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After a year and a war

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Damian is on the verge of twenty-five when Todd takes a katana to the chest. He is helpless to watch as the tip of the blade protrudes from between Todd’s shoulder blades. The man makes a sound that is nothing more than a release of air but it sounds like it is torn from him. Todd levels his gun, shoots the assassin in the head, then the next one before he, with them, drops to the floor. They are in Gotham, this is not supposed to happen here.

Everything goes in slow motion as Damian sinks down to lift Todd’s head into his lap, his fingers already reaching for the com. He needs to get through to Grayson, but he only manages three words: Todd is down, before his own breath is stolen from him and he breaks on a choked up sob. There is no way to stop the flow of blood, but he has to try, at least for long enough that Grayson might reach them.

Todd’s hand is blindly reaching up, clumsily grasping at Damian’s neck. The green of his blue eye shines in the dark. There are no tears, no pain but there is regret.

“It’ll be alright, Baby-bat.” He promises, lies through his teeth, like he did when Damian was still a child and Todd did not think him capable of handling the pain of existence.

“Do not lie to me.”

There is a chuckle, but it dies somewhere in Todd’s chest. He bares his teeth, the physical pain suddenly pouring through, the white is smeared with red.

“Baby-bat…” Todd starts, but Damian will not allow him to say goodbye.

“Grayson is on his way. You have to fight.”

“You shouldn’t have…”

“He would have my head if I kept him from saying goodbye” Damian says, and then his voice breaks. They both now this is the end. It has been a good run, Todd would have said on any other day. Now he looks into Damian’s eyes with all the emotion he has never allowed himself to show.

“Akhi” he whispers, and it is the first time he has called Damian that, despite the years he has endured listening to Damian calling him the very same thing. Because Todd has been Damian’s brother for longer than Damian can remember. “Don’t worry. You’ll be free now.”

“What do I care for freedom if you are not there to experience it with me?” Damian prompts because he does not know how he is supposed to live without him, when Todd has been the only constant in Damian’s albeit short life.

“It is a golden cage, Baby-bat, to love someone” Todd gives one of his trademark smirks, ruined by the blood staining his teeth and the flashes of sorrow in his eyes. Damian does not know how to answer, but in the same moment feet land next to them. A gasp and then a scream, as Grayson folds over Todd’s draining body.

“What happened?!” Grayson’s eyes flicks between Damian and Todd, unable to settle on either, until Todd lets go of Damian to brush his fingers over Grayson’s cheek. There is tears now in his eyes, but he will not shed them. Damian wishes he could retreat, but Todd’s head is too heavy, and he does not wish to let go of his brother yet.

Grayson folds Todd’s hand in his own, holds it so he can kiss the palm. “Don’t leave me”

“I promise to haunt you” Todd smiles, fingers brushing away the tears falling down Grayson’s face. “We were happy, weren’t we?”

“The happiest” Grayson promises, kissing Todd’s hand anew, unable to stop.

“Ya’aburnee” Todd whispers.

“No, no, I can’t… Not again.” Grayson shakes his head, bending over to kiss Todd’s lips, tears falling over the blood stained face. Grayson’s fingers reach out to trace the scar crossing the right side of Todd’s face like a canyon. “You can’t ask that of me”

Todd kisses him again, fingers digging into Grayson’s charcoal locks. “I love you.”

“I love you more”

Todd gives a smile, before his eyes cloud over and life slips from him. Grayson breaks down then, sobbing uncontrollably, digging his hands into the cooling flesh of Todd’s chest until his golden skin is covered in the dark blood.

“Come back” he croaks, and Damian cannot watch anymore.

He lowers Todd’s head to the ground, but as he is about to pull away he is dragged into Grayson’s arms, and they break together. Holding each other to the point that something is bound to fracture. Damian doesn’t care. He buries his head in Grayson’s neck, as the realizations dawns on them both that they have lost him forever.

 

___________

 

Damian is sixteen and his world is tilting. It is perhaps inevitable that things will change. It must shift in order for him to grow, he knows this. He knows a lot of things about his destiny that will never come to pass.

He is sitting by Todd’s bed. They are somewhere in Central America and Todd has just taken a bullet to the ribs. He has a bad habit of throwing himself into danger. Especially when danger is trying to get at Damian. They are in what can barely be called a hospital, but they have the room to themselves, there is pain-medication and to Todd’s delight: a TV. He has ‘swapped’ across the channels for the better part of the past hour, now he is trying to get Damian to taste that awful jelly-thing he is devouring himself. Nothing with that much sugar and preservatives will ever pass Damian’s lips, and he tells Todd just as much.

“Suit yourself” Jason shrugs and grabs the second cup.

They have been there for two days. It is dangerous to stay in one place too long. Todd should have healed faster. Damian would comment on it, if he did not already know Todd’s answer. That he should not worry. That Todd was fine, only aging. But Todd was not that old and he had bathed in the Lazarus Pit. He should be as close to indestructible as a mortal man could be. Yet Damian kept quiet. He did not wish to call upon Todd’s wrath.

Todd had only three weaknesses, which is surprising considering how volatile the man could be. The first was his rage. As Damian has understood it, anger has licked Todd’s heals since childhood. It is the reason they ever met. That Todd lost his life and regained it. The Pit made the anger tenfold. It is a driving force and it is crippling.

The second weakness is Todd’s indignation for those who suffers. Damian might be probed to admit that it reminds him of empathy (not that he is well enough acquainted with it to know for certain), and that perhaps it is not Todd’s worst trait.

Todd was flicking on the news. CNN. They were reporting from Gotham, it was enough to pull his attention in. Even Damian flicked his eyes to the screen. A name flashed across, then a face. Black hair and blue eyes the shade of oceans and skies. Everything that holds both freedom and claustrophobic depth.

Todd’s third weakness has a name. The name has a face and a legacy that is almost as legendary as that of the Bat. Richard Grayson was either a saint or a fraud. Damian would bet on the latter. No man can be that good. Not even Damian is, and Damian was created, raised and trained for perfection. Yet he is, at least according to Grandfather, perhaps the most flawed human being to have ever wandered this earth.

Todd likes to make Damian believe that he detests Richard Grayson, but Damian is neither naïve nor blind. He recognized the look in Todd’s eyes, had seen it whenever Mother talked about his father, her beloved. Damian finds it… peculiar to think that one person could etch themselves upon your very soul, stitch themselves into your flesh, that you had no choice but to carry them with you for the rest of your existence.

He observes now as Todd’s eyes glazes over, losing himself to a memory, as his gaze locks upon the fleeting smile, the golden skin, the sheer abundance of godlike grace that is Richard Grayson.

Damian sighs. Only three weakness his bodyguard and brother has, but they are enough to make the man incapable of rational thought and effective action.

Damian lets his eyes wander across the room. It could do with some better cleaning, but maybe that is too much to expect in a place where corruption ruled and time is never enough.

There is a huff of breath, annoyance, coming from Todd before the man says: “The Replacement.”

Damian finds himself looking back to the screen, where a young man, short and pale, joins Grayson on stage. His hair is jet-black and clings to the sides of his face, covers the pale blue of his eyes. Damian has heard a lot about Timothy Drake, the man who was to inherit his father’s legacy, the man stealing Damian’s future right out of his grasp. To finally see the man is… a little bit of a disappointment. He has expected more of the person who Grandfather never fails to praise to the stars.

“Is that Drake?” Damian asks, knowing the answer but needing to find an outlet for the sudden flash of anger, if only by distraction. “He looks like the wind might push him over. I could crush him without even straining myself.”

Todd laughs at that. The sound grating at his nerves. It wasn’t a genuine one, Todd’s laughs rarely were.

“You probably could” Todd admits sagely. “If you ever got close enough”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“We aren’t destined for Gotham anytime soon and the Replacement barely leaves his office”

“He has no right to that office. He has no right to my father’s fortune, to his empire. It should all be mine.” Damian growls.

“And they might be someday. Right now? We’re stuck in a drug-infested shithole, and in a few days we’ll travel to the next.”

“Is Gotham not a drug-infested shithole?” Damian asked, quirking his lips in a snarl.

Todd gives a grin at that. “You’re talking trash about my hometown?”

The world might be canting, but as long as akhi could make stupid jokes, Damian supposes they would be fine in the end.

 

___________

 

He is eighteen when they are permitted back to Nanda Parbat. Todd argues they should not return, but Damian, although he is loath to admit it, misses his mother. She might not ever have been the conventional sort, but he knows in his heart that she loves him in her own way. He also longs for home. Todd has never understood how Damian could long for a place like that. A place that had only asked for him to suffer and make sacrifices, but Damian had been a child there. Had taken his first shaky steps on the warm heat of the sandstone. Had lost his first tooth there, broken his first bone falling out of an olive tree in Mother’s private garden. He had ran with the wind in the tall steppe grass on the rare occasion they were allowed outside the walls. Damian had said his first word there, one he cannot recall and that probably held little significance.

He was torn when parted from it. For all the bad memories, the pain and the disappointment, it was his roots. Damian could not exist as an outlaw from himself, he was already two worlds in one body. He could not live half a man if neither part belonged to him, there was nothing left for him then.

When presented with that argument Todd eventually relented. Because the man, despite all his failings, was not cruel, and maybe that was his biggest failure after all. That was the flaw that had taught Damian sympathy if nothing else.

