AN: I was thinking—hey, we could all use something fluffy. So I sat down and wrote something angsty. Go figure. But it ENDS fluffy, so that's all that matters, right?
From the moment Damian figured out what family was (and love) and realized he didn't want to lose either, he knew he was going to screw everything up. Losing them—his family, his loved ones—became his biggest fear. It was a fear that formed along with his relationship with Richard, who had become more than his mentor, more than his brother, and more like a father. It was a fear that grew to encompass the rest of his so-called family—Father and Jason and Timothy and Pennyworth—once Damian realized their importance to him.
Losing their love and trust and well-regard would break Damian more than anything he'd ever suffered under his training with the League of Assassins.
Damian had been foolish, so very foolish, to let himself become complacent. He'd become comfortable. Didn't hold himself so carefully or watch himself so strictly. It was…. It was inevitable that he would mess up. Inevitable that he would do something so horrible that he would...he would lose something so precious to him.
So when that inevitable incident occurred, Damian was not surprised. Horrified at what he did, yes, but surprised? No.
It probably had not helped matters that Damian had been so needy in the week before the incident.
He'd had a parent/teacher conference that Richard had to step in for when his father had been called out of town on an emergency. His brother had been forced to pull out of a get-together with the Titans—a game night that had been months in the planning. Despite the way Richard had smiled at him, Damian had still been able to see his brother's disappointment at missing out on the gathering.
Timothy and Jason had needed to bail him out of a spot of trouble on patrol, gaining a black eye (Jason) and a deep cut on the arm (Timothy) for their efforts. Despite it being his mishap, Damian, to his shame, walked away with no injuries. How that was fair to his brothers, he didn't know.
Damian then used up the rest of their good will that week on the spate of nightmares he'd suffered, waking Richard multiple times and his other brothers at least once.
He was not on his best game.
He had gotten comfortable.
And he lashed out.
He insulted Jason. Accidentally used terminology that threw Timothy back into his Joker Junior mindset. Accidentally. It had been an accident. For all he and Timothy had a past where they fought with and antagonized each other, they'd grown past that. Damian would never bring up something so traumatizing, especially not with someone he considered a brother.
Timothy staggered at Damian's unfortunate words, eyes vacant at the flashback he had inadvertently triggered. Jason and Richard rushed forward to wrap around Timothy, already trying to calm and soothe him. The other boy was shaking, tears streaming down his face.
"I...I am—" Damian stuttered, appalled at what he had done. "I didn't m—"
Timothy shook even harder, at what Damian assumed was his voice. He started to cackle, a sound that sent shivers down Damian's spine.
"Shut up, demon brat!" Jason growled. His stomach, already in knots, twisted even worse. He'd not been demon brat in months. Not after he'd let slip how much that type of nickname hurt.
"Not now, Damian! Go!" Richard yelled, and Damian flinched, wide eyes flying from one brother to the next.
"Now!" Richard and Jason roared.
Damian spun on his heel and ran, vaguely noticing Pennyworth move out of his way as he rushed to Timothy. He was up the stairs and in his bedroom in mere moments, the door slammed shut behind him.
What...what had he done? His hands curled into fists and pressed to his lips, hard, as he wished he could reel the words that he had spewed so carelessly back into his poisonous mouth. He ruined everything he touched, destroyed things that were good and pure.
His chest heaved, and he all but collapsed on his bed. Stupid, he was so stupid, stupid, stupid. He curled in a ball and covered his face, hiding the shameful tears he couldn't stop.
If the look of betrayal on Timothy's face before he lost himself in a flashback wasn't enough to make him feel horrendous, his other brothers' words and actions as they dealt with Timothy were. He could not stop replaying the incident in his mind, over and over again.
He found it an apt punishment for his crime.
When Pennyworth knocked on his door and asked if he was hungry, Damian couldn't find the energy to respond. The answer would have been no, anyways. He closed his eyes when the butler sighed and walked away.
