Author's Note: First off, I'd like to inform everyone that Spook is the guy that Damian beheaded in the arc "Batman and Son" and that I hope everyone enjoys this and doesn't feel like Damian is totally OOC. I tried, but whenever you have a character who is generally emotionless expression emotions, it's hard to say, lol. Also, this fic is the equivalent of 18 pages in Microsoft word so it's rather long, but I didn't want to split it up into a chapter fic. Enjoy!
Dick ran his finger along the trim in the hall and looked at the long, deep streak it left in the dust. This place hasn't been touched in years, so why was one of his tracers going off somewhere deep in the building? Didn't make much sense, and it was more than likely a trap. He tapped a finger to his ear.
"Robin, be careful, this reeks of a trap." He heard a scoff on the other end.
"Thanks for the heads up." He said in an obviously sarcastic tone. Dick rolled his eyes behind the cowl.
"Just do what I say and don't mouth off." He whispered back tersely. He walked silently down the hall, really not sure what he was looking for here, the beacon was coming from somewhere below him, but the problem was he couldn't figure out how to get below where he was. So Damian had split off from him to double the odds. He physically stopped himself from radioing him again to remind him that if he was the one to find a way down, not to go without him. He didn't think it would be well received, and no matter how many times Dick reminded him of such things he had a feeling the kid would do whatever he felt like at the time.
Damian trotted down a long hallway feeling rather bored. It was one of the quietest nights he had yet faced as Robin and he wasn't liking it one bit. He itched to beat in some villain's face. He clenched and unclenched his fists, to ease the frustration bubbling in his stomach, he hoped it was a trap so he could beat down whatever idiot thought it was a good idea to try.
He slipped into a small room and stuck to the walls, edging his way around it and feeling along for any kind of trap doors. The floor boards creaked beneath him and he was suddenly stricken with the urge to simple pry up the boards in order to get lower, but no, that wouldn't do. It was too barbaric, no finesse to it at all, showed no skill. No, to truly quell his frustrations he would need to beat Dick to the punch. Showing up Batman always felt good, it could be just one more thing he had to add to the list of reasons why he should be Batman and not Dick. What a perfect motivation.
He strode out of the small room and slinked his way further down the hall, he felt the slight rush of competition drown out the frustration in his stomach and let a tiny, smug, little smile play across his face.
He paid a little better attention then, went slightly faster, was more thorough as he went, but he got nothing. This old, abandoned building seemed to be a maze cluttered with small, empty rooms and winding hallways that never ended, only led around another corner. After the third check-in from Batman to see if he had found anything he was getting that frustrated feeling in his gut again. This was a waste of time, the signal was probably just some wayward Batarang that fell down a sewer drain a week ago. But oh no, they had to go check it out, something about a warped signal. Damian sighed to himself as he rounded another corner. And then he stopped. He squinted in the dim light, taking a slight step forward as he changed the settings on his mask to better see what appeared to be littered across the floor. But, just as he took a step forward something wasn't right.
The boards beneath his feet gave way and he was suddenly falling. Taken aback he didn't have time to react as the floor came rushing at his face and he hit his forehead hard on the edge of a board. His head ricocheted off and he dropped, unconscious, his body making a dull thud when it finally hit the floor, far, far below.
Dick sighed aloud at the nowhere he was getting. By then, they had covered almost the entire rambling space that was this labyrinth of a floor plan. Soon they would meet in the middle and he was beginning to wonder if maybe they were just wasting their time. Maybe this was some wayward batarang, maybe some stupid kids got a hold of one and sent it flying somewhere they couldn't get it back and….and somehow warped the signal.
He frowned to himself as the unlikelihood of that statement sunk in, maybe he was just feeling uneasy because this thing smelled distinctly of a trap but was one that was proving difficult to find. That wasn't exactly your typical trap. He looked at his GPS, he saw the unknown item sitting still where it was from the beginning, but then he saw Robin's signal, and it certainly wasn't where he expected it to be, on the same level as him. He made an angry noise and tapped his comm link.
