Author's Note:I'm very new to everything DC comics related. I watched the 90s animated series, but as for reading the comics themselves, I just got into them so I'm still playing catchup. Most of this fic was inspired by Red Robin's Hit List arc and the Batman and Robin arc where Dick and Damian face of against Jason. That being said, I'll also be the first to admit that there's probably some out of characterless going on. I'm just playing with the various aspects of the relationships within the Bat family, especially the grudging brotherhood of Tim and Damian. Just a one-shot to get my feet wet. Enjoy and please review!
The Choice of Family
By Silver Spider
Damian was solemn which in itself wasn't unusual, but he was not trying to provoke him, and that was a sure sign of the apocalypse. Then again Tim didn't feel like picking a fight either. Not here, not now. They'd already managed to nearly desecrate the old theater on Crime Ally with their squabbles. He was not about to…
This wasn't the same. Wouldn't be the same.
He leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees, and sighed heavily. Tim was tired beyond measure. How long had that ride been? Bruce hadn't said a word the entire time, his grip on the wheel white-knuckle tight, and he'd been too afraid that no matter what he'd say, it would be the wrong thing. At least his adoptive father remembered to change into civilian clothing before entering the hospital. By that time Tim was so tired that he would have probably waltzed into Gotham Mercy Hospital in full Red Robin gear.
Judging by the rapid blinking, Damian wasn't doing much better though the boy was trying to hide the fatigue by staring straight ahead into nothingness. Tim wasn't used to feeling sorry for the boy because, in his opinion, others were doing far too much of it, but at the moment he was just a ten-year-old, terrified of something he couldn't even give voice to for fear that it would make it true. Bleary eyed, Tim looked at him.
"Do you want to go down to the cafeteria?" he offered. Damian shook his head. "Yeah, that stuff's gross. Want to grab something from the vending machine?"
Another shake of the head. Well, he tried. Tim shifted again in the uncomfortable seat, leaning back and shoving his hands in the pockets of his jeans. He hated hospitals, hated the sterile look and smell of medicine and death. Bruce was nowhere in sight, probably talking to doctors or something. Stephanie was probably on patrol. Alfred was holding down the fort as always, and he had no idea where Barbara was. Damn, but he just wanted to... be useful to someone.
Unable to take it any longer, Tim got up and muttered something about needing to take a walk. Maybe he would go find Bruce. He might have more information by now. Either way, a walk would do him some good, and he figured Damian couldn't do too much damage to the hospital in the subdued state he was in.
He wandered for a good half hour, stopping every once in a while at a water fountain so that the staff wouldn't ask too many questions. He knew he must be a sight. After another circle around the upper floor and with no sign of Bruce or Dr. Leslie Thomkins Tim turned back to the waiting room. He was just about to round the corner when a blood-curdling shriek ripped through the air.
"You! This is your fault!"
He sprinted into the waiting room just in time to see Jason Todd scowl and shove Damian away. The boy tried to come at him again, but Jason grabbed his wrist and twisted. It must have been excruciating, because Damian cried out and stayed down this time but he was going to try again, Tim realized not without fear. Damian couldn't hurt Jason. For all the boy's skill, there was not much he could do, but Jason could hurt him and had very little compunctions about it.
"Damian! Stop it!" Tim held out a hand for indicating for the boy to come to him.
"He's the cause of all this!" His brother shouted, but for all of Damian's anger, he sounded more desperate than anything else. A small scared child.
"I know. It doesn't matter. Come on, bro." He knew his voice must have been pleading but he didn't care. He wasn't about to have another brother in the hospital. "He's not worth it. Bruce wouldn't want this. Dick wouldn't want it. Forget him."
To his eternal relief – and surprise – Damian obeyed, pushing himself off the floor and trotting to his side. He was cradling his injured right hand, but it didn't stop him from grasping Tim's sleeve and glaring daggers at Todd from the safety of his brother's side. Satisfied, Tim turned his own anger on the man with the silver streaked hair.
"Are you insane? He's ten! And you almost broke his wrist."
"I didn't provoke him." The former Robin replied defensively. "I just came to…"
"What?" Tim cut him off. "Apologize? Save it. You might've killed our brother!"