He had not heard from any of his brothers, which...hurt. But he understood. He'd…. Damian had really messed up. He had just thought maybe one of them would let him know Timothy was okay or tell Damian what his punishment was going to be. Grounding from Robin, perhaps. Or because of the cruelty he'd displayed, maybe he'd be fired from the role.
The clock on his bedside table rolled over to 11:30 PM, and Damian wiped his face and stood from the bed. Guilt would not release its hold on him until he saw with his own eyes that Timothy was calm. So he padded to the door and opened it slowly, peering into the empty hallway before he snuck around the corner to Timothy's door. It was closed, and Damian hesitated.
Did he knock? The older boy could be sleeping. Or still...still trying to recover from the mindset Damian had forced him back into. He couldn't just barge into the room, though. He'd overstepped, and entering Timothy's room without permission would be another violation.
He fidgeted, fingers toying with the edge of his shirt.
"What are you doing out here, hell spawn?"
Damian would not admit that he flinched at the words, but he did turn quickly to face the owner of the voice.
"Don't you think you've caused enough trouble today? Leave him alone."
The door creaked open, and Damian pivoted to meet the newcomer.
"What's going on out here?"
"I caught the kid hovering outside the door."
"You're going to wake Timmy up," Richard said, pinching the bridge of his nose. He looked exhausted, Damian noticed, and so did Jason. Even more guilt curdled his stomach.
"I grabbed some sandwiches for us. Alfie left 'em in the fridge." Jason held up a plate as he brushed past Damian.
His brother, who had been looking back into the room, turned to Damian. "Not now. Just...not now. He's finally asleep, and you should be, too."
Timothy whimpered, and Damian's breath caught, both at the sound and the pained expression that crossed Richard's face.
"Good night, Damian," Richard spoke over him.
The door closed in his face, leaving Damian on the outside looking in. Hypothetically. Timothy's door was not see-through, after all.
His attempt at lightening the situation for himself fell flat. Being stuck on the outside looking in was a position Damian was more than familiar with. He'd dealt with that his whole life. First as the unwanted grandchild of the Demon Head, then as the interloper tossed in amongst his father's children. As an adult in a child's body who was forced to go to school and mingle with other children who could never understand Damian or what he'd gone through.
He turned and trudged slowly back to his room, not even the thought of Pennyworth's sandwiches piquing his interest enough to eat. Not after he'd triggered Timothy. Not after being so dismissed by Jason, by Richard. He shut his bedroom door behind him silently and stood in the center of the room, utterly lost.
What was he supposed to do now?
Damian did not sleep that night. Couldn't sleep that night. He couldn't erase the look on Timothy's face at his words, couldn't decide what to do next. Did he apologize? And if he did, he'd need to apologize to both Jason and Timothy. But how would he be able to speak to the latter? Judging on Jason's and Richard's reactions last night, they wouldn't trust him near the older boy. Damian didn't trust himself around Timothy.
What if he was thoughtless again? What if he…. No. Damian had a feeling he would never again let his guard down in such a way. He had to always be vigilant. Always watch what he said and thought, in order not to make such a mistake again.
Curling his legs to his chest as he sat on his window seat, he couldn't stop the way dread filled his body at the thoughts. Keeping such a short leash on his emotions and reactions sounded overwhelming to Damian when he was already exhausted and weary (and grieving).
He'd made an honest mistake. And in so doing, lost any trust his brothers had in him.
It had been a long road, a hard road, as he relearned lessons his new family said were wrong, lessons that had been drilled into him by his mother and grandfather. It had been a long journey of mistakes and slip-ups and honest confessions until trust had been born on both sides. And Damian had messed it all up. Just the thought of earning that trust and care from his brothers all over again had him blinking away tears.
He didn't know if he could handle that. He'd struggled so hard the first time.
The sun had risen overhead, the day begun, and no one had yet stopped at his door to berate or forgive him. So. He'd been ignored before, when he was still training with the League. If he made a mistake that disappointed his mother or Ra's, they'd employed the silent treatment. If was effective and cruel, for Damian had always been seeking acceptance and approval. He still was, to be honest.