"Robin, I told you to contact me if you found anything, where are you and how did you get there?" He waited, but there was no response. "Robin, answer me." He said in a slightly more forceful tone. Nothing came back to him and dread slowly spread through his stomach. If this was a trap, it was more than likely that Damian had already stumbled onto it, without meaning to, judging by the non-responsiveness of his sidekick. He cursed under his breath and began rushing in his search, trying to find his way to somewhere at least near where Damian had to have found a way down.
As he frantically moved through each hallway though, something caught his eye, gleaming just slightly in his night vision specs. He stopped and bent down, and instantly the slight dread he felt turned to a solid lump of it.
There was hay on the ground, scattered over the floor boards haphazardly. He quickly fashioned a face mask on himself and began running through the halls. He continually checked his comm. link for a response from Damian and each time got none. When he found Jonathan Crane in this ridiculous place he would beat him senseless before returning him to Arkham.
He wouldn't be so frantic if he just knew that Damian knew who they were dealing with. Of course the kid had laughed at a villain that dressed up like a scarecrow, he laughed at every villain. But Dick had dealt with him before, and as good as Damian was in a fight, and as high quality as whatever mental training he may have received had been, he wouldn't be able to stand up against fear gas. If Damian hadn't figured out who they were dealing with yet and hadn't put on his mask, it was more than likely he would be exposed to the stuff, if he hadn't already been. A small part of Dick cringed for the kid if that was the case. He had been on the other side of fear gas before and even when the true effects wore off, the fear didn't always dissipate.
Damian's head was killing him, he reached a hand up to his forehead and felt a thick, sticky liquid covering his skin. He sat up slowly and blinked his eyes open. He tried to take a deep breath but choked on the dust in the air. He heard a noise and instinctively lashed out, obviously dick had been right, it was a trap and he had fallen into it. One of his batarangs went flying in the direction of the noise and he heard it make a distinctive thunk, he smirked to himself as he quickly jumped to his feet and spun around, but what he saw was not what he expected.
It was Colin, it was his friend, it was the one person he had ever given a gift to and actually felt like he had something in common with. He jumped into action as quickly as he could, springing to his friend's side.
"What the hell are you doing here Colin?" He spoke frantically as he tried to stop the bleeding but Colin wasn't responding, he wasn't even making noise as if he were in pain, in fact he wasn't moving at all. "Oh god." Damian thrust his ear to his friends mouth and listened for breath but none came, he put his finger shakily on his neck but there was no pulse.
"Shit, shit, SHIT!" He yelled at himself as he began CPR. He quickly radioed Dick. While continuing to pump with one hand. "Dick, Something happened, Colin's here, he's hurt!"
"Jeez, Damian, where the hell are you? I've been trying to radio you for the last five minutes!"
"I fell through the floor, just hurry up and find me! I – I don't know if he's gonna make it."
Dick didn't know if he could hurry anymore than he already was but he could certainly try, he was relieved that Damian finally responded, but even more worried than he was before that Colin was there and apparently on the brink of death. Damian didn't sound like himself, he sounded frantic and shaken, not the pompous little jerk he was used to, he wouldn't exaggerate either.
Damian's heart was beating harder than he had ever felt it beat before and he felt light headed.
"What's wrong with me?" He whispered angrily to himself shaking his head as he continued CPR, he was trained for situations like this, it shouldn't be affecting him this badly. But then Dick's voice came across the radio again.
"You killed him, didn't you Damian?"
"Wha-" He flipped his head around, it almost sounded like it was coming from behind him.
No, no he wasn't there, but, what - ?
"Alfred!" Damian screamed, he couldn't control his own voice, his body shook, he stared at the body of his butler, laying there like a rag doll. He ran to him, checking his breathing, for a pulse, nothing, he was getting nothing. "Alfred wha-" he couldn't breathe, the air catching in his throat. He looked around frantically and his eyes fell on another body.
"No." he squeaked out. "FATHER!" He shrieked as he rocketed towards the slumped form of Bruce. "Father, father wake up!" He shook the large man's shoulders. "Father, get up, GET UP!" He couldn't breathe and suddenly dick's voice was in his head again.
"You did this! You KILLED THEM!"
"It's your fault!"
