touch-and-go for a few hours, as I’m sure the nurse informed you.” The Wayne’s exchanged solemn looks and nodded. “If Damian wanted to give up, he could have, no matter what we did. But he wanted to live. So, he is still alive.”

Bruce Wayne’s shoulders slumped and there seemed to be tears in his eyes. However, the young man with blue eyes — Dick — grinned.

“Dami has always been persistent!” he said proudly. “There’s no way he’d want to die!”

Dr. Raval said nothing to that, instead only motioning to the file in his lap.

“This is Damian’s chart and a description of his injuries,” he said. “I was hoping to discuss them with you, Mr. Wayne.”

Bruce Wayne nodded quickly.

“Of course. Go ahead.”

Dr. Raval paused.

“Perhaps without your children present,” he suggested.

“No way!” Tim cried.

“No!” Jason yelled and Cass shook her head so fast Dr. Raval feared for the safety of her neck.

“We’re not little kids, Dr. Raval,” Dick said. “We’re all old enough to hear what you have to say. Besides, Damian is our little brother. It’s only right we know what happened to him.”

Dr. Raval hesitated. Dick was right, of course. All of Bruce Wayne’s children were old enough to hear what he had to say, but he feared it would break their hearts. Damian was their baby brother, after all, years younger than them, and hearing about the extent of his injuries was probably only going to hurt them.

But they were stubborn, he could tell.

Dr. Raval sighed in defeat.

“Fine,” he said. “But try not to interrupt me. I’ll answer questions at certain points.”

All of the Wayne’s nodded at once, even the butler.

Dr. Raval took a deep breath.

“From what the paramedics told me, Damian was in the main blast radius of the explosion. From his injuries, this makes sense. His injuries are extensive, so I’ll go from head to toe. All right?”

The Wayne’s nodded again, though this time they were all very pale.

“Firstly, Damian has a basilar skull fracture.” At the family’s sharp inhales, Dr. Raval rushed to reassure them. “It isn’t as bad as it sounds.” He pulled a diagram of a child’s skull from the file and held it out, pointing a line along the front of the skull. “It means Damian’s skull broke along the frontal bone, here. It mainly affected his optic nerve, though CT scans can only tell so much. When he wakes up, we can run more tests. Luckily, this type of fracture doesn’t need surgery and should heal on its own.”

“Really?” Tim asked, eyebrows raised in surprise.

“Yes,” Dr. Raval answered. “I’m not too worried about brain damage. When he came in, he answered all my questions correctly and squeezed my hand when I asked before we put him back under. He seemed very coherent.” He didn’t mention how upset the boy was, sobbing and repeatedly begging for his father, for “baba.”

“He woke up?” Tim asked. “I thought he was asleep.” He frowned. “Superman told me he was asleep.”

“The paramedics dosed him with ketamine, but it didn’t seem to do much. He woke up when they wheeled him into the OR. He’s under the good stuff now, so no need to worry.” Dr. Raval winked and Dick laughed, the sound forced and quiet.

“What else?” Bruce asked, handing the skull diagram back to Dr. Raval.

“His left cheekbone is broken, but it’s a clean break. He has a few broken fingers and a broken arm as well. Some of the blood vessels in his eyes are broken but that’s because of the skull fracture. I initially was worried about eye trauma, but there’s no sign of that.”

“Thank god,” Bruce breathed.

“What about his lungs?” Tim asked. “I was reading that explosions are bad for lungs.”

At this, Dr. Raval’s expression grew solemn.

“Yes, you’re right,” he said. “And they’re more dangerous the closer you are to the explosion. Because Damian was so close to the center of the explosion, his lungs are quite damaged. He has “blast lung,” as we refer to it, which means Damian has damage to his lungs without any obvious external damage to his chest. He has no broken ribs, but he’s been having a lot of trouble breathing, as well as an increased heart rate. His heart is bruised, though that’s the extent of the damage there, and after looking at imaging and scans, his lungs have shown scattered signs of bleeding. He has chest tubes on both sides, which are draining fluid and blood, and has been left on the ventilator to give him a break.”

Bruce listened to the doctor, eyes wide and heart racing. He remembered the words “blast lung” from Jason’s “autopsy”, chest x-rays of destroyed young lungs Leslie placed in his shaking hands, a horrific butterfly pattern across them. Jason’s autopsy had been more of a formality than anything, and not an actual autopsy. Bruce, Alfred, and Leslie had refused to open Jason up and rummage around his organs, but x-rays and a few CT scans had been taken in Leslie’s clinic before being submitted to the ME. The Gotham ME was willing to accept the x-rays and declare Jason’s cause of death the very same “blast lung” they were talking about now, and a day later Jason was buried, too small, too young, too still.

Now Bruce had another little one with the same injuries as his first dead son, this one also suffering and not even breathing on his own.

The doctor’s voice shocked Bruce out of his thoughts.

“There is nothing wrong with Damian’s heart besides the bruising, but he is still being monitored. It is standard in the ICU. He’s also receiving a number of sedatives, pain relievers, and a blood transfusion, which can affect his heart rate.”

“Are you worried about his heart?” Jason asked.

“No,” Dr. Raval answered. “I’m concerned about complications from the abdominal surgery I had to perform.”

“What abdominal surgery?” Bruce asked.

“Damian had extensive internal bleeding. It took me hours to find and stem the source of the bleeding in his abdomen and the incisions I made were far bigger than I wanted.” He ran a hand over his face. “I was able to close the holes in his intestines, but I had to remove a portion of his spleen as well as a portion of his liver.”

“Wait, you took out his spleen?” Jason blurted.

“A part of it,” Dr. Raval repeated with a frown. Jason suddenly laughed and pushed Tim lightly, much to Dr. Raval’s surprise.

“Dude, you and Little D are gonna be matching now! The No Spleen Gang!”

Tim glared at his brother.

“Aren’t you listening? Damian still has his spleen. I don’t have mine at all.”

Dr. Raval frowned at Tim.

“You don’t have a spleen?”

Tim laughed awkwardly.

“Um. . . no?”

Dr. Raval threw Tim and then Bruce unimpressed looks.

“You brought your immunocompromised son to a hospital?”

Bruce looked slightly guilty, but Tim stiffened in annoyance, speaking before Bruce had a chance.

“I’m an emancipated minor — I can do what I want!”

“That’s not what being an emancipated minor is, Timmy,” Dick said, and Cass smiled. Tim glared at them.

“I—!”

“When you visit the ICU, you’ll need to wear a mask,” Dr. Raval said. He paused in thought. “Actually, you should all wear masks to protect Damian.”

“No problem, we’re used to masks,” Jason said with a smirk. Dick elbowed him and Dr. Raval frowned, confused.

“Are those all of Damian’s injuries?” Bruce asked and Dr. Raval shook his head.

“Besides his lungs, Damian’s most severe injuries are in his legs and feet. He has crush injuries in both legs and feet — the bones are broken in multiple places.” He sighed as he pulled Damian’s x-rays from the folder. “The paramedics told me that he was pinned under a rock for hours. Here.” He handed the pictures to Bruce, who almost dropped them, and behind him he heard Dick choke on a sob.

The x-rays were awful; more awful than anything Bruce had seen in the Cave or even on Jason. Luckily, Damian’s femurs and kneecaps were intact, but that seemed to be where his luck ended. Both of his tibia and fibula had been broken into multiple pieces, the fibula of his right leg almost shattered in places. His ankle bones were broken into tiny fragments, as well as the bones in both of his feet.

Bruce barely heard the doctor speaking to him.

“You can see how extensive his injuries are,” Dr. Raval said. “He’ll need more surgeries from a specialist later on. Damian was also showing signs of crush syndrome when he came in. We’ve been aggressive with fluids to keep him from kidney failure and so far, he seems to be responding well.”

Bruce nodded numbly, handing the x-rays back to Dr. Raval.

“And his spine?” he asked; he feared the answer.

Dr. Raval frowned.

“About that. . .” he said. He paused. “May I speak to you alone, Mr. Wayne?”

“No,” Alfred said suddenly, hand on Bruce’s shoulder. “No, you may not.”

Dr. Raval frowned but Alfred ignored him, turning to the others.

“Children, wait for us outside,” he said.

Dr. Raval was surprised when they all nodded and filed out one by one, each murmuring words to Bruce or giving him a brief hug in Tim and Cass’ case. When the door shut behind them, Alfred nodded at the doctor.

“You may speak.”

Dr. Raval spoke, surprised at how commanding the butler was. (He was also surprised he was listening.)

“Damian’s spine is uninjured, Mr. Wayne,” he said; Bruce exhaled shakily in relief, “but he has evidence of a previous surgery there — a scar across his back. He also has other scars and his x-rays showed healed fractures that he was never brought in for.” Dr. Raval closed Damian’s file and looked meaningfully at Bruce. “Do you understand where I’m going with this, Mr. Wayne?”

Bruce Wayne nodded and sighed, placing his head in both of his hands. Alfred squeezed his shoulder briefly and, after a moment, Bruce looked up again.

“I wasn’t aware of Damian’s existence until last year, Dr. Raval,” he said slowly. “His mother disappeared after a one-night stand and kept Damian a secret from me. She raised him overseas and then dropped him off on my doorstep one day. Over time, I’ve come to understand that Damian was abused in his mother’s household, both physically and emotionally, and I gained custody of him.”

Dr. Raval nodded. He remembered all of this from the news, though the abuse was new information to him. He quickly jotted it down, listening as Bruce continued to speak.

“Damian is a stubborn child,” he said. “He hides when he is injured because he fears being punished for it, as he was by his mother. Despite my best efforts, I’m sure I have missed a few of his injuries. He also hates the hospital.” He ran a hand over his tired face. “More often than not, I have taken him to Leslie Thompkins’ clinic. I don’t believe she shares records with you?”

“No, she does not.” Dr. Raval wrote this down. “If I was to send a social worker to Dr. Thompkins’ clinic, would they find the records of the unreported injuries?”

“Of course.” Bruce looked up at Dr. Raval then, eyes shining. “I would never hurt my son, doctor,” he said. “I would never hurt any of my children. I love them too much to lay a hand on them.”

Dr. Raval had heard this line before — far too many times — but this time he was inclined to believe it. He sighed.

“I understand, Mr. Wayne,” he said. “But you know I still have to cover all my bases, yes?”

“Of course.”

“Thank you.” Dr. Raval got to his feet then, slipping his file into his over-large white coat pocket. “Then let us go see your son now, Mr. Wayne.”

*****************************************

Chapter Text

*****************************************

Dick was annoyed that only two people were allowed to visit Damian at a time, but he guessed it made sense. The ICU was supposed to be a place of quiet healing and too many visitors at once could be overwhelming and loud for the patients. Still. . .

“I should have been first!” Dick said, lightly kicking a chair in the ICU waiting room. Why are there so many damn waiting rooms in this hospital?

Tim glared at his brother.

“Dude, we picked out of a hat. Bruce and Alfred got first rights.”

“But—!”

“Are you seriously gonna complain about Alfie seeing his grandson?” Jason asked, staring at the white hospital ceiling. “That’s cold, Dickwad.”

“I’m Dami’s oldest brother!”

“And Bruce is his dad and Alfred is his grandpa,” Tim said. “Stop complaining. It’s annoying.” He yawned and rubbed at his eyes. “I need coffee.”

Cass, who was sitting next to him, rolled her eyes.

“No,” she said.

Tim stuck out his tongue at her and she did the same, playfully swatting at her brother. Dick watched them for a moment, mind drifting, but was quickly brought back to attention by the beep of the heavy ICU doors. He whirled, and out stepped Alfred, who looked like he had aged ten years in the half hour he’d been gone. He smiled at Dick and clipped the visitor’s badge onto his hoodie.

“Here you are, Master Richard,” he said; Dick did not miss how Alfred’s fingers slightly trembled, so unlike the usually composed butler. “Master Bruce and Young Master Damian are waiting for you.”

“How is he, Alfred?”

Alfred just smiled faintly and smoothed down Dick’s hair as he so often had when Dick was young and heading off to school.

“Sound asleep,” Alfred said. He stepped past Dick before he could ask more questions and spoke to the others. “I’m heading back to the manor to get a few things for Master Bruce and Young Master Damian. I will be back in an hour.”

“Okay, Alfie,” Jason said, and the others echoed his words, frowning at the older man’s back as he got onto the elevator and disappeared.

“Is he okay?” Tim asked.

“Of course not!” Jason hissed and Cass shook her head.

Dick took a deep breath and stared at the closed elevator doors for a few more moments, composing himself. If seeing Damian had shaken up the ever-composed Alfred Pennyworth so much, he had no idea what it was going to do to him. He was already a wreck as it was.

Jason’s voice and strong hand on his shoulder snapped him out of his thoughts.

“Dick,” he said softly, “I can go in first if you want. Tell you what to expect.”

Dick shook his head.

“No. No, it’s fine,” he said, smoothing his sweatshirt awkwardly with his hands. “I can take it.”

Jason sighed.

“You don’t need to ‘take it,’ Dickie,” he said.

But Dick ignored Jason, scanning his visitor’s badge and letting himself into the ICU proper. He was immediately accosted by the strong smells of antiseptic and sanitizer and wrinkled his nose at it. A small laugh grabbed his attention.

A young woman with black hair in a long ponytail was sitting at a desk that faced the front doors of the ICU, a nametag on her purple scrubs describing her as Kate, RN.

“The smell is unpleasant, isn’t it?” she said with a friendly smile. “Don’t worry, you can’t smell it as much in the rooms.”

“Oh, um. . .”

“You’re here to visit someone, aren’t you?” Kate asked, pointing at Dick’s visitor badge. Dick looked down before nodding quickly.

“Yeah. Yes. My little brother.”

“Do you know his room number?”

“Um. . . no.”

“What about his name?”

“Damian Wayne.”

Kate’s face darkened for a moment, her eyes sad, before she forced her smile back over her face.

“Ah,” she said. “He’s very cute. His nurses are already very fond of him, you know.”

Dick chuckled, though it lacked any happiness.

“Yeah,” he said, “it’s easy to like him.” (Which wasn’t quite true, but it wasn’t like the nurse needed to know that.)

“What’s your name?” Kate asked, opening up a file on the computer. “I just need to enter some info on this sheet.”

“Dick Grayson. I’m 24. Do you need my ID?”

“No, it’s fine,” Kate said, waving her hand. “Your little brother is in room 211, the farthest room in the back.” She handed him a mask to wear before lowering her voice. “I should warn you, Dick, that it might not be easy to see him. He’s connected to a lot of machines.”

Dick swallowed the lump that suddenly appeared in his throat and forced a grateful smile at the nurse before putting on the mask.

“Thank you for telling me,” he said. “Is my dad in there?”

The nurse nodded and smiled. Dick thanked her once more before heading in the direction Kate had told him to go, examining the rest of the ICU as he did so. He realized that the rooms circled the nurses’ station in a big circle, like a fishbowl, and each room had sliding glass doors that made it easy for the nurses to see their patients. Green and blue patterned curtains could be pulled across the doors for a modicum of privacy, but it wasn’t much. There were numbers next to each room, as well as signs about the room numbers that said if patients had allergies, were allowed to eat or drink, or had an DNR order.

Dick thought the entire unit was dreary, the only colors being muted greens and blues, and the few rooms he was able to peek into seemed equally dark. He hoped Damian’s room would at least have some color or a nice view.

When Dick finally made it to Damian’s room, he stopped just outside the door.

Room 211.

It looked like every other room in the ICU, besides the fact that the door was open, the curtain the only thing drawn to provide Damian and Bruce privacy. A little blue sign outside the door said “NPO” in big letters, though Dick had no idea what that meant. There was also a crash cart just outside the room, as if the medical team was waiting for Damian’s heart to stop.

There was no indication that a child was being cared for in this room, no bright colors or nametags or cartoons. It was so. . . depressing.

Dick hated it.

As he stepped closer, hand on the curtain, Dick began to hear the beeps and whirs of machines coming from the room; he remembered the nurse’s words to him. Like a warning to prepare himself for something terrible.

Dick suddenly couldn’t bring it in himself to move. He just stood there for who knows how long, mind completely blank, until a man shoved the curtain to Damian’s room aside and collided with Dick.

“Oh shit!” the man swore. “Sorry, sorry! Are you okay?”

Dick blinked a few times, confused, before nodding.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.”

The man smiled sheepishly.

“I didn’t mean to run into you like that,” he said. “I didn’t know you were standing out here. People don’t usually do that.” Dick blushed, embarrassed, and the man winced. “Oops, I totally put my foot in my mouth, didn’t I? Sorry.” He held out his hand. “I’m Julio, the RT.”

Dick stared at his hand for a moment before slowly shaking it.

“RT?” he echoed, confused.

“Oh! Respiratory therapist!” Julio smiled. “I help take care of people’s lungs.”

“Damian. . .?”

Much to Dick’s surprise, Julio’s smile widened. It seemed out of place in the dreary ICU, but it wasn’t unwelcome.

“Damian is a strong kid! He has some good lungs given the injuries he has.” His eyes softened. “How do you know Damian?”

“He’s my brother,” Dick whispered.

“Ah, I see.” Julio’s smile gentled. “I have a daughter about Damian’s age,” he said. “They have the same curly hair. I don’t see a lot of kids here, you know, and it’s always harder when you know them, or they remind you of someone you love. The first time I saw Damian I wanted to run away.”

Dick nodded and blinked.

“But you didn’t,” he said.

“But I didn’t! Because he reminds me of my daughter. And I thought ‘How would I feel if this was my Annabella?’” Julio smiled. “It’s hard work, taking care of kid as injured as Damian, but it’s worth it.”

“Are you taking care of anyone else?”

“Just Damian for now,” Julio said. “He needs the most help.”

“Thank you,” Dick said. “It means a lot.”

Julio grinned.

“How long have you been standing out here?” he asked after a moment.

“Um. . . I don’t know.”

“Well, Damian’s nurse should be coming soon so you can go in with her if you don’t want to go in alone.” Dick opened his mouth, but Julio’s eyes brightened, and he waved to someone over Dick’s shoulder. “Hi, Willow!”

Dick turned, coming face to face with a pale faced nurse, arms full of supplies. Her white-blonde hair was French-braided neatly away from her face and her violet eyes were soft and friendly. She smiled at both Julio and Dick.

“Hi, Julio!” She then turned to Dick. “You must be Damian’s brother.”

“Yeah. . .”

“Kate told me,” Willow supplied. “Dick Grayson, right? I’m Willow, Damian’s day nurse.”

“Hello.”

Willow turned to Julio.

“How’s Damian?”

Dick listened as Julio and Willow exchanged some information, all of it medical and completely over his head, though he understood Willow’s soft frown.

“Call Dr. Kip about it,” she said. “I need to do some work with Damian now.”

“Will do,” Julio said, giving the nurse a thumbs-up. He nudged Dick’s shoulder gently. “Take Dick in with you. He hasn’t been able to go inside yet.”

“Of course.” Willow took Dick’s elbow without a word, squeezed it tight in reassurance, then announced her arrival without any preamble. “Mr. Wayne, Damian, it’s Willow and Dick. Can we come in?”

“Of course,” Bruce’s voice said, and Willow then pulled aside the curtain and stepped inside, pulling Dick with her.

Dick gasped and froze, staring at Damian in horror. He could feel Bruce staring at him, but ignored him, staring at his little brother dwarfed in the adult-sized hospital bed.

He was so. . . small.

The last time Dick had seen Damian they were arguing about which Disney movie they were going to watch before settling on Inside Out. Damian had been vehemently against the movie at first, but was invested by the middle, and by the end had half-crawled into Dick’s lap and had fallen fast asleep, curled into a little ball. Dick had wanted nothing more than to protect him forever.

Dick thought he had looked small then, but now. . . now was much, much worse.

A blue hospital blanket and clean white sheets had been drawn up to Damian’s waist, hiding the clunky casts that covered his feet and lower legs. The rest of him was carefully bandaged or attached to machines and drips, and as Dick watched him breathe, he couldn’t help but wonder if he was cold. Maybe they should get him a shirt to wear. Maybe that’s what Alfred went to get. . .

Damian’s abdomen was covered in swaths of snow-white bandages, probably covering the stitches from his surgery, which Dick guessed would be painful when he woke up.  Abdominal injuries always hurt like a bitch. There were also two ugly plastic chest tubes poking from either side of Damian’s fragile chest, blood and clear fluid dripping steadily from them. Dick wanted nothing more than to rip those alien tubs from his brother’s body but knew that would do him more harm than good. One of his arms was casted and carefully propped up with a pillow, Damian’s tiny tan fingers poking out from the white plaster.

His face, however, was the worst, and when Dick looked at him, he immediately burst into tears.

Damian Ah Ghul Wayne was a ten-year-old boy with a perpetual scowl, who always looked angry or frustrated no matter the situation. Unless he was with his pets or drawing, he was frowning. He was loud and brash, rude and mean, but he had a heart of gold. He never wanted to hurt innocent people and had suffered more than almost anyone Dick knew.

As Dick stared at his brother’s little scraped and bruised face, with a feeding tube in his nose and a breathing tube taped to his lips, a ventilator breathing for him, his heart broke more. He was suffering again.

And Dick couldn’t do anything to stop it.