His stomach growled, and Damian wrapped his arms around his waist. No matter its complaints, he wasn't really hungry.
He stood, intent on distracting his stomach, if not his circling thoughts. Grabbing a sketchbook and pencil, he snuck out of his room—though why he tried to be silent when no one was looking for him, Damian didn't know. He moved quickly through the manor, walking out one of the back doors to make his way into the woods surrounding the house.
According to Jason, Richard had started the tradition of seeking refuge in the forest, and he had passed it on to Jason and then to Timothy. Jason, whose return to the family had not happened until well into Timothy's vigilante career, had passed the tradition to Damian. He had little belief he'd run into any of them on this gloomy Saturday, with its gray skies and cool breeze. More likely, they'd stay indoors. Gather with a mug of hot chocolate around the fireplace, as they did whenever it was chilly outside.
It was a tradition that Damian knew beyond a doubt he was no longer welcome in.
He made his way deeper into the forest, seeking solitude, and in so doing, going further than he usually did. There was a creek he'd found a few months back that he thought would be a good place to calm his mind and sketch. Entering the area where the stream burbled happily, he settled against a tree and let his mind relax.
It was a pretty setting, he thought, no matter the gray sky.
He watched the water for a long time before he propped open his sketchbook and drew a broad outline of the scene before him. Time passed slowly, calmly, as he made his way through several pages of sketches. He lost himself to the soothing motions, so much so he even forgot it was a little cold outside. It was so relaxing, he set the book aside and leaned his head back against the tree trunk. Closed his eyes to let the sound of rushing water completely fill his senses….
And he drifted off to sleep.
Dick and Jason frantically searched the manor for Damian while Tim pulled up security footage. Jason had mostly cleared the bedrooms in the east wing, Dick looking in the other wing, when Tim texted them to return to the living room. He rushed back, worry twisting his stomach. The littlest bat hadn't been seen since he and Dick had turned him away from Tim's bedroom the night before.
(The boy had looked lost; even in Jason's anger, he'd noticed how Damian's shoulders slumped, noticed the frown on his face.)
"He left the manor and went into the forest," Tim said when Dick and Jason were both in the room. "He was heading west."
"How long ago?"
Tim hesitated, biting his lip. Shadows were dark beneath his eyes, the night rough for him. That he'd slept at all was a miracle.
"Tim," Dick pushed. "How long ago?"
They both cursed, spinning on their heels and rushing out of the room, down the hall, and out of the manor. Dick snagged an extra coat on the way, and Jason whistled and called for Damian's dog.
Titus caught up when they were in the yard.
"Good boy!" Dick rubbed his back. "Good boy! Track Damian. Can you do that? Find Damian!"
The dog woofed and darted into the trees, his nose to the ground and Jason and Dick on his trail. It took nearly twenty minutes for them to find Damian, leaning against a tree trunk on the edge of a creek. Jason and Dick both froze at the discovery before they darted forward as one. Dick called Damian's name as he scooped him into his arms, while Jason—heart pounding at the pale, still form of their youngest brother—dug his fingers into the child's neck.
"It's strong and steady," he said, answering Dick's unspoken question.
"Dami. Dami, wake up, buddy. Come on." Dick bowed over the tiny, still body, his hand cupping Damian's cheek. Worried eyes snapped back to Jason. "He's shivering."
Jason removed his own coat to wrap around Damian, taking the extra one Dick had grabbed to lay atop that.
"Dami," Dick tried again. "Dami, sweetheart. I need you to wake up." The boy hummed and nestled closer to him, but stayed asleep.
"Come on." Jason clapped Dick's shoulder. "We need to get him inside and warmed up."
They made their way quickly back to the manor, Dick cradling the child to his chest. "I shouldn't have sent him away like that last night. At the least, I should have checked on him," he said.
"Timbo was seriously struggling with the flashbacks, which you know is not something he wanted Damian to see. And you were exhausted, Dickie. So was I." When Dick's guilty expression didn't ease at those words, he continued. "It's not that Tim was more important than Damian; it's that Tim's situation was more dire. He was at serious risk of hurting himself, and he needed both of us. There just wasn't enough of us to go around," he sighed.