"NO! I didn't, I didn't do this, I didn't." He gripped Bruce's shoulders tighter and lifted him up to a sitting position. "Wake up father, WAKE UP!" But his head only lulled to the side and his weight drew them both back down to the floor. "No!" He drew his hands away and they were covered in fresh blood, Bruce's blood. He wasn't breathing either, he didn't have a pulse. Damian suddenly backed away from his father's body, feeling nausea twist his stomach, he heaved all over the floor. He couldn't stop the shaking and when he looked back up there was another, one more body slumped over on itself, lifeless and unmoving.
"DICK!" Damian didn't even bother to wipe the vomit off his face as he lunged for his partner. "DICK NO!"
"Where the hell is he?" Dick spoke violently to himself as he ran through the building turning at the end of each hall and feeling more and more lost as he went, he kept glancing at his tracker, he was getting closer but it was taking too freaking long!
He had tried to radio him again, to tell him to put a mask on, that Scarecrow was loose in the building but he had gotten no response, instead he heard a muffled noise from below him, a noise that sounded suspiciously like Damian yelling, never a good sign. And now there was more yelling, he could hear it from below him, it sounded panicked. Damian didn't panic.
"SHIT!" He'd been hit with the gas he knew it. "Shit, shit, shit!" He kept running, and running, it was all he could do, until he just stopped. The yelling sounded like it was so close by , he must be close, he must be, Dick couldn't waste anymore time, he ripped out his grappling gun and shot it squarely at the rickety thin floor boards. It made a dull thud and wedged it's way deep in the wood. He yanked it back out and stared at the deeply engraved X he had made, a weak spot and a perfect target. He stomped his foot down on the X as hard as he could manage, he heard splintering, he did it again, and third times the charm- !
He fell before he was ready, but managed not to smack his face on the way down and still land on his feet. And then he heard his name.
"DICK! DICK NO!" He shot in the direction of his partner's panicked cry.
Damian clutched at Dick's dead body. He was hyperventilating now, his breath coming in short bursts, he felt woozy and panicked and sick, and then he saw the body, he saw Dick's head turn to look at him and it spoke.
"You did this."
"NO! I would never -!"
"You killed us Damian!"
"NO! It was – It was-" what had happened? How had they all gotten here? What was going on? He couldn't remember a thing. What if – what if it had been him? "No." He said to himself again, quietly this time, shaking his head as his fingers dug into Batman's uniform like he was trying to strangle it. "No, no, no, I wouldn't, I wouldn't do this."
"But you would Damian wouldn't you? You're just a little monster."
"Just like your mother trained you to be."
"You don't belong here Damian. You never did, you knew that, now look what you've done!"
"DAMIAN!" He snapped his head up in an instant and what he saw terrified him even more. Dick stood now, in front of him like some horrible ghost. He shrunk back as the features of the batsuit twisted and morphed in front of him. He let go of Dick's body, scrambling away from the ghost.
Dick took a cautious step forward, Damian was panicking, his voice, his expression, his ragged breathing, it was obvious he had been hit with the gas, Dick didn't know what he was seeing but the way he was clutching at the large rag doll in front of him gave him an idea. He also had blood streaming down his face from a cut on his forehead he assumed he had gotten from the initial fall. It didn't look serious but he couldn't tell how much blood he had lost and he could have a concussion.
He had his attention now, he just had to get close enough to him to get a second mask on his face and tranquilize him until he could get him back to the cave. Crane was nowhere in sight, but he wasn't worried about that now, he was worried about Damian and whatever hell he was going through right at that moment.
He knew that he must appear to be some freakish monster to Damian in the batsuit as he fumbled backwards at the sight of him, his breath catching. He tried to speak softly, tried to look small, be unintimidating, give the drugs as little to work with as possible. Damian just kept saying no, no, no over and over again, his head shaking back and forth as if to shake free of the visions clouding him mind.
"Damian it's alright."
"You did this."
"No!" He shouted back at the monstrous Batman in front of him, his mind was moving faster than he could comprehend, what had he done? Everyone was dead, it was his fault, it was his fault. What had happened? Why couldn't he remember?
"It's ok, it's me."
"You're just like them."
Damian squeezed his eyes shut. This wasn't happening, this couldn't happen, he was different now! But when he opened his eyes again it was the same frightening aberration as before.