Mother despises him for it. Not because she thinks it is inherently a bad trait, but that it makes him weak in the eyes of Grandfather, and weakness must be punished. His mother had thought that by stripping him of emotions he would never be hurt.

Neither would he ever rejoice. Never yearn, never love.

The temple where he grew up has stayed the same, but still he cannot see it in the same light, for he has changed. It is irretrievable. A loss of a sort. The embrace of nostalgia that he had expected hits like a punch to the stomach. He realizes his travels has turned him into something the boy that grew up in the court of Ra’s al Ghul could never dream of becoming. He is not sure what it is, and he does not think he likes it.

Mother greets him with what she probably thinks is a decent impression of a hug. It is a rare show of affection so Damian will take it. Even if it is false enough to break his teeth when he is forced to return it with something resembling a smile. Facing Grandfather is worse. His eyes are full of that poisonous green that has begun to fade from Todd’s eyes. It is the Pit and the Pit is a reminder of his grandfather’s wishes. To outlast himself and when that fails to produce a dynasty to outlast the rest of humanity.

He stands still, barely daring to breathe as Grandfather scrutinizes him. Taking in every new scar, judging his built, his stature. The molten green pours into him and finds him lacking. He is never, and might never be, good enough. It used to anger him when he was younger, had been a force to drive him forwards in his training. But he has long since resigned himself to his own short-comings. Now it might even be a sort of relief. He was not ready to give up his very limited freedom just yet.  

Damian is returned to his old room, followed by two assassins all draped in black. Did they expect him to make a run for it? Or was it something else that his grandfather did not trust him with? He forces himself to let go of the thought before it festers. Stepping inside his old bedroom feels like stepping through time. Everything, all of his childhood possessions, sits in the same place as he had once left them. The only thing that has changed is the bedding. He lets a hand trail over a bookcase, picking up tiny trinkets as he goes. Small things that he had once entertained himself with as a boy. Now with some distance to his own situation he can barely recognize them as toys.

He stops when his hand drifts to a ceremonial dagger still placed at the center of set up. It bears the al Ghul crest and is decorated with gold and green jewelry. Emeralds that glints in the low light from the lanterns lit around the room. They look like fires, green starlight. He thinks first of the Pit and shudders. Then another thought drifts to mind and he is reminded of one of all those books Todd had used to read to him as a child. The green light at the end of the pier, and he murmurs to himself, one of the lines that had stuck.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”[1]

Todd was right. They should not have come back.

 

__________

 

When Damian is seven he is still training with Mother. They are out in the desert. The heat is overwhelming at day. At night the air is freezing. Damian does not mind, it is an excuse to bundle up close to Mother. If he does well during his training, Mother might throw her arm around him and hold him. Out here in the desert Grandfather’s rules does not impose on them. Out here in the desert even Mother can be compelled to treat him like a child.

Todd is traveling, training with different masters and Damian misses him. Mother tells him he is being foolish, that his connection with akhi is a weakness. Yet she was the one to push them together and she does not seem inclined to actually keep them apart. Even know that Todd is gone she makes sure that they stay connected. Todd writes letters and Mother delivers them to Damian. Damian is not good with words, not the way Todd is. Perhaps it should not be expected of him to be either, he is after all only seven. But the people in Damian’s life has always expected more of him then he was capable of delivering. Reading Todd’s letters is the only connection to the outside world Damian has, and that world fascinates him and puzzles him. Todd includes anecdotes, news and sometimes pieces of prose or poetry from some of the books he is currently reading. Damian devours it, the way he imagines other children to perhaps devour sweets. It is a curiosity he cannot sate and he wants to know more. He asks questions to both Todd and Mother, whom of course is reluctant in her answers, and when his words fail him he draws pictures. Of the world he is currently living in and the one he imagines with the help of Todd’s stories. He compares them despite his better judgement, and finds his own to be small and claustrophobic. 

When Todd finally returns, almost a year later, he is changed. Damian can see it, not only in the way his body has changed, his movements have become swifter, his technique is better, but more than anything something in his eyes is different. He holds himself differently. The cadence of his words smoother. His wit sharper, wiser. Damian envies him his travels, and he begs that next time Todd leaves he will take Damian with him.

Todd shakes his head, ruffles Damian’s hair, which has always annoyed the boy, and he smiles. It is a sad smile as he says: “You know I can’t do that”

And Damian knows, but knowing does not make it any better. He still wants to see the world. He wants to travel with his brother. He wants to come back slightly changed. More knowledgeable in his trade and mind.

Todd gives in after some pestering. The stoic façade he keeps in front of Mother and Grandfather cracks around Damian and he agrees to have a sparring match with the boy at least, to teach him the things he has learned. This is why Mother will not break them up, why Grandfather permits it. Because the point of Todd’s travels has always been to become a better instructor to Damian. That he teaches Damian other things as well, such as language, politics and philosophy, that will forever be their secret.

The sparring leaves him exhausted, because when other people’s eyes are upon them, Todd is relentless. But he makes it up to Damian by reading to him. The books are often in English. They are old, complicated and dull, but Todd is back. His shoulder is warm and his voice is steadfast. He reads to Damian whether Damian has done well or not.

“The thing that irks me most is this shattered prison, after all. I’m tired, tired of being enclosed here. I’m wearying to escape into that glorious world, and to be always there: not seeing it dimly through tears, and yearning for it through the walls of an aching heart, but really with it, and in it.”[2]

 

__________

 

Damian is only a few weeks from twenty when he is finally touching down on American soil. Gotham had been a speck in his perimeter for so long, his entire life, now he was emerged in it. Body and soul.

Todd was a dark shadow at his side. Dressed in his usual leather jacket and combat boots. He looks like a stranded man brought back to civilization and in a way he is. Damian watches as Todd leans his head back against the darkening sky, breathing in the polluted air as a man resurfaced. Todd has a manic glint in his eyes, lips parting his face. He is grinning, laughing. The skies opens, spits back. It only turns Todd wilder. Damian pulls his own coat tighter against the cold drizzle of rain as Todd finally starts to wave down a taxi.

They were to meet Cassandra Cain here. Damian has only met the assassin once before in his life but had, to his own surprise, grown rather fond of her. She was efficient, a trait he had always appreciated, but more than anything she has morals. She does not play with her kills, does not drag the dying out, does not torture. She got the job done and then disappeared without a trace.

Cain would meet them at one of Gotham’s finer hotels, which was a rarity in itself. But the mission required it. Or rather the opportunity to finally take revenge has presented itself in such a way that their cover requires some class. Wayne Enterprises is launching a new business project and in the spirit of Bruce Wayne there would be an excessive party to celebrate. The kind where the right kind of people had excess. In short it was an undercover job that, if they were successful, would hopefully end with Damian reinstated as the true heir of the Wayne Empire. If they failed, it would most likely cost them their lives. Failure was not acceptable.

The skyscrapers tore at the darkening clouds, the panels of glass glittering in the city light. Gotham has nothing of the beauty that exists in the craftsmanship of the builders and artists hired by the league, but it was spectacular in its own right. Cold and raw in a way that has integrated itself into the minds of the people living here.

Todd enters the hotel first. Self-assuredness leaking from his body, it is like an aura around him. Damian follows closely. The receptionist gives them two key-cards. It is unusual that they do not stay in the same room, and Damian is at first not sure what to feel about it. On the one hand it is a luxury he should not question, on the other hand it has the potential of becoming an aggravating circumstance should anything go wrong. At the very least they are staying on the same floor.

They meet Cain on the restaurant floor. She sits in a sofa, by a floor-to-ceiling window, looking out at the view. It is truly an astonishing view. Wayne Tower rises like a beacon, a cross Gotham has to bear. With its clean lines, art-deco inspired architecture it is the most prominent feature of the city’s skyline. Cain never does anything without a reason.

She rises to her feet to be embraced by Todd. He is not a natural hugger but he has a weak spot for Cain. Damian greets Cain in the more conservative way and she returns the favor before they sit down together. She has a file that she pushes across the table. It contains blue-prints on the W.E office building as well as the Wayne’s penthouse and information on its inhabitant. How on earth Cain has gotten hold of it will continue to be a mystery to Damian since the woman refuses to tell him her secrets. Todd provides the forged identities.

“I like it.” Cain tells them once they have told her about the plan. “Simple.”     

“We’ll see about that. Killing people rarely is.” Todd mutters.

 “This will be” Damian says and Todd gives him a pitying look, as if there is something fundamental to this that Damian will never understand. Or perhaps that he feels sorry that Damian has lead a life wherein killing is more normal than falling in love. Damian pities Todd in turn, to have fallen for someone he will never have.

 

____________

 

Their plan is compromised within hours once news filter in that Grayson will be present at the launch party. That means Todd cannot go. If there is even the slightest chance that Grayson might recognize him, they will be exposed and dealt with accordingly. Todd gives off a litany of curses, the next fouler than the one before. Adding Grayson to the mix also means they have to create a contingency plan for him as well. Cain promises to solve it.

Damian feels… anxious. He has run missions on his own, dangerous ones at that, without Todd’s input or backup, but this is very different. The stakes are higher, but more importantly, they are personal. For the both of them.