He dashed to Damian’s side then, tears on his face, and grabbed the little fingers that poked from the cast. He heard Bruce call his name, but ignored him, clutching Damian’s small hand tightly in his own and sobbing an apology.

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Chapter Text

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Cass was perched on the end of Damian’s bed, far away from her brother’s injured feet, and staring at his little face. She was the last to visit and had watched each of her siblings come and go from the ICU pale-faced and red-eyed; she wondered just how terrible Damian looked. As Cass looked at her brother now, wanting to readjust his breathing tube, she understood her siblings’ discomfort.

Damian was not well.

He was being heavily sedated, or he would have woken up by now; Cass knew that the League of Assassins had upped Damian’s tolerance to sedatives. (Bruce had to argue a lot with the doctors to get Damian more sedatives and painkillers, having to come up with a reason why a ten-year-old would be immune to the “usual stuff.”)

Damian seemed calm though. His heart rhythm was a normal one for those in sleep, and his face was lax. He hadn’t even stirred since being brought to the ICU, and that had been hours and hours ago. It was now late afternoon, and the sun was shining across Damian’s bruised and broken face. Cass turned to look at the TV, which was on at low volume and quietly droning the news.

“The tragedy at Gotham Academy and Gotham High School ultimately claimed 10 lives,” a reporter said. “8 students and 2 teachers.” Pictures of the dead flashed on the screen. “Over 200 were injured, 10 with critical injuries, and 2 are currently in the ICU at Gotham General.”

Cass perked up at this.

Two? Damian was one, but who was the other?

As she was frowning at the screen, Jason walked in, two cups of coffee in hand.

“Hey, Cassie, whatcha watching?” he asked. He handed her a cup without looking at her, and she took a sip, pleased when she found it was tea instead of coffee.

“Thank you,” she said.

Jason hummed and frowned at the TV, eyes widening when he saw a picture of Damian on the screen, next to him a picture of an unfamiliar high school girl.

“These are the two students currently in the ICU at Gotham General,” the reporter said in a voiceover. “Damian Wayne was in Gotham Academy and Bridget Allworth was in Gotham High. Bruce Wayne is paying in full for all of the injured students’ hospital bills, as well as all funeral costs for those who died in the accident.”

The camera flashed to Bruce and a married couple standing next to him; they were all standing at the front steps of the hospital. All three of them looked exhausted, and the mother, who looked very much like Bridget, had very obviously been crying.

“We are deeply saddened by our children’s injuries,” Bruce said to the cameras, eyes heavy and sad. “We hope that during this difficult time you will respect our families’ privacy while our children recover. Thank you.”

“Suit is wrinkled,” Cass pointed out to Jason. Jason frowned and nodded. It was unlike Bruce to go out anywhere in public with a wrinkled suit, but then again it had been a rare and awful day — who could blame him? He turned back to Cass, sipping on his own coffee.

“How’s the bat brat?” he asked, collapsing into a chair next to Damian’s bedside.

“Asleep. Calm.”

“That’s good.” Jason gently took Damian’s uncasted hand, squeezing it gently and avoiding his broken fingers. “You hang in there, baby bat,” he whispered. “You’ll make B sad if you get worse.”

Damian didn’t respond, not that Jason was expecting him to. He just sighed and gulped down his coffee again, relishing how it burnt his tongue. Cass looked at him.

“Tonight?” she said. She was referring to patrol. Jason shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I know B’s not going anywhere. Dick might go out, though he won’t want to.”

Cass nodded in understanding. Bruce would not be leaving Damian’s side anytime soon, that much was obvious to anyone. He hadn’t left Damian’s bedside the entire day since the doctors had allowed him in, never once releasing Damian’s small fingers. He didn’t leave the room to eat or go to the bathroom, just sat by Damian’s bed the whole day, staring at his face. It was. . . distressing, to say the least. He hadn’t left until a half hour ago, when the press came to the hospital, to give a statement on Damian’s condition.

The others seemed equally shaken by Damian’s injuries. Alfred was avoiding the ICU in general, as was Jason, but when they came to visit, they were careful to converse in Arabic, probably for Damian’s sake. Tim was silent when he visited, computer, phone or a book in his lap, and generally sat by the window, eyes trained away from Damian. Dick cooed at his youngest brother, touching his face, hands, and hair, whispering to him and telling him he was safe. He cried a lot.

Cass just sat on the end of the bed and hummed old lullabies, ones she had learned to soothe herself as a child. She hoped they would comfort Damian now, though she didn’t know how much he could hear when he was sedated like this.

He was attached to a number of wires and tubes, the ugliest being the breathing tube stuffed down his throat and a little feeding tube threaded through his nose. Both were taped in place and changed frequently by the nurses to prevent skin breakdown. He had IVs in his arms, dripping morphine and antibiotics at a steady pace. Another IV was pushing normal saline rapidly into his body to prevent crush syndrome, most of which ran through his body quickly and left through a urinary catheter. Tim had told her Damian had been receiving blood transfusions earlier, though by the time she came to visit, the blood bags were gone. Cass had heard the doctors and nurses mention placing a central line in Damian tomorrow, though she wasn’t quite sure what they meant. As long as it helped her little brother, though, she wouldn’t be against it.

As Cass hummed a Chinese lullaby to herself, eyes trained on her youngest brother — so like herself in some ways — the door to Damian’s room opened and in stepped Bruce and Dick. Cass immediately stopped humming and Bruce, who looked like he had aged ten years already, smiled tiredly at her.

“Don’t stop on our account, Cass,” he said, “it was lovely.” Cass blushed, the tips of her ears turning red, and both Jason and Dick chuckled. Bruce’s smile widened and he ruffled Cass’ hair. “Damian liked it too,” he added. “His heart rate was nice and steady.”

Cass looked up at the heart monitor that Damian was attached too, which was beeping steadily. 62 beats per minute. Underneath was his blood pressure: 111/71. The ventilator was breathing for him, 20 breaths a minute, and he hadn’t breathed on his own yet.

Cass made a noise.

“Over sedated,” she said to Bruce, who had seated himself in Jason’s chair.

Her father sighed and nodded, picking up Damian’s hand and lightly squeezing his fingers.

“I know,” he said, “but better over sedated than under sedated.”

“They’re talking about weaning down the sedatives a bit tomorrow,” Dick added, seating himself on the edge of Damian’s bed. He ran careful fingers through his brother’s black curls. “Would you like that, Dami?”

Damian didn’t respond, of course, and Cass knowingly eyed Jason. He shook his head.

“Taking him off sedatives so soon is a bad idea,” he said. “The kid’s a mess. Better he keeps resting and not know what’s going on then be awake and in pain.”

“He won’t be in pain,” Dick said. “They’ll give him pain meds.”

“Not enough,” Jason added. “The brat has a horribly high pain tolerance. Trust me, the League literally beats it into you.” Jason paused. “Pretty sure the first time he got pain meds was for a surgery. Before that he’d had broken bones and bruises and whippings and had to go it on his own.”

Jason remembered Damian. He’d been resurrected at around the time Damian was four or five. Jason’s time at the League was a bit of a blur, filled with rage and hate and endless training, but he remembered with clarity the first time he met Damian.

It wasn’t a meeting he’d soon forget.

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Chapter Text

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It was July or August, one of the hottest months of the year, and Jason had run out of training because he had been pissed at Talia. He couldn’t quite remember why, but he had been furious enough to run all the way out to the desert without any supplies or water. You know, like an idiot.

By the time Jason realized where he was, he was miles away from League headquarters and already thirstier than a dying man. He was also very, very lost.

“Aw, fuck!

“You shouldn’t swear,” a little voice said derisively, and Jason whirled, fists raised.

“Show yourself!” he cried, searching for whoever had spoken.

No one appeared and Jason, after a few minutes, began to get annoyed.

“Talia, you bitch, if this is one of your stupid tests, I swear to—”

A mop of black curls suddenly appeared from behind a tiny sand dune, and a little boy jumped at Jason’s knees with an angry howl. Jason, taken aback, fell over, the kid attached still to him.

“What the—?!”

Before Jason could finish speaking, there was a blade at his throat and a tiny face hovering above his, tan skin dark with sunburn and green eyes shining like emeralds. The little boy was furious and looked ready to kill Jason.

“You dare to speak about my mother that way?!” he cried, little voice a shriek. “She is the daughter of the Demon’s Head!”

“Yeah, and I care why?”

The boy, who Jason thought couldn’t be more than five, seemed confused.

“Do you not know the Demon’s Head?”

“Yeah, kid, I do, I just don’t care.” Jason, quick as a snake, then grabbed the child’s wrist and disarmed him, sending the knife flying, before flipping the child onto his back and pinning him in the sand. The boy yelled in surprise and began to punch at Jason, little fists beating on his chest.

“Unhand me, you heathen!” he cried. “You disrespect my mother and now you dare to disrespect her only heir?!”

Jason laughed, pinning the kid deeper into the sand and ruffling his hair. The boy growled — literally growled — at him.

“Your Talia’s kid then, huh?”

“Yes! Release me!” He struggled a bit, trying to kick Jason, but it had no effect. Jason just laughed.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“As if I’d tell you!”

“My name is Jason,” Jason offered. “Jason Todd.”

“I know that,” the kid hissed, teeth bared. “Mother threw you in the Lazarus Pit.”

Jason raised an eyebrow.

“How old are you?” he asked. 

“Old enough to defeat you!”

Again, Jason laughed.

“Kiddo, I hate to break it to you, but I literally have you pinned in the sand. How are you gonna get out of this?”

This time, the boy made a face that was dangerously close to a pout. Jason hated to admit it, but it was kinda . . . cute.

“I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out!” the kid yelled. He paused and a look of resignation settled on his face. When he next spoke, his little voice was less prideful. “If I can’t escape in five minutes, you have permission to kill me.”

Jason froze.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Why would I kill you?”

“Because you have defeated me. It is your right to take my life.”

Jason stared down at the kid he had pinned down in the sand, at his too-big eyes and too-small face. He picked him up and released him.

The boy stared at him in surprise.

“Why did you do that?” he asked. “Why would you relinquish your honor?”

“Killing a four-year-old doesn’t have any honor,” Jason said.

The boy bristled.

“I am not four!” he cried. “I’m six!”

Jason raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“You’re pretty scrawny for a six-year-old,” he said.

“Today is my birthday,” the boy said, puffing out his chest. “I just turned six.”

“It’s your birthday?” Jason asked. “And you’re out in the desert all alone?”

The boy shrugged.

“Of course,” he said. “This is what I do for all of my birthdays. I spend them alone out here and Mother sends out someone to kill me. When I have defeated the enemy and proven myself worthy, I may return to the house. Then I fight Mother. If I defeat her, I can finally learn the identity of my father.”

Jason stared at the little boy in front of him, dumbfounded and disturbed. He knew Talia was fucked up, but this. . . this was a whole new level. She ditched her young son in the desert on his birthday and then sent people to kill him? And then she fought him herself? What kind of fucked-up bullshit was that?

“Kid, what’s your name?”

“I’m not telling!” The boy lunged suddenly for his knife, which was lying in the sand, but Jason was faster than him and grabbed it first. He saw the engravings on the blade as he held it out of the boy’s reach.

“Oh, there’s something on this,” Jason drawled.

“No! Don’t read it!” the boy yelled, trying to grab the knife; Jason kept it easily out of the child’s reach. He held it up to the setting sun, the silver glinting, and read the script. His Arabic wasn’t perfect, but he knew enough to recognize a name when he saw one.

Damian Ah Ghul,” Jason read. “That’s your name then?”

“Give it back!!” the boy cried, but Jason held the knife up higher, shaking his head and laughing.

“No way. Not unless you tell me if this is your name.”

Green eyes flashed and the boy bared his teeth. Jason noticed a few were missing — the boy was already losing his baby teeth. Yep. Cute.

Jason flipped the knife in the air, quick enough that the boy couldn’t grab it. The kid hissed in annoyance.

“Unless you’re not Damian and you stole this knife,” Jason said, raising an eyebrow. “This is a really fancy knife, you know.”

“It’s not a knife!” the kid yelled. “It’s a dagger! And I know it’s worth!” He stopped hopping around, instead freezing in place and holding out his palm to Jason. “Todd, return my weapon to me at once.”

“So, you are Damian?”

“Tt.”

Jason figured that was as close to a yes as he was going to get. He laughed, then tossed the dagger on the sand between them. Damian quickly grabbed it and pulled a bejeweled sheath from his robes, sheathing the weapon. He never took his eyes off Jason, as if waiting for the older boy to strike. Jason rolled his eyes.

“So, you aren’t going to kill me?” he snorted.

“You have made it clear you have no intention of killing me,” Damian said, seating himself a safe distance from Jason. “Why then, would I kill you?”

Jason frowned quizzically at Damian.

“That kind of thinking will get you murdered around here, kid,” he said. “You shouldn’t trust people so easily. Your mom won’t like it.”

Damian sniffed.

“I don’t trust anyone,” he said. “Least of all my mother.” He lifted his eyes to Jason. “Do you trust my mother?”

Jason laughed derisively.

“I’d have to be out of mind to trust that crazy bit—” He cut himself short, remembering Damian’s first reaction to the insult. “Ah, I mean, your mother.”

Damian’s lips quirked into the faintest smile before disappearing. He cocked his head at Jason and blinked at him a few times.

“Kid, if you want to say something, just say it,” Jason said. “I know you want to ask me something.”

“You were Robin, weren’t you?” Damian asked, voice small.

Jason almost jumped — this was not the question he had been expecting. He looked down at Damian, who was staring up at him, green eyes shining with an emotion Jason couldn’t quite place.

“. . .Yes,” Jason answered. “But not for a long time.”

“You knew Batman then?”

Jason stared at Damian, surprised that a six-year-old from halfway across the world would know a superhero from Gotham.

“You know about Batman?” he asked.

Damian shrugged one shoulder.

“Of course,” he said. “We know who all the ‘heroes’ are. And we know where they all operate from.” Damian began to play in the desert sand, fidgeting like the six-year-old he was, as he spoke. “Grandfather likes the Batman — he thinks he’s intimidating and intelligent — and Mother finds him. . . intriguing.” Damian frowned. “Like a puzzle.”

And that’s when Jason saw it. The dark hair, the face shape, the way Damian’s whole face scrunched up when he frowned in thought. He looked just like —

“Damian, who’s your dad?”

Damian lifted his head and glared at Jason.

“I don’t know!” he said hotly. “I told you that I fight my mother every year to learn his identity! If I win, I can learn his name.” He stuck out his bottom lip. “But I haven’t defeated her yet.”

Jason began to laugh. It was obvious to him that Damian was Bruce’s son, but he wasn’t going to tell the brat — who knew what Talia would do to him if he just up and told Damian?

Of course! Of fucking course! he cackled to himself. Of course, B can’t get it off with a normal person! Of course, it has to be Talia Ah Ghul! Damian just stared at Jason as he continued to laugh, his little face unreadable. Of course, his kid is a weird assassin baby!

“How many people have you killed?” Jason asked suddenly.

Damian blinked at this, taken aback by the unexpected question.

“77,” he said, and Jason’s laughter immediately died. He’d been expecting a number closer to 10, not 100.

“What. . .”

“I started training when I was three,” Damian said. “However, I have many talents besides assassination that I am sure will impress my father when it is time to meet him. Recently I’ve been mastering my pain control. Watch.”

Before Jason could move, Damian had drawn his dagger and stabbed himself in the thigh. Jason cried out in alarm, but Damian’s expression barely changed, the only indication he was in pain the slight twitch of his eyebrow.

“WHAT THE FUCK?!?” Jason cried, collapsing to his knees next to Damian. He watched as blood began to well from the stab wound, dripping steadily into the sand and staining Damian’s white robes. Damian reached for the dagger, obviously prepared to pull it out of his leg, but Jason slapped his hand away. “Kid, you can’t pull out a knife like that!!”

“Tt, I missed the femoral artery,” Damian said. “I’m not an idiot, Todd.”

“I don’t care, you little brat.” Jason ripped off a piece of his own robe, wrapping it around the dagger to keep it in place. Damian hissed, more in annoyance than in pain, before trying to shove Jason away from him. Jason held firm. “You need to be more careful. If you even nicked your femoral artery, you could bleed to death in minutes. The dagger is acting like a plug.” Jason looked at Damian’s paling face, at the way he began to blink too quickly, and at the amount of blood pooling in the sand. “Judging by how much blood you’re already losing, you probably did nick it. Idiot.” Jason lifted the boy into his arms, holding him as still as possible, and stared at the unfamiliar desert all around him. He had no idea which way the League headquarters were.

Great, Talia and Bruce’s brat is gonna die in the desert and it’s gonna be all my fault, Jason groaned to himself. Why does this shit always happen to me?

Damian’s hand tugging on his sleeve made him look down.

“Three miles south, two miles west,” Damian said, raising a finger. “That way.”

Jason grinned.

“Thanks, kiddo. Just hang in there, all right?”

“D’n c’ll k’ddo. . .”

By the time Jason reached League headquarters at sunset, Damian was limp and heavy in his arms, and his blood coated the front of Jason’s robes. Talia and Ra’s Ah Ghul were waiting for them, and the looks on their faces disturbed Jason. They didn’t seem worried about Damian in the least; rather they looked annoyed that he would bother to come back injured and waste precious resources.

Jason made to hand Damian to the League’s healers, but Talia ripped Damian from Jason’s arms before a healer could even look at the boy. The healers scurried away at a look from her, despite Jason’s protests.

“What are you doing?!” Jason cried, following Talia as she made her way down an unfamiliar hallway. “He’s bleeding out! He needs help!”

“And I’m going to help him,” Talia said, holding her injured son like he was less than a sack of potatoes. “He doesn’t need a healer.” She stopped in front of an elaborate door, unlocked it, and then strode inside. She tossed Damian unceremoniously onto a bed and moved about the room, lighting candles and muttering to herself.

Jason rushed to Damian’s side, rearranging him so that he was lying comfortably on his back, and felt for his pulse. It was thready and erratic, but at least it was still there. His skin, however, was cool and clammy, telling of impending shock.

“Talia, he’s going into shock,” Jason said, laying a hand in Damian’s hair. Talia scoffed and reappeared at the bedside, a small bag at her side.

“Shock?” she snorted. “Over a little wound like this?” She pulled gloves onto her hands and then reach for the dagger in Damian’s leg, pulling it out without any warning. Damian jerked unconsciously, eyes rolling into the back of his head, and Talia whispered something in League dialect before stuffing the wound.

“He nicked the artery,” Jason said, two fingers on Damian’s throat, one hand still tangled in Damian’s hair; Talia noticed this but said nothing.

“What was he doing?” she asked.

Jason hesitated before answering, but Talia’s pointed gaze scared him into answering.

“He was showing me he could control his pain responses,” he answered. “He stabbed himself in the leg.”

“Hm.” The bleeding had slowed somewhat, and Talia pulled the bandages from the wound, prepping a needle and thread. Jason briefly thought of Alfred before shoving that heartbreak away. “And did he control his pain?”

Jason blinked at Talia, taken aback.

“W-What?”

“What did Damian do when he stabbed himself?”

“Nothing,” Jason said. “He didn’t even flinch.”

This earned a faint smile. Talia rarely smiled and Jason figured that Damian craved her approval more than anything. That’s probably why he did crazy shit like stabbing himself and thought it was normal. Damian would likely crave Bruce’s approval just as much, if not more.

Talia handed the needle and thread to Jason.

“Sew him up,” she said, getting to her feet. She grimaced at the blood on her dress, clearly disgusted. “I need to discuss some things with my father.”

Jason stared at the needle, looking like an idiot. Talia was halfway out the door before he remembered something.

“Wait!” he cried; Talia turned her head. “Do you have any painkillers for him?”

Talia snorted at this, eyes bright with derision.

“Painkillers are for the weak and for surgery. Damian has been stitched up without painkillers or local anesthetics plenty of times.” She left without another word.

“What the fuck,” Jason breathed. “What the actual fuck.” His heart was softening for this poor brat hour by hour. Honestly, the League was no place to raise a child. He’d be a demon by age ten just to cope. Worse than the kids from Crime Alley probably.

Jason thought about this as he quietly stitched up Damian’s wound, glad the boy was unconscious for this. He was angry Talia had refused to give her son any painkillers or a local anesthetic; even in emergencies, Alfred or Bruce had a local on hand. To deny pain relief to a six-year-old was simply cruel.

Jason knew Damian wasn’t safe here in the League, but would he be any safer with Bruce? He hadn’t been. He had died. At least if he had been left alone in Crime Alley, he would have lived till the ripe old age of 35 before dying of a drug overdose or suicide or something. Not age 15. Damian was six. If he was sent to Bruce would he suffer the same fate as Jason? Another victim of the Joker? Or Two-Face or some other psycho? Would he be another broken, bloodied Robin? Another child “buried” in Gotham’s cemeteries?

Jason took a deep, shaky breath, shook his head, and refocused on the stitches. Why was he worrying about some random brat anyway? He’d met this kid three hours ago; before that he hadn’t even known Damian existed. Jason was here to get stronger, to train, to focus his rage on something productive. He wasn’t here to worry about a kid.

Damian, who had been quiet and still from the time he had stabbed himself, began to stir when Jason was tying off the last stitch, and opened his green eyes as Jason cleaned and bandaged the wound, blinking in confusion.