Dick surveyed the area with his heat vision and on not seeing a single living thing anywhere around them figured scarecrow had either made a run for it when he realized Dick was on to him, or had never been there in the first place. With this knowledge he slipped the cowl back, trying to minimize his scare factor. But this only seemed make things worse. Damian's breath hitched and he shook his head harder.
"I d-didn't do this!" He almost sounded pleading and Dick frowned as he tried to inch, almost imperceptibly forward. The room was littered with Hay, probably the kind that when crushed or broken released the fear toxin, meaning the more either of them moved the more was released into the air. There were multiple human sized rag dolls lying on the ground around them, pale and featureless.
"I know you didn't." He whispered.
"Don't deny it, you monster." He hissed.
"N-no! I w-wouldn't do this! I wouldn't kill!" Dick's eyes widened and he felt a slight pang in his stomach when his eyes fell on a sickly colored puddle near one of the larger dolls. He had to get to Damian and get him out of there, he was terrified and scared and he'd never seen the kid like that before, it made him seem so much younger, almost his true age. He could see sweat beading on his forehead from an obviously elevated heart rate.
"Damian, just calm down."
"You don't belong with us."
"But, no, I-" there was obvious desperation in her voice. Dick inched forwards again only to provoke a frightened shuffle backwards from Damian. He huffed in slight frustration.
"I'm not mad, it's ok, just come with me so we can get out of here alright?"
"You never belonged with us, Bruce was stupid to keep you, I should just send you back."
Damian's eyes widened in horror, and dick wondered what Damian was seeing and what he perhaps was hearing, maybe speaking to him was a bad idea, was it making things worse?
"NO! YOU CAN'T!" Dick cringed at the sheer volume of Damian's voice. "Y-you can't send me back I won't go!" Dick blinked again, his mind making connections in his head. "I d-" Dick imagined Damian's eyes flitting around the room behind his mask as he held an almost anguished expression, Dick had a hard time fathoming that he could even make such a face. "I didn't do this?" But his voice came out so unsure, almost like he was asking him. Dick clenched his teeth, steeling himself not to say anything, his words were only being twisted around in Damian's head. So, instead, he just concentrated on getting as close to him as possible without the kid jumping up and bolting. If he were to get up and run there was no telling how long it would take Dick to find him.
But as Dick loomed slightly closer and remained silent Damian's mind only seemed to compensate for the lack of speech and turned it into a confirmation. Dick's face simple screamed that he hated him, that he was disgusted by him that he wanted him gone, away, out of his sight, he looked, more than anything else, ashamed. And with nothing to argue against Damian simply started rambling in his defense, he had to make him understand.
"Please, I don't know what h-happened." His voice was ragged as he continued to glance around the room and attempt to edge his way away from Dick. "I wouldn't, I wouldn't hurt them, o-or you." Dick swallowed hard as Damian shuffled back far enough to push up against one of the dolls. He snapped his head back to look at it and his breathing only seemed to go more erratic. He knew one of these must look like Colin to him but he wasn't sure about the others, maybe one of them was Dick himself? Is that why he had yelled his name earlier? He had thought he was calling for help but maybe…?
Dick watched on, freezing to the spot as he witnessed Damian reach out to the rag doll, gently pulling its head into his lap. "I didn't mean to." He said quietly, staring at the blank, fabric face as if it might respond. Suddenly his head snapped back up. "You have to believe me, I don't know what happened, I-I didn't mean to do this!" His gloved hands grasped the shoulders of the doll roughly like a life line. "Please don't make me go back, it was an accident! I can belong here, I can belong with you, just let me try!" Dick gaped at the boy sitting just a few feet in front of him.
"I'm not a monster! I'm not!" He turned his head back to the doll in his arms as if to ask it, am I? Dick took the opportunity and burst into action, running at Damian and tackling him to the ground before he could start struggling and screaming, which he quickly began to do, lashing out at him and yelling in a panic.
"I'M SORRY, I'M SORRY, IT WAS AN ACCIDENT, DON'T MAKE ME GO BACK, PLEASE!" Dick was thrusting an oxygen mask in his face while trying to simultaneously keep a hold of him and reach the tranquilizer in his utility belt. He tried not to think about the slew of words coming out of Damian's mouth and how sick it made him feel to hear him pleading like that. Like a hurt little kid, which was exactly what he was at that moment.