Cain becomes the voice of reason. She makes slight alterations to their initial plan that has more than a fair chance of working. Damian is once more thoroughly impressed with her. Damian gets to pose as a foreign investor, a potential business partner in launching the WE projects abroad. He is of course on the younger side that is why they would have preferred Todd to be present, but Damian is also a prince, he knows how to act the part of privileged gatekeeper. Cain will pose as his fiancée. The concept is bizarre for them both, but they will have to make due. The idea is to have Drake neutralized before the evening is over, should it fail, then in the following days. Move in swift, move out fast.

The wardrobe is brought in through League channels. It proves to be a combination of modern American fashion and traditional Arabic. There are a couple of suits with a classical Hollywood cut, but with golden and green embroidery similar to those decorating the ceremonial robes Damian had often worn at home. He tries them out, watching his own reflection with trepidation. He looks sharp, not in the usual violent sense but in something that has a much more… sexual connotation. It makes him slightly uncomfortable.

He walks out of the bathroom to show Todd and Cain. Todd whistles, while Cain gives a big thumbs up.

“Would you look at that? Heartbreaker, huh? You’re gonna make all the ladies swoon.” Todd says, grinning widely, something akin to pride shining in his eyes, and of course Todd would be proud if Damian takes after his own hedonistic lifestyle. Damian hisses at him, uncomfortable in anything but his assassin’s outfit. Cain gives him a rare smile and pats his shoulder.

“It will work” she says, and right now Damian has little else to hold on to.

 

___________

 

The first time Damian gets drunk he is fourteen. Someone had tried to assassinate Grandfather and in a few hours Damian had lost everything he thought he knew about his life.

Todd has no right to look as smug as he does. They are in Rome, Mother got them out last minute. Damian can barely walk straight and Todd is currently the only thing separating Damian’s head from the hard sidewalk. He has made non-stop jokes about how Damian’s life is a bad medieval fairytale, but Damian is failing to see the humor in it.

“You’re gonna be so hungover tomorrow!” Todd says and then laughs.

And who though it was a good idea to let a fourteen year old get drunk? Todd’s uncle Ray is the answer. All people learn through models, and perhaps Todd’s role models had not been the best of people, Batman very much included.

“F-fuc-k yoo” Damian stutters drunkenly, to which Todd only laughs. “I’ve loust everyfing…”

“Hey, baby-bat, I’m sorry” Todd says, voice placating. He pulls Damian closer to him, to throw his arm across Damian’s shoulders. Damian has little choice but to lean into him, it is either that or hitting the pavement. “God, I shouldn’t have let you drink. The blind leading the deaf, huh?”

Damian shrugs, and immediately feels himself go sick with the motion. But Todd is there, guides him through the illness and keeps them moving.

“Me and you,” Todd starts, and Damian can tell he is quoting another one of his books. “we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow.[3]

“Wha’ arr yu talkin’ bout?” Damian slurs.

Todd stops them, forces Damian to meet his gaze. There is a calmness to the green, an almost blue quality that makes them look like lagoons. It is a reprieve. “Things seems shitty now, Baby-bat, but they will get better.”  

“Hov do yoo kno’?”

Todd laughs and it is one of those rare times in which it seems genuine. He reaches within a pocket of his leather jacket, and draws something out. It is a ring. A heavy one in wrought iron bearing the face of a roaring lion. The surface is worn, as if someone has traced their fingers over it again and again. If Damian takes a guess, he would say that the trinket is completely worthless and that Todd has hold on to it due to sentimental reasons alone. What these sentimental reasons are, Damian has no clue of.

“For luck.” Todd tells him, and closes Damian’s fist around the ring.

 

__________

 

Damian growls as Cain presses a champagne flute into his hand, to restrain him from strangling the old couple that sneered at them a few of minutes ago with so much disdain a lesser person would have crawled home in embarrassment. He sniffs the alcohol, hates the smell and the taste, but forces himself to swallow a mouthful, if only for appearance’s sake. It distracts him long enough for Cain to pull him towards the buffet. She claims it is a perfect vantage point, but Damian suspects she is only after the smoked salmon. Damian sneers at the lack of vegetarian options, an act that catches the attention of an elderly man in a black penguin frack. The old man lifts a greying eyebrow at him.  

“Is the food not to your satisfaction?” he asks with a pristine accent, and there is a hint of challenge to his voice. Damian is already wired, but he does his best to bite down any foul remarks.

“It is lacking in vegetarian options” Damian says, forces himself to go pliant.

The old man quirks a lip. “Ah, well, my mistake, sir. Let me see if I can rectify that.”

He bows shortly and then he disappears. Damian watches him but soon loses sight of him. Cain, in what can only be attributed to her weird sense of humor, offers Damian a roasted carrot from her own plate. Damian sighs in resignation, but accepts her gift.

Slowly they circle their way around the room, and Damian soon finds himself cursing Todd’s absence. While he enjoys Cain’s company, he can admit that he misses Todd’s running commentary. Even if it at times gets almost obscene and definitely tedious, it would serve a good distraction from the utter boredom that this event has turned out to be. Maybe if Damian could laugh at all these pretentious and arrogant people, here to bathe in the Wayne fortune’s glory, their stares and distain would not get to him. He detest them all. The temptation to commit mass-murder lurks in the back of his head, but Cain keeps him grounded. Forces him to stay present and alert. It gets a little better when the old butler finds him to deliver a plate vegan palak paneer.

A moment later someone crashes straight into his back and he drops his half-finished plate on the floor. Damian spins around, only Cain’s hand on his arm stops him from ceasing the intruder by the neck. When he meets the pale blue eyes of the man, he is both happy she did and hates her a little for it as well. Those eyes reminds him of a clear winter’s day somewhere on the northern hemisphere, something he had experienced on a very brief journey to Scandinavia.

“I’m so sorry” Timothy Drake begins to apologize, but there is still laughter dying in his gaze and he does not look very apologetic at all. “My dance-partner…”

Damian lifts his gaze to follow the pointing of Drake’s finger, where he takes in the sight of a bushy-haired blonde who is currently laughing to the point of ‘pissing’ herself, as Todd so eloquently would have put it. Drake than grows quiet for whatever reason, and when Damian glares down at him, something has shifted in the man’s gaze. It is only briefly there, but Damian has been subject to it ever since he turned eighteen enough times to recognize it as a stranger’s fleeting attraction. Then it is gone, like the extinguishing of a candle.

“You… You look familiar.” Drake says suddenly, and his face has shifted yet again, taking on a much more cautious, guarded expression. Yet there is a scientist’s curiosity in those pale blue eyes.

Damian is, if only for a very brief moment full of spite, tempted to give his real name. Not only would it blow their cover and result in a confrontation they have no intention to take part of, it would also be a rookie mistake and Todd would have his head for it. He pulls himself up to his full height, dwarfing Drake by almost a whole head, and gives the fake name.

 “Damian al Xu’ffasch”

Cain elbows him, probably for the way he cannot refrain to stare down his nose at Drake. Damian rolls his eyes, but proceeds to introduce her as his fiancée Sandra. They are cutting it close to their real identities, it is a gamble, considering the bats extended training, but when you lie it is safer to stick close to the truth.

The bushy-haired, laughing maniac approaches them then. She does little to hide her curiosity, which glares off of her like radioactive pollution off a nuclear core. Damian is almost ashamed on her behalf, but he notices how Cain tilts her head in interest and therefor keeps quiet. He is surrounded by lovesick fools, has been most of his life. He is sick of it.

“I’m Tim Drake, this is my…” Drake introduces himself while reaching out for the bushy-haired blonde. She folds into his arms but seems to be in no hurry to be defined by whatever label he might have chosen for her, as she introduces herself. “I’m Stephanie.”

This, which seemingly has the potential of developing into a quarrel, amuses Damian. But an elbow connects with his side before the mocking laughter can reach past his lips. He ends up making the sound of some strangled animal, it is undignified and Stephanie’s eyes immediately light up with glee. Had Todd been here, he would have teased Damian relentlessly for it.

“Is this your first trip to Gotham?” Drake asks, because apparently he lacks all sense of self-perseverance and does not hesitate to meet Damian’s heated glare to satisfy his own curiosity. Cain prods him with another elbow-hit to the side, so Damian gives him an affirmative answer. However when Cain still has not ceased looking expectantly up at him, Damian is forced to continue.

“I have wished to see this city for some years now.” Damian says, finding the truth to slip out easier than any fabrication.

“Really?” Drake asks, snorting a laughter. “Most people would say it’s the last place they’d want to visit.”

“I-“ Damian starts and stops. Cain taps her fingers against the back of his hand in a form of sign language, suggesting a little more honesty, so Damian complies. “I have family here.”

“Cool” Stephanie says. “Have you tasted the punch? It’s a mean one.”

When Damian shakes his head, the blonde shrugs and without meeting any protests, proceeds to drag Cain off towards the punchbowl. It leaves Damian to have an awkward stare off with Drake. Damian catalogues him. The black hair, in desperate need of a cut, frames a pale, white face, all sharp and angular. Lips thin, mostly from strain, and there are dark bags, badly covered up, beneath his eyes. He is twenty-four, Damian knows from his research, but the man looks older. Worn down and tired.

Drake gives a weak smile, a slight twitch off his lips that is echoed by a nervous spasm of his hand, as he places it on Damian’s shoulder, turning him slightly.