Jason forced a grin at him.

“Hey there, kiddo. Back with me?”

“I. . . How. . . did I get here?”

“I carried you. You nicked your femoral artery. Lucky it wasn’t worse, or you’d be dead.”

Damian shrugged and sat up, ignoring Jason’s warning. He looked at his injured leg, neatly cared for, and ran his small fingers over the snow-white bandages.

“You are good at stitches, Todd,” he said; Jason frowned at Damian’s suddenly detached attitude, so different from how the boy had acted in the desert. The curiosity and brashness had vanished, replaced by an odd, quiet attitude.

“You okay?” Jason asked.

“Fine. You may leave me.”

Jason frowned.

“Damian—”

“I said leave,” Damian barked, and this time it was obviously an order. An heir of the Ah Ghul name through and through.

Jason stiffened before shaking his head.

“You’re welcome, brat,” he snorted under his breath. He got up and left the room, leaving the bloodied supplies with Damian. “You would have died without me.”

Damian said something that Jason could not hear, not that he was listening, before Jason left the room and shut the door firmly behind him. From then on, he rarely saw Damian, but despite his best efforts, he thought of him often. If he was safe, if he was healthy, if he was even alive.

After Jason left the League, he didn’t see Damian again until he was wearing a uniform colored like a traffic light. Despite the green domino plastered to his face, Jason recognized him instantly. Still too small for his age. A touch too thin.

“Red Hood,” Damian huffed, and Jason rolled his eyes under his helmet. He was right that the kid would turn into a brat as a coping mechanism — he’d only said two words and they dripped with condescension. “Batman doesn’t want you here.”

“Batman doesn’t want me anywhere,” Jason said, using his voice modulator to disguise his voice. Damian didn’t recognize him. “Where is he, anyway? Letting the little bird fly off on his own?”

Damian made a face and didn’t answer. Jason laughed.

“So, you ran off? Okay, that makes sense. Bruce—Batman would—”

Damian stiffened, immediately noticing how Jason slipped up. Shit.

 “You called Batman something,” he said with a scowl, reaching into his utility belt for his mini batarangs. “Say it.”

“Slip of the tongue.”

Say it!” Damian yelled, throwing a batarang at Jason; he dodged expertly with a muffled swear.

“Robin, can you calm down for a second?”

“No! Answer me!” Damian threw more batarangs in rapid succession, all with League-like precision. Jason, however, was faster.

Robin, stop!” he cried in Arabic, and Damian froze. Jason sighed and held up his hands to show he was unarmed before slowly raising them to his helmet. He watched as Damian tensed, staring, before removing his helmet and setting it on the ground. He didn’t need to remove his domino for Damian to recognize him.

The boy gasped, dropping the batarang he was holding with a clatter.

“Todd?”

Jason grinned.

“Hey there, kiddo.”

Damian launched himself at Jason’s knees.

********************************************

Chapter Text

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There was a heated argument going on just outside Damian’s room, doctors versus the Wayne’s. To Tim, it went without saying who was going to win, but it seemed to be getting more intense by the minute and had been going on for almost ten minutes already.

On one side was Damian’s doctors and surgeons, the main one being Dr. Kip. Dr. Kip was the head doctor in Damian’s case and led his care. Tim found him to be an annoying man with a white savior complex who thought himself above others simply because he was a successful doctor. Dr. Rival, the surgeon, was there too, as were a few other doctors and nurses that Tim didn’t recognize.

On the other side was Bruce, Dick, Jason, and Alfred. They were definitely imposing and threatening, and Tim knew them. He wondered what people who didn’t know them thought of them.

The topic of conversation was, of course, Damian. Specifically, whether or not Damian should be weaned off his sedatives tonight and into the morning. The entire Wayne family said no. They knew Damian’s reaction would be violent and fearful, and he would struggle more to heal. The doctors, however, thought Damian was over sedated and it would be appropriate to wean him off the sedatives and see how much pain he was in. They thought he was just a normal ten-year-old, but he wasn’t. It wasn’t their fault they didn’t know that, though.

Tim wished he could be part of the conversation going on in the hall, but he and Cass had been instructed to stay with Damian and watch him in case anything went wrong. Though Tim doubted that. What was supposed to happen to Damian when he was half-dead to the world?

So, Tim busied himself with old casework on his laptop, sitting as far away from Damian as possible. He watched the argument unfold outside the door with one eye while watching Damian and Cass with the other. But he never ventured close to Damian’s bedside. He said it was because of his spleen but he was also scared. Not that he’d ever admit it.

“Safe,” Cass said suddenly. Tim drew his eyes away from the argument outside and saw that his sister had crawled up the bed and was now holding Damian’s face in her hands, running her thumb over his unbroken cheekbone. “Safe, little brother.”

Tim abandoned his computer and scrambled to his feet, coming to a stop behind Cass.

“What’s going on?” he asked, though he could tell by Damian’s increased heart rate and the tiny furrows appearing on his face that he was in pain. “Shit, I’ll call the nurse.”

He made to leave but Cass reached out and grabbed his arm, shaking her head at him.

“Stay,” she said. She pressed the nurse call button on Damian’s bedside remote, then motioned for Tim to go on the other side of Damian’s bed. Tim swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded, rounding the bed and standing by Damian’s side.

Damian had begun to tremble, and his eyes were squeezed shut, tears leaking from his eyelids. Cass cooed at her brother, voice soft, but Tim didn’t move. What was he supposed to do in the face of such tremendous pain?

But when Damian grit his teeth, biting down on the tube between his lips, Tim rushed forward on instinct.

“Damian,” he said, gently stroking his brother’s cheek. “Dami, it’s okay. It’s okay. I know it hurts but you can’t bite that. It’s helping you breathe, bud.”

The door opened then and in came two nurses, followed by the rest of the Wayne’s and the doctors. Dick and Bruce tried to rush forward, but they were held back by the doctors. Tim only half-heard Bruce’s growl, continuing to comfort Damian as the nurses pushed pain meds into Damian’s IVs. At a murmur from Dr. Rival, one nurse also increased Damian’s sedative dosage, and after a few minutes, Damian relaxed back into medicated sleep.

Cass wiped the tears from her little brother’s face as Tim continued to mindlessly stroke Damian’s bruised skin, allowing the nurses and doctors to assess him and make sure he was all right. When it was determined that Damian was in no danger, the nurses and half the doctors left the room, and Bruce and Dick were finally allowed to go to Damian’s side.

“Dami!” Dick all but yelled.

“Hush,” Cass said, holding her hand to Dick’s chest. “Quiet.”

Bruce appeared over Tim’s shoulder, a deep and worried frown on his face. He laid his large hand on Damian’s head, gently twirling a black curl around his finger, and spoke.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Woke up,” Cass said. “Cried. Bit.”

“Bit?”

“He was biting the breathing tube,” Tim clarified. When Bruce stiffened, Tim waved a hand at him. “It’s all right, the nurses checked; there’s nothing wrong with the ET tube.”

Bruce exhaled in relief.

“Good.” He turned and spoke to Dr. Kip and Dr. Rival, who had remained in the room. “I want Damian moved to Metropolis Children’s Hospital as soon as possible.”

Dr. Rival nodded his approval, but Dr. Kip seemed offended.

“Mr. Wayne,” he began, “we can provide—”

“I said,” Bruce repeated through gritted teeth, “that I want my son at Metropolis Children’s Hospital.”

Dr. Kip opened his mouth, but Dr. Rival spoke before the other man got a chance.

“Of course, Mr. Wayne,” he said. “That is a very good choice. As soon as Damian is a bit more stable and we’ve discussed things with the physicians over at Metropolis Children’s, he can be moved there.”

“How long will that take?” Bruce asked.

“Two days at the latest, although I expect one should be enough. Damian’s condition is stabilizing quicker than I expected, considering the shape he was brought to us in.”

Bruce hummed.

“Tomorrow then?”

“If there are no complications, then yes,” Dr. Rival said with a nod. Dr. Kip said nothing, seeming peeved. “He’ll be flown there in a specially equipped helicopter.”

Bruce nodded.

“All right. Thank you, doctor. If there’s nothing else, I’d like some time with my family.”

“Of course.” Dr. Rival turned to Dr. Kip, tugging on his sleeve and hissing something at him. They left the room quickly then, sliding the door to Damian’s room shut behind them.

When the doctors were gone, Bruce sighed and dragged a hand down his face. Jason appeared beside him, a scowl on his face, though his eyes were soft when he looked at Damian.

“I told them it was too soon to take him off the sedatives,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. “But do these know-it-all doctors ever listen to us? No, of course not! So, the brat woke up in pain.”

“He was crying,” Tim whispered, still stroking Damian’s cheek. “I. . . I’ve never seen him cry before.”

There was silence for a moment before a hand landed on Tim’s shoulder. A hand Tim recognized as Dick’s.

“Timmy—” he began, but Tim cut him off.

“Bruce,” he said, turning to look up at his father. “What sedative do they have him on?”

“Fentanyl,” Bruce answered.

“What do we use in the cave?”

“That along with Pentobarbital,” Alfred answered. He dipped his head at one of the IVs Damian was attached to. “That’s the medication they just pushed. It makes children fall asleep within minutes.”

“But he’s not on that while he's here?”

“No,” Alfred and Bruce answered at the same time.

Tim nodded.

“That’s probably why he woke up then,” he said. “If he’s on both of those sedatives in the cave, only getting one right now wouldn’t be enough. Right, Jay?”

Jason nodded.

“Poor kid needs an adult dose of sedatives and pain meds to keep him under,” he said unhappily. “Although I don’t know how you’re gonna get him that at a children’s hospital, B.”

Bruce frowned.

“Damian is barely getting enough medication here,” he said. “And he’ll need more specialized pediatric care in the next few days. Plus, follow-up surgeries. Gotham can’t give him those things. Metropolis Children’s is a nationally ranked children’s hospital; they’ll take good care of Damian.”

Everyone nodded slowly.

“What about us?” Dick asked. “Metropolis is an hour away by car. Two when there’s traffic. How are we supposed to get there every day?”

There was a knock on the door, and everyone turned to see none other than Clark Kent standing in the open doorway, a nurse by his side. The nurse seemed annoyed that there were so many people in Damian’s room, but she didn’t say anything; this was the Wayne family after all. She left after handing Clark a mask and some instructions about being quiet.

Clark thanked the nurse and pulled the mask onto his face, pinching it below his nose so his breath wouldn’t fog up his glasses. He stepped into the room, and the bright look in his blue eyes immediately vanished as he looked at Damian, broken on the bed, replaced by worry and fear.

“Clark,” Bruce said, and Clark tore his eyes from Damian to settle on Bruce, who smiled at him under his own mask. “Thank you for coming.”

“Of course,” Clark said. “It was the least I could do.”

“How did the rescue efforts at the schools go, Mister Kent?” Alfred asked, pulling out a chair and motioning for Clark to sit. Clark nodded at the butler in thanks before taking a seat and running a hand through his hair.

“Fine,” he said, remembering with clarity the mangled body of a teacher he had pulled from the rubble. Underneath her destroyed body was a sobbing child, his little face stained with blood and tears. Otherwise he was uninjured. The teacher had died protecting her student. Clark knew that sight would haunt him for some time to come.

A touch on his arm jolted him out of his thoughts.

“Clark?” Bruce was frowning at him worriedly and Clark immediately felt guilty. Bruce should only be worried about his son right now, not him.

“How’s Damian?” he asked, nodding at the little boy attached to what seemed like a million machines and IVs.

“He’s stabilizing,” Bruce answered after a pause. “We’re moving him to Metropolis Children’s Hospital soon.”

Clark nodded.

“I got your message,” he said. “You’re all free to stay in Lois’ and I’s loft while Damian is in the hospital. We have plenty of room.” He smiled. “Though some of you may have to share a bedroom.”

Bruce frowned.

“Clark, I’m sure—”

Clark held up a hand, cutting Bruce short.

“Bruce, I know you’re a billionaire and can probably buy a whole apartment building in Metropolis with a snap of your fingers but just. . . just let me do this for you. And your family.”

Bruce stared at Clark for a few long silent moments before sighing, clearly giving in.

“Thank you, Clark,” he said. “This is very generous of you and Lois.”

“Jon will be there as well,” Clark said and all the Wayne’s stiffened. Jon and Damian were best friends. This would not be easy on the little Kent.

“Does Jon know. . .?” Tim asked.

“He knows that Damian is hurt but he doesn’t know how badly. So does Connor, although he is still with his grandparents. I’m sure he will make an appearance though, Tim.”

Tim nodded and suddenly bolted to his feet, much to everyone’s surprise.

“I’m going to get something to eat from the cafeteria,” he said, eyes looking everywhere but at Damian. “Who wants to come?”

“I’ll go,” Dick said, and Cass nodded as well, prying herself from Damian’s side. Jason took her place, grabbing Damian’s hand and murmuring to him in Arabic.

“I’ll go as well,” Alfred said. “I should judge the quality of the hospital food. I will also bring food back for you, Master Bruce, Master Jason. Would you like anything, Mister Kent?”

“No, thank you, Mister Pennyworth.”

Alfred laid a hand on Clark’s shoulder as he left Damian’s room, following Tim, Dick, and Cass.

“You can call me Alfred, dear boy.” Alfred tugged off his mask and smiled at Bruce and Jason, who were close to Damian, before leaving. “I will be back soon. Take good care of our boy.”

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Chapter Text

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Dick was sitting in the mostly empty hospital cafeteria across from his sister and younger brother, absentmindedly shoveling chocolate cake into his mouth. Alfred was sitting next to him, tsking at their food choices and muttering about how hospitals should really have healthier meal choices, but Dick wasn’t really listening. He was staring at Tim and Cass, mind whirling with thoughts.

Tim was chewing on a plate of chicken tenders, dipping them in way too much ranch before eating them, and Cass was sipping on chicken noodle soup that had probably been made eight hours ago.

Cass seemed absorbed in her soup, as she was absorbed in each task in her life, but Tim seemed preoccupied. It seemed to Dick like he was eating without thinking about it, swallowing the food without tasting it. After Tim ate three chicken tenders with hardly blinking, Dick reached out, laying a hand on his unbroken arm. Tim startled, dropping his last chicken tender; Cass saved it before it fell on the floor.

“Thanks, Cassie,” Tim said, and Cass nodded at him before returning to her soup.

Dick squeezed Tim’s hand, noticing how Tim avoided his eyes.

“Timmy,” he said, voice quiet and gentle, “what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Tim muttered, pulling his hand away from Dick’s to grab at the chicken tender again; Dick didn’t let him get far though.

“Tim, why are you lying? Something’s wrong, I can tell.”

Again, Tim pulled his hand from Dick’s, though this time he didn’t grab at his meal. He dropped his hand into his lap and pulled on his jacket zipper, a motion Dick recognized as one of Tim’s coping mechanisms. He was quiet for a moment, and Dick didn’t say anything, before his brother suddenly exploded.

“Of course, something’s wrong!!” Tim yelled. “What isn’t wrong, Dick?! None of us should be here! Something is always happening in this family and it’s never good!”

“Tim—”

“And of course, it’s Damian! Again!” Tim twisted the fabric of his jacket into his fist, fighting back tears. He lowered his voice and met Dick’s eyes, his own eyes shining with tears. “We’ve already lost him once, Dick! And that first time was so, so awful! We can’t lose him again!”

Oh.

Oh.

It all clicked in place in Dick’s head at once.

He himself had lost two brothers: Jason and Damian. Damian’s death had been awful for him, in that Damian felt like his son more than his brother but it wasn’t the first death he had lived through in the family. Jason’s death had been more traumatic for Dick given that he had been younger at the time, and it was his first brother to die. He had never expected to see Jason again; in Damian’s case, Dick always held a childish hope that he would see his baby brother again.

But Tim hadn’t personally known Jason before he was murdered. Thus, Damian was his first sibling to die. And they hadn’t exactly been on great terms before his death. Despite Dick’s and Bruce’s reassurances, it was obvious Tim still had a lot of guilt about that. After Damian came back, Tim had been making more of an effort to be a big brother to Damian, despite Damian’s hesitance and confusion.

This was a huge setback.

“Tim, listen to me,” Dick said, leaning across the table, “Damian isn’t going to die.”

“How do you know that?” Tim asked and tears were suddenly falling from his eyes. Cass wrapped her brother in a hug and Dick’s heart broke.

“Because I know Damian,” Dick said, forcing a smile over his face. He offered his hand to Tim, palm up, and Tim slowly took it, wrapping his cold fingers around Dick’s calloused hand. Dick’s smile widened. “Dami is a stubborn kid, he wouldn’t let a little building collapse kill him.”

Tim smiled a bit, though it was faint and watery. Cass nodded.

“True,” she said.

Dick grinned at his siblings before becoming serious again.

“He’s hurt and it’s not good, but he won’t die.” He squeezed Tim’s hand. “We have to have faith in Damian, Tim. He’ll be okay.”

Tim nodded slowly before sniffling.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “He’s just so. . . broken. I’m scared.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry for, Timmy,” Dick said, though he wanted to wince at his brother’s words. He sighed. “I’m scared too.”

“Me too,” Cass chirped.

“As am I,” Alfred added, and all three of them turned to the butler to find him gazing at them with kindness and understanding in his grey eyes. He smiled when their eyes met his before he got to his feet. “I should get some food for the others. Miss Cassandra, will you help me choose?”

Cass nodded and jumped to her feet, planting a kiss in Tim’s hair before following Alfred to where the to-go meals were kept and helping him choose a few for the family members still upstairs with Damian.

“How are you, Dick?” Tim asked, and Dick blinked at the question.

“I’m fine,” he said, pulling his hand away from Tim’s and gulping down what was left of his soda. “Worried, but fine.”

Tim scoffed.

“You’re such a liar,” he said. “You’ve been crying all day. Not that I blame you.”

Have I really been crying all day? Dick frowned. Shit, I thought I had it more together than that.

“Jason told me you were with Damian when the paramedics were taking care of him,” Tim said. “That must have been scary.”

Scary was an understatement. It had been terrifying. There was blood and burns and tears and shattered bones and the sound of too-fast heartbeats and over it all, Damian’s broken little voice asking for “baba” over and over again.

Tim’s voice was soft when he spoke next.

“Jay said that Damian was awake for a little bit,” he said, fiddling with the zipper on his jacket. “Did he say anything?”

And suddenly Dick was back in that hole with Damian, who was in terrible pain, whose crooked little fingers were scrabbling at the edges of the Bat emblem on Dick’s chest as his huge eyes searched the cowl. The only word that left his lips was “baba.” Again, and again and again.

“He was asking for Bruce,” Dick answered eventually. “Baba.”

Tim paused.

“Are you sure he wasn’t asking for you?” he asked slowly, and Dick’s head shot up, eyes wide.

“What are you talking about?”

“Dick, you’re Damian’s dad just as much as Bruce is,” Tim said with a small smile, rolling his eyes. “When Bruce disappeared in the time stream, Damian didn’t have anyone. You could have sent him back to Talia or the League, but you didn’t. You took care of him. You gave him a home and people to trust. His temper had really mellowed out by the time B came back. Damian loves you, you know.”

Dick blinked a few times, obviously trying not to cry. He swallowed a lump in his throat before staring at his plate of abandoned cake.

“I don’t know, Tim, he was probably asking for Bruce.”

Tim shrugged, though it seemed like he didn’t agree with Dick.

“Okay then,” he said, then smiled at Alfred, who appeared behind Dick. “Hey, Alfred. Hey, Cass. Ready to head back up?”

“Yes.” Alfred held up a plastic bag filled with food, though he didn’t look pleased. “This hospital’s food is less than satisfactory, I must say.”

Tim laughed as Dick helped him out of his chair, careful not to bump his broken arm.

“I don’t know, Alfie, the chicken tenders were pretty good.”

“Yes, well, you will not be eating chicken tenders in Metropolis, I assure you,” Alfred said, mustache twitching. “I will speak with Ms. Lane and ask if it is all right to use her kitchen. If it is, then I shall prepare meals for all of you that you can bring to the hospital with you.”

“For Damian too?” Cass asked.

Alfred smiled at Cass as they got on the elevator.

“Once Master Damian is able to eat again, then yes, Miss Cassandra, of course. He may eat whatever he likes.”

“Even chicken tenders?” Tim teased.

Alfred sighed, beleaguered, and threw Tim a look.

“Master Damian is a vegetarian, Master Timothy,” he said, and Tim burst into laughter.

Dick and Cass smiled.

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Chapter Text

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When visiting hours ended, the night shift nurse — Mary — was firm in telling all of Damian’s family that they had to leave. “I don’t care that you’re the richest family in Gotham. Rules are rules. You had all be better gone when I come back in twenty minutes.” She was allowing Bruce to stay though, as the hospital had a policy allowing one family member to stay the night with a patient. The slightly uncomfortable armchair stretched out to become what was supposed to be a sort of cot, though when Alfred saw it, Jason thought he was going to have an aneurysm.

“It’s fine, Alfred,” Bruce reassured him, tossing a hospital-issued blanket and pillow onto the chair. “I’ve slept in chairs plenty of times before.”

“Far too many,” Alfred tsked.

Bruce smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

“Keep your phones on,” he said to everyone, who were gathered near the door to Damian’s room, ready to leave before the nurse came back and yelled at them. “I’ll call you all if anything changes.”