Somehow he managed to get the tranquilizer out and inject it into Damian's arm. He struggled for a few more moments and went slack. Dick sighed heavily in relief and lifted Damian's light form into his arms, getting to a standing position. He held him close and tried not to jostle him, he was pretty Sure that even though Damian was now asleep and unable to run, or to fight, he was still able to dream, and those dreams certainly couldn't be pleasant. He took only a second to look down at the blank faced doll that Damian had been handling with such care, and wondered who Damian had thought it was.
Then he fired his grappling gun once more and got them out of there and back to the cave faster than Dick thought was even possible. Luckily, the same GPS he had used to locate Damian and his old batarangs, which had been nowhere to be seen, was able to lead him out of the building much faster than it had taken him to find his way through it. He rushed Damian to the medical table and began scrambling for the antidote to the fear gas, perfectly in time too, as Damian began to stir awake again. Dick quickly injected himself with the antidote, using a contraption very similar to an epi-pen and ripped the oxygen mask off of his face before rushing back to Damian's side to do the same for him. He wouldn't have wasted his time on himself but for the risk of the fear gas residue that was probably on their clothing now affecting him. He didn't want to become incapable of getting the antidote to Damian.
His breathing became heavier as he roused from the short but deep slumber he had been stuck in since they were lost inside that ridiculous building. He stuck the short needle into Damian's upper arm quickly rather than gently and pressed down on the back, injecting him with the antidote. It didn't take affect quite instantly and Damian sat up on the table suddenly gripping Dick's arms harshly.
"Hey, hey it's ok." Dick said as calmingly as possible, trying to ease Damian back down on the table but he wasn't having it. His breathing was ragged and ever so slowly it came back to its normal speed and intensity. He stared at Dick with a shocked expression, confusion evident even with the mask hiding his eyes and blood caked and dried on his face. "It's ok Damian, it was fear gas, whatever you saw, it wasn't real." His gloved hands shakily let go of Dick's arms and he leaned back on them on the table, taking deep slow breaths trying to shake the remaining edges of fear that still made his heart beat a little too hard and had him not quite believing Dick, even though he was standing right there, very much alive.
"Are you alright?" Dick asked cautiously. Damian didn't respond right away, just scowled, which Dick took as a good sign. "You really freaked me out there."
"Did you get Scarecrow?" He asked, pointedly ignoring Dick's comment. He couldn't quite erase the vivid images of his friends and family lying there dead. Dick blinked at him in return and sighed slightly.
"When I got to you he was already gone." Damian scoffed.
"You should have gone looking for him instead of babying me then." Dick raised his eyebrows and frowned.
"Well, I didn't. Are you sure you're alright? You're shaking, maybe you could use another dose." Dick grabbed another pen but Damian swatted his hand away when he moved to use it.
"I'm fine." He said rather forcefully. Dick leveled him with a long stare. "What?" He spat, not liking the expression he was sending his way.
"It's ok to be scared Damian." He said flatly He opened his mouth to say something else but Damian quickly shot back at him.
"I'm not scared!" Dick flinched at the sudden outburst and Damian snapped his mouth shut and scowled even harder, obviously realizing his reaction didn't do much to support his claim. Dick sighed and closed his eyes, which only made the irritation bubbling in Damian's stomach all the more prominent. He hated feeling like this, fear was not something he was ok with, fear was unacceptable, fear was weakness. He hated Batman thinking he was scared, seeing him scared, which he obviously had. He suddenly hopped off the medical table and began walking to the changing area ignoring Dick's calls after him.
"I'm fine Grayson." He called back to him, in a much more calm and competent sounding voice, to his great appreciation. And he was fine, he didn't need to be coddled. Thankfully Dick left him alone and went to change as well, but contrary to Damian's beliefs the incident wasn't just going to disappear like it never happened.
Dick took a deep breath and debated trying to talk to Damian about it while he was changing. He felt weird bringing it up, obviously Damian wasn't too into the idea and he would only get angry if Dick insisted. But after hearing Damian's yells and getting a rather good idea of what his greatest fears appeared to be he really felt like he should. He didn't like thinking that Damian worried about those things, that he was afraid of being the monster he was created to be, afraid of hurting his friends. He couldn't get the look on Damian's face out of his head as he was staring down at the Doll before Dick had finally tackled him to the ground.