“Let me introduce you to my brother.” Drake says, and Damian might be imagining the wavering of his voice. Damian is escorted through the room, to a gathering of important looking people. In their midst stands a man with coal black hair gesturing wildly. He flashes his smile when the people around him breaks up in laughter. He is an artist, a performer.

“Dick” Drake calls for him, and Damian has to remind himself that it is not an insult, but the man’s actual name. Grayson excuses himself from the gathering and joins them with another wide smile. “This is Damian al Xu’ffasch. Damian, this is my brother Richard Grayson.”

Damian is silently impressed by the way Drake did not butcher his name entirely. Then he is distracted by Grayson’s outstretched hand. Damian takes it into his own. The ring Todd gave him all those years ago, that Damian still wears despite not believing in luck, glints slightly in the light. Grayson catches sight of it and for some reason it seems to startle him.

“It is a pleasure to meet you.” Damian says, then testing the waters. “Your name precedes you.”

“Pleasure’s all mine.” Grayson tells him, but he is not smiling anymore, or rather he is, but it is forced now. A stray thought clouding his eyes. Drake picks up on it and intervenes.

“We’re gonna hold a banquet at the manor this Sunday, you and your fiancée should come.”

Damian hesitates. This would be a golden opportunity of course, but without Cain to guide him he hesitates. “We… are humbled by your invitation.”

“The honor is ours.” Drake says. That nervous smile is back.

Grayson suddenly seem to register what is being said in front of him and shakes himself loose of his own thoughts. He smiles once more, looking like a man carrying all sorrows known to humankind on his shoulders. “We’d love to have you. Now excuse me, I have to…”

Then he disappears, very much like the old butler it is impossible to tell where to. Drake is soon pulled into some conversation in his brother’s place. The look he gives Damian, before the shareholders have him eaten and swallowed, is apologetic and filled with promise.

Cain finds him when the night is nearing its end. Her cheeks are flushed and eyes are full of laughter. Damian rolls his eyes, but lends her his arm as they leave. Mission incomplete.

 

___________

 

He is walking side by side with Todd. The madman is still dressed in his stupid leather-jacket despite the cold breath of winter licking down their bodies. Meanwhile Damian is buried beneath layers of clothing, a big black coat and underneath he wears two layers of sweatshirts. He is stiff, it is partly the cold, partly this strange city. Its’ shadows are looming wherever he turns, and no matter how bright the day gets there seems to be no sun. Damian grew up alternating between high mountains and dry deserts. He feels weirdly contained.

Todd, however, walks as relaxed as always, hands in the pockets of his jacket, slightly leaned back. He is the kind of man who walks with his hips first, while Damian probably looks like he expects an assault to rain down on them any minute. It is ingrained in his bones.

They are in one of Gotham’s parks. Todd is nursing a cup of street-vendor coffee. He claims it is the best he has ever had. If it is, Damian suspects it is only nostalgia talking. Todd is, after all, surprisingly nostalgic when he wants to be. Damian still considers it to be an illness, a threat to his own survival to long for things he has already put behind him.

Like this, they almost look like real brothers. The same dark hair, even if Todd of course has that white streak in his fringe, and both with green tinted eyes. They are at ease like this, amenable silence having descended upon them for a brief moment before it is broken by Todd’s half-laughter.

“So you made quite the impression on The Replacement?” Todd says. Damian had expected anger when he had returned to the hotel the other night, work not done. But Todd had taken the situation in stride. “An invitation to the manor, that’s like being invited to the White house.”

Damian wants to swat at him but is unwilling to surrender his bare hands to the cold air. He also does not want for Todd to take revenge, the man has a mean jab. Todd seems to take his silence for doubt.

“It’s okay, Baby-bat, you did well. We can work with this.” Todd says and even reaches out to pat Damian lightly on the arm. It is a rare display of affection that Damian would appreciate if his brain had not been overworking the different implications of this. He is reminded of Drake’s brief, lingering glances. Cain’s effortless charming of the blonde. Suddenly there is irrational anger brimming under his skin, like an itch he cannot scratch, or rather is not allowed to.

“What would you have me do?” Damian grits out between his teeth. He hopes Todd thinks the tension in his jaw is due to the cold.

Todd grins easily at him, smile pulling at the crow-feet that has developed over his face during the past few years. “Charm him.”

The anger boils over then. Damian has kept it bottled down during their whole stay in Gotham so far. He is not to be blamed for the outcome of all that pressure.

“I will not prostitute myself to get what should rightfully be mine!”

Todd stops short, swears under his breath.

“Fuck, no, I didn’t mean that.” His eyes are sincere and unguarded when he halts Damian by putting both his hands on Damian’s shoulders. Holding him, as much of an embrace as Damian was ever going to get. “I would never ask something like that of you, Baby-bat.”

“What does charming him entail then? Am I meant to court him?”

That startles a laugh out of Todd. Something flares to life in his eyes that has mostly been kept dead and buried. His smile is genuine now, voice still shaking with mirth when he says:

“As amusing as it would be to see you Pride-and-Prejudice yourself into wealth, I don’t think that’s a good idea”

“Then what?” Damian asks, fists shaking at his side.

“Hang out with him. Become his friend, wrap him around your finger”

“That will take ages.” Damian sneers. “I am a Wayne. I am the true heir, my father’s legacy should already belong to me.”

“Yeah, but the big old Bat isn’t here, now is he? We got an invitation to the manor, this is our shot.”

Damian glares at his so-called brother. “It is a foolish idea and I am not in favor of it.”

“I know, Baby-bat”

They are on their way back to the hotel when Todd decides there is something he needs to look into, an old acquaintance he wants to check up on. English, apparently. Damian sighs, turns his gaze to the sky and continues walking as the rain begins to fall. 

After a couple of minutes, a car suddenly pulls up to the curb beside him. Damian is surprised to see it is one of those sleek, black Wayne cars. The window is rolled down and as Damian leans closer, he can spot Drake behind the wheel.

“Hi! Do you need a ride?”

“It is fine.” Damian tells him, but Drake is undeterred.

“You’ll get wet.”

“I am already wet.”

“Then you might catch a cold. Common, we don’t want that, do we?”

Damian wants to tear the man’s intestines out through his nose, but he is reminded of Todd’s plea to charm Drake, to get close to him. It would also up the opportunities to off him, Damian supposes. He shrugs, opens the car door and slides into the front seat. His reward is a beaming smile before Drake puts the car into gear.

Drake drives as if he has nothing to live for and Damian finds that notion insulting. He would perhaps have lashed out if he was not already busy trying not to empty his stomach. It is saying quite something about Drake’s ability (or lack thereof) considering Damian has traveled with both Mother and Todd.

In the background music is playing. Damian can only make out a few words between the guitar and his own beating heart, but the conflict between the mostly upbeat music and the sad words is enough to rattle him.

Drake rushes a yellow light, he turns to Damian and his face is split in a wide grin. He is laughing, and for a moment he looks his age. He is, objectively speaking, not an unattractive man. At least not when he smiles and his eyes flare alive, holding a vivid clearness to them, that had Damian been a man of faith, he might have been compelled to say holds divinity.

“If a double-decker bus crashes into us…”[4]

“It’s the Smiths!” Drake proclaims, and when Damian only gives him a confused stare, nods at the speakers. “Our butler’s British, introduced me to the world of brit-pop. But it was really Bruce who got me into them.”

Damian only nods, even as the mention of his father’s name makes something clench in his chest. Drake gives another wide grin, as he overtakes a row of yellow cabs. Damian reaches for anything to hold onto, fingers digging in like claws. He has never feared more for his life than in this moment. He has no control and the feeling vexes him. When Drake sees it he starts laughing.

“Relax! You look like you’re gonna puke!”

To Drake’s credit, Damian does not feel far from it. He tries to control his breathing, going through the exercises he had been taught as a child.

“You want a bag?” Drake asks, grinning like a maniac. Damian wonders, if only for a brief moment, if the man is even sober.

“If a ten ton truck kills the both of us…”

Damian eventually manages to guide them back to the hotel. It is probably an error on his part to lead his pray to his very own lair, and Todd will most likely chew his ear off for it, but needs must. As in Damian needs to get out of that blasted car before it does him in. Drake sends him off with a wink and a promise to talk more with him come Sunday. The act, for it is an obvious one, has his heart picking up speed.

 

____________

 

Damian is told of his father’s passing a year before he travels to Gotham. It is Mother who brings the news. She wakes him up in the early hours of dawn, the sun has yet to fully break through the dark, shaking his shoulder slightly. There is no hysteria in her voice, she has never felt that deeply, not even for her beloved, but there is a vague sense of sadness. The room is suddenly stifling. Damian has never met his father and as the realization dawns that he never will, something akin to grief descends upon him. He cannot stand to look into Mother’s eyes, both indifferent and soulful in this one moment, so he takes his leave. Mother lets him.

He wanders aimlessly around the temple ground until the sun rises and Todd finds him sitting on a garden-wall, watching the horizon. Damian hears the way akhi sighs before he heaves himself up to sit beside him. Todd allows him this rare moment of peace and silence, simply waits him out until Damian is ready to speak.