“Anything?” Dick asked, looking anxiously over at his baby brother. He seemed calm, but who knew what was going on under all those sedatives? He couldn’t help but be worried.

“Anything,” Bruce reassured. “I’ll tell you to come if it’s bad. But Damian has been quiet all night since Clark came to visit — I wouldn’t expect a change.”

“All right.” Dick nodded and then went back to Damian’s bedside, kissing his forehead and wishing him goodnight before hugging Bruce and leaving the room. Everyone else did this in turn, Alfred being the last to leave. When they all left, Bruce sighed and ran a hand over his face before turning back to Damian and seating himself on the edge of the bed and taking his son’s hand.

Bruce was struck by how small Damian was.

All his children seemed small to him, especially when they were young and hurt, but Damian was his youngest child and most petite. He was lithe and quick but not physically strong in the sense Jason or Dick had been, having a physique more similar to Tim’s. Bruce would never say this to Damian though — he would probably argue with him about it. He smiled as he imagined Damian’s angry reaction before looking at his son’s small fingernails. Blood had pooled under some of them, coloring them an ugly blackish blue, while the others were their normal color.

“Steph and Cass would probably like to paint your nails, Damian,” he said, cracking a smile. Tim liked to have his nails painted by the girls on occasion and once Damian had allowed them to paint his toenails with nail art of puppies and kittens after much cajoling and some blackmail. (The girls were surprisingly good at nail art and had once joked about opening a nail salon). Little Jonathan Kent had loved Damian’s nails so much that he’d asked Cass and Steph to do his nails too, though his were Superman-themed.

Bruce sighed at the thought of the excitable Kent boy, stroking his son’s broken fingers gently.

“I’m sure your friends are very worried about you, habibi,” he said. “They can’t come right now but once you’re in Metropolis I’m sure it will be fine for them to visit.” He sighed. “You’re still in Gotham right now. In Gotham General’s ICU. You’re safe.”

Bruce wasn’t sure how much Damian could hear, but the doctors and nurses told him it was good for him to talk to Damian, so he did. Dick did as well, and Jason spoke solely in Arabic, and Cass would sing. Tim didn’t speak much, but that wasn’t unusual for Tim — he felt lost enough in the med bay at home; the hospital was probably very overwhelming for him.

“All your siblings were here today,” Bruce continued. “They sat with you all day long. Dick and Jason and Tim and Cass. Alfred was here too. He wants to cook for you when you get better.”

There was a knock on the door and Bruce turned, seeing Mary at the entrance to the room. She held a tray in her hands, laden with medication and supplies. She smiled at Bruce as she stepped into the room.

“I’ll be honest, Mr. Wayne,” she said, setting the tray on the counter, “I didn’t think your family would be gone by the time I got here.”

Bruce laughed.

“They didn’t want to go,” he said, “but I told them I’d call if anything happened. Though I don’t think it will. The doctors said he was stabilizing.”

“He is,” Mary said with a nod. She scanned Damian’s hospital bracelet, looped around a tiny wrist, before scanning the medications. “Would you like to know what medications he’s on, Mr. Wayne?”

Bruce hesitated before shaking his head.

“It’s been a long day,” he said. “I’m afraid I won’t remember. If you could print off a list for me, maybe?”

“Of course,” Mary said with a smile. She wiped an alcohol wipe across Damian’s IV before pushing a few syringes slowly into them, eyes flicking between Damian’s chest and the heart monitor. She also listened to Damian’s heart, lungs, and abdomen and felt his pulses before changing the bandages. Then she began to slowly move the pillows that supported Damian’s position. “How does he usually sleep at home?” Mary asked and Bruce laughed.

“On his back, with his hands on his chest.”

The nurse smiled.

“Like a little prince, huh?”

Bruce’s heart flipped nervously at the comparison, thinking of the Ah Ghuls, but he laughed and nodded nonetheless, sure that the nurse’s comment was meaningless.

“I can keep him on his back for a few hours,” Mary said, “but because of the chest tubes and cast he can’t have his hands on his chest.”

“That’s fine.”

“Would you like to help me?” Mary asked, and Bruce nodded; he was no stranger to positioning an unconscious child; he’d done it plenty of times in the Cave with Alfred and Leslie. The nurse noted his comfort and ease and commented on it.

“Have you done this before, Mr. Wayne?” she asked as she checked Damian’s urinary catheter. Bruce hummed.

“My oldest child was hurt many years ago,” he said. “He’s fine now.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. What happened?”

“A run in with some gangsters.” Two Face. “They beat him half to death.” He beat Dick half to death.  

That was the first time he regretted having a Robin. There had been countless events afterwards that made him regret it more. As he stared at Damian’s face, bruised and battered and laced with tubes, he was regretting it again, even though the incident that had caused Damian’s current injuries had absolutely nothing to do with Robin in the first place.

“It must be awful to have two children who suffered terrible injuries,” the nurse said; she had probably said something else while Bruce hadn’t been listening.

“Hrn,” he grunted.

Mary gave him an odd look before tidying up the materials she used to care for Damian and washing her hands.

“I’ll come in every two hours to check in and reposition Damian,” she said. “Try and get some sleep, Mr. Wayne. From what I hear, Damian will be moved to Metropolis soon. Transfers are usually very stressful for patients. Your son will need you.”

Bruce nodded, taking the nurse’s words to heart.

“Thank you, Mary,” he said, and the woman smiled.

“Of course,” she said. “Press the nurse call button if you or Damian need anything. I’ll be here all night. Goodnight, Mr. Wayne. Goodnight, Damian.” She left then, sliding the glass door shut behind her and silencing the soft voices of medical staff outside Damian’s room. The only sounds now were the steady beeps of Damian’s heart monitor and the reassuring whoosh of the ventilator as it pushed air into Damian’s lungs. Bruce settled himself in the chair next to Damian’s bedside, drew the blanket over his legs, and took his son’s hand in his own. He turned off the lights and convinced himself for a brief moment that everything was normal. If he kept his eyes closed, he wouldn’t have to see his broken Robin, his broken son.

“I’m here, Damian,” Bruce whispered, ignoring the warm wetness on his cheeks and the way his voice broke. “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.” He paused and gently squeezed Damian’s fingers, careful not to hurt him. “Sweet dreams, habibi.”

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Chapter Text

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Damian didn’t know what was going on. He didn’t know where he was or what time it was or what day it was. He knew his name and how old he was but that was about it.

Everything was black.

It reminded Damian of the labyrinth in the bowels of the League — a secret place that was never lit with flames. Light was forbidden there. Damian had been tossed down into the labyrinth when he was four and instructed to find his way out of the maze without a light. If he failed, then he would die alone in the dark. He had succeeded, of course, as he always did, and defeated every enemy he fought in that pitch-black place, thus becoming adept at fighting in both the light and the dark.

But this dark felt different from the labyrinth.

It felt oppressive and scary and slightly confusing.

It didn’t smell like sand and dust, but like antiseptic and Father’s cologne. . . An odd mix. Did that mean Father was here somewhere?

Damian opened his eyes and blinked, confused. It was still black but less black than before. The ceiling above him was white and ugly. So, he definitely wasn’t in the labyrinth then. . .

He blinked a few more times, trying to figure out where he was. He couldn’t really move his head so he twitched his fingers, seeing what he would touch would tell him. His left hand touched soft, crisp fabric and his right hand met the calloused fingers of his father.

Damian tried to speak before realizing he couldn’t.

There was a tube in his throat.

Oh. Med bay.

Damian crinkled his nose and made a bit of an effort to wiggle his fingers at his father, hoping to get his attention. It worked, as Father appeared in his vision a moment later, blue-grey eyes shining with worry and fear. His big hand settled on Damian’s cheek and he began to speak; Damian only caught fragments of what he said.

“Damian. . hear. . . me?”

Damian lifted his hand off the bed with more effort than he anticipated to pull at the breathing tube, but Father grabbed his wrist and easily pulled him away, shaking his head.

“No, no. . . help. . . breathe. . .” Father leaned over Damian then and pressed a button, still frowning, and Damian wanted Grayson. Was he calling for Grayson? Or Pennyworth? Pennyworth would shut the heart monitors off. They were annoying him. It was too loud.

But Grayson and Pennyworth didn’t come. There were only strange voices and many footsteps, shoes squeaking on a floor that Damian didn’t recognize. He frowned, confused, realizing that he wasn’t in the med bay.

He tried to pull away from Father’s grip, but Father just hushed him, laying a hand in his hair.

“Safe. . .'ospital. . .”

Oh. He was in the hospital. So, he must be hurt or sick. And as Damian Wayne, not as Robin. But why couldn’t he remember what had happened? And shouldn’t everything hurt more? Damian was so confused.

Then there was a stranger leaning over him, an ugly pock-marked man, and Damian wanted to scream. He heard the heart monitor alarm to alert the staff of his increased heart rate before the man’s face disappeared, replaced by Father.

Baba.

Baba.

Father was speaking in Arabic now. Just to him. That was nice. Damian wished he would do that more.

“Safe. . .” Father said, though his voice and face were getting more muddled and farther away, “medicine. . .sleep. . . here. . .”

Damian closed his eyes and allowed Father’s voice to sweep over him as he lost consciousness; the last thing he heard was his father’s voice telling him he was safe and loved, over and over again.

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Alfred woke up to a text at 3:18 am. At first, he worried something awful had happened, but knew if something had truly gone sideways with Young Master Damian, Master Bruce would have called. A text would not be enough.

So, when Alfred looked at the screen of his phone, he was disturbed but not overly worried.

(Unread) Master Bruce

Damian woke up. Was not upset or in pain but seemed confused. Is asleep again. Will update everyone in the morning. Thought you should know. Please bring Damian’s Al-Sadu blanket tomorrow. I think it will be a comfort to him. Thanks, Alfred.  

Alfred shot back a hasty reply before going to Damian’s room to collect the blanket Bruce had requested. It was a special red blanket made using the Al-Sadu technique, which was the traditional technique of weaving the hair of camels and the wool of goats and sheep into fabric for blankets, carpets, pillows, tents or the decoration of camel saddles and belts. Damian had received the blanket from Dick for Christmas last year, and despite Damian’s vehement protests that he didn’t celebrate the “ridiculous Christian holiday,” he accepted the gift (and others) with grace and thankfulness and even gave gifts to the other family members as well. Alfred had received a beautiful chess set from Damian and they played together whenever there was a chance.

Alfred entered Damian’s room with a sigh, reminding himself he needed to clean up while the boy was in the hospital; the children were usually responsible for keeping their own rooms in the manor clean, but exceptions were made for when they were ill or injured. Damian didn’t like people to come into his room — he was a private person — but would begrudgingly allow Alfred or Dick in when he wasn’t feeling well. Dick always took this opportunity to coddle Damian, hugging him or cuddling him, and often Damian wouldn’t be strong enough to fight Dick off. Titus and Alfred the Cat also took this as their opportunity to sleep on Damian’s bed, as Alfred usually forbid them to do so.

“Oh dear, I need to feed the animals,” Alfred tsked at himself; he’d been so worried about Damian that he’d forgotten about Damian’s most beloved pets — which would be an unforgivable sin in the boy’s eyes. Besides that, Batcow was a demon when she was hungry. . .

Pushing aside the thought of a hungry Batcow, Alfred stepped into Damian’s room and immediately froze, taken aback. At first, he thought someone had broken in, but it only took his old eyes a moment to adjust and recognize the shadowy silhouette of Dick Grayson.

He was sitting cross-legged on Damian’s bed, head bowed with something in his lap. Alfred instantly recognized the Al-Sadu blanket. His heart broke.

“Master Richard. . .” he began, flicking on the light.

Dick didn’t move when Alfred turned the lights on, the only motion he made being the tightening of his hands on the red fabric of the blanket. Alfred stepped inside and shut the door behind him, noticing that Alfred the Cat was curled up at Dick’s feet and Titus was laying on the floor by the fireplace, forlorn. He wondered how long the pets had been in the room, waiting for Damian’s return, and how long it would be before they saw him again.

Dick’s voice snapped Alfred out of his thoughts.

“Alfie,” he said, voice hardly above a whisper, “maybe we should bring this blanket to the hospital for Damian. Just to make it more personal for him.”

“That’s a wonderful idea, sir,” Alfred said; he didn’t mention that Bruce had already requested that the blanket be brought. He stepped forward and seated himself on the edge of the bed next to Dick. “Is there anything else you would like to bring Young Master Damian?”

Dick finally looked up at Alfred, and the butler wasn’t surprised to see that his eyes were red and puffy, and his face was covered in tears and snot. He smiled faintly at Dick.

“Damian is young, Master Richard,” he said. “Despite all his bravado, he is still a ten-year-old boy. A ten-year-old boy who is injured and kept asleep, so he won’t be in pain. There are things that will provide him comfort while he’s asleep, as I’m sure you know.”

Dick blinked.

“Zitka?” he asked.

“A splendid idea!” Alfred said with a grin. “Stuffed animals are an apt replacement for the real ones while Damian is unable to see his pets.” Alfred reached forward and scratched the cat’s ears, who leaned into the touch and purred happily. Dick cracked a small smile.

“The blanket and Zitka it is, then.” He paused. “Maybe I can ask the others to each bring something for Dami too.”

Alfred smiled and nodded.

“That is a wonderful idea, Master Richard. I’m sure your siblings would appreciate the opportunity to help Damian.”

Dick nodded and looked back down at the blanket, running his fingers over the thick red stripes. He seemed to want to say something, so Alfred fell silent, allowing Dick to gather his thoughts. Finally, after a few minutes, Dick spoke.

“When I found Dami. . . he was crying, Alfie,” he whispered, not looking up at Alfred. “When we found him, he cried and just kept asking for Bruce over and over again. He was so upset.” He swallowed roughly. “He was so, so scared. I’ve never seen him like that before.”

Alfred’s heart ached, both for Dick and for Damian. He loved these children as if they were his own grandchildren and thus their pain caused him pain of his own. He laid a hand on top of Dick’s.

“Damian is young, Master Richard,” he reminded Dick, “and he had been trapped for many hours. It would be natural for him to be frightened.”

Dick looked up suddenly, blue eyes shining with fresh tears.

“If I hadn’t been in Blüdhaven, maybe I could have gotten there sooner,” he said, and Alfred did not fail to hear the guilt in his tone. “If I stayed at the manor this week, then maybe I could have come as Batman earlier and Damian wouldn’t—”

“Master Richard, stop. Stop.” Alfred cut Dick off, squeezing his hand tightly. “This useless guilt is only harming you.”

“But—”

“You cannot change what happened to Damian,” Alfred said firmly, “and you cannot change the fact that you were in Blüdhaven at the time of the explosion. What has happened cannot be changed and we can only look forward now.”

Dick stared at Alfred, the tears falling from his eyes and dripping onto Damian’s blanket.

“Alfie. . .”

“I know, dear boy, I know.” He forced a sad, understanding smile onto his face. “I know.”

Dick fell into Alfred’s chest with a sob and Alfred wrapped his arms around the young man, ignoring the warm tears that fell down his own wrinkled cheeks.

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Chapter Text

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The rest of the night was uneventful, and despite Bruce waking up every half hour, Damian’s condition did not change. The doctors had upped Damian’s sedative dosage, believing that it was too low and that was what had caused him to wake up, and since then Damian had shown no signs of consciousness. By the time the sun rose, and Mary appeared for her final rounds, Damian had been quiet for hours.

“He was stable all night,” Mary said, handing Bruce a cup of coffee with a smile. “I would say it was a good night.”

“He woke up,” Bruce said with a frown, sipping at the coffee; it was bitter and barely hot. “I told you all he wasn’t sedated enough, and no one listened to me.”

Mary’s smile faltered for a moment as she readjusted Damian on the bed and checked his vitals.

“Yes, you were right, Mr. Wayne,” she acknowledged, “but you should know that physicians are usually hesitant to give children Damian’s age and size certain amount of sedatives. It can be dangerous.”

Bruce looked unhappy. “Wouldn’t I know best what my child needs?” he asked.

Mary raised an eyebrow at Bruce.

“No offense, Mr. Wayne, but you’re not a doctor,” she said. “And sedatives can be very tricky with children.”

“Hrn,” Bruce grunted; he didn’t need the nurse to tell him that. The first time Damian had been injured enough for sedatives Alfred and Bruce hadn’t put him under enough and the poor boy woke up in the middle of resetting an open fracture. Bruce wouldn’t soon forget his son’s too-white face and swallowed cry of pain. (After the incident, Dick had worked with Tim to find the correct dosage of sedatives for Damian, who had since been receiving the appropriate doses in the Cave whenever necessary.)

It was obviously frustrating for Bruce to sit here in the hospital, nothing more than a normal citizen, incapable of helping his son in any way. The doctors ignored him when he told them Damian needed more sedatives or painkillers, writing him off as just a worried father or the idiotic playboy, and Bruce couldn’t convince them he was right. Only Damian waking when he shouldn’t have — confused, disoriented, upset — seemed to do the trick. It was infuriating. This would never have happened in the Cave. Or even under Leslie’s watch.

Bruce perked up.

Leslie.

Despite their frequent disagreements, Leslie listened to Bruce when it came to his children and their care. She knew that he and Alfred cared for their injuries and illnesses at home by themselves and thus knew them better than anyone else. She listened to Bruce and Alfred when they told her what the best sedative dosage was for Damian or the easiest way to convince Tim to lay down for an examination. She knew them.

Maybe she could help them now.

He waited until Mary left the room before digging his phone out of his pocket. There were a number of text messages, most of them condolences from friends, and Bruce ignored them to dial Leslie. She picked up on the third ring.

“Bruce,” she greeted, “do you know what time it is?”

Bruce looked at the small clock on the wall and winced when he saw the hands reading 5:35 am.

“Sorry,” he apologized. “I needed to call you.”

“Yes, I know.” There was the rustling of papers and Leslie sighed. “I thought you would have called me yesterday, you know. A social worker came over here asking for evidence of Damian’s old injuries.”

Bruce paled; he had forgotten to mention that to Leslie. If she hadn’t been warned, there would be a small chance that Damian would be taken away from him.

“Oh god, Leslie—”

“It’s fine, Alfred called,” Leslie interrupted. “I got everything in order. The social worker was satisfied, as were the doctors from Gotham General I spoke with.”

Bruce’s shoulders dropped in relief and he laid his head in his hands. He would really need to thank Alfred for that one. . .

Leslie’s voice caught Bruce’s attention. It was oddly soft, which disturbed him.

“How is Damian?” she asked.

Bruce paused. What was he supposed to say? Damian was barely alive; bones broken in multiple places with tubes sticking out of his body every which way. He wasn’t even breathing for himself.

“Stable,” Bruce finally answered.

Leslie hummed.

“I suppose there’s a reason you called me?” she asked. “I’m sure it wasn’t just to give me that extremely detailed update.”

“Leslie—”

“Out with it, Bruce.”

Bruce took a deep breath, running his hands down his face. God, he was tired. Sleeping in a chair did not do a man good.

“Damian has woken up a few times because his sedative dosage is too low,” he said. “You know he has a high tolerance for sedatives and painkillers because of the League. The doctors here haven’t been listening to me and I’m worried the doctors at Metropolis Children’s won’t either. Damian shouldn’t have to be waking up this much, Leslie. It’s not good for him.”

There was a long pause on the phone, one that stretched into a minute. Finally, Leslie spoke.

“You’re lucky I used to travel around,” she said. She sighed. “The doctors in Gotham don’t listen to anyone, least of all the doctor of a dingy volunteer clinic, but I have a few connections in Metropolis. I’ll get in touch with them.”

Bruce felt relief flood him and he reached out to his son, gently laying a hand on Damian’s head. Damian didn’t react to his touch, which was comforting, and Bruce smiled, both at him and Leslie, despite the fact neither could see him.

“Thank you, Leslie,” he said. “Thank you so much.”

Leslie hummed.

“I’ll let you know when I’ve finished,” she said. “Send Damian my best wishes.”

She hung up before Bruce could say another word. Bruce stared at the screen for a moment, then chuckled and shook his head.

“That was Leslie, habibi,” he said, carding his fingers through Damian’s dark curls. “She sends her best wishes.” Bruce looked up at the monitors showing Damian’s vitals, pleased at how steady they were. “You’re going to go Metropolis Children’s Hospital today, Damian,” he said. His lips quirked up in a half-smile, thinking of his fiery son. “I know you don’t think of yourself as a child, and yes, you have been through more than any child ever should, but the people at that hospital know how to take care of you better than they do here. And everyone will be there — we’re all going to Metropolis with you. You won’t be alone, Damian, I promise.” He leaned forward and kissed Damian’s forehead, avoiding the bruises that littered his skin. “I know how much you don’t like being alone, habibi,” Bruce whispered. “Someone will always be with you.”

Bruce sat by the bed the rest of the morning, speaking softly to his son, waiting until visiting hours began, and smiled softly when the rest of his children (and Alfred) entered, gifts in their arms.

************************************************

Chapter Text

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Dick was holding Zitka close to his chest, all but clutching at the toy, and tried to clamp down his anger. He was furious. On the way to the hospital this morning, Alfred had told them he had gotten a text from Bruce in the middle of the night saying Damian had awoken, confused and disoriented, and Dick had nearly bitten through his tongue in his effort not to snap at the butler. It wasn’t his fault, after all. It was Bruce’s — always so secretive and private, even when he had no right to be. It made Dick want to scream.