It was a side of Damian he had certainly never seen before and hoped to never have to see again, but didn't the issue need to be addressed? Dick trusted Damian, he knew he wouldn't do anything to hurt them, he trusted him not to betray them, but Damian didn't trust himself. Dick had had feelings like that before, the fear of failing had always been one of his worst, it wasn't pleasant.
But Dick had also been older when these feelings had begun to bother him and he had been raised by loving parents who had always been reassuring to him. He doubted Damian ever felt reassured by anyone, he more than likely thought along many of the same lines as Bruce, that showing weakness wasn't allowed. But even though Bruce was older than Dick and he couldn't do anything about the way his mentor felt, Damian was a different story. He wasn't just going to let a ten year old boy, which is exactly what Damian was contrary to the way things appeared most often, continue to feel insecure and unsure about things and foster the idea that weakness wasn't allowed. He was a kid, and he deserved to be a kid.
He rubbed a hand across his face and went back to the interior of the cave intent on having a serious discussion with Damian but he was gone. Back in the manor before Dick had even finished changing. He must have rushed to change and even wash his face before Dick was done. He was better at avoiding things than he realized.
On looking at his watch though he saw that it was already three in the morning and thought perhaps it would be better to have the conversation the next day when both of them weren't already so shaken up about things. It would be easier to get Damian to talk to him when he wasn't feeling as vulnerable as he probably was right at that moment. So he too took the stairs back up to the manor and was met with a slightly surprised looking Alfred.
"Master Richard." He greeted. Dick nodded in return and they exchanged looks for a just a second or two. "Did something happen….out of the ordinary tonight?" Alfred finally asked. Dick sighed and shook his head.
"Yeah, it was….a difficult night, what tipped you off?" Alfred's eyebrows didn't move from their spot, already positioned quite high on his forehead, but his eyes flitted down the hall that Damian had apparently escaped down while fleeing Dick.
"Oh, I ran into Master Damian just a moment ago and he….wasn't acting himself." He subtly fixed his slightly rumpled pajamas, which were usually just as neat and put together looking as his routine uniform. Dick didn't notice however and assumed he meant something else.
"Yeah, he's a bit more snappish than usual, sorry if he bit your head off." Alfred didn't respond only blinked in return and Dick went on. "We had a run in with Scarecrow, and he got hit with fear gas."
"Oh dear." Alfred put a hand to his mouth in concern and again peered down the hall after Damian. "Well….is he alright?" Dick sighed again and shrugged.
"I guess…." But the sound of Damian pleading with him not to send him back to his mother echoing in his head was enough to stifle that statement. "Not really. But you know how he is. He won't talk about it, says he's fine." Alfred's eyebrows drew together in serious concern.
"You're not going to-"
"No, no, I'm gonna talk to him about it….just, not tonight. We're both shaken up and it would just end in a fight." Alfred nodded, the concerned expression never leaving his face.
"You're probably right sir. Did you catch Scarecrow?"
Dick shook his head in exasperation. "No, he was gone by the time I could find Damian and I figured I should get him out of there before going after Crane. I'll do a search on him tomorrow, it's my day off from 'work' after all. But I don't think he'll be up to anything more tonight." Alfred nodded in understanding.
"Are you feeling alright?" Dick blinked and looked at him.
"Uh, yeah, I'll be alright, I got an oxygen mask on before I was exposed, but seeing Damian freak like that wasn't exactly something I was prepared for." Dick regretted his choice of words at the expression he received from Alfred. "It's ok Al, we'll get it sorted out."
"I certainly hope so, Master Richard." Dick nodded and with a deep breath headed back to his own room for the night.
Damian laid in his large bed and stared at the ceiling with a scowl that seemed to be his permanent expression. He wasn't happy about tonight. It was horrible, one of his biggest failures in a long time. He hadn't even figured out it was Crane, Dick had to rescue him. It was infuriating.