“I am sorry”

“You’re sorry?” Todd asks, surprise leaking into his voice. “What on earth do you have to be sorry about?”

“He was your father before he was mine.”

Jason shrugs. “I don’t know about that, but thanks Baby-bat, I get the sentiment. I’m sorry for your sake too, you know. You never actually got to meet him.”

Damian nods, briefly glancing over at Todd who seems to itch for a cigarette but Grandfather does not allow him to smoke here. He thinks for a moment before he asks: “Tell me about him.”

He has of course asked on several occasions in the past, but Todd never used to be receptive to it. Always used to tell him something generic if his mind was not too clouded by resentment. Damian does not think that Todd actually hated Father, but a man is never valued for who is but for what he does, and in this case, for what he fails to get done. Batman, despite popular belief, was never guided by revenge. A fact that Todd, and Mother alike, struggled to accept. Now it is too late to change anything.

Damian does not expect him to answer when suddenly Todd draws a breath.

“He has a terrible sense of humor. Sorry… had.” Todd stops, but only briefly. “I mean, when you dress up as the only animal you’re terrified of, you’re either clinically insane or weirdly self-aware… He used sarcasm as a form of endearment, think he got it from Al. Perhaps it was just adapt or perish, I suppose.” 

Damian looks at Todd’s profile, observes the way he watches the horizon as if he waits for something to appear beyond it. Or as if he imagines himself to travel into it. Escape this place once and for all, find home again. Damian used to be afraid as a child that Todd would leave one day, gather his belongings and go back to Gotham. Forgetting that Damian even existed and never return for him. Leave Damian to his fate, knowing full-well what the consequences of that would be. But Todd never gave up on him, so Damian will not give up on Todd.

“Tell me more”                                                         

“He’s intentions were well-meaning but his methods were sometimes questionable.”

“Like Mother?”

Todd gives him a sympathetic smile. “In a way. Your father was a good man. I know you’ve heard it before but it’s true. He saved me from the streets, which would have been my doom one way or another.”

“But he betrayed you”

“No, I betrayed him” Todd sighs. “He didn’t revenge me, and fine, I’m still a bit pissed about that, but… I guess I understand him now.”

“How?” Damian asks, genuinely curious.

“You have to keep to something, laws, morals, whatever. If you don’t, you lose yourself and you’re of no use to anyone then.”

“How did you come to this understanding?”

“I met a little brat once…”

Damian interrupts him by almost shoving him off the wall. Todd only laughs, rights himself by grabbing hold of Damian’s arm.

“Hey, what was that for?” he asks, smiling.

“I am not and have never been a brat” Damian says, puffing his chest out in a manner he hopes Todd will see as humorous.

“Who says you’re the only brat I’ve ever met?” Todd smirks, jostles Damian enough that he for a short moment almost loses his grip of the wall as well.

They sit in silence for a moment longer. Someone will soon call for them and training will begin. Someone will have informed Grandfather and plans will be put in motion. They will need to play their parts then, but for now Damian allows himself this moment. Where they are almost like brothers, grieving the death of a beloved father-figure. The sun their only witness.

“You know that quote about courage?” Todd asks, and his voice has once more gone serious.

“The one you tried to imprint on me my entire childhood against my will? Yes, I do” Damian snarks, and recites the words from memory. “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what[5]

“Yeah, that one” Akhi says, and Damian imagines he sounds impressed. “That was all Bruce”

 

__________

 

Once more Cain’s presence does little to calm Damian’s nerves. Damian does not like to admit he is nervous, but he is also not foolish enough to deny something that is clearly the truth. He is unsettled by the way it affects him. In his defense, feeble as it might seem, they are in the Bat’s lair. Or rather on top of it. Both Damian and Cain is well aware of what exists just a couple of meters beneath their feet. Despite Todd’s debriefing of the risks of entering the manor, there is sure to be traps they are not aware of. And it seems the social ones are the first to do them in.

They are expected to ‘mingle’. This setting is far more private then the launch party, the gathering smaller, any behavior going outside of what would be expected at an event such as this would immediately make them seem suspicious.

When Cain is ultimately ‘snagged up’ by Stephanie (it was inevitable with the way the two women had kept each other in sight), Damian is left alone. He has Drake under close observation, but the man has yet to approach, constantly interceded by old-looking people with important-looking poses wanting long-drawn-out conversations with the newest technological genius at Wayne Enterprise. Damian feels ignored, and it annoys him how prominent the emotion is and how he cannot shake it.

In this state he is unprepared for Grayson. The man is clearly a social-butterfly and has already made his rounds around the room. He was the first to greet them when Damian and Cain first arrived, and now when Cain has left his side, the man pounces on him once more. His eyes are like the sea when he hands Damian a flute of champagne; there rages a storm in them and anyone caught unaware risks drowning.

“Tim told me it’s your first time in Gotham, how do you find the city so far?”

“Striking” Damian answers, and it is true enough. He has also grown to find the city slightly claustrophobic, but he is not about to tell one if its protectors that.

 “He said something about you having family here?” Grayson continues with levity, and Damian quickly realizes why the man works as an investigator, he is surprisingly good at making the interrogation sound inconspicuous.

“Yes” Damian answers shortly. “It is a private matter, as I am sure you understand”

Grayson raises his hands in a placating manner. “Of course, didn’t mean to overstep. Hey, I couldn’t help but notice that ring you’re wearing, it’s very unique. An heirloom?”

Damian is taken back by the sudden change of topic. He gets the creeping sensation that there is something the man is looking for, something he knows, that Damian is yet unaware of. He needs to figure out what it is quickly, before he missteps and risks outing them. Therefor he forces himself to swallow down his natural instinct to affront.

“In a way. My brother gave it to me.” Damian answers, wondering where the line goes between how much he needs to share to keep the conversation flowing and how much he can share without causing any damage. 

“Oh, how did your brother come by it?” Grayson wonders idly, and Damian grows to suspect that this has nothing to do with himself. Grayson’s interest is too piqued, too intense and in all fairness quite peculiar. Damian plays with the idea of pressuring the man on it, but decides against it, though he takes it for an opportunity to shift focus from himself to Grayson.

“I do not know. Does it remind you of something?” he says it with a lopsided grin he knows Todd uses to disarm people. However it seems to achieve the opposite effect when Grayson only tenses up further.

Grayson, now caught out, gives off a strained laugh. “I’m sorry, just something my dad gave me once. A stupid little trinket for luck. I’m probably drunker than I think I am.”

He excuses himself and does a decent enough effort of playing up the drunk, yet charming part. If Damian had not kept tabs on him during the evening he would be fooled to think that the man had had more than that one wine glass he drank in the beginning as he toasted them welcome.

When Damian now looks around for Cain he realizes she is gone. He clenches his fist around the champagne flute, still not touched, and wishes he had not declined Todd’s offer to have an earpiece on him. It would have been too obvious for the present Bats, but Damian misses Todd’s attempts at speaking his ear off.

As he is contemplating the buffet, this time filled with vegetarian options alone, he is startled out of his thoughts by a hand on his shoulder. He swirls his head around until he is staring into the arctic blue of Drake’s eyes.

“Sorry I couldn’t speak to you sooner. People have been hounding me down all evening. What do you think about the food?”

Damian stares at him a moment longer, to assert dominance he tells himself, while the truth might more honestly be that he is a little lost for words at the openness of Drake’s features. The way his pale skin seems to shine in the soft lighting, accented by the maroon of his suit.

“The food is to my satisfaction.”

“Good, Alfred was worried.”

“Alfred?”

 “Yeah, our butler”

Damian nods, changes the subject. “Is the launch still going as expected?”

“Oh, yeah, very much so.” Drake says with contentment leaking off him, and he looks easy like this. For a moment unguarded and untroubled. Not quite like he had in the car, but also something much more subtle. Damian surprises himself by wanting to see more of this side in the other man. That he at all wants to get to know him.

A moment later Cain and Stephanie decides to rejoin them. Cain easily linking her arm with Damian’s. Her grin is too wide, hair tousled and every time she gazes at Stephanie, the blonde blushes. He does not wish to know why.

They spend the rest of the evening in each other’s company. What begins as an act slowly turns into a genuine feeling of enjoyment. He even laughs at one of Drake’s stupid jokes. It is enough to make the man glow. The smile he gifts Damian makes something stir up in Damian’s chest, and he wonders why he is suddenly so affected. Is he not too young, too vital to suffer a heart attack?

Once it is time to leave, Damian is almost sad to go. He realizes he is starting to lose track of the end goal. Then pushes the thought aside.

Before they leave, Grayson comes up to apologize. If he had only been feigning tipsiness before he had rectified it by now and was on the wrong side of drunk. He leaned his bulk into Damian, getting himself close to whisper in Damian’s ear.

“It’s just… You remind me so goddamn much of someone. Someone who’s been gone for years.”

The voice is slurred, the words are laser-sharp. Before Grayson gets the chance to say anything more, Drake is peeling him off of Damian’s person with an apologetic look and leading him away.

Todd is waiting on them in a hired car. They slid into the backseat and as they are driving away Damian leans forward until he catches Todd’s eyes in the rearview-mirror.

“Grayson suspects something.”