“—ick. Dick!” Someone kicked his chair and Dick jumped, startled, nearly dropping Zitka on the hospital’s tile floor.

“Ah!” he cried. “What the heck?!”

“Dude, are you even listening?” Jason demanded, toeing Dick’s chair again and rolling his eyes. “It’s present time. You’re first.”

Dick made a face at his younger brother before looking down at the stuffed elephant in his arms. Zitka was an old and precious toy, one of Dick’s only remaining belongings from his time at the circus, and he had slept with the toy from the time he was a baby until the age of fifteen. Even then, he couldn’t bear to part with the toy, since it reminded him of his parents. When Dick was young, he used to carry the toy everywhere with him, dropping it in water and hay and even the real elephants’ poop sometimes. When he was little, he chewed on its right ear to the point that the fur came off and his mother replaced it with a patch of one of her dresses. It was all that remained of her besides a faded family photograph and a poster of the Flying Grayson’s.

When Dick had come to live with Bruce, Zitka and a few pairs of clothes were all he brought with him. For the first few weeks, he carried the stuffed elephant everywhere with him, and Bruce never mentioned it. Alfred had even addressed the toy, which had made Dick smile. He brought the toy to his first day of school at Gotham Academy and nearly punched another kid in the face for making fun of him. When he became Robin, Zitka was left behind but would make reappearances in the med bay when Dick was badly hurt or dosed by fear toxin. As Dick grew up, Zitka was left in his room, carefully placed on his shelf, close and never forgotten. She had brought comfort to Jason and Tim at certain points during their careers as Robin, and recently had become a friend to Damian. It was only a few months ago that Dick had introduced Zitka to Damian.

The Batfamily had a nasty run-in with Scarecrow, and during the subsequent scuffle Damian’s rebreather had become damaged. Of course, the stubborn boy had refused to mention this to anyone, and no one had even noticed anything was wrong until Jason went to ruffle Damian’s hair. That’s when Damian had flinched, arms coming up to guard his face, and Jason immediately dropped his hand.

He said something in Arabic to Damian, which caught Bruce’s attention, and once again Dick found himself wishing he knew the language. But for now, it was enough for Dick to know that Damian was acting strange; he usually scowled whenever Jason ruffled his hair, but he never flinched from his brother, understanding that Jason wouldn’t hurt him. His flinches spoke of fear, fear that Dick recognized from Damian’s earliest days in Gotham.

Dick walked slowly up to Damian and Jason before crouching in front of his little brother, keeping his hands visible and smiling disarmingly.

“Hey there, Dami,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

“I am fine, Grayson,” Damian answered, but his tone was too short and clipped, and up-close Dick could see how tense his brother’s muscles were and how his breaths came a little too fast.

“I’m sure you are, bud,” Dick lied. “Can I see your rebreather?” When Damian stiffened, Dick removed his own, and the others followed suit. “It’s okay, Dami, Crane is gone now. It’s safe to take that off.”

Damian nodded once, jerkily, and removed his rebreather. Dick saw how his fingers shook, though he didn’t comment on it. When Damian handed him the mask, he smiled.

“Thanks, Lil’ D,” he said. He looked at the mask in the poor lighting, frowning at it. At first, he could see nothing wrong with it, but Damian was acting strange, there had to be—

“It’s broken,” Tim said from behind Dick’s shoulder. He pointed at a hairline crack along the nose of the rebreather and Dick’s eyes widened. His eyes flicked from Tim to Bruce, who both nodded and went to the Batmobile to collect the antidote to the fear toxin. Damian’s eyes followed them but flicked back to Jason constantly, as if he was waiting for him to do something. Dick opened his mouth to speak when Jason cut him off.

“Dames, you got dosed with fear toxin,” he said. “Do you know what that means?”

Damian just stared at him and Jason rolled his eyes.

“Damian—” he began and took a step forward. Dick understood what Damian was going to do only a split second before he did, which was the only reason Jason didn’t lose an arm.

With an alarmed cry, Dick lunged forward at the same time Damian drew his sword, knocking the blade away and wrapping Damian in his arms. Damian immediately began to struggle, at first silently, but when he couldn’t escape Dick’s grip, he began to scream.

It was a loud scream, more similar to the keen of a dying animal than the cry of a scared boy, and Jason slammed his hands over his ears, swearing and stumbling back. Tim nearly dropped the antidote from where he was preparing it near the Batmobile, but Bruce saved the syringe before it shattered on the ground. Dick wanted to react like Tim and Jason, wanted to run away from the terrible sound Damian was making, but his brother was suffering, and he was the oldest. He had a duty.

“Shh, shh,” Dick hushed, peppering the top of Damian’s head with soft kisses. “Shh, Dami, it’s okay. It’s okay, you’re safe.”

Damian just screamed louder and thrashed in Dick’s grip, and in the next moment he bit down hard on Dick’s arm. Dick grimaced; Damian would have drawn blood if he wasn’t wearing the Nightwing suit. Nonetheless, he’d still have some pretty nasty bruises tomorrow.

“Damian, it’s okay, it’s okay,” he reassured, beginning to rock them both side to side. “It’s okay. You’re safe. Nothing is going to hurt you.”

“No! Liar! Kadhaab!” Damian screeched again and kicked hard at Dick, boots colliding with his shins. “Autrukhni!”

Dick had no idea what Damian was saying, though it was obvious he was angry and scared.

“Dami, it’s okay,” he repeated. “It’s okay.”

Tim and Bruce approached then, and when Damian saw them, he went limp. At first, Dick thought he had passed out, but suddenly Damian was scrabbling at his face and arms, trying to climb up his chest and sobbing. The switch from anger to terror was outright horrifying.

“No, no, no, NO!” Damian screamed. “Don’t!! I’ll be better! I’ll do better! Don’t send me back! I’m sorry, I’m sorry! ‘Ana asif!!”

Jason dropped to his knees next to Dick and Damian, speaking in a calm voice that he usually reserved for child victims.

“Damian,” he said, “it’s okay. You didn’t do anything wrong, akhi.”

Damian’s eyes, wild and afraid, settled on Jason and words spilled frantically from his lips in a language that Dick did not recognize. It sounded like Arabic but with an accent and a few words that Dick could not place. Damian babbled and sobbed at Jason, who responded calmly in the same language, even as Dick continued to rock Damian back and forth in his lap.

“It’s League dialect,” Tim offered, and Dick turned to see that his younger brother had appeared at his side, laying out the antidote and a few extra supplies on the ground. Bruce was hovering behind him, frowning deeply as he listened to Damian and Jason speak. Whatever they were saying was upsetting, as Bruce began to fidget, something he only did when he was uncomfortable.

Dick looked back at Tim.

“League dialect?” he asked.

“Hm,” Tim hummed. “It’s Arabic with a few variations. The League is thousands of years old; it makes sense for them to have their own language.” Tim grabbed Damian’s arm then and Damian yelped, startled by his brother’s sudden appearance. He shrieked and tried to bit Tim’s hand, but Bruce appeared and gently held Damian still, nodding at Tim.

Damian began to sob as Tim cut away a portion of the Robin costume and wiped his arm with an alcohol swab. His Arabic switched back to English.

“I’m sorry!” he cried. “I’m sorry! I won’t do it again! I won’t hurt anyone! Let me go! I’m sorry!”

“Damian, son,” Bruce murmured, his voice a soft rumble, “it’s all right. We’re helping you.”

Damian choked on a hysterical sob when Tim injected him with the needle, tears and snot covering his small face. He wailed.

Baba!” he screamed. “Baba!!”

A collective silence fell over the group then, everyone holding their breath, but Tim — bless his heart — broke it when he pulled the needle from Damian’s arm.

“Done,” he announced. “He’ll need more when we get back to the Cave, though.”

Dick nodded, by now well-familiar with the course of fear toxin recovery.

“Of course,” he said hollowly. “Yeah, of course.” He stared at the little boy in his lap, who was no longer full-on sobbing but was still crying, clearly exhausted. Damian caught him staring and blinked tiredly at him before curling into his chest. He almost immediately fell asleep, which made Dick chuckle hollowly.

“Let’s go home,” Bruce said, his voice tight with emotion. He began to stalk quickly away, but before he could get far Dick grabbed onto his cape. Bruce froze.

“B,” Dick said, “can you carry him?”

Bruce didn’t even fight Dick like he usually would. Instead, he simply turned around and scooped Damian into his strong arms, wrapping the young boy in his cape. Damian mumbled something in Arabic before turning his face into Bruce’s armor and curling his fingers around the Bat symbol. He quieted. Bruce laid a gloved hand in his hair and sighed shakily before looking down at Dick.

“You’re hurt,” he said.

“What?” Dick looked down at his arm and saw that there was a large gash spanning from his elbow to wrist, blood dripping sluggishly from it. “Oh,” he said. “Dami must have got me when I disarmed him.”

“Have Agent A look at it,” Bruce said before turning and walking to the Batmobile, Damian still cradled in his arms. The others followed more slowly, Tim and Jason helping Dick to his feet, Jason’s face far too pale. When Dick asked him what Damian had said, Jason refused to say. He held Damian on the ride back to the Cave, singing to him in Arabic, and refused to leave his side in the med bay until Alfred said he would be all right. Bruce then carried Damian to his room and tucked him in; Dick stayed by his side through the night after Alfred stitched up his arm, eager to soothe away the nightmares he was sure would linger. Titus and Alfred the Cat slept with Damian, as did, for the first time, Zitka.

And when Damian awoke around 4 in the morning, frantic and scared, Dick was there.

“Dami, it’s all right, you’re okay, you’re safe,” he said, hands running up and down his little brother’s arms. “You’re home, you’re safe.”

Damian had awoken with a startled gasp and choked sob and didn’t seem to register at first where he was, but as Dick continued to speak, his green eyes cleared, and he calmed down. He licked his lips and blinked at his brother.

“Richard. . .”

Dick grinned.

“Yeah, that’s me,” he said, squeezing Damian’s shoulders before pulling away. “How are you feeling?”

Damian cocked his head to the side, as much an acknowledgement that he was feeling like shit as Dick was going to get. He rubbed at his eyes tiredly.

“Crane?” he asked.

“B got him back to Arkham,” Dick answered. “He won’t be breaking out anytime soon.” He paused. “Hopefully.” You never really knew with Gotham.

Damian hummed and then hung his head.

“Father must be disappointed in me,” he said, voice hardly above a whisper, and Dick raised his eyebrows in shock.

“What?! Dami, no! No, of course he’s not! Why would you think that?”

“I compromised the mission tonight,” Damian answered, still not looking at Dick. “I made a fool of myself in the field.”

Dick’s heart broke; he wanted to cry. Damian hadn’t been with them long, but he had hoped at least a year in Gotham had changed his mind set a little bit. The League had taught Damian failure was to be met with punishment, that injuries were unacceptable, that fear was a weakness. Dick had hoped that their time together as Batman and Robin had changed Damian’s views.

But then he remembered the books on childhood trauma he had secretly read on his iPad, the focus they put on how long it took for children to recover from the things that had happened to them. And it wasn’t as if Damian had only experienced these things once or twice — he’d been raised with these thoughts ingrained into his bones, of course it would take longer than a year to get through to him.

Dick smiled softly at his baby brother.

“Damian,” he said, “you didn’t do anything wrong. Your rebreather broke and you got hurt. We’ve all gotten hurt before, and we’ve all had a dose of fear toxin too.”

Damian squinted at Dick suspiciously.

“Even Father?”

“Oh, especially Bruce,” Dick laughed. He ruffled Damian’s hair, who batted his hand away with a scowl. During the brief scuffle, Zitka rolled off the bed, where she fell onto Damian’s carpet with a soft plop.

“Ack! Dami, you dropped Zitka!” Dick cried, grabbing the toy off the ground and giving it a small kiss. He then held the stuffed elephant out to Damian, pouting at him. “Apologize to her!”

Damian stared at the ragged stuffed toy, then gaped at his brother incredulously.

“What is that?” he asked.

“Her name is Zitka and she is my favorite elephant in the whole world. You have to apologize to her.”

“It’s not an elephant,” Damian sneered, “it’s a stuffed animal.”

“It’s a she,” Dick said, “and you should be nice to her. C’mon, Lil’ D, you like animals.”

“I like real animals, not toys. I’m not a child, Grayson.”

“Lucky for you, Zitka isn’t just for children,” Dick said with a beaming smile. “I slept with her until I was fifteen.”

Damian blinked at him.

“Until you were fifteen?” he echoed. “Seriously?”

“Yep! She was a gift from my parents!” This made Damian pause, and he looked at the toy with a bit more respect. He understood parents and loss, the confusion and pain that their sudden disappearance caused. Dick’s smile softened. “She was also with me whenever I got a dose of fear toxin — she smells like lavender.” He held the toy out to Damian again. “Wanna smell?”

Damian narrowed his eyes.

“How does. . . she. . . smell like lavender?”

Dick chuckled.

“Alfie hand washes her in a fancy detergent and fabric softener. I also keep her next to a bouquet of lavender flowers because they were my mom’s favorite.”

“Lavender is commonly used in aromatherapy,” Damian said, finally reaching for the toy. “It is said to reduce anxiety and stress and promote calmness and relaxation.” He wrapped his arms around the stuffed elephant, surprised at how soft and sturdy the old toy was despite the numerous patches and stitches. After a moment Damian sniffed it warily and his eyes widened in surprise. Dick laughed.

“Did you not believe she smelled like lavender?” he asked.

“I didn’t think you were lying,” Damian said testily, “I just thought the scent would be fainter. This is an old toy, after all.”

Dick smiled.

“She is old, but she’s been a great friend. She’s helped all of the kids who lived here.”

Damian frowned.

“Even Drake?” he asked.

“Even Tim,” Dick answered with a laugh. “Although not very often.” He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Don’t tell anyone, but Jason loved Zitka when he was Robin. Bruce told me he used to sneak into my room and take her.”

Damian’s eyes widened.

“Really? Todd did that?”

“Sure did!” Dick said. “He was such a punk when he was Robin. I mean, he still is, but he was softer back then. A little more hopeful. And skinnier.”

Damian frowned, trying to imagine the muscular Jason Todd he knew as a skinny boy. It was hard to picture.

“I don’t believe you, Grayson,” he said after a few moments, and Dick laughed.

“You don’t have to, there’s photographic evidence,” he said with a wink. “We can through the photo albums tomorrow. For now, though, you should get some more rest.”

Damian’s grip on Zitka tightened and he shook his head.

“I do not want to sleep,” he said.

Dick smiled.

“That’s okay,” he said. “How about I read to you then?” He reached forward and grabbed a book from Damian’s nightstand, almost bursting into tears when he saw the title. “Moby Dick? Seriously, Dami?”

Damian shrugged, nestling himself under the blankets and hugging Zitka close to his chest.

“Todd gave it to me.”

“Of course, he did,” Dick muttered. On the bright side, he thought, at least it was boring enough that it would probably lull Damian back to sleep in ten minutes. “What chapter are you on, Dami?”

“Five,” Damian answered, and Dick began to read. Sure enough, within the first two sentences Damian was yawning and a paragraph later, he was asleep, Zitka nestled under his chin, his little button nose buried in her lavender-scented fur. Dick laughed and set the book aside, he himself falling asleep in the chair by Damian’s bedside a few minutes later.

Now, months later, as Dick sat in a different chair at a different bedside, he wanted to scream. He wanted to throw Zitka and run out of the room, he wanted to sob and break something, but instead he just stepped forward, ignoring his family’s eyes, and settled Zitka between Damian’s chest and unbroken arm before kissing his baby brother’s forehead, wanting more than anything for him to wake up and be whole again.

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Chapter Text

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Ash was surprised when she got a call from the Air Ambulance team at Gotham General asking for her help with a transfer. She had been trying to get a job with them for months now, but it was an extremely competitive and hard job to get, and the hijab on Ash’s head didn’t do her many favors. She had been repeatedly passed up for white men and women who were less qualified than her, which was. . . frustrating to say the least.

But Ash refused to give up. She had extensive training and certifications in flight medicine, both adult and pediatric, and had proved herself on the streets of Gotham as a capable paramedic. It didn’t matter what anyone thought of her; she knew her worth and she would get the job she wanted someday.

She just didn’t think someday would come so soon.

She arrived at Gotham General around noon and was greeted by the heads of the Air Ambulance Team, a surly looking physician and a grumpy flight paramedic, and was shocked to see none other than Timothy Wayne and his father, Bruce Wayne, standing with them.

When Tim saw Ash, his face lit up.

“Ash!” he said, waving at her; she noticed one of his arms was casted and in a sling. Seems like he went to the hospital after all. “Hey!”

“Hi Tim,” Ash greeted. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here. How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay,” Tim said. “A bit of ibuprofen does the trick for my head and the arm.” His smile faltered for the briefest moment. “My little brother is in the ICU though. I heard you took care of him.”

“Yeah I did,” Ash said. “He’s a strong kid.”

Tim smiled at Ash and nodded fiercely in agreement before she turned to the Gotham General Air Ambulance Team and shook their hands.

“I have to say that I was surprised to hear from you,” she admitted. “Very happy, but also surprised.”

Steve, the senior flight paramedic, huffed, and the physician, Dr. Adams, forced a smile across his face.

“I’ll be honest with you, Ms. Shadid,” he said, “you weren’t our first choice. But Mr. Wayne here asked for you by name.”

Ash raised her eyebrows, surprised, and turned to Bruce Wayne, whom she had never met in person before. His face was all over television, the tabloids, and social media — the handsome playboy billionaire with a penchant for adopting stray kids — but he looked nothing like what Ash had expected.

His clothes — which probably cost more than her yearly salary — were rumpled and wrinkled and he was slightly hunched over, clearly exhausted. His usually perfectly styled hair was tangled, like he’d been running his hands through it all night, and there were grey circles under his eyes and stubble on his face. He forced a smile across his lips when Ash looked at him and offered his hand — which was huge, holy shit — to her.

“Ms. Shadid, I have to thank you for caring for my sons,” he said, eyes shining with unshed tears. “It means so much to me.”

“It wasn’t just me,” Ash said. “It was my whole crew.”

“Of course,” Bruce acknowledged, “but Batman told me that you were the one who treated Damian first. Tim told me you also took care of him.”

“True,” Tim piped up.

Ash blushed.

“I was just doing my job, Mr. Wayne.”

“Still, it means the world to me,” Bruce Wayne said again. “Which is why I asked you to come back.” Ash nodded at him to continue speaking and Mr. Wayne dipped his head. “Damian is being moved to Metropolis Children’s Hospital today,” he explained. “The Gotham General staff is moving him by helicopter since he is so badly injured and needs to be in Metropolis as soon as possible.”

Ash nodded; she understood. Sick and injured children were often airlifted from Gotham General to Metropolis Children’s because Gotham lacked the resources to care for them. This could be easily solved if some of Gotham’s richer citizens — i.e. Bruce Wayne — pitched in to build a much-needed children’s hospital, but Ash held her tongue. This wasn’t the time nor place to be mentioning the matter.

“I know that Gotham General has their own specific air ambulance crew,” Bruce Wayne said, “but when Tim mentioned you to me, I requested that you be a part of Damian’s transport team.”

“‘Request’ is a rather weak word, Mr. Wayne,” Dr. Adams said, and Ash knew then that Bruce Wayne hadn’t just asked for her, he had demanded her. And the demands of Bruce Wayne were not to be ignored, considering he was one of the hospital’s top donors.

Bruce ignored the doctor and continued speaking to Ash.

“Damian requires special attention, and it’s not simply because he’s my son.” He threw Dr. Adams and Steve a withering look and they avoided his eyes. Something happened between them earlier. A bad argument, Ash guessed. “He has a high pain tolerance and sedative threshold. No one here listens to me about it and he’s woken up three times already despite my constant requests to up his dosage.”

Ash’s eyes widened.

“Three times?” she said. “In the ICU?”

“Yes.” Mr. Wayne clicked his tongue, clearly unhappy. “He’ll probably wake up in the helicopter and since I’ve been expressly forbidden from riding with him—” another glare — “then I thought a face he might recognize would be helpful.”

Ash paused to consider Bruce Wayne’s words.

“Mr. Wayne,” she said carefully, “I doubt that Damian will remember me. He wasn’t conscious for long when we met the first time. He was also in a great amount of pain. People tend to forget the things that happened to them when they were first injured. I also gave him a dose of ketamine, which is a drug that would help him forget what was going on.”

Bruce Wayne nodded and sighed. He rubbed at his face, looking exhausted, and Ash opened her mouth to apologize but suddenly Tim spoke up.

“Do you speak any languages besides English?” he asked.

Ash stiffened, offended.

“That’s presumptuous,” she said. Internally she rolled her eyes. White people. . .

Tim winced and raised his hand, shaking it in front of his face.

“Oh shit! Oh no! That’s not what I meant! Fuc — I mean, fudge —” He took a deep breath. “I didn’t mean to offend you,” he said sheepishly. “It’s just that in our family, lots of us speak more than one language. It’s kind of a thing when everyone is adopted from all over the world.”

Ash blinked at the pale white teenager, seriously doubting he spoke more than English and basic Spanish he learned in high school.