There was a flash of something in Jason's often-clouded eyes. Maybe he was remembering the shooting; the gang and Batman and Robin caught in the middle. Did he wonder whether it was his bullets that brought Dick down? Did it make a difference? Or was he wondering just who Tim had meant to include in the 'our' part of his comment? Because as far as he was concerned, Tim only had two brothers.
"It wasn't intentional..."
"Liar!" If the boy wasn't injured, Tim wasn't sure he could have held him back, but as it was Damian didn't push much, blue eyes shiny with unshed tears of anger and frustration. He turned back to his predecessor.
"There's only one way you can really apologize." Tim was surprised just how calm he sounded. "But you're not willing to let it go. Get out of here, Jason. Before Bruce gets back. Do us all a favor and just… go away."
For a moment the man actually looked hurt, but Tim was all out of pity. Bruce and Dick might feel bad for the wayward former Robin, but he couldn't muster any more sympathetic feelings. The only reason he didn't lash out at the man himself was exactly because of what he'd said to Damian. And maybe he was finally starting to grasp this whole big brother thing; trying to be a good example despite desire to do the complete opposite.
He was revealed when Todd left without further conflict. Tim took Damian back to the waiting room seats and knelt to examine his wrist. The boy was still not fighting him, which Tim found a relief and unnerving at the same time. Not that he wanted to fight, but this wasn't the Damian he knew. He was rude, forward, and disrespectful – though he'd come a long way since the beginning – but he'd always had spirit. Now he just looked... listless.
"It doesn't look broken," Tim commented on the wrist. "Maybe we can hunt down some bandages to immobilize it, but you should be okay. Damian?"
The boy didn't reply right away, and when he looked, his eyes were wide with fear.
"Is Gra… Is Dick going to… die?"
Tim's head shot up, and he locked eyes with his brother.
"No way!" He declared with all the confidence he could fake. "Never happen. You know how tough he is." Don't you dare make a liar out of me, big brother!
Damian didn't look completely convinced but at least somewhat pacified by this reply. Footsteps from down the corridor alerted them to someone else approaching. They were heavier than Todd's, Tim was happy to note, but that was quickly washed away as he saw Bruce make his way towards them. He must have just come from talking to Leslie about Dick, and the cracks in his usual hard visage were showing. Little wonder, considering doctors just dug out two slugs from his eldest son's body and cut the young man open to assess any other damage. It didn't matter how often one of them got hurt or how well Bruce tried to hide it; Tim knew it hit their father hard every time.
And speaking of children getting hurt...
Bruce's eyes focused the angry bruise that was already beginning to blacken on his youngest son's wrist. "What happened?"
Damian sucked in a breath, and the wide look in his eyes told Tim he had no idea what to say. Bruce's voice held just enough of an edge to make giving an answer non-negotiable, but the boy had apparently taken his words to Todd to heart as well; there was no need to agitate their father further with Jason's visit.
"My fault." Tim stepped in quickly. "I accidentally tripped him. Sorry, kid."
Damian stared at him in apparent confusion, probably not knowing if he should be angry that Tim would dare insinuate such clumsiness on his part or grateful that he covered for him, and finally lowered his head. Tim was almost relieved when belatedly realized that there was no way his brother's wrist would be sprained from falling on the linoleum floor. That little detail was not lost on Bruce either.
"That's your story, and you're sticking to it?"
Had he really just tried to lie to the world's greatest detective? To their father? Stupid!
Bruce looked intently between them, probably expecting one or the other to crack at any moment. Then the tension left his features, and the man sighed. It scared Tim just how much older and wearier he looked.
"We'll talk about it later," he said. "There's nothing more you two can do here tonight. Go home. Get some sleep."
For an instant Tim thought there was some kind of echo but quickly realized that the second protest had come from Damian who, despite everything, looked ready to taken on even Batman himself if it meant being allowed to remain with their brother. Tim was touched and from the split second of surprise that flashed on Bruce's face, he'd guessed that the ten-year-old had managed to throw him off balance as well. Their father looked between them once more, probably deciding whether or not he should press the issue, but he must have decided against it.