The name alone, let alone the words put together, is enough to almost send them off the road. Todd glares back at him through the mirror-glass.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“He saw the ring”

“What goddamn ring?” Todd asks, a combination of anger and distress leaking into his voice. Cain reaches forward to rub his shoulder. The man does not take to the act kindly. He prompts yet again and Damian sighs, slips the ring with the lion-head from his finger and gives it to Todd.

Todd’s breath stutters. “Don’t tell me you’ve worn this tonight”

“You gave it to me.” Damian snorts. “I wear it with pride.”

“It’s his godamn ring!” Todd heaves a sigh, before handing the ring back. “The fucker gave it to me cause he thought I was an unlucky son of bitch.”

 “Grayson?” Damian asks.

“No, Santa-fucking-Claus!” Todd mutters, it is clear he is angry. His first weakness stoked up by his third. “Yes, Dick. He’s a stubborn bastard”

“I am sorry. I did not know.”

“Damian, shut up” Todd says eventually, and it is the first time he has actually meant it.

 

_________

 

Damian is almost five when Mother sinks Todd into the pit. He is too young to be present for the ritual, but he remembers the aftermath. The rage-high zombie-version of a teenager who crashes through the corridors of the palace until Mother manages to subdue him. Damian only remembers the infested flesh beginning to heal up and those mad, green eyes that were even worse than Grandfather’s. Damian keeps closer to Mother in the following days, trying but not succeeding to crawl into her bed at night, seeking comfort from the nightmares that haunts him.

Instead she thrusts him into the arms of the zombie once he has calmed down enough to not kill anyone on sight. Todd is silent in the beginning and Damian hates him. He is so afraid of the western stranger, but Mother refuses to listen. Goes angry at his obvious show of fear.

Todd is catatonic, something Damian does not realize until years later, but he is gentle. It seems Damian manages to reach through to him, and Todd starts to share his food with him, he bandages Damian’s injuries and when Damian’s nightmares won’t relent he seeks out Todd and Todd comforts him. He lets Damian stay in his bed until the sun rises, humming little songs without words. It is the safest Damian has ever felt. Todd quickly becomes akhi.

 

__________

 

The argument grows nasty once they reach the hotel. They are holed up in Damian’s room and Todd has been spewing vitriol at him for the past hour when Damian finally protests.

“We do not know what Grayson knows”

“Isn’t that part of the fucking problem?” Todd asks, spitting venom. He has a whiskey bottle in hand which he pulled from the room’s bar-cupboard the second they stepped inside. Cain sits silently on the bed, a computer pulled up in her lap, but she still tracks their movements closely.

Damian is leaning against the wall, still dressed in slacks and a black silk shirt, arms crossed over his chest. He glares at Todd, willing the man to see how Damian disapproves of his actions.

“Don’t give me that look” Todd growls.

Damian ignores him. “There is still time.”

Todd stares, takes a swig and then goes quiet.

In the silence that follows Cain pipes up from the bed. “Private party. Drake’s penthouse.”

“What?” Todd and Damian ask her at the same time, then glares at each other again.

Cain turns her computer around and shows them a message from Stephanie. Damian squints at her with no small amount of suspicion, but yet again, he is probably better off not knowing. Todd however has no such qualms and whistles loudly, impressed.

“Smooth daughter of a fucker! What did you have to do to get that?”

Cain shows him the middle finger, but a smirk soon graces her features.

 

___________

 

Private is relative. The penthouse is large, but it feels crowded with the thirty-something people that is in attendance. This so called party bears little resemblance to the other social gatherings Damian has been to in the recent days. It is loud, the crowd is young and the atmosphere is almost hedonistic. Then the music shifts. It is still loud and obnoxious, fast but melodic. And the words does not fit the upbeat tempo.

In my life, why did I give valuable time,
To people who don’t care if I live or I die?[6]

Cain guides him through the rooms. In the living room they find Drake standing on a table, chugging back a glass of something amber-colored. Drake makes a disgusted face before raising his hands in victory. The crowd cheers. Damian finds the display disappointing. This is not the man Damian thought Drake to be. Drake was witty, authentic in his passions, intelligent. He was better than this.

Stephanie finds them in the midst of the loud people. She wears a tight purple dress that leaves little to the imagination and makes Cain’s eyes linger. Damian wants to roll his eyes but refrains from it. Stephanie whistles when she approaches.

“You two look like crazy hot tonight!” Stephanie shouts over the music.

Damian thinks Cain blushes. It makes him want to smirk. She is indeed looking good. Cain wears a black jumpsuit in a soft, flowing fabric that makes her look dangerous but not in the lethal sense. As for Damian, his arms are left bare because someone (Todd) thought he should show off his best assets. It seems to work for soon enough a woman approaches and practically attaches herself to him. Damian tries to shake her off and when he turns to Cain for help, the assassin is already on the other side of the room, laughing at him quietly with Stephanie by her side, arms already thrown around each other. He glares at them, and hopes they understand he is not happy at them for leaving him at this stranger’s mercy.

He swears he only lets the woman distract him for a moment, but it seems to be enough time for Drake to have disappeared from sight. Damian extracts himself from the still clinging woman with an annoyed sigh. He does not feel like an assassin in this moment, raised in the image of Ra’s al Ghul, so much as a tired baby-sitter.

Damian sweeps his eyes across the room. These people still astonish him. For all the wealth oozing from them, they lack integrity and manners which makes them poor in taste if not in money. Damian hates the lot of them.

Eventually he notices the door out to the roof terrace is standing open. It is worth taking a look, if only to get a quiet moment to himself. The cold air nips at his skin as soon as he steps out. There are no stars in Gotham, the night sky is too polluted, a sluggish brown. Another thing that speaks against his father’s city. There are no dreams, no hope in a place without stars.

The light spills out from inside the apartment where the party is still raging, making the shadows out here that much longer. Damian is not deterred, he knows how to navigate them. It does not take long for him to notice that he is not alone (but longer than Grandfather would accept). Drake is stood on the bannister, off to the side where he would not be seen from inside. He balances with ease as the wind rips through his hair, grabs at his clothes and for a moment he looks like the figurehead of an old ship. The sudden fear that courses through Damian’s blood at the sight of him is… surprising, to put it mildly.

Damian walks closer, each step measured. He struggles between not making a sound and fearing to startle the man if he gets too close unannounced. He needn’t worry, Drake is a bat, of course the man would be aware of his surroundings. Even in this almost lucid state he is too sharp for his own good.

“No one even noticed I left, did they?” he asks, and his voice cuts through the stillness like the blunt edge of a blade, leaving jagged corners behind. Something unsettled, unsettling.

Damian clears his throat. “I did”

At the admission Drake laughs. The noise is hollow, shattered in all the wrong ways.

“Oh, please, that’s only cause you’re keeping tabs on me.”

Damian stops short at those words. His silence seems to provoke Drake to at least turn around to look at him.

“What? You thought I wouldn’t realize? You’re either the most obsessed industrial spy I’ve ever met, or you’re really just here to kill me” Drake’s eyes are pools of blue, unshed sorrows. “Anyway, it’s kinda sad that the only person bothering to check in on me is plotting my demise.”

“Step down from the ledge.” Damian says in lieu of answer. It startles him how shaken he sounds.  

Drake, unsurprisingly, refuses. “Who even are you?”

“You know who I am” Damian says with all the authority instilled in him as a child.

“No! No, I don’t!” Drake’s voice rises before it breaks.

Damian’s heart beats erratic. He recognizes it as fear and something else. Something he wants to poke at until he can figure out what it is and how to make it stop, but now is not the time. He clenches his fists, taking a minute decision and then sighs in resignation.

“Step down and I will tell you.”

Drake stares at him. There is only Gotham breathing around them, Damian is not sure he breathes himself. Then finally Drake’s shoes hits the terrace floor, his body is shaking and he slides down against the bannister, bending his head between his knees. Damian moves forward as if pulled by a string. He does not know what to do, if he should reach out or leave him, but he has promised and when Drake looks up at him, he slides down beside him. Where they sit they catch glimpses of the people still inside. The way they move like flickering lights, a world of their own.

“So, is Damian even you’re real name?” Drake says after a moment of silence.  

“Yes, Damian is my real name.”

“And the rest?”

Damian realizes in this instance that he has, as Todd would put it, ‘fucked it all up’. If he tells Drake his true identity, everything, all the hard work, the years in exile, the wounds and scars, would have been for nothing. But he supposes he has already failed and what more damage can he do?

But Drake does not let him doubt. “You’re a member of the League, aren’t you?”

He should not be surprised that Drake had him figured out. Even Grandfather acknowledged him to be one of the smartest people on earth. It had grated Damian’s nerves up until he had actually gotten to meet Drake. Gotten to know him, unpolluted by other people’s perceptions.

“Yes and no.” Damian says. Drake looks intrigued by that. “I am Damian al Ghul.”

Drake flinches visibly, retracting from Damian’s side, but Damian has finally opened up and now he does not know how to stop.

“I am son of Talia al Ghul and Bruce Wayne.”

Drake stares at him, no longer with curiosity but rather in horror. When he rises on shaky legs, drawing further and further from him, something within Damian finally snaps. He expects anger, wants to lash out when Drake, still looking horrified, finally turns his back and runs away. Instead the emotions that flood over him scares him, because Damian suddenly feels like crying.