“How many languages do you speak?” she asked.

“Twenty,” Tim answered instantly, and Ash’s jaw dropped.

“Twenty?!” she echoed. She looked over at Dr. Adams and Steve, who looked equally shocked, and then at Bruce Wayne, who was rubbing the bridge of his nose tiredly.

“Yeah, I’m fluent in English — obviously — Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Mandarin, Cantonese—”

“Tim,” Bruce interrupted, and Tim stopped, blushing. He scratched his cheek.

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

“Do you speak twenty languages too?” Ash asked Bruce; she couldn’t help but ask.

“No,” Bruce said, “I speak forty.”

Forty?!?”

“I’m an international businessman,” Bruce said with a shrug. “It’s logical for me to know many languages.”

Ash nodded slowly; she hadn’t thought of this, though she supposed it made sense. It was probably easier to get good deals when you spoke your client’s language. But forty languages, holy shit. . . .

“Do you speak Arabic?” Bruce asked, and Ash nodded.

“Yes,” she said, “my family is from Egypt.”

Bruce nodded, seeming pleased by her answer.

“Damian’s first language is Arabic,” he said. “It’s the language he reverts back to when he’s frightened or upset. He knows other languages, of course, but he is most comfortable with Arabic.”

Ash nodded. She remembered how Damian had repeatedly called for “baba” when they first found him in the rubble, and how in the ambulance he had begun to wail for “akhi.” Both were familial terms in Arabic; Damian had been asking for his family and it reminded Ash far too much of her little brothers and nephews. It had broken her heart and had been haunting her dreams for the past two nights.

“I’ve been trying to speak to Damian in Arabic as often as possible,” Bruce said, “as it calms him down. As you are somehow the only staff member of Gotham General who speaks Arabic, I’d like you to go with Damian in the helicopter to Metropolis. You are a trained medical professional who has met my son before and can speak Arabic. You’re probably the only one who can calm him down without making him hurt himself.”

Ash nodded slowly. She understood what Bruce Wayne wanted and that his desire came from a place of love for his son, but she was concerned. It was obvious the air ambulance team didn’t want her there and she was worried that it would compromise Damian’s care. She pulled Mr. Wayne aside and told him as much in private. He scowled.

“Although I’m not allowed on the helicopter, I requested—” that word again — “to be on speaker phone with the crew the entire ride.”

Ash nodded, slightly relieved. This was a good way to ensure that everything on the transport was going smoothly and would give Bruce Wayne and his family a sense of control, even if they didn’t actually have it.

“All right, Mr. Wayne,” Ash said, “I’ll be on Damian’s transport team.”

Bruce deflated in relief, as if he had been expecting Ash to refuse.

“Thank you,” he said, shaking her hand and smiling. “Thank you so much. I’ll make sure to pay you —”

Ash cut him short.

“Mr. Wayne, I don’t need any extra money,” she said. She smiled faintly, though it didn’t reach her eyes. “Damian is one of the first Arab children I’ve seen in Gotham. He reminds me of my little brothers. I would very much like to care for him.”

Bruce’s eyes softened and he patted Ash’s hand before releasing it, still smiling.

“Thank you, Ms. Shadid,” he said. “I am very grateful.”

“Me too,” Tim added, and Ash dipped her head at both of them, telling them she would see them soon before watching them leave for the ICU. When the elevator doors closed on them, she turned to Dr. Adams and Steve, who were both glaring at her, clearly displeased that she had gotten along so well with Bruce Wayne. She sighed internally.

Now to deal with this nonsense. . .

“Gentlemen,” she said with a smile, “shall we get started, then?”

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Chapter Text

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Bruce was gripping his phone tightly in his hand, listening to the crackle of voices over the speaker, as Alfred pulled the limo up to the hospital curb. It had been only ten minutes since Damian had been rolled out of his room in the ICU, all of the room’s huge machines replaced with portable ones and laid on his bed. Dick had been concerned Damian wasn’t stable enough to be moved but after much reassurance from the doctors, nurses, and Bruce, he finally allowed Damian to be taken away after a kiss to his forehead.

Both Bruce and Dick were listening intently to the chatter from the phone, so tense they seemed ready to shatter. Tim was sure if he tapped them with a hammer they would break.

There was the sound of a few muffled voices before Ash’s voice came over the phone, clear and calm.

“Mr. Wayne,” she said, “this is Ash. We have Damian all settled and ready to go. He’s stable and asleep. We’re taking off in 5 minutes.”

“Thank you, Ash.”

“Of course, Mr. Wayne.”

Her voice faded into background noise, falling into a blur of medical terms, the beeps of machines, and the roar of an engine. Bruce tried to listen to the heart monitor but was snapped out of his thoughts by his daughter appearing at his side.

Cass tugged on Bruce’s sleeve, pointing at the limo that had pulled up.

“Go,” she said. “Metropolis.”

Bruce nodded and smiled at his daughter before climbing into the car after her. He buckled his seatbelt, absently reminding his children to do the same, and they grumbled out of habit, Jason the loudest as per usual. He listened to the noises over the phone for a few minutes, but when nothing seemed out of the norm, he set the phone aside and looked out the window, surprised to see they were already on the highway.

“Isn’t taking a limo kinda excessive?” Jason asked.

“It’s the only car we have that fits the whole family and the luggage,” Bruce said, rubbing at his eyes. God, he was tired. “Unless you all wanted to take the sports cars separately.”

“Uh, that would have been awesome!”

“No, it would have been terrible for the environment,” Tim said, texting someone on his phone; probably Steph. “B, why do you only have limos and sports cars?”

“Do you want me to get a minivan?” Bruce asked and Jason snorted. Dick laughed.

“Yes!” he cried. “Then we can put one of those Batman decals on it!”

“Absolutely not!” Bruce cried, indignant at the idea of his non-existent minivan being vandalized like that.

“B, everyone already knows you’re a Batman fanboy,” Dick said. “Remember when you founded Batman Inc. and told the whole world you were financially supporting Batman?”

“That was hilarious,” Jason said, leaning back and placing his hands behind his head. “Twitter was having a field day with you, old man.”

Bruce frowned. He knew Batman, Inc. hadn’t been the best move for his “Bruce Wayne” persona, but he’d never heard anything about Twitter.

“What?”

“Oh no, Tiktok was way funnier,” Tim said. “I saved so many because they made me laugh till I cried.”

“Shit, really?!” Jason cried, leaning forward. “Send them to me!”

“Get a Tiktok and I will,” Tim countered, not looking up from his phone.

“That’s stupid. I’m too old for a Tiktok.”

Tim rolled his eyes.

“Dick has one.”

“Tim!!” Dick screamed in betrayal and Jason howled with laughter.

“Oh my god, no way!! Pull it up, let me see!!”

“No! NO!” Dick cried, nearly falling out of his seat in his attempt to grab Tim’s phone. “TIM!!”

But Dick failed to grab Tim’s phone and Jason managed to watch Dick do three Tiktok dances, one of them “Savage,” before Tim took mercy on Dick and put his phone away. However, the damage had already been done. Jason was bent in half, cackling, clutching his sides.

“Dickie, oh my god! Oh, my gooooddd.”

“It’s not that funny,” Dick pouted, crossing his arms over his chest. “Besides, I have lots of likes. And all the comments are nice.” He huffed. “I’m popular.”

“Dream on, birdbrain,” Jason retorted, “you don’t even have that many followers.”

“I do too!” Dick said hotly. “You—!”

“Damian has more,” Tim interrupted, and Dick and Jason immediately fell silent, and Bruce and Cass, who had stopped listening to the bickering, turned their attention to the third Robin. Tim noticed the attention and sighed, pulling out his phone again. “Honestly,” he said, “does no one in this family know anything? Jon convinced Damian to get a Tiktok a while ago and it’s a pretty popular page. It’s an art Tiktok.”

“So, it’s where he shares his art?” Dick asked. Tim nodded, handing his brother his phone, Damian’s Tiktok already pulled up.

“Yeah, he shows time lapses of his drawings and paintings and the finished product. They’re super popular. This one was 50 thousand likes.”

Dick watched the most recent video, holding out the phone so the others could see. It was a video of Damian drawing Titus. It started with a short clip of the dog lying in front of the fireplace and drooling, then transitioned to a time lapse of Damian’s tan hand drawing the dog on a piece of paper, classical music in the background, his tan hand deftly using pencil and charcoal to create a realistic portrait of the animal. At the end of the video, it zoomed out to show the finished product next to Titus, an almost perfect replica, before beginning again.

The comments were all supportive and sweet, complimenting his skill and how adorable his dog was, though Dick noticed a few nasty comments here and there demanding he show his face. It seemed that none of Damian’s videos featured his face, so some people doubted he was the one drawing. Damian never deigned to respond to these comments, though he thanked everyone who complimented his art.

Tapping on his profile picture — a photo of Alfred the Cat and Titus — took Dick to Damian’s home page. He snickered at Damian’s username, which, of course, was “thebloodson.” Jason rolled his eyes.

“Why is he so weird about that?” he huffed. “He knows we’re all your kids, right, B?”

Bruce sighed.

“One of the first things Damian could rely on was his identity as my biological child,” he said. The others opened their mouths to protest, but Bruce held up his hand to cut them off. “His mother dropped him off in Gotham with nothing but that knowledge; it was one of the few things he definitively knew. He clung to that identity.”

Everyone nodded slowly. They had not thought of this before, least of all Tim, who had been attacked by Damian under this exact excuse. He frowned in thought.

“But I don’t understand why he still uses that phrase,” he said. “That’s his username on Twitter and Snapchat too. It’s not like he identifies solely as your kid anymore, Bruce.”

Dick shrugged.

“It’s probably familiar,” he said. “And easy to remember if he ever forgot his username.”

“And it annoys you,” Jason added with a smirk at Tim. Tim glared at him.

“Shut up,” he said.

Jason just snickered and turned his gaze to the window, where the limo sped past cars on the highway. He figured they were about halfway to Metropolis by now. He half-listened as Dick and Tim continued to discuss Damian’s Tiktok and Twitter, but he was bored now and didn’t really care. He was mostly focused on the radio chatter coming from Bruce’s phone, the words of the paramedics’ faint over the roar of the helicopter engine and beeps of the heart monitor. Everything seemed to be going fine so far, but the paramedics’ voices were tense and short, and it seemed like they were arguing.

And then, suddenly, the heart monitors were blaring.

Tim and Dick immediately shut up, eyes snapping to Bruce’s phone, and Bruce snatched it up in a white-knuckled grip, eyes wide.

“Ms. Shadid?” he called. “What’s going on?” When no one responded, he shook the phone, as if that would make someone speak. “Ash!! Tahdathi 'iilay!”

The Arabic seemed to catch someone’s attention, as a woman’s voice suddenly appeared over the phone, clear and far too calm. Cold dread swept over Jason.

“Mr. Wayne,” she said, “I cannot speak to you now. Damian is coding.”

She disappeared, yelling at her colleagues, and the phone slipped from Bruce’s fingers, clattering onto the floor of the car.

****************************

Chapter Text

****************************

Ash was annoyed.

She was sitting by Damian’s head, carefully watching the ventilator and making sure the tube in his throat wasn’t pulled out and was also keeping her eyes on the heart monitor, even though that should have been Steve’s job. It had been fifteen minutes since they had taken off, and so far, nothing had happened.

But Steve, Dr. Adams, and the flight nurse who was with them weren’t watching Damian at all, standing at the other end of the helicopter and talking. The nurse — Kathy — would occasionally check over Damian and make sure his medications were running correctly, but otherwise she seemed uninterested.

It was really pissing Ash off.

Damian wasn’t exactly the most stable patient in the world; he had multiple severe injuries from head to toe and was also fighting off complications of said injuries. His care was complex and nothing but easy. He needed lots of attention — it’s not like they were transporting an infant. And those were rough enough as it was.

Ash laid a steadying hand on Damian’s forehead when the helicopter got a bit bumpy, murmuring to him in Arabic, as Bruce Wayne had requested.

“‘Ant fataan wasim Damian,” she murmured, running her thumb along Damian’s hairline. Up close, he looked so much like her nephew Kadir. He, like Damian, was ten, with similar black curls and tan skin. He was taller than Damian though, but Ash couldn’t really tell if all the machines and tubes made Damian appear smaller than he really was or if he was just that petite.

She continued to run her fingers through Damian’s hair when voices caught her attention

“—speak English,” Steve said loudly, and Ash rolled her eyes. She knew those words were meant for her, and probably Damian as well, but she refused to let them hurt her. She was too used to this bullshit by now.

“Steve, if you could shut the fuck up and do your job, that would be great,” Ash said, not looking away from Damian’s bruised face.

Steve spluttered in outrage, but Kathy just laughed, coming up to Damian’s side and checking on his meds again. Steve and Dr. Adams didn’t move, but it wasn’t like Ash had really expected them to.

“I’m sorry you have to deal with them,” Kathy said, looking at an IV attached to the back of Damian’s hand and making sure the fluids were still running. “They aren’t the most pleasant of people.”

Ash looked up at Kathy, unimpressed. The nurse hadn’t exactly been making an effort to stand up for her either.

“You seem to get along fine with them,” Ash said shortly.

Kathy raised her eyebrows and then sighed, seating herself on the bench opposite Ash.

“I’m playing go-between,” she explained. “I’m trying to keep those two from being outright hostile with you. If they stay over there and I talk about the Gotham Knights with them, then they’ll leave you and Damian alone.”

Ash sniffed.

“As much as I appreciate the sentiment, Kathy, I don’t need you to stand up for me,” she said. “I’m a grown-up — I can take some bullshit. Besides, I grew up wearing a hijab during the aftermath of 9/11 — I’m used to words like theirs by now.”

Kathy’s face fell.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “That shouldn’t have happened.”

“It shouldn’t have,” Ash agreed, “but it did.” She sighed and looked back at Damian’s monitors. “But none of this is about me. It’s about Damian. He’s our patient.”

Kathy nodded in agreement, taking Damian’s hand in her own. She turned his wrist, looking at his hospital bracelet.

“You’re right,” she said. “He is. Damian Wayne, age 10, 38 kg, 137 cm. No known allergies. Date of birth: August 9, 2010.”

Ash nodded and Kathy leaned over Damian’s cot to peer curiously at his face; Ash’s fingers unconsciously tightened in Damian’s curls at what she deemed the breach of his privacy.

“He doesn’t really look like Bruce Wayne,” Kathy said eventually. Ash wanted to roll her eyes.

“Not every kid looks their parents,” she said and then carefully added, well aware that Mr. Wayne could probably hear their conversation, “I think he looks a lot like his father.”

“Hmm, he probably looks more like his mom,” Kathy said. “His skin is darker, and he has those Asian eyes.” She waved her hand at her face as she said this, like Ash was supposed to understand what the fuck “those Asian eyes” meant, and she opened her mouth to say something to the nurse when Damian’s heart monitor began to alarm.

Both Ash and Kathy looked at it, eyes reading the still-present rhythm. It looked fine at first, but quickly dissolved into a rhythm that Ash dreaded seeing, most of all on a child’s heart monitor.

“He’s in v-fib!” she yelled. This caught Steve’s and Dr. Adam’s attention, both of the men rushing over.

“Set up the AED!” Dr. Adams ordered. Kathy, who had already attached one defibrillator lead to Damian’s chest, nodded, and Ash moved to help her roll Damian to the side so she could stick the other between his shoulder blades.

All the while the heart monitor continued to blare and Steve rushed to Damian, immediately beginning chest compressions. In the midst of the chaos, Ash became vaguely aware of the sound of someone yelling at her in Arabic from far away.

Oh, shit, it’s Bruce Wayne, she thought. I don’t have time for this.

Ash briefly relayed to Mr. Wayne what was happening before tossing the phone aside and returning to her team and her assigned job. After three sets of compressions, she took over for Steve, relieved to see that Damian’s heart was still beating. It was struggling, yes, but at least he wasn’t flatlining. Ash dreaded having to explain that his son’s heart had actually stopped beating to Mr. Wayne.

“Hands off!” Kathy yelled, and Ash took her hands off Damian’s chest as the AED announced in a robotic voice it was analyzing Damian’s heart rhythm.

Shocking,” the voice said.

Damian’s body, so small and frail and broken, jolted along with 120 joules of electricity. Ash couldn’t help but wince. 120 was a lot of electricity for a child’s heart, but most defibrillators were set at this, since adults were the most common victims of cardiac arrest. And because Gotham General was a general hospital, most of their patients were adults. They weren’t equipped with a pediatric defibrillator, which meant Damian’s heart muscle would probably be damaged from the shocks.

But as long as the defibrillator saved Damian’s life, Ash couldn’t be bothered to care.

She wasn’t sure how much longer they performed CPR on Damian, how many charges they gave to his poor heart, but eventually Dr. Adams told them to stop. At first, Ash feared the worst, but Dr. Adams was calm and confident, and the aura on the helicopter was one of relief.

“The rhythm is back to normal,” he said, nodding at the monitor. Ash collapsed back on the bench, covered in sweat, thankful to see the normal heart rhythm beeping on the heart monitor. Steve clapped her on the shoulder, telling her she did well, but Ash wasn’t really listening.

Her eyes were locked on the aftermath of their messy attempt to save Damian’s life. During CPR, his chest tubes had been accidentally torn out and he was bleeding sluggishly, blood seeping from the wounds with each forced breath of the ventilator. He had bitten his tongue or lip sometime during the ordeal and more blood dripped from the corner of his lip to trail down his neck. The white sheets of his cot were covered in blood, but no one wanted to risk moving him just to change the sheets, especially when they were so close to Metropolis. Kathy moved about, carefully cleaning Damian of the blood and making sure the ET tube was intact, as Dr. Adams replaced the chest tubes.

After a few moments, Ash noticed that something was wrong. Damian was moving his fingers, where before he had been as still as a corpse, and when she stood to see what was going on, she saw his lips turn down in a frown and his brow furrow.

Ash dashed to his side, laying a hand on his forehead.

“Damian,” she said, voice rushed and quiet, and what she desperately hoped was reassuring, “Damian, kun hadiana. Sah.” She looked over at Dr. Adams and shook her head at him as he made to replace the chest tube. “Don’t,” she said. “He’s awake.”

Dr. Adams, frowned, doubtful, but when he looked at Damian’s face and saw the lines surrounding his eyes, he nodded and asked Kathy for a number of sedatives, which the nurse immediately prepared to push into Damian’s IVs. Ash deflated in relief, glad the doctor hadn’t argued with her.

“It’s okay, Damian,” she said. “You’re all right. You’ve done so well today. Eamal jayid. Eamal jayid.”

Damian seemed to relax a bit at this and relaxed even more when Kathy pushed the sedatives into Damian’s IVs. He was out within a minute and Dr. Adams returned to replacing the chest tubes as Ash remained by Damian’s head, her fingers tangled in his hair. She sighed shakily before resting her head on the edge of the cot and reaching for her phone, only half-ready to tell Bruce Wayne the details of what had happened to his son.

*************************************

Chapter Text

*************************************

Jason always forgot how sunny Metropolis was. It annoyed him at the best of times, but now, with his baby brother half-dead and flown here in a helicopter miles above him, it was downright terrible. He wanted to shoot the sun out of the sky, or, at the very least, pull some clouds from Gotham over here.

There wasn’t even shade.

Jason grumbled unhappily as he stepped out of the limo, immediately peeling off his leather jacket and exposing his heavily scarred arms. He usually hid them under his jacket because he didn’t enjoy the attention he got and because he was always freezing, but the Metropolis weather would make him sweat out of his leather jacket sooner rather than later.

“Thank god you took that ugly thing off,” Tim huffed, climbing out of the limo after an unusually silent Dick. “It reeks.”

“Okay, rude.”

“It’s true,” Tim said. “Do you ever wash that thing?”

“You don’t have to wash jackets,” Jason said with a frown.

Cass, who appeared at Jason’s elbow, stared up at him, dark eyes unreadable.

“Yes,” she said. She curled her lip, clearly disgusted. “Wash it.”

“What for? It doesn’t smell that bad,” Jason said, sniffing it. “It smells like me.”

“And you smell like motorcycle oil, sweat, and hot dogs,” Tim pointed out. “It’s not pleasant.”

“Not hot dogs,” Cass interrupted before Jason could speak. “Pizza.”

“Oh yeah, that’s pizza,” Tim agreed. He sniffed the jacket himself and pinched his nostrils. “Pepperoni with. . . anchovies.”

Anchovies?!” Jason cried, outraged. “Blasphemy! You think I’d eat anchovies on my pizza?!”

“Kids, please,” Bruce said. He climbed out of the limo last, shutting the door behind him, phone still clutched in his white-knuckled grip. Ever since Damian had coded, he hadn’t released it, and although Damian was fine now and settled in the PICU, Bruce was still talking to Ash. They had been talking for at least half an hour now, and Jason almost felt bad for the poor woman. She’d probably lose her voice after this.

Dick fluttered to Bruce’s elbow, practically gluing himself to his side.

“Dami?” he asked.

Stable and resting,” Ash said over the phone, and she sighed; it was at least the twentieth time she had said this in as many minutes. “I’m still sitting with him, Mr. Grayson, and won’t leave until your family arrives.”

“Thank you, Ms. Shadid,” Bruce said.

