Author's Note: The snow is melting off of our sidewalks where I live, and the appearance of concrete reminded me of a children's rhyme. That rhyme, in turn, led to this little flash fic. Happy reading!
Dick was waiting for his youngest brother to climb into the car after school when he noticed something odd. His gait's off, he frowned, peering through the windshield at the approaching pre-teen. For a moment he worried that the boy had neglected to mention an injury he'd acquired during the previous weekend's patrols. A second later he shook his head; that wasn't it, his footfalls were too erratic to be explained by a wound. Damian wasn't so much limping as he was measuring his steps. As relieved as he was, though, the realization only raised more questions.
"...Dami," he asked once the door had slammed shut, "what were you doing out there?" Usually the youth strode to the vehicle at the end of the day without taking so much as a glance at his feet, but his eyes had barely risen from the ground on this afternoon's trek.
"I wasn't doing anything," a defensive retort came back. "Can we go now? I have things to do."
Dick tilted the rear-view mirror until he could see the petulant child. "Tough day, huh?"
"This place doesn't know the definition of that word. All they offer is boredom and babying."
"So...is that why you were walking funny a minute ago? Because you were bored?" He suspected that that wasn't the answer, but he'd learned months ago that making less-than-brilliant guesses about a touchy subject was a good way to frustrate Damian into spilling the truth.
"No," he scoffed now. "Don't be stupid. I deal with asinine questions all day; I don't need more of them in my off-hours. Especially," he stressed, "not from someone whose intelligence is so much higher than that of the boobs I'm locked up with for thirty-five hours out of the week."
"Aww...thanks for the compliment, little brother," Dick turned to beam at him.
"It wasn't a-" The boy crossed his arms and turned to stare out the window, defeated by the grin being aimed at him. "Whatever, Grayson. Just drive, huh?"
"Nope. I want to know why you were walking funny."
"It's none of your damn business how I walk!"
"It is my business. I'm your legal guardian, so I'm literally required by law to pay attention to your behavior and get you treated when you're hurt. More importantly," he added in the face of Damian's scowl, "I'm your brother, and if something's wrong I want to help."
"...You're seriously not going to drive us anywhere until I answer, are you?"
"Not a chance. And if you get out and try to go home some other way, you'll have to face Alfred, and there won't be much I can do to intervene."
An aggravated hum filled the car. "Do you remember a couple weeks ago when you dragged me to that ridiculous carnival in the park?" the boy spat after a short silence.
"Yeah. It wasn't ridiculous, but go on." You had fun, even if you don't want to admit it, he thought. I saw you smile – really smile – at least three times that day. "What about it?"
"Do you remember when we were walking down the sidewalk afterwards?"
"Of course. We were talking, and you were trying to pretend like you didn't want more cotton candy." He paused as he zeroed in on exactly which part of their conversation that day Damian was referring to. "...You asked me why I never stepped on the cracks in the sidewalk," he recalled, "and I said-"
"-That it was a habit because there was this thing when you were a kid that if you stepped on a crack you'd break your mother's back," the child nodded. "It's superstitious bullshit, but...I decided that it wouldn't hurt anything to try it out."
Dick frowned. Part of him was overjoyed to hear that his little brother was partaking in something childish. Another part of him was bothered by his choice of an activity that would hypothetically preserve Talia al Ghul's health. "So..." he ventured slowly, "you were, ah, dodging all the cracks, huh?"
Damian gave him an incredulous look. "Jesus, Grayson, did you hit your head on something?" he asked flatly. "What a stupid question. I was stepping on all of the cracks so that she does break her back. Duh."
For a moment Dick was speechless, his brain ticking over the child's words and trying to settle on a dominant emotion. Finally he threw his head back and chortled at the ceiling, delighted. "That's terrible," he choked out in between bursts of laughter. "It's terrible, and I shouldn't laugh, but...so good..." Reaching out, he grabbed Damian's knee and tried to steady himself. "Whew...okay...heh...wow."
"Are you sane again, or what?"
"Yeah, I'm...I'm sane again." Pulling his hand back, he swiped away the tears that had escaped during his episode of mirth.
"So can we go home already?"
"We're going," he chuckled. "Man...I love you, Dami. You have the best ideas sometimes."
"Of course I do. You know my IQ." Despite his conceited reply, the corners of his lips rose.
"Ah! I see that smile! I'm calling you on it!" Dick crowed. "You're happy because I said I love you!"
"I'm...pleased by your recognition of my superior intelligence," Damian argued, a slight blush rising into his cheeks.
"And because I said I love you."
"Grayson..." The boy sighed. "You're incorrigible."
"I know. That's part of why you love me back."
"You...?" Dick pressed teasingly.
"...I wish you would hurry up and take us home. I have things to do before dinner."
"Hmmm...okay. But Dami?"
"I'm going to get those three little words out of you someday, you know. It's kind of on my bucket list."
The boy blinked at him. "...Someday, maybe. But don't hold your breath," he added quickly.
"I won't. But I will be waiting."
Rolling his eyes, Damian turned back to the window. "...Incorrigible..."
Laughing once more, Dick pulled away from the curb.