 

___________

 

“What the fucking hell have you done?” Todd roars at him once Damian has told him what happened at the penthouse party. Todd looks scared. It is enough to terrify Damian.  “I know this is your own little vendetta, and trust me I’d be happy if it took a less lethal turn, but right now you’re also going against Ra’s orders. Do you understand what you’ve done? What will happen to you?”

“I am his grandson. His own blood. He cannot turn on me”

“For fucks’ sake, kid. You know he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about that”

“If it is as bad as you claim, why am I then still alive?”

“Because I’ve kept you that way!” Todd grits out between clenched teeth, and there is fire in his eyes, a madness Damian has not seen since Todd’s earliest days among them. “I’ve bargained for you, I’ve suffered for you, I’ve killed for you!”

It hits Damian like a spear to the chest, and he hates the way it rattles him. He knows, of course he does, what Todd has endured on his behalf, but to hear it put into words makes him wonder if it was worth it.

“Then you will do so no longer” Damian says, finality lacing his voice.

It seems to startle Todd, who takes a step back and just stares at him. “What are you talking about?”

“I will end Drake and then meet my fate.”

“No, you won’t”

“You cannot tell me what to do”

“We’re leaving. I’ve already booked a plane to South Africa. You’re coming with me whether you like it or not”

“An al Ghul does not run like a coward”

“That’s only cause your grandpa has that freaky little pit of his and he doesn’t need to bear the consequences of mortality” Todd spits.

“Your insolence will get you killed someday”

“Ha, it already has” Todd says, grin turning bitter, as he starts packing up the last of Damian’s things. Damian turns to the window, he can catch a glimpse of the Wayne Tower if he presses close enough to the windowpane. That is his destiny. He has let emotions run this mission. That will need to be rectified. Competition neutralized. See himself reinstated as the true heir of not one but two empires. 

He just has to forget the glassy stare of those arctic blue eyes that has come to haunt him.

Damian digs out the ceremonial dagger he has carried with him for the sake of this endeavor alone, and pulls on his preferred field-wear. Only then, when he is dressed in black from head to toe does Todd look up at him from his panicked reorganizing of their belongings.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“To finish what we came here for”

“Jesus… We’re already screwed. There’s no chance in hell you’ll succeed. They will have you thrown in jail before you take a step inside the building. Or worse, they’ll have you delivered to Ra’s.”

“I need to do this”

“Why? For who’s sake?”

“For my own!”

“Why can’t you just suck it up and move on like the rest of us?”

“’Suck up’ what?”

“That no one wants you”

The anger lashes out then, collides with Todd’s as Damian throws himself at the elder man, dagger raised high. It is a seamless incision, as the dagger connects with Todd’s skin and slits up half of his face, from the very corner of his eyebrow down to nag at his lips. The blood pours out before the blade is even removed. Todd stares. Damian stares back. Then he runs.

 

__________

 

When Damian is ten he is almost sent to Father, but for some reason that Damian still does not understand, Mother changed her mind. He does not know whether to be relieved or to hate her for it. Later he thinks it is the latter, since she robbed him of a chance to actually get to know his father. Instead his training continues. It always does no matter what.

Todd is on another trip. He always writes, but Damian is often too tired to write back. He is expected to kill now. It takes more of him than he is capable of understanding at the time. One time he refuses. The boy is so small. He only stole that dagger because he was hungry, he did not understand its ritual importance, only that it held expensive jewels; emeralds and gold. Damian does not know what happens but he blacks out and there is a large gap in his memory.

By the time he wakes up, Todd is reading to him. It is not unusual, what is, however, is the redness of Todd’s eyes, the wetness of his cheeks. When he realizes Damian is awake Todd pulls him into a tight hug.

Damian starts having nightmares. He has never had them before, but suddenly he is haunted by images of drowning. Somewhere above the surface, light pierces through, making the water around him a tinted green, two shadows watches him being pulled under. One he recognizes as Mother, the other has a silhouette akin to Todd’s, except it is taller, larger, broader. No one dives in after him. He is not worth saving

 

_________

 

He is twenty in less than two weeks and he has failed his mission, proved his Grandfather’s fears to be true and mutilated the only person he has ever cared for.

Damian flies over the rooftops but it feels dangerously close to falling. He runs where his legs carries him. It is only when he flies by Wayne Tower that he realizes his unconscious has chosen a direction and carries him further, until he is one rooftop away from the Wayne penthouse.

The lights are on, and he can see a dark figure shuffle around inside. He does not know, but he has feeling, that that is what grief looks like. Someone who has been emerged in it for too long, and who keeps on running into things to break them further. Damian cannot do it. He supposes he never could, but now it is definite. Drake deserves a chance at living. Truly living.

There is a thud on the roof behind him. It is probably Todd who has finally managed to find him. He expects the hit, he does, but it still hurts when it lands heavy in his back. It is ingrained instinct that makes him turn to face his opponent. He barely manages to duck the kick that comes next and when he glares up he is met by a black-clad figure with a blue eagle-like figure on their chest.

Nightwing, his brain supplies, then corrects: “Grayson”

“How do you-?” Grayson starts but as Damian rises to his full height, the escrima sticks in his hand busses to life. “It doesn’t matter. You won’t touch him”

Damian does not answer, only dives out of the way as the electrified weapons bear down on him. He manages to escape with only a light gracing, but it is enough to make the muscles in his left arm constrict. 

“So you’re B’s kid, huh?” Grayson says, not relenting in his attack but Damian does not want to fight him. “Ra’s send you here to eliminate the competition?”

“I will not fight you” Damian says, parrying the next assault but without putting too much force into it, least it gave Grayson’s ideas.

“Shame” Grayson says, and the half of his face that is visible, that pearly-white grin, stretches into a cruelness that does not befit him. “Cause I have no intention to stop”

Damian watches as Grayson raises his weapons and he waits for the impact, but it never comes. Suddenly a shadow has descended into the fight, separating Damian from his assailant. He immediately recognizes the broad back of Jason Todd.

“Run!” Todd shouts over his shoulder, but Damian is stuck. “For fucks’ sake kid, run!”

He watches as Grayson’s attention shifts to Todd and Todd fights back. Every punch is met by a counter strike. Grayson is relentless and while Damian can see that Todd holds back, it is not by much. He is defending Damian. Fighting one of his weaknesses. It rattles Damian enough to make him move. He takes a few shaking steps back, before he turns and sprints.

He makes it to another building, where he turns and watches how Grayson launches himself at Todd. They fall over and starts rolling. Grayson grabs hold of the hood covering Todd’s face and rips it back.

Damian cannot see his expression, but he thinks he hears Grayson’s voice break around Todd’s name. Then Todd is pushing back, and Damian watches in a haze as he turns and sprints towards him. Like he had in Rome, he grabs hold of Damian and just guides him through the motions.

“You came back for me” Damian mumbles.

“Always” Todd answers.

They escape together, crashing in an abandoned warehouse that apparently is not far from the district in which Todd grew up. They end up staring out at the Gotham skyline through a shattered window, on the look-out for any Nightwing-shaped shadows.

It feels like a fitting conclusion to their trip. Because this must be the end after all.

“Forgive me…” Damian starts but Todd interrupts him.

“Fuck, I’m sorry, kid. I shouldn’t have lashed out at you.”

“But you were right. I have ruined the mission and I have failed Grandfather.”

“That piece of shit can burn in hell!” Todd’s voice is raw and his eyes sincere. “Listen to me, Damian. You haven’t failed anyone. Not Ra’s, not Talia, not Bruce and definitely not me, but we have failed you.”

“You have not failed me, Todd.” Damian tries to argue. He stares at the badly patched up wound on Todd’s cheek. The one Damian put there. It is not healing as it should.

“I’ve probably failed you the most, baby-bat. I should have just grabbed you and run back to Gotham first chance I got, but I was too blinded by my own rage. I… You could have grown up a normal kid.”

“I would never have been normal.” Damian says, giving a small smile for Todd’s benefit, even as the guilt curls ugly in his stomach.

“No, you probably wouldn’t, smartass. But you could’ve had a childhood.”

“You gave me a childhood akhi, the best way you could.”

He pretends he does not see the tears in Todd’s eyes as the older leans over and hugs him. Damian hugs back fiercely, afraid to let go. He whispers, begs for Todd’s forgiveness over and over, until Todd pulls back with a sigh.

“Don’t worry.” He says. “I’ll bet the ladies will love it.”

Damian rolls his eyes, and thinks of the desperation in Grayson’s voice.

They stay put until Nightwing is no longer roaming the streets. Much like rats or perhaps stray cats, they eventually slither out of their hiding spot once the sun has begun to filter through the early morning. On the one hand they cannot return to the hotel, on the other they have to get their things. Their bags hold things they will need to get out of Gotham, other things that will betray their identities and a few things which are nothing more than memorabilia. Todd is better at holding on to that kind of stuff, but Damian still have things he would be loath to leave behind. 

They simply stage a stake-out. There is no police, either in uniform or undercover, which should probably be seen as a good sign. Todd is sceptic.

“The bats deals with everything on their own. They’ll be lying in wait.”

“But we have to…”

“I’m aware.” Todd sighs. “Let’s just get this over with.”