"That fall must have been bad." He observed wryly, taking Damian's injured hand for inspection. "Go find Dr. Thompkins and ask her to wrap it up for you."
Tim watched as the boy disappeared down the hallway.
"Wow. If he's that well behaved every time one of us gets hurt, I volunteer to be next on the chopping block," he quipped. Bruce didn't look amused. "Sorry. That was bad. How's Dick really?"
"He's tough," the original Batman replied, and Tim tried not to wince at how eerily similar the vague reply was to the one he'd given Damian. Bruce was still looking at him intently. "The boy's wrist. Was it Jason?"
Tim stared. "Umm..." How did he...
"Did Damian provoke him?"
"Umm..." He could feel his eyes trying to look at anything but his adoptive father.
Apparently getting all the information he wanted out of him, Bruce started down the hall. It took a moment for Tim to realize that he'd just been successfully interrogated without having said a single word. Shaking off the daze, he ran to catch up with him.
"Can I just say, it's scary how well you know all of us?"
"Part of the job description," the man replied, pulling out his cell phone.
"You're not going to come down too hard on him, are you?" Tim asked. "Look, I'm not usually the kid's biggest fan, but in his defense, Todd had it coming."
Bruce stopped. "Now you're doing it, too."
"What?" The youth frowned.
"Using last names only. Disassociating. I understand the desire – believe me, I do – but it's a bad habit. It creates a false sense of separation. Numbs you too much. I wish Damian didn't do it, but I don't want you to start."
"Sorry." They started walking again. "But he... Jason... Dick got shot because of him. He was one of us and... I know how you feel about him, but it's hard not to be pissed."
"You can be angry." His adoptive father replied reasonably. "You can't blindly lash out at him or anyone else. No matter what. I know you know this already or else why would you have tried to cover for Damian? He needs to learn it, too."
"He's learning," Tim surprised himself with the observation then noted the cell that reappeared in Bruce's hand. "Who are you calling?"
"Oracle. I want her Birds to patrol tonight. We need to be with family."
Tim found Damian with Dr. Thomkins at one of the unoccupied nurses' stations on the second floor. The boy sat atop the table, legs dangling, while the silver haired woman wound the bandage around the lower half of his forearm, wrist, and hand. She looked up at Tim when he was a few feet away.
"We're almost done. Is Alfred here to pick you boys up?"
"No." Tim shook his head quickly before Damian could protest. "Bruce said we can stay till Dick wakes up."
"I want to see him," the youngest Wayne demanded, some of his carefully suppressed sense of self-entitlement bubbling to the surface. Leslie didn't seem phased.
"When he's moved to a room, and you won't be able to stay long. He'll need a lot of rest. You should both really do the same."
"Sorry, Doc. Not happening." Tim said.
"I figured as much," Leslie gave him a mildly disapproving look. "If Bruce couldn't talk you into going home and a good night's sleep, what chance do I have? Well, if you insist on staying, you wait in the residents' hall a few doors down. It'll be quieter than the waiting room."
The hallway in question was long and empty save for a few spare hospital beds arranged in a row against the wall. Tim wondered if he could somehow trick his little brother into taking a nap, then realized that it was probably what Leslie had in mind when she'd sent them both down here. If Damian were to figure it out, he'd no doubt have a fit, but the boy hopped up onto one of the cots and wiggled a little as if testing the surface for a comfortable spot. Tim sat down next to him and stretched, trying in vain to dispel the weariness from his bones. Damian gave him a look of disdain.
"I am not going to sleep." The defiant declaration was somewhat weakened by an enormous yawn that stretched across the boy's face.
"Yeah, you're real tough," Tim smiled even as he wrapped an arm around his brother and guided his head to rest on his shoulder. "Just like Bruce."
"And Dick," Damian corrected before his eyes closed. Tim followed suit and was nearly asleep when Damian spoke again. "I don't want any more brothers."
Tim's eyes snapped open and he stared down at the boy. What was he supposed to say to that? "Umm... I don't think that's your call, kid. If Bruce..."