What was more so was how he was sure he must have acted under the influence of the drug, how Dick must have seen him acting like some frantic child. He rolled over and pressed his face into the pillow making a furious growling noise. He didn't even want to think about what Pennyworth must be thinking about him at that very moment, just another moment of weakness to add to his repertoire, but he couldn't erase the obvious feeling of relief at the site of him. Even though he already knew he must have been fine, seeing him for real after those few horrifying minutes bellow that damn abandoned building was just different.
He was still shaking. He rolled over on his other side and dug his fingers into the pillow trying to stop the jittering. He closed his eyes tightly and tried not to think about what he saw when he was down there. As long as he was awake and in control of his thoughts he could avoid thinking about his fears, he could even convince himself he didn't have any, and then there were times like these. It wasn't as if he never had a nightmare in his life, and when he had woken up from the fear gas and he was clutching onto Dick's arms like he might be ripped away if he let go he had thought it had been a nightmare for a brief second. At least, there was that. He didn't know if he could live with himself if Dick had woken him from a nightmare. This way he could blame it on a stupid drug, this way he didn't have to admit that he ever actually thought about these things.
He took a deep breath and tried to meditate, tried to relax and just fall asleep. But after waking for the third time that night from the same dream, the same scene he had experienced just hours earlier below an abandoned building, he decided sleep was a bad idea. So he got up, even earlier than usual and began doing routine exercises. And in a room nearby Dick laid awake unable to sleep.
He kept hearing Damian yelling, apologizing for some horrifying thing he didn't do, and pleading not to be sent back. He particularly remembered him exclaiming that he wasn't a monster, and that he could belong with them. He sighed and ran a hand over his face feeling stressed. He rolled over and buried his face in his pillow and tried not to think about the next day and how he was going to bring this back up without making Damian furious. Dick himself had never been one to enjoy talking over sensitive subjects with others, but he would admit it was necessary sometimes, and simply something he felt like he needed to do this time around.
The next day though when Dick woke up and took his own sweet time before actually exiting his room, Damian was nowhere to be found. He thought he might just be holing away in his room but on speaking with Alfred he discovered he had left the manor by six o'clock, claiming he wanted to get in some "special training". Dick frowned at that but figured he'd be back by dinner time and they could talk then. He spent the afternoon in the cave getting a lead on Crane, which was surprisingly easy, and sending the police out to collect him. By dinner time however Damian was still missing in action, so Dick tried to call him on his comm. link, but he got no response.
By the time 10 o'clock had rolled around Dick was beginning to get worried. Not really for Damian's safety, though God only knew the kind of trouble the kid could get himself into, but he knew he could take care of himself. What he worried about was that maybe he was avoiding him, which was more than likely. It was almost time for them to start patrolling and he wasn't around, Damian never missed patrol. Dick was just about to go looking for him when suddenly, while he was putting on a coat, standing right next to the door, he heard small footsteps on the front steps. He paused and waited and was rewarded with the quiet creaking of the front door opening and Damian quickly and quietly making his entrance, probably hoping to go unnoticed.
"Hey." Dick said without wasting any time. Damian jumped slightly and glanced over at him looking surprised.
"Oh, uh, hi." Dick frowned.
"Where the hell have you been?" he asked regretting the very fatherly tone his question held and simultaneously noticing the dark circles under Damian's eyes. In response his expression quickly changed to his usual scowl.
"Nowhere." He said forcefully. Dick scowled right back and was about to go on but Damian stopped him once again. "You're not my father Grayson, don't act like it." Dick didn't respond this time only frowned slightly. He had wanted to bring up the fear gas incident but now did not seem like the opportune time.
"Maybe not, but since your father isn't here right now, I'm kind of supposed to keep an eye on you. Which means I should probably know where you disappear to during the day." Damian only stared back at him, his hands shoved sullenly in his pockets. He looked tired. Dick closed his eyes and took a deep breath, remembering that he was avoiding fighting with him right now. He needed to keep things on good terms until after they got this whole mess cleared up. "forget it." He finally said, "Let's just go on patrol and forget it even happened." The relief was evident on Damian's face, which Dick wasn't really expecting, he figured it would be more along the lines of an eye roll and 'tt', but at least he didn't do that.