Cain meets them in the foyer. She is not alone. Beside her, holding on tightly to her hand is Stephanie. Todd startles at the sight of her, suspicion burning in his eyes. Stephanie introduces herself. It does little to calm Todd’s paranoia, but he sees the affection in Cain’s eyes as clearly as Damian does and just… gives in.

“I will stay here” Cain tells them, smiling at Stephanie.

“I see love did you in after all” Todd says as he embraces Cain.

She holds him tightly in turn. “It will be alright”

Todd mutters something at that before he lets her go, and walk over to the front disk, where the receptionist hands him their bags. In the meantime Cain has stepped up to Damian. He reaches his hand out for her to take. Cain gives him a smile and steps into his arms instead, linking her own around his waist and buries her face in his chest.

“Be happy” she tells him, and she is one of the most skillful assassins he has ever met so he does not think he has much choice but to agree with her. He embraces her and wishes them good luck. Stephanie gives a beaming smile.

“Common, let’s move out” Todd says as he grabs hold of Damian’s shoulder and leads him out. Damian tries, and fails, to not look back.

 

___________

 

They are at the airport, a few minutes away from boarding their plane, when a shrill cry breaks through the noise of people. At first Damian thinks someone is being murdered, and by the way Todd is tensing up the thought is not far from his mind either. Then they hear the voice.

“Jason!”

Damian and Todd turns as one person to stare down at the two figures moving towards them. The first one, Grayson, is practically running now that he has caught sight of them.

“Shit” Todd mutters, freezing up instantly, and Damian does not know whether to smack him out of it, or push him forward. As always Todd is the one to decide for them as he starts to move them deeper within the terminal, in the direction of their gate. Damian tries to stall them, feeling it in his bones that it there is something left here for them. Something other than bad memories and lost opportunities.

“For god’s sake, Damian! Get a move on” Todd sneers, and pulls at Damian’s arm harder.

Meanwhile Grayson and Drake are closing in. Damian spares one quick glance over his shoulder and sees how the two have stirred up the interest of the securities. It slows them down, giving Damian and Todd an ample opportunity to escape. Except… Damian does not want to.

He is sick of running, hiding, fearing. Be it his destiny, his grandfather, his prisonlike existence and his vagabonding later years. He wants. He is not supposed or even allowed to want, but he does anyway. He wants to find something worth staying for. Something long term and lasting that is not born from a sense of obligation or duty. He wants to find something akin to what he saw in Cain’s eyes when she told them she would not come with them. He thinks of blue eyes, the color of Scandinavian winters. Artic, pale and soulful.

Damian stops short, forcing Todd to a halt. The man growls and splutters, scar badly patched up and Damian feels guilty for a moment, but does not move. He turns back to watch just in time as Grayson places a hand on the shoulder of a security guard and then vaults over his head. It is an impressive display of craftsmanship.

“Show off” Todd growls, but he is not pulling at Damian’s arm anymore, and as the younger watches him a glimpse of resignation fleets over his face.

“Jason!” Grayson shouts. He jumps over a collection of suitcases, runs over a row of seats and keeps up pace as he lands back on the floor. He moves with a single-minded obsessiveness that Damian has seen in too many people in his life, but never for the right reason. This has the potential of being something else.

“Jason!”

Todd stares. Simple as that, struck and unmoving. Damian observes the twitch at the corner of his mouth. The crinkles growing around his eyes. With his temper it is impossible to say whether it is anger or amusement battling in his face until afterwards when the explosion is over and everything has calmed down. But Damian knows of his weaknesses. He thinks he knows what he sees before it happens this time.

There is another moment, than Grayson is there, skidding to a halt in front of them. He stares for a moment, catching his breath. Emotions running wild in his eyes. He is an open book, but Damian does not know him and therefore cannot read him. Maybe he is also a little bit distracted by Drake’s presence. He does not know what he expects to see in the other man’s gaze but it is not curiosity. Drake is observing Todd and Grayson the way a scientist would an experiment.

“Jason” Grayson whispers.

“Dick” Todd tries to take a step back, but Grayson grabs his arms and holds him in place.

“You’re alive” there is reverence in his voice, warped and twisted with disbelief and doubt. “You’ve been alive all this time. I didn’t know. I didn’t… I swear I didn’t… I would have…”

“Breath, Dickie” Todd says, and gently wraps his hands around Grayson’s elbows. There is a softness to his voice, to his features that Damian has never seen before. It is as hopeful as it is alarming.

“Don’t leave. Please, please don’t leave. I’ve just got you back” Grayson pleads. He is shaking. Voice off and cheeks stained by tears. Todd hesitates, but then he pulls him in, buries him against his chest. His second weakness winning out.

As he watches, Damian can feel a tentative hand reach for his own. Fingers interlocking, skin to skin. Damian turns his head to stare down at their hands, then up the arm until he is staring at the side of Drake’s face. He is struck. And terrified.

“Did Ra’s never tell you it’s rude to stare?” Drake asks, lips quirking up slightly.

“No, but I was taught about personal space” Damian tells him, nodding at their joint hands. He takes a deep breath, then: "Forgive me. I wish to start anew"

Drake grins.

“Do you wanna grab a cup of shitty airport coffee?”

“I would like that” Damian says, and then casts one last look at Todd and Grayson. They are lost to their own world, holding each other so tight they might just break, and Damian thinks that maybe Todd is Grayson’s weakness too.

 

____________

 

Damian is twenty-one when Cain and Stephanie elopes. They are Europe-bound and Damian sends them off with a small fortune, liberated from his own trust-fund. He is not CEO of his Father’s company and he does not wish to be, but he holds ownership.

Batman has begun to show himself in Gotham again, almost two years after Bruce Wayne’s death. He moves differently, uses force that while non-lethal holds aggression that is forged in the image of Ra’s al Ghul. It is a compromise.

Grayson tells him Father would be proud.

Todd reminds him that Mother is too.

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good”[7]

 

___________

 

He is twenty-two when Drake finally takes him to bed. They cling to each other as if they fear the world will reach between them and tear something apart. Something that they will never be able to put back together

 

___________

 

He is twenty-three and Drake has long since been ya amar. They are eating breakfast together when they receive a letter from Cassandra and Stephanie. It bears a picture of the Eiffel Tower. All it says is that they are happy and they hope that Damian and Timothy are too. They are.

 

_________

 

He is twenty-four when Todd finally gathers enough courage to propose to Grayson. Damian has seen the man take out highly trained assassins with a screw-driver, but the (non-existent) potential of Grayson’s rejection is enough to shatter every nerve in his body.

Ya amar hands Todd a cup of coffee and shares what could only be described as a secretive smile with Damian.

Damian knows that Grayson has thought to propose as well, ya amar told him so, it is really only a matter of who will overcome their insecurities first.

Damian twists the ring with the roaring lion off of his finger. He lets the familiar weight rest in his hand for a moment before he reaches out and hands it over to Todd.

“Not that you will need it” Damian says.

“Of course” Todd says, smile wobbly, before he reaches over the table and pulls Damian into a tight hug.

 

__________

 

Damian is twenty-five when his grandfather realizes that he will never come back to claim what is to be his destiny. It is an insult that Ra’s cannot stand, and the consequences are unspeakable.

Todd rests his hand against Damian’s neck, holds him, holds his gaze. There is certainty and safety. Damian trusts this man more than any other. He is akhi.

“Whatever that murderous sociopath throws at us, Baby-bat, I’ll have your back” Todd promises. “It’ll be alright.”

 

__________

 

Jason is seventeen when he’s finally accepted that he is, for lack of better words, a nanny to the spoiled, little demon brat. The kid barely reaches his mid-thigh and can’t be more than five. Or maybe he is, but he’s just short.

Apparently he’s Bruce’s little bastard, not that the ole’ Bat is aware. But they share a striking resemblance in stubbornness and attitude. He even has Bruce’s metal blue eyes.

It took him a while to win over Damian’s trust, but now Jason can’t go anywhere without the little brat following him. Or maybe it’s Jason who doesn’t dare to let the kid out of his sight. Not when he’s witnessed the ruthlessness with how everyone’s treating him. How he’s not much more than a lamb for slaughter, a means to an end. It reminds him of being Robin in all the wrong ways, of the shit Joker put him through and he can’t fucking stand it.

“He’ll never be free here.” Jason tells Talia as they watch Damian run through the high, dry grass. These moments, where Damian is allowed to be a child, are brief and far between and Jason finds he relishes them.

“He won’t die here.” Talia says, and it sounds like she’s asking something of him. Jason is too young to make big commitments, but old enough to understand unspoken things. He nods, it’s the best he can give her right now.

“No he won’t.” Jason agrees, fingers clutching at the ring in his pocket. It’s the only thing he got left of his life in Gotham. A memory, a relic. A boy with ocean eyes.

They continue to watch Damian. The wind catches him, drags through his hair, and picks at his clothes. His kaftan swirls around him like a cape, green and yellow, when he runs. It looks like he might take flight, or perhaps that he’s on the verge of falling. Either way Jason knows what the image reminds him of, how it feels like to stand on the edge of the unknown. The rush of excitement when one finally takes the leap.

He’ll be free then.

 

 

 

 


[1] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

[2] Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

[3] Toni Morrison,Beloved

[4] The Smiths, There’s a light that never goes out.

[5] Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.

[6] The Smiths, Heaven knows I’m miserable now

[7] John Steinback, East of Eden