"I meant... I don't want Todd for a brother. Not ever. I'll never forgive him for tonight. I don't understand how Father can."
"I don't think he does." Tim chewed on his lip, though he was wondering the same thing. "It's not as... black and white as you think, Damian. You know what happened between them, but knowing it is different than... than being Bruce and living with it. Jason was once a Robin like us. He loved him just like he loves you or me or Dick."
"Tt. If that's true, why doesn't he go after Todd for what he did? I would."
"No, you wouldn't, because you wouldn't compromise everything we've taught you, everything your... our dad values. If it was you, would you want him to sacrifice everything that makes him?"
"Even for one of us?"
"Jason used to be one of us. Before you and even before me. And then the Joker murdered him." And paralyzed Barbara, killed countless others, and still he let him live... The voice in his head sounded dangerously close to Jason's, and Tim tried hard to squelch it focusing instead on what he was saying to his little brother. "There has to be something that separates us from them; something that separates justice from vengeance. Otherwise we all become like Jason. And just because he won't kill for us, doesn't mean Bruce doesn't care."
It wasn't just a mantra drilled into him by his mentor and adoptive father from when he was just a few years older than Damian was now. Tim had come close to breaking it more times than he could count himself. But whenever he lost the conviction, started to question if any of the rules made sense, he only needed to imagine the look on Bruce or Dick's face if he headed down that road. He wouldn't do that to his family, and that carried him through whatever period of doubt he went through.
There was another long silence, so much so that Tim thought the boy might have finally fallen asleep, but then, "Do you think he loves me?"
Tim didn't need to know who he meant and it hurt. He considered himself extremely fortunate to have had not one but two fathers and he never doubted that either Jack Drake or Bruce Wayne loved him. It had taken some time after his biological father's death, but Tim had finally come to realize that thinking of Bruce as his father as well did not take away from the love and memories he had of his dad. But Damain... all the boy had ever known in his life was betrayal and abandonment. And though he might have once been the first to say that too many people made excuses for the boy, now Tim felt a twinge of guilt at the thought.
"He's known the rest of you much longer, and I try really hard, but I don't think I'm a very good son..." The boy looked down at the floor dejected. "Or a good brother."
"Leaving me bleeding on the floor of the Batcave after your first visit didn't help." He quickly regretting the ill-placed joke as Damian swiped at his bleary eyes, whether to wipe away tears or exhaustion, Tim didn't know. "Hey." He tilted slightly to look the boy in the eyes. "I'm sorry. I haven't been a very good brother either. I'm used to getting away with everything. The idea of having to look out for someone younger, be a role model, it's still kind of a foreign concept. I'll try harder, okay?"
"What are you talking about?" The ten-year-old scowled. "I hear the way they talk about you. Everyone thinks you're perfect."
"Only in hind sight," Tim grinned. And maybe a little in comparison... "Ask Dick sometime about my earlier escapades as Robin, solo and otherwise."
"I'll remember that," Damian vowed, a hint of his usual mischievousness – not maliciousness though, Tim noted – showing through before he fell back into the solemn mood. "Do you really think Dick's going to be okay?"
"That's what I got from Doc Thomkins. And yes, to the other question, too."
Tim grinned. Trust a kid to have a goldfish memory span. "Bruce does love you. So do Dick and I. Even if you are a pain in the ass ninety percent of the time."
"Funny. I expected you to say at least ninety five."
"Har-har, very funny." But he was revealed. This is as much of a sense of humor as he'd ever seen from Damian. "My point is, you can be a sweet kid when you try. Very very hard. But even if you don't always succeed, we love you anyway. That's what family is."
The boy appeared to be thinking about it, and Tim could just feel another question coming on. Probably something about Jason and whether or not they should still love him even if he was doing the opposite of trying hard to be good. But he must have sensed that his brother was at the end of his limit of philosophical questions for the night, because Damian put his head back on Tim's shoulder and yawned.
"I want to see Dick," he murmured for the umpteenth time.
"Me too, little brother," Tim rested his cheek against the boy's jet black strands. "Me too."