Of course, Mr. Wayne.”

Alfred then appeared on the other side of Bruce, having handed the keys of the limo to a shocked valet, and laid a hand on his shoulder. The two men exchanged a look before Bruce sighed and begrudgingly handed the phone to Alfred, who slipped it in his pocket.

“Let’s go in, shall we?” he said, and led the family into the hospital.

Clark had been clear that Metropolis Children’s Hospital was one of the finest children’s hospitals in the country, taking care of some of the sickest and most injured kids around, but Jason hadn’t been expecting it to be so fancy. The floor was colorful tile patterned with different animals and there was a big statue of children playing with beach balls in the middle of the foyer. Huge rainbow painted pillars supported a glass ceiling and allowed sunlight to flow into the large lobby. Nearby was a Lego model of the hospital that children were gaping at, a gift shop, a cafe, and a room full of service animals. Jason caught sight of a bald little girl giggling and petting a dog before he turned away.

No matter how fancy and colorful and bright this place was, it was still a hospital. Kids here were still sick and hurt. Damian was sick and hurt.

Fuck this, Jason thought, curling his hands into fists. I don’t want to be here.

And then Alfred was at his side, squeezing his arm and speaking to him, and he realized that there was a smiling woman speaking to Bruce and the others, introducing herself as Rebecca, a liaison to parents and families of patients in the hospital.

Jason dipped his head at Alfred, indicating he was listening, and Alfred patted his arm, satisfied, before turning to listen to Rebecca. She had curly brown hair and was wearing a purple vest, a photo ID clipped to it.

“You are Damian Wayne’s family, correct?” she said, looking at a clipboard she was holding.

“Yes,” Bruce said shortly.

“Good. I can tell that you’re anxious to see him, so we’ll skip the hospital tour for now and I’ll bring you right to the PICU. PICU is short for—”

“We know what it’s short for,” Jason interrupted. Rebecca didn’t even flinch, but Dick glared at his brother.

“Jason!” he hissed.

“It’s all right,” Rebecca said, waving a hand. She led the group to the elevators, where she pressed a button going up. “You’re stressed, it’s understandable. I was a lot like you.” The elevator doors opened, and a family wheeled a toddler in a wheelchair out, smiling and nodding at Rebecca as they stepped out. When the elevator was empty, Rebecca held the door open and let everyone inside. Then she pressed the button for the fourth floor.

“What do you mean you were a lot like us?” Jason asked.

“My daughter had cancer,” Rebecca answered, and her eyes grew sad, her smile more forced. “She was treated here. She passed away three years ago.”

“Oh.” Jason lowered his eyes, ashamed he had been so short and hostile with the woman. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right,” Rebecca said. “She had a good life.” The elevator beeped to announce its arrival on the fourth floor and Rebecca stepped out, followed by the Wayne family. “Here we are.”

Jason looked around.

He noticed that this floor was themed like a forest. The ground was covered with thick green carpet and the walls were painted a slightly darker shade of the color. Paintings of trees were everywhere — some tall and thick like oaks, others long and skinny like aspens. Small animals and deer scampered around the fake trees and there were toys out in the waiting area where kids could play. Jason saw a couple of children playing with some finger puppets by the wall as an anxious parent stood by on the phone. She was biting her nails and her eyes were red and puffy, darting between the ceiling and her kids on the floor. Jason caught the word “chemotherapy” before the group swept past. He winced. Even though Damian was in a bad way, Jason was beyond thankful his brother didn’t have cancer. That diagnosis was every child and parent’s worst fate and worst nightmare combined.

Jason saw a few more children and adults peppered around the open spaces by the windows and then he spoke to Rebecca.

“What’s on this floor?” he asked curiously.

“Our PICU, our cardiac unit, and our operating rooms,” the woman answered, pausing at a corner and turning to Jason. “We always have our most serious cases here, so I wouldn’t expect to see a whole lot of smiling faces if I were you.” Everyone nodded and Rebecca continued, turning to Bruce. “But many of the parents bond, especially if their children are here for a while. Perhaps you will meet some new people.”

Bruce grimaced.

“No offense, but my family and I aren’t really here to make friends.”

A sympathetic smile crossed Rebecca’s lips but the sadness in her eyes made Jason’s heart drop.

“Of course not,” she answered. “You’re here so Damian can get better.”

“Yes,” Bruce said shortly. “So, can I see my son now?”

“Of course, Mr. Wayne.” Rebecca smiled tiredly, then motioned down a different hallway. “Here’s the PICU,” she said, and the family was met with big, double glass doors, printed with glazed falling leaves and the words Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in large letters. Rebecca stepped forward and swiped her ID, and the doors swung open with a beep. Jason was immediately accosted by the sterile smells of hospitals he was all too familiar with, antiseptics mixed with cleaning solution and soap. The floors in the PICU were green too, but tile this time instead of carpet, and the front desk was also decorated with trees and forest creatures. The woman sitting behind it, short with a round plump face and pink glasses, looked up as everyone stepped in.

“Hi, there, Rebecca!” she grinned, a wide smile crossing her face; it didn’t belong in the serious environment and bothered Jason. “How are you?”

“I’m good, thanks, Diane,” Rebecca answered. She motioned to the large Wayne family. “These are the Wayne’s. They’re the family of one of your newest little patients.”

Diane smiled at them and looked down at her computer.

“Damian Wayne?” she asked.

“Yes, that’s my son,” Bruce said. Jason could tell he was close to snapping. “Can I see him?”

“Sure thing, sugar, I just need your ID.” Bruce dug out his wallet from his pocket, pulled his license from it, and handed it to the receptionist. She glanced at it, nodded, then scanned it, handing it back to Bruce. “He’s in Room 3,” she said. “Rebecca will show you.”

“Thank you,” Bruce said, and he shoved his ID away and followed Rebecca at a brisk pace, eager to see his son. The others were kept back, as only two people were allowed to visit at a time, and Ash was already in the room.

The PICU was similar to many of the ICUs Bruce had seen before — only a few rooms and each large and spacious, with huge sliding glass doors so that nurses and doctors could keep a continuous watch on the patients. Bruce and Rebecca walked past a few rooms with children already in them, the kids, one attached to a ventilator, sound asleep or unconscious. Rebecca led Bruce down a short way before stopping in front of a room where the glass door was wide open. He stopped for a moment, taking in what he saw.

Ash was leaning over Damian, sweeping the black hair from his son’s face and whispering to him in Arabic. Bruce swallowed roughly. Damian looked so tiny — even on the hospital bed that was made for children he seemed swallowed up. He was lying flat on his back, covered in a panda-printed blanket, and the lights were dimmed, and the curtains closed so that nothing would bother Damian. Bruce stepped into the room, forgetting all about Rebecca, and Ash looked up.

“Mr. Wayne,” she said, shoulders falling. “You’re here.”

“Damian,” Bruce said, ignoring Ash in favor of his son. He rushed to the bedside, leaning over Damian and looking him over. His smart eyes saw the damage done by the successful attempt to save Damian’s life, though it did not please him. He leaned over Damian, grabbing his son’s fingers and kissing his cheek. “Hello, son, I’m here. You’re all right, habibi. You’re safe.”

Ash got up from her seat, awkwardly moving to the corner to allow Mr. Wayne to have a few private moments with his son. Bruce did not move from Damian’s side, cooing at him and reassuring him he was safe and loved, before he spoke to Ash without looking at her.

“What happened?” he asked. His voice was now cold.

Ash explained what had transpired in the helicopter, using both medical and layman’s terms. When she was finished, Bruce Wayne fell into the plush chair by Damian’s bedside, looking exhausted and worried.

“What caused the arrythmia?” he asked, running a hand over his face.

“The doctors aren’t sure,” Ash answered. “But they’re running a few tests and keeping a close eye on him. He’s also on some more medications.”

“What medications?”

“I’m not sure.” When Bruce opened his mouth to yell at her, Ash spoke before him. “I am a paramedic, Mr. Wayne, not a nurse or a doctor. I don’t know what medications they put Damian on to keep his heart rhythm normal. I’m only trained in emergency medicine.”

Bruce deflated and blushed, embarrassed.

“Of course,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Ash sighed.

“It’s fine,” she said. A moment later, her stomach rumbled, and it was her turn to blush, ears turning pink. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “I haven’t eaten anything.”

“You can go, Ms. Shadid,” Bruce said with a smile. “Go get something to eat, take a break, and then go home. Thank you for your help. It means the world to me and my family.”

“Of course, Mr. Wayne.” Ash dipped her head at Bruce and then got to her feet and stood at Damian’s side, laying her hand briefly in Damian’s curls. She took a deep breath before speaking. “This may be presumptuous of me, Mr. Wayne, but will you tell me when Damian is well enough for visitors? I would. . . like to see him again. He reminds me of my nephew.”

Bruce blinked at her a few times and Ash feared she had overstepped; just as she made to apologize, he reached forward and gently grabbed her hand, squeezing it tightly.

“Of course, Ms. Shadid,” he said. “I will gladly inform you.”

Ash smiled.

Baraka Allahou feek,” she murmured.

Bruce smiled gently in return.

Wa feeki,” he said.

********************************

Chapter Text

********************************

“What the fuck.”

Dr. Anna Liu, pediatric intensivist, was sitting in her office, pouring over the files of her newest patient, Damian Wayne, and she was already in a mood. Damian had been transferred from Gotham General to Metropolis Children’s, having been injured in a gas explosion and subsequent building collapse yesterday, and was badly injured. His list of injuries was at least three pages and the potential complications were another five. X-rays, CTs scans, and MRI scans had also been sent with the list of Damian’s injuries, but there was still lots of information missing. She had spent hours on the phone trying to get more information from Gotham General, and it had been like pulling teeth to get it.

Anna groaned. Gotham General was so bad at providing the proper documentation and paperwork when they transferred patients here. Human Resources would be all over her ass. Damian’s insurance was missing, there were random papers saying that Damian’s brother once had custody of him (and Anna didn’t really want to open that can of worms), his medication list was gone, and the Gotham General hospital staff hadn’t even bothered to fill out Damian’s original status. How the hell was she supposed to know what Damian’s condition had been before the transfer and now?

The nurses would eat her alive.

“Whatever, whatever,” Anna said, collecting the papers she needed to see Damian, her stethoscope, and her bag before heading out of her office and to the PICU. She calmed herself, regaining her composure and reminding herself she wasn’t allowed to swear, and stepped up to the nurse’s station.

“Hi everybody,” she greeted. “We have a new kiddo, I hear?”

The nurses nodded, humming in quiet agreement. There seemed to be something off, but Anna ignored it for the moment. She’d already had a rough day, there was no need to get into nursing drama.

“Who’s his nurse?”

“I am,” Sam said, and Anna nodded.

“Good,” she said. She liked Sam. He was efficient and quick, to-the-point and clever. He also made the kids laugh which was an awesome bonus. She shuffled her papers. “Come on, let’s go see him.”

She didn’t see the looks that the nurses threw Sam or the way he hesitated to follow her; she was too busy thinking of how to care for Damian’s many, many injuries. Triaging them would be the most effective way, but she had a feeling that wasn’t going to work. Lots of the injuries were very complicated. 

As she walked down the hall with Sam, the familiar beeps of monitors the background to her thoughts, the nurse suddenly spoke, and he sounded uneasy, which was very unlike him.

“Dr. Liu,” he said, “you should know something.”

Anna paused, stopping in the hall.

“What?” she asked, frowning at Sam. “Is it about Damian?”

“Not about Damian,” Sam said. “About his family.”

“Jesus,” Anna muttered, pinching the bridge of her nose. It was always the families. She couldn’t really blame them; having a child in the ICU was a scary experience, but it didn’t give them an excuse to be assholes, and by the way Sam was acting that seemed to be the issue. “Are they being difficult?”

Sam laughed mirthlessly.

“Difficult is kind of an understatement, Dr. Liu,” he said. “They won’t abide by the two-visitor rule and one of them is incredibly rude and loud.”

“How many people are in the room?” Anna asked.

“Six,” Sam answered.

“What the—” Anna cut herself off before she could swear in front of an infant patient’s room. She ran a hand over her face. How was it only ten am??

“There’s something else,” Sam said. “Damian’s dad is Bruce Wayne.”

Anna blinked.

The Bruce Wayne? Billionaire Bruce Wayne?”

“Yeah.”

“Of course, he is. Why can’t things ever be easy in this hospital?”

Sam laughed.

“This is the PICU, Dr. Liu, it’s never easy,” he said. He reached forward and patted her arm. “If it’s any consolation, Damian’s siblings seem nice. Except for the loud one. And the whole family loves him very much; it’s obvious.”

“That’s good,” Dr. Liu said. The cases where children had no one who loved them were the worst ones of all for her; at least Damian’s family cared for him. She and Sam resumed their walk to Damian’s room after a moment.

“What do you think of his condition?” she asked the nurse.

“Honestly, I’m amazed he’s still alive at all,” Sam answered. “He’s attached to more tubes and wires than I’ve seen since nursing school.”

Dr. Liu raised an eyebrow before speaking.

“His injuries were severe,” she said, “but the surgeons at Gotham General seemed to have gotten him stable enough to be moved here. He’ll need follow-up surgeries, of course, and intense physical therapy.”

“He—”

“You shouldn’t be talking about patients in the hallways,” a voice interrupted, and Dr. Liu nearly jumped out of her skin when she came face to face with a young man, probably in high school, with stringy black hair and sharp blue eyes. His left arm was casted and in a sling and he was wearing a Superman shirt and sandals, a phone in his uninjured hand.

Dr. Liu opened her mouth to apologize when Sam cut her off.

“Tim,” he said with a small smile, “this is Dr. Liu. She’s Damian’s—”

“Is it your hospital’s policy to discuss private patient information in the halls?” Tim interrupted, blue eyes flashing. Dr. Liu wanted to wince, although a part of her hated herself for being intimidated by a high schooler. Instead, she tsked.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Tim Drake-Wayne,” the boy introduced himself shortly. “I’m Damian’s brother.”

“Why are you wandering around?”

“There’s no rule saying I can’t take a walk,” Tim said. “And we’ve been here for three hours and Damian hasn’t seen a doctor yet.” He narrowed his eyes. “Are you his doctor?”

“Yes,” Dr. Liu said. To herself she added, Sam just said that.

“Are you his main physician?” Tim pried. “He should have more than one doctor.”

“He does,” Anna said, “but the other doctors have patients to see right now. They’ll come around at a later time.”

“What took you so long?”

“Damian’s file is thick; I should know the extent of his injuries before I see him,” Dr. Liu explained. “I was studying it.” She made a face. “Gotham General also left a part of it blank so I needed to call them and get more information about your brother from them.”

Tim nodded slowly and the hard expression on his face crumbled, softening into one that was friendlier and kinder. It kind of freaked Anna out and she hesitated when he offered her his hand to shake. She shook it anyways. 

“Sorry,” he said. “We’re all kind of protective when it comes to Damian. It’s an instinct.” He smiled sheepishly at Sam. “We were the same way with Sam.”

“How old are you, Tim?” Anna asked as she followed the boy and Sam to Damian’s room.

“17.”

“And Damian is 10?”

“Yeah,” Tim answered. “Here we are.” The sliding glass door to Damian’s door was open, the green leafed patterned curtain the only thing keeping prying eyes from poking their heads into the room. Tim knocked on the metal doorjamb, announcing who had arrived, before shoving the curtain aside and ushering Sam and Dr. Liu inside.

Dr. Liu’s eyes immediately went to Damian. The CT scans and x-rays had given her some idea of how severe the boy’s injuries were, but he looked much, much worse in person. He was bruised and burned and bandaged, his legs and feet casted with a ventilator breathing for him. There were dark circles surrounding his eyes, the classic “raccoon eyes,” a textbook sign of Damian’s basilar skull fracture.

After briefly eyeing Damian, Dr. Liu looked at the other people in the room. Next to the bed was a man she recognized from the tabloids, Bruce Wayne. He looked a lot like Damian, besides being paler and larger, and was holding Damian’s hand in his own. Next to him was a young man wearing a blue sweatshirt; he looked exhausted but was repeatedly running his hand through Damian’s curls. Behind them both, near the window, was an elderly man in a perfectly pressed suit, an Asian girl hovering at his side and staring holes into the doctor’s soul.

Under the television was a young man who was somehow taller and broader than Bruce Wayne, wearing an ugly leather jacket and black combat boots. He had black hair with a shock of white just over his forehead. He looked the doctor up and down, as if assessing her, before snorting.

“What took you so long?” he demanded, crossing his arms over his chest.

Anna ignored his attitude, stepping forward and introducing herself to Bruce Wayne.

“I apologize for my tardiness, Mr. Wayne,” she said. “As I was explaining to Tim, Damian’s files were incomplete, and I was on the phone with Gotham General trying to get more information on him. I like to have a complete picture of my patients before seeing them.”

“Ah, I see,” Bruce said, shaking her hand. “I understand.”

The young man under the television huffed.

“You could have sent someone to tell us you’d be late,” he said, but the look Bruce sent him shut him up.

“Forgive my son, doctor,” he said, “he’s nervous and impatient.”

“It’s all right, I understand.” Anna smiled gently at Bruce. “My name is Dr. Anna Liu,” she introduced herself. “I am a pediatric intensivist here, which means I specialize in caring for children with severe illnesses or injuries. I’ll be in charge of Damian’s care, though he will be seeing other doctors during his time here.”

“Dr. Liu,” Bruce said, “it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Bruce Wayne.” He introduced the others in the room. “These are my children, Dick, Jason, Cass, and Tim, and this is my butler, Alfred Pennyworth.”

Dr. Liu smiled and nodded at them; there was no way she was going to remember all of their names, but she had to be polite anyway.

“It’s nice to meet you.” She stepped forward, coming to stand next to the bed; she did not miss how the entire Wayne family tensed at her proximity to Damian. “And this must be Damian?”

“Yes, my youngest.”

Dr. Liu smiled at Damian and set her large folder aside on a table before unstringing her stethoscope from around her neck.

“Hello, Damian, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Dr. Liu.”

“He can’t hear you,” the morose young man in leather — Jason — said, but Dr. Liu’s smile didn’t fade.

“He might be able to,” she said. “He woke up three times while at Gotham General, correct?” Bruce Wayne nodded. “Then I’m not quite sure yet how sedated he is. He might be more aware of what’s going on than we think.” She addressed Damian again. “Damian, I’m going to listen to your heart and lungs with my stethoscope really quick, okay? It might be a little cold, but I’ll be fast.”

Dr. Liu placed the bell of her stethoscope over Damian’s chest then, satisfied when he didn’t move, and listened to his heart and lung sounds. She wasn’t surprised by the unpleasant and unhealthy sounds of his lungs, but his heart was a different story. The joules the paramedics had used to shock Damian’s heart back into a normal rhythm might have done more damage than she thought. She tsked.

“Mr. Wayne,” she said, pulling away from Damian, “I’m going to order an EKG and MRI for Damian.”

“What? Why?” the young man in blue — Dick, maybe? — cried.

“It’s all right, sir,” Dr. Liu reassured, “I just want to rule out heart muscle damage from the paramedic’s efforts to shock Damian’s heart back to its normal rhythm.”

“Are you saying they hurt him?” Tim demanded and Dr. Liu sighed; this was a very demanding family.

“The defibrillators in most ambulances are set for adults,” she explained. “The level of electricity is set for an adult heart, not a heart Damian’s size. Sometimes they can cause damage when given to a child.”

“What?! Why would they—”

Bruce held up a hand, interrupting whichever one of his kids was ready to yell this time.

“It’s all right; they saved Damian’s life,” he said. “His heart was giving up on him and the paramedics did their job. We shouldn’t be upset.” He looked around the room at everyone, blue eyes seeming to say more than Dr. Liu could understand. This man was definitely more than the ditzy playboy billionaire the media portrayed him to be. . .

“Do you have any idea what caused Damian’s arrythmias, doctor?” the butler asked suddenly, and Anna blinked, taken aback. She hadn’t been expecting him to be British and she really hadn’t been expecting him to know medical terminology.

She quickly pulled herself out of her shock; it wouldn’t do to look like an idiot in front of this family. It would probably get her fired.

“Probably an electrolyte imbalance or a side effect of one of Damian’s many medications.” She sighed. “I’ll go through the list once I get it and see which med have caused the arrythmia in the helicopter. If I can, I’ll take him off of it.” She looked at Bruce. “Does Damian have any congenital heart conditions, Mr. Wayne?”

“No, he’s been perfectly healthy to my knowledge,” he said, squeezing Damian’s fingers. Dr. Liu noticed the odd phrasing.

“To your knowledge?” she echoed.

“Damian was brought into my care only a year ago, Dr. Liu,” Bruce said with a heavy sigh, and Dr. Liu had a feeling he had explained this many times. “I didn’t know he existed before then. His mother kept him a secret from me.”

That’s super weird. . . Who didn’t know they had a child? But Anna obviously kept this thought to herself.

“Is there a way we can contact his mother?” she asked carefully. “She may—”

“No!” Bruce yelled and Dr. Liu couldn’t help but flinch this time, surprised by the ferocity and venom in Bruce Wayne’s voice. His eyes flashed dangerously before he calmed, running his hand through his black hair. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry. Damian’s mother. . . is not a good woman. She no longer has custody of him. I don’t want her anywhere near my son.”