"Even Alfred was slammed between checking on us and handling the comms last night with Babs out of town. It's not your fault." His lips twisted. "If anything, I hold blame for some of this." When Dick looked at him in confusion, he said, "I lashed out. I was angry at what he said to me and with what happened to Timmy."
He'd called his little brother "hell spawn" and "demon brat." After Damian had told them how much it bothered him (how much it hurt him). Jason rubbed his face hard, frustrated with himself. "I'll apologize," he said wearily.
Dick bumped his shoulder with his own in commiseration. "What a cluster," he sighed, tilting his head down to nuzzle against Damian.
"Yeah." Jason held the door open for them to enter first, the two of them catching sight of Alfred almost immediately. The butler frowned, shoulders slumping.
"I'll get some hot chocolate ready, if you'll take him to the lounge where Master Timothy is waiting."
They nodded and moved forward. Tim peeked his head over the couch when they entered the room, worry twisting his face when he saw Damian huddled in Dick's arms. "Is he okay?"
"He needs to warm up. He fell asleep outside."
Tim shifted the blanket he was wrapped in and held his arms up. "Bring him to me."
Dick hesitated, looking to the blazing fireplace where he'd been headed and back to Tim.
"I saw his face last night. Before I got lost in the...the memories. He was horrified at what he'd said, and I... Please."
Dick immediately crossed to Tim at those words. He laid back on the couch, and Dick carefully settled the boy on his chest, readjusting the coats until they covered Damian better. Jason wrapped the blanket around both boys, ruffling Tim's hair and gently stroking Damian's before he took a step back to settle on the ground.
The fire crackled in the background, and Dick, leaning into Jason's side, was a warm, comforting presence. Jason let the peace of the setting soak into him, his gaze focused on their littlest brother and the thumb Tim kept rubbing up and down Damian's cheek.
Damian was comfortable. He was very warm, almost stifling, but he was comfortable. Taking a deep breath in, he exhaled with a hum. He was calm. There was something brushing against his cheek, gentle and soothing, and he felt safe.
"Hey, Dami," a soft voice said. "Can you wake up for us now?"
"Damian?" another voice called.
Eyebrows curling in confusion, Damian batted his eyes open slowly, blinking until his fuzzy sight cleared up. There was...a hand. Someone was rubbing his face…. He frowned, head shifting to follow the hand to the arm, to the shoulder, to—
He froze at Timothy's tired blue eyes and soft smile.
"Hey, Dami," he whispered.
The other voice drew his attention away, to see Richard leaning close and Jason right over his shoulder. They looked worried and relieved at the same time, and Damian searched his memory to find out what had happened.
He stiffened even more when he remembered. Remembered the cruel words he'd thrown at Jason, the careless words he'd used around Timothy. Remembered the way Jason had so easily used nicknames that hurt. Remembered realizing he'd lost their trust and care and consideration.
He buried his face in what he belatedly realized was Timothy's chest, pulling his arms up to curl around his head and hide from sight.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." With each repeated apology he grew louder and more upset until his breath was hitching with sobs. He tried to cut them off, tried to control himself, but he…. He was…. Damian had screwed up, and he, he….
"Damian, can you look at me?"
He nearly shook his head at Timothy's request, but shirking from what was sure to be the start of his punishment and from the person he had wounded was the height of cowardice.
Sucking in a deep breath, he held it as he slowly lifted his head to meet the older boy's eyes, trying to tuck his emotions away as he did so. Timothy's thumb began to rub against his cheek again.
"I'm not mad at you. I know you didn't mean to say that last night."
Damian's face fell. "I was cruel. I didn't mean to be; I got comfortable, and I wasn't careful enough with...with what I was saying. And before that, with Jason, and, and the whole week leading up to this, I've been more trouble than I should be, and I've been an irritation, I know. I've been an imposition to Richard and bothered you and Jason, and—"
He slammed his eyes shut, shaking his head. Timothy made a soft noise in the back of throat, something that sounded like a protest. What he could be protesting, though, Damian didn't know. Everything he'd said had been the truth.