The eldest of Bruce's sons had been moved into a private room in the ICU after a surgery that Leslie assured them went well. Having made all her calls, Barbara wheeled her chair closer to the bed and took Dick's cool hand with her right. Unconsciously, the fingers of her left toyed with the ever present engagement ring on the chain around her neck. She wondered if Dick knew she still secretly wore it. Probably. That was the thing about having a history as long as theirs. As professional as she could be around everyone else, there was little she could hide from him. Like thoughts that maybe one day she'd get over the badly concealed bitterness of her injuries, that she still hoped to one day once again be capable of accepting all the love he offered so freely...
The room remained bathed in silence for a long time as she sat by one side of the bed and Bruce on the other. Neither were particularly comfortable with expressing their emotions – she didn't like to admit it, but Barbara knew that she and Bruce were alike in that manner. He sat quietly, fingers steepled under his chin, but cool blue eyes never left his eldest's pale face.
"I know what you're thinking," the former Batgirl said matter-of-factly. "You have that look. My dad still gets it sometimes when he was really worried about me. Which is always."
She didn't expect him to react, but Bruce nodded thoughtfully. "Jim's a good man. He knows you're capable, but he's your father. It's a father's job to worry. Sometimes I think there's not enough of me. If I could be in four places at once... One for Dick, one for Tim, one for Damian, and one for... the city. Then I could keep all of them safe."
Barbara had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn't Gotham he'd meant to include in the list of his sons but wisely said nothing except, "He's going to be fine, Bruce. Leslie said..."
"This time." He cut her off. "He's going to be fine time. They're all fine... until they're not. I know they all chose this, but..."
"But they're your sons, and it's your job to worry?" She offered wryly. "Speaking of which, I'll go get the boys. It's been... eerily quiet around here."
"Tim's taking care of Damian." A hint of a smile tugged at the corner of Bruce's mouth.
"They're getting along?" A single elegant red brow rose over Barbara's glasses. "Better not tell Dick till he's better. He might have a heart attack."
"I should take a picture, shouldn't I? As proof, because I don't think this is ever going to happen again. Bruce can have Alfred hang it on the main fridge back at the manor next to your report cards."
"Funny, Babs." Tim resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her and settled for rolling his sleep blurred eyes. They must have been a sight though. He was still leaning against the wall, but in his sleep, Damian had apparently proceeded to make himself more comfortable. The boy's head now rested in his lap.
"Does Dick know that you're such a comedian?"
"Probably, but you can tell him yourself. He should be awake in a few hours."
Instantly he was blinking sleep out of his eyes, sliding off the bed while still awkwardly holding Damian so that the sleeping boy wouldn't fall. Barbara nodded in his direction than down at her chair.
"Want me to take him?"
"No, it's okay." He maneuvered the ten-year-old in his arms as he rose. "He's my brother."
The last thing Dick remembered was a few faceless thugs, and one particularly distinct red visage as Jason Todd's face disappeared behind the Red Hood. Then there was gun fire, the sensation of something warm and wet seeping towards – or was it from – his flesh and Robin crying out.
Then there was infinite white.
Waking up was painful, but when he finally managed to push the screaming of his nerves aside, his eyes opened to a wide-eyed and grinning face. Dick felt the bed sag a little and tried not to wince as Damian climbed up and placed his small hands on his chest as if he had to reassure himself that his eldest brother and partner was alright.
Looking around he could see that Bruce, Tim, and Barbara's – God, she was so beautiful...– faces all mirrored the same mixture of relief and concern. His mentor placed a hand on his shoulder and held his gaze in typical Batman inspection.
"How are you feeling?"
"I've been better." It was pointless to try to put on a brave face for Bruce, but he could try to do it for the others. "But I'll live. If someone doesn't crush my ribs, that is."
"Get down, kid." He was surprised that it was Tim, not Bruce, that spoke. Even more surprised that the boy obeyed instantly.
"Sorry." The apology was masked his unadulterated joy, but it was unquestioningly genuine. "I'm glad you're okay. "
"Bruce..." Dick's eyes never left Damian's smiling face. "Is this your ridiculously cheerful child? 'Cause right now I'm thinking... clone? Alien parasite? Possession? Did I miss a Crisis?"