“I understand,” Dr. Liu said, remembering the notes on Damian’s charts about previous injuries and the scars that littered his little body. She sighed. “The MRI should show us any abnormalities in Damian’s heart, whether they are congenital or from the defibrillator. I’ll try to get Damian in ASAP, but we’re always busy here so it might be a few hours yet.”

The girl by the window — Cass — huffed and muttered something in Cantonese; the butler laid a hand on her shoulder and responded in the same language.

“What are we supposed to do during that time?” Jason demanded and Dr. Liu sighed and got to her feet, fighting the urge to roll her eyes.

“I suggest you get something to eat,” she said. “We have a two-visitor policy here and there are currently six of you in the room. Despite your very powerful name, I’ll need most of you to leave.”

“Not fair!” Cass cried and Dr. Liu raised an unimpressed eyebrow at her.

“It is fair,” she said. “I don’t make the rules. Besides, the more of you that are in here, the greater risk you are to Damian. He’s fragile enough as it is, no need to add infection or illness to the mix.”

Everyone stiffened and immediately four people left the room, the butler — Alfred? God, these people needed nametags — being the last to go after whispering something to Bruce. That left only Bruce Wayne and Dick sitting by Damian’s bedside, both of them clearly uneasy.

Dr. Liu sighed — she was doing a lot of that today — and turned to Sam.

“Print off the readings on the heart monitor every half hour,” she said, “and put them on his chart. Alert me if anything seems wrong.”

“Yes, Dr. Liu.”

“I also want his tube feed decreased before the MRI, starting in an hour.” Sam nodded. “I’ll call you if I need anything else.” She turned back to Bruce and Dick. “If you all need anything, press the call button and a nurse — probably Sam — will come. He’ll get me if something comes up that needs my attention.”

Bruce and Dick dipped their heads in understanding.

“Thank you,” Bruce said, and Dr. Liu smiled faintly.

“Of course, Mr. Wayne.” She smiled at Dick and then at Damian, patting his unbroken arm gently. “I’ll see you later, all right, Damian? Rest up.”

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Chapter Text

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Jason hated this hospital — he hated hospitals in general — but he had to admit the cafeteria food was good; even Alfred seemed satisfied, which was a shock considering the man’s ridiculously high standards. They ate in silence, watching families and children wander in and out to pick out meals for themselves, and never once mentioned Damian, which was honestly a miracle. After an hour, everyone collected their trays and threw everything away before heading back to the main lobby, where the bright Metropolis sun shone down on the colorful tile floor.

Next to him, Tim groaned as he looked down at his phone.

“Dick says they still haven’t taken Dami for the MRI,” he said.

“Well, duh,” Jason snorted. “This is a hospital, what do you expect? Everything is gonna take forever.”

“Back up?” Cass asked, pointing at the elevator, but Alfred shook his head.

“I’m afraid not, Miss Cassandra,” he said. “Dr. Liu was quite adamant about the two-visitor limit and Master Dick and Master Bruce have only been with Young Master Damian for an hour now.”

Jason made a face.

“Bruce is always with Damian.”

“That’s cause he’s Damian’s dad, idiot,” Tim said, slipping his phone back into his pocket. He paused and cocked his head. “Dick kinda is too.”

Jason pretended to gag.

“Ugh, Timmy, don’t say stuff like that, it’s disgusting,” he said. “So much sentiment.”

“It’s true though!” Tim retorted.

“Yeah, but you don’t need to say it.”

Tim just rolled his eyes.

“What are we going to do instead of seeing Damian?” he asked, rocking back and forth on his heels. “Wander around Metropolis?”

Jason curled his lip.

“If you think I’m going to explore this godforsaken city with way too much sun, you can think again, Replacement.” He looked around the hospital lobby, looking for something to do, before his eyes lit up. He pointed excitedly at the gift shop, where children were clustered at a display of toys in the glass window. “There!” he cried and strode towards the store, leaving the rest of his family behind.

They followed him, of course.

“The gift shop?” Tim asked. “Why do you want to go here?”

“To get a gift for Baby Bat, duh.” Jason opened the glass door to the shop, and bells jingled happily above him to proclaim his entrance. An elderly woman with thick pink-rimmed glasses sitting behind the counter looked up from a book she was reading at Jason’s and the other’s entrance, smiling brightly at them.

“Hello!” she chirped. “Welcome! Do you need help?”

“Nope, just browsing,” Jason said. Alfred went up to the woman and began a conversation with her, inquiring about the hospital and Metropolis in general. (As if he didn’t know this stuff already.) This allowed Jason, Tim, and Cass to explore the gift shop on their own.

The three paused for a moment near the entrance, looking around at the wide array of gifts in the shop. Most of them were toys, given that this was a children’s hospital — stuffed animals, dolls, puzzles, etc. — but there were also blankets and balloons and one corner entirely dedicated to bouquets of flowers. Cass pointed at the flowers.

“Not allowed,” she said. “In PICU.”

“Ah, good to know, little sis,” Jason said, grinning at Cass. She returned his smile before looking at Tim, who gave her a thumbs-up to show her he also understood.

“So. . .” Tim said, sharp eyes flicking over all the merchandise neatly placed in the shop. “Are you getting something for Damian, Jason?”

“Um, no,” Jason said, making a beeline for the stuffed animals. “We’re each getting something for Damian.”

Tim groaned and opened his mouth to complain when Alfred suddenly appeared behind him, smiling and nodding.

“That is a wonderful idea, Master Jason,” he said. “I’m sure Young Master Damian will appreciate the sentiment very much.” He winked at Tim. “I also got the cashier to give me a 20% discount.”

Tim laughed.

“Only you could pull off something like that, Alfred,” he said.

“I dare to disagree, Master Tim,” Alfred said. “I believe that Master Bruce and Master Dick could manage it as well.”

“Yeah, but who taught them?”

Alfred laughed in turn, eyes twinkling.

“Very fair, Master Tim.”

The four went about browsing the gift shop for a while, each trying to pick out the perfect gift for Damian, and after forty minutes, Jason’s voice came from the depth of the stuffed animal section.

Oh my god, guys, look at this!” he all but screamed, and then popped out, holding a brown teddy bear in his hands.

But it wasn’t just any teddy bear. It was wearing a Batman uniform, a black cape and cowl, and had the Batman logo printed on the middle of its chest. It was perfect.

Cass squealed and plucked it from Jason’s hands to give it a hug.

“Cute!” she cried.

“Where did you find this?” Tim asked, gently touching the bear’s fur. It was soft, which was a relief. Much like himself, Damian was sensitive to certain fabrics and scents, but this toy felt similar to one of Damian’s weighted blankets at the manor; it would probably not bother him.

“It was under all the Superman teddy bears,” Jason said, pointing to a giant pile of Superman-themed teddy bears. Tim snorted.

“B is gonna hate that,” he said, “but, to be fair, this is Metropolis, Supes’ home turf. Of course, they’re gonna love him.”

“I’m just glad they had a Batman themed bear at all,” Jason said, grinning triumphantly at the toy. “It’s what Damian deserves. He cannot be seen with a Superman bear. That would be a crime.”

Tim rolled his eyes.

“You know who his best friend is, right?”

“So? Batman is superior and everyone knows that.” Before Tim could say anything else, Jason looked at the others. “What are you guys getting?”

Cass held out a little music box, that, when opened, played “You Are My Sunshine” and Alfred held a large blue fleece blanket that Jason knew would not only be used for Damian but would be passed among everyone in the family during Damian’s hospital stay.

When Jason turned to Tim, the kid was blushing up to his ears.

“What are you so embarrassed about?” he asked.

Tim mumbled his answer and Jason gently nudged him.

“I didn’t hear you, Replacement,” he teased. “Louder.”

“I didn’t like anything here for Damian, so I chose a balloon!” Tim said, his entire face now red as a tomato. He pointed at the counter, where the woman was tying up a rainbow “Get Well Soon!” balloon to a weight.

Jason was going to lose it.

Tim was the smartest person he knew but he couldn’t even pick out a gift for a ten-year-old in a children’s hospital gift shop?! This place was practically a toy store! The options were endless!

Jason opened his mouth to laugh at Tim when Alfred’s fingers dug into his side; a painful warning.

Jason shut up. He knew better than to cross Alfred Pennyworth.

“It’s wonderful, Master Tim,” Alfred said with a smile. “It will add color to the room.”

“Really?” Tim asked, some of the doubt fading from his eyes.

Cass nodded eagerly in agreement and Alfred’s fingers dug harshly into Jason’s ribs.

“Yeah, baby bird, yeah, it’s great!” He smiled and then winked. “I obviously have the greatest gift anyway, so nothing else matters. Sorry, everyone but it’s just a fact.”

Tim rolled his eyes as Cass huffed. Even Alfred snorted as he pulled away from Jason, though the sound was fond. They all moved to the cash register to pay for their purchases and Jason followed them, hugging the Batman bear close.

“Wanna know what I’m gonna name the bear?”

“Shouldn’t Damian name it?” Tim asked, handing money to the cashier and taking the balloon from her.

Jason huffed.

“Dude, he’s unconscious. Unconscious kids can’t name stuff. Besides you know he’d never name it even if he was awake. And stuffed animals can’t go without a name. It’s a federal offense.”

“Well then, what’s its name?”

His name,” Jason said, handing his credit card to the cashier, “is Brucie.”

Cass burst into laughter even as Tim curled his lip in disgust. Alfred looked about two seconds away from throwing Jason back into the Lazarus Pit.

“Not Batman?” the cashier asked with a smile as she handed the bear back to Jason.

“No! It’s Brucie. Our dad’s name is Bruce. And our dad is Batman.”

Jason!!” Tim hissed and Cass laughed harder. Alfred rolled his eyes. The cashier just smiled fondly, as if she had heard this line a million times.

“Of course, dear,” she said indulgently. “Your dad is Batman.”

Jason turned to his siblings and Alfred, teddy bear in his arms and a sly grin on his face, and nearly Cass fell over with laughter. Tim just sighed dramatically.

“I’ve had enough of this,” he said, and stalked away with his balloon in hand.

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Chapter Text

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Bruce often imagined what life would be like if he had not become Batman. If his parents had not been murdered and he had never donned the cape and cowl to protect the innocent of Gotham. He probably would be living a calm and peaceful life in the manor, and his children would have grandparents.

Thomas and Martha would have been wonderful grandparents. Kind and funny and generous, they would have spoiled Bruce’s kids with all sorts of delightful things and hilarious stories. The kids would have loved them, and Bruce did not doubt his parents would have loved his children.

But the world was cruel, and Bruce’s parents were dead; in some foolhardy mission, Bruce had taken it upon himself to protect Gotham. Alfred supported him and stood with him through everything, even when Bruce hurt him or caused him pain. And Bruce knew he had done that countless times. He would probably do it countless more.

But if Batman did not exist, Bruce knew his children would not exist. They had all come to him in that capacity and had grown to love both Bruce and Batman. Two sides of the same coin.

First was Dick. His first Robin, the young trapeze artist whom Bruce had decided to adopt when he was surely too young to be a father. When he had met Dick, the boy had been 11, sobbing at the mangled bodies of his parents, spattered in their blood. He had come to live at Wayne Manor, first as Bruce’s ward, then as his son, then as Batman’s Robin, and had come to blossom into the smiley, loud boy Bruce loved with all his heart.

Then there was Jason. Fierce and angry and created by the gritty streets of Crime Alley, stealing tires and rarely smiling. At first small and thin, he grew tall and strong and un-invincible. He had a heart of gold and a temper made of trip wire; he was reckless and headstrong. All too soon he was ripped violently from Bruce’s life, his death more terrible than anything Bruce had suffered, and Bruce swore he would never have another child again.

But then Tim appeared. Unbidden, unwanted, unfamiliar. Small, frail, but strong-willed and far too clever. He knew Bruce’s and Dick’s secret identities and even Jason’s. He explained himself clearly and concisely. When Bruce finally let Tim into his life, the boy proved himself loyal and intelligent, a healing balm to Bruce’s broken heart. After the death of Tim’s father, Bruce took Tim in and watched him slowly adjust to life in the manor, where it became painfully obvious that Tim felt unwelcome. It took a lot of time and patience for Bruce to convince Tim that he was loved and wanted in his family.

And there was Cass. Sharp and dangerous, more so than any of his other children. Fast and suspicious of everyone’s intentions, mostly non-verbal and clearly unused to any sort of family. It took her a while to trust everyone, and she clearly had favorites — Tim and Bruce — but the others learned not to take it personally. Cass’ affection was hard won but well-treasured.

And then there was Damian.

Bruce had never had a child so young.

Dick had come into his life when he was 11, but Damian had appeared when he was 9, still so very small. Bruce had loved him from the moment he saw him. Even when Damian had a blade pointed at his throat, insulting his height and appearance, Bruce loved him. Even when he was screaming and throwing things and cursing, Bruce loved him. Even when he was frustrating and didn’t listen, Bruce loved him.

Just as he loved all his children.

But he would never forgive Talia for what she did to Damian. For what she did to him.

She had lied to Bruce, told him she had a miscarriage, when in fact Damian had been born healthy and whole. And instead of telling Bruce that Damian was alive, she simply made him into the perfect assassin, the perfect “heir.” She tortured him. From the day he was born to the day he arrived in Gotham, she tortured him, she abused him, all in the name of “training.”

And she expected Bruce to be proud of her for that?

Disgusting.

Bruce leaned forward, running his fingers along Damian’s hairline. The curls there were still baby-soft, like goose’s down, and reminded Bruce of what he had lost.

How different would Damian be if Bruce had known he’d existed and taken him away from Talia when he was a baby? Would he still be so angry, so violent, so unable to understand the kindness of others? Or would he smile more, accept gifts without suspicion, be unafraid of surprises?

Surely, he wouldn’t have as many nightmares and the scars that littered his body wouldn’t be there.

Bruce kissed Damian’s forehead, just over a scar on his temple. Damian had explained a few months ago that he had gotten it when he was four, though he didn’t remember the circumstances surrounding it. It was a head wound, so Bruce hadn’t been terribly surprised, though he had been very sad.

“You’re safe, habibi,” Bruce murmured, continuing to run his thumb through Damian’s hair and looking at his face. It was slack, but the doctors and nurses encouraged Bruce to speak to Damian in case he could hear what was going on. Bruce sighed.

“It’s 9:12 pm and you’re in the PICU in Metropolis Children’s Hospital. I’m here with you. Your siblings and Alfred were here earlier but visiting hours are over now so they’re going to stay with the Kent’s. I’ll stay here with you, Damian.” Bruce smiled. “The couch unfolds into a bed so maybe I’ll be able to sleep, hm?” Damian didn’t respond, not that Bruce was expecting him to, and Bruce continued to speak. “Everyone bought you a present, habibi,” he said with a smile. “Tim got you a balloon, Cass got you a music box, and Alfred got you a blanket. Dick stayed with me, so he hasn’t gotten you a gift yet, but he told me to tell you that he’s getting you something special tomorrow.” Bruce laughed quietly. “Jason got you a teddy bear. It’s dressed like Batman.” Bruce looked over at the teddy bear, sitting at the foot of Damian’s bed, and remembered how Dick had burst into howling laughter as Jason proudly introduced it as “Brucie” and placed it on Damian’s bed. A nurse had yelled at them for being too loud and had made most of them leave but hearing his children’s laughter had made Bruce feel better than he had in quite some time.

“I know you like to know what’s going on, Damian,” Bruce said, “so I’ll explain. You went to get an MRI earlier to see if you hurt your heart, but there’s nothing wrong. You have a few broken ribs and your sternum has a hairline fracture from CPR, but your heart is just fine. An hour ago, the doctor came and took out your left chest tube because she said that lung is doing much better. I don’t know if you felt that but removing them can be painful.” Bruce stroked Damian’s unbroken cheekbone. “I really hope you didn’t feel that, sweetheart.”

He sighed.

“You’re on lots of medications and sedatives and a ventilator is breathing for you. You don’t need to be scared; I’ve vetted every single one of the medical staff here and no one is going to hurt you.” Bruce moved his hand from Damian’s cheek to his son’s small fingers, holding them loosely. He took a deep, shaky breath. “Okay, Damian, it’s almost time for me to sleep, but I want you to do one thing for me. If you can hear me, I want you to squeeze my hand.” Bruce paused for a few long moments, waiting to see if Damian’s tiny fingers would squeeze his much larger ones, but there was nothing, not even a twitch.

Bruce supposed he should be relieved, but he simply felt sad.

He kissed Damian’s forehead once more and tucked the panda blanket securely and safely around him to keep him warm before moving to the couch, which Alfred had transformed into a bed before he left.

“Goodnight, Damian,” Bruce said. “I love you.”

In another world, perhaps Damian would have responded.

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Chapter Text

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Damian was sitting in his room, practicing the violin as he tried to ignore the pain in his leg. He was seven and a half and he had just broken his left leg and right ankle after failing one of his mother’s trials. He had been rock climbing without a rope and fallen some distance — it was a miracle he had only broken his leg and ankle and not his neck. But he had failed to get the map his mother had set as sign of completion. Once his leg and ankle were healed Damian would have to try again, this time scaling a taller and more dangerous mountain to prove himself to her. Whenever Damian failed, his tasks were made more difficult, more dangerous, and more intense.

There was a knock on the door and Damian sighed, laying his violin aside.

“Enter,” he said.

A servant stepped into the room, a tray of tea and fruit in her hands. She laid it on the table in Damian’s room and bowed before leaving, never once raising her eyes or looking up at Damian, an act which probably would get her killed.

Damian sighed, not wanting to move from his seat to fetch the tea and fruit. He’d have to hobble painfully to the table, and there was no dignity in that. So, he just curled his lip and went back to playing his violin, ignoring the pang of hunger in his stomach.

After another hour, the door opened again, this time without a knock. Damian didn’t need to look up to know who it was.

“Mother,” he greeted, continuing to play.

“Damian.” Talia stopped by the door for a few minutes, listening to the music, before approaching the table of now-cold tea and fruit. Damian could practically see her angry frown. “Damian, you haven’t touched this.”

“I am not hungry,” Damian said.

“You’re lying,” Talia said with a sneer, and collected the tray, probably to take it away. Damian’s fingers hesitated on the violin’s strings for a moment; his mind whirled with ideas to convince his mother to leave at least the tea, but he blinked in surprise when instead of heading out the door, Talia brought the tray to Damian’s bedside, well within his reach.

Talia pried the violin from Damian’s fingers.

“How long have you been practicing, Damian?”

“I. . .” Damian licked his lips. “A few hours.”

“Then it is time to eat.” She laid the violin aside and put the bowl of fruit in Damian’s lap. Damian stared at it, recognizing the neatly cut cantaloupe and apples and the scents of cardamom and honey. Salatat Al-Fawaakih. One of his favorite dishes. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched his mother pour both of them cups of tea.

Damian narrowed his eyes.

“What are you doing, Mother?” he asked suspiciously.

“What do you mean, Damian?”

“Tt, you know what I mean.” You’ve left me for days without food or drink, without pain medication, without blankets or bedding. You’ve left me to fend for myself countless times. “Why are you here now?”

Talia sighed.

“Can I not care for my son?” she asked, handing Damian his cup of tea. Damian squinted at it and sniffed the aromatic drink but did not smell any poison.

“It’s not like you, Mother,” Damian said. He waited until Talia drank her own cup to sip his tea, relishing in the taste and the relief it brought his dry throat.

Aini,” Talia said gently, and Damian almost dropped his cup at the term of endearment. The last time he had heard that word he had been five and on his death-bed. The League’s doctors had been barely able to save him. Damian’s big green eyes flicked to Talia, huge in his little face.

“Mother?” he asked uncertainly.

Aini,” Talia repeated, leaning forward and taking Damian’s hand, “you must be careful. You are not easily replaceable.”

Damian frowned, confused.

“What do you mean?”

“You have seen the tanks with your supplemental bones and organs, yes?” Damian nodded; he’d been seeing those since he was a toddler. “I am saying that we have a limited supply. I cannot replace your broken bones or vital organs forever. You are only seven, Damian, you must be careful. You are mortal.”

Damian cocked his head to the side.

“What about the Lazarus Pit?” he asked and watched as his mother stiffened. Her hands flew to either side of his face, holding him tightly in place, nails digging into his scalp.

No!” she all but yelled. “No! No, I will not allow you to lay a finger in that wretched pool!”

“But Grandfather—”

Damian!!” She shook him roughly, her nails drawing blood. “Never go near that place! Do you understand me?!”

Damian nodded furiously and Talia finally pulled away; she saw the blood on her fingernails, blood which was coming from Damian’s hair, and sighed.

“Are you all right, Damian?” she asked tiredly.

“It doesn’t hurt,” Damian said. He paused. “But Mother, I don’t—”

Talia stood up suddenly, draining the rest of her teacup and cutting Damian off. She leaned forward and placed a kiss on top of his head.

“Remember what I told you, Damian. I have limited resources for you.” She pulled away and nodded at the bowl of the fruit nearby. “Eat up, aini. The servants will pick up the dishes in a few hours.”

She left before Damian could say another word, and when she was gone Damian realized that she had taken his violin with her.

He scowled at the door and shoved fruit furiously into his mouth, annoyed by his mother’s cryptic and confusing actions.

********************************