Hands shifted Damian, pulled him up and away from Timothy. He flinched in surprise, eyes squinting open to see…. To see Jason, who was pulling him into his embrace. Damian held his breath as Jason pressed his mouth to his hair.
"I was hurt by what you said." He spoke quietly enough the words remained a confession between the two of them.
"I'm sorry," Damian breathed, and Jason continued with a little shake of his head.
"I'm sorry, too. I lashed out. I was cruel. And I think the real blame lies with me on this one. You've had a bad week, huh? And you were frustrated and venting, and instead of finding out what was wrong, I just dumped more hurt on top of you."
Damian shuddered, and Jason pulled him closer still, wrapping his arms around him even more securely. "You're supposed to be able to vent with family. You're supposed to be able to, to cry and scream and yell, because family is a safe space. It's our safe space. I apologize, Damian."
"It's not your fault," Damian gasped, shaking his head. "I was the one who—"
"Stop." Jason pulled him back a little, one hand cradling the back of Damian's head. "We both messed up. I forgive you. Do you forgive me?"
Damian hadn't expected this. He hadn't expected any of this, and wonder and gratefulness swept through him. Face screwing up as his tears fell faster, he nodded. "Yes. Yes."
Jason smiled at him. Quick as a flash, he pressed a kiss to Damian's cheek, and then another set of arms wrapped around Damian and pulled him away. Richard.
His oldest brother cradled him in his arms, and if Damian was the boy he had been, fresh from the League of Assassins, he would have protested their manhandling. Violently. But his family had shown him a new life and new expectations. They had shown him it was okay to be affectionate, okay to be seen as "weak" in their care for one another. Their actions towards him today were examples of the way they continually welcomed him to the fold, continually bared themselves for him.
So when Richard pulled him close to his chest, Damian only wound his own arms around him in response.
He had been worried he had lost this. With the trouble he'd been that week and the way he'd behaved the night before, he thought he had lost his brothers.
"What's this about being an imposition?" Richard's voice rumbled in his ear.
Damian sighed, loosening one hand from its grip to scrub away his tears. "When Father was called out of town, you had to take me to the parent/teacher conference. You'd been planning the get-together with your old team for months, and you missed it because of me."
"Sweetheart," he whispered, resting his head atop Damian's. "I was happy to take you to that."
"But your friends. I didn't want…. It was my fault. I'm sorry."
"No, Dami. It wasn't your fault. There was no fault. It was a conflict you had no control over. I am your brother, and when Bruce isn't available, your guardian." He paused. His cheek pressed into Damian's forehead a little harder in an unspoken message between the two of them—an acknowledgement of the relationship they'd formed when Father had been lost in time. "My plans with my friends can be rescheduled. Things like a parent/teacher conference that I am lucky to accompany you to, can't be.
"Do you understand? I am always happy to be with you. I am always happy to spend time with you. I was proud to attend your parent/teacher conference with you. I'm proud of how well you are doing in school, too."
Damian wiped his face again and curled his hand into Richard's shirt. "Thank you."
Richard hummed. "I love you, Damian. We all love you. It doesn't matter how much trouble you think you are, we will always love you."
"We're brothers," Timothy and Jason said at the same time. They huffed in amusement, and when Damian peered over at them, it was to see Jason squeeze Timothy's hand while they smiled at each other.
"I love you," he whispered in Richard's ear, and then, heart pounding in his chest, he pulled back to sweep his eyes over Jason and Timothy. "I love you," he repeated to them.
Heat burned his cheeks, and he ducked his head back into the protection offered by Richard's shirt. A hand landed on his back, another on his ankle.
"We love you, too, squirt."
There was a smile in Jason's voice, and the hand on his ankle tightened when Timothy added, "Beyond a doubt."
AN: In case it's not obvious, I love these boys. :)
Stay safe. Stay healthy. All of the virtual hugs to you lovelies.