Patrol was oddly quiet that night. Damian was never exactly one to "chat" about anything, especially on patrol, but he spoke even less than usual. His answers to questions became as short and to the point as possible as if it pained him to part with every word. Dick almost asked him about it but it seemed like every time it would be on the tip his tongue there would be some sort of mugging or attack, which Damian took full advantage of, silencing whatever words were about to come out of Dick's mouth by pointing it out, no matter if it was three blocks down and they were already heading in that direction.
So, after the fifth incident like this Dick decided it was late enough that they could go back to the cave and he could simply say he was tired. He expected Damian to scoff at him and call him a baby but instead he remained silent and went along with it, staring out the window of the batmobile with a semi glazed look on his face that Dick was definitely not used to seeing.
"Damian….are you ok?" Damian looked suddenly alert again and scowled at him.
"What are you talking about, I'm fine."
"You just seem….out of it."
"Well I'm fine." Dick took a quiet breath, preparing himself for the onslaught of Damian's excuses and arguments once he tried to bring this up again.
"You know, what I said last night about the fear gas was true." And again, before he was able to continue he was cut off.
"It's fine Grayson."
"I don't really think it is Damian, I heard you down there, we should talk about what you saw, it's better to just get it out and over with than let it hang there until you sort of forget about it, but don't really."
"Well, I've already forgotten about it Grayson so we don't have to talk about it." Out of the corner of his eye Dick could see pink edging its way up Damian's neck and face, probably at the idea that he was quite aware of what Damian had seen down there.
"Don't make excuses and let's just talk about this, it doesn't have to be weird and awkward." He halfheartedly wondered if that was true seeing as he couldn't think of a way for this not to be weird and awkward.
"No Grayson, I've forgotten about it."
"Just talk about-"
"No Grayson, I mean I don't remember." He threw a particularly nasty looking scowl Dick's way before falling back into the seat and crossing his arms with a huff.
"I don't remember what happened, whatever I saw under the influence of that stupid drug is lost to me."
"That's interesting because of all the times I've been hit with fear gas I've been able to remember everything that happened, rather well in fact."
"Well, maybe the tranquilizer made me forget, but does it really matter? Because I don't remember either way." Dick's grip on the steering wheel tightened.
"No, I suppose it doesn't." and the rest of the drive was spent in silence, and was finished with silence and followed by silence until once again, they were both back in their own rooms.
Dick was frustrated. Damian was lying, and he knew it, he remembered everything he saw, he was sure of it, but denial of memory was not something Dick had been expecting and he wasn't sure how to approach it. Even if he called Damian out on lying it wouldn't make him admit that he was. Damian was a stubborn kid, in all likely hood he could keep up the act of not remembering a lot longer than Dick could keep trying to get him to talk about it. He scowled at the ceiling above his bed, reminding himself of Damian and feeling rather helpless in the situation. In all of reality, he wanted to help Damian, he wanted him to feel like he belonged, not like the outsider that everyone watched like a hawk. Damian was not his mother, he just needed to get Damian to see that.
Damian heaved a pillow across his room wishing it was something more solid, something that would actually do some real damage as it collided with the dresser across from his bed. He knew this was a dumb way to react and that he would only feel more like a baby after he was finished with his little tantrum but he was furious, and there was nothing else he could do about it. Why did he have to be so weak? Of course Dick had seen him acting like a child, pleading not to be sent away, borderline crying, why would he expect anything else?
He wanted to punch someone, and he was suddenly furious at Dick for cutting their patrol short that night. So he started doing more exercises, similar to the ones he had done the night before, and earlier that day when he had run away from the mansion hoping to avoid all contact with Dick. At least he had been successful in that endeavor.
He refused to sleep, he didn't need to be reminded of what he was trying to ignore and he didn't need sleep. He was fine.
The next few days passed much as that one had, with a quiet, almost brooding Damian and a frustrated, but unable to do anything about it, Dick. But the more days passed like this the more Dick went from frustrated to genuinely worried. Damian looked bad, worse every day even. The circles under his eyes were so dark he looked like a raccoon and he seemed sluggish, inattentive and even more irritable and argumentative than normal. The signs of sleep deprivation were obvious and Dick had a feeling he knew why Damian wasn't sleeping. Which meant this problem was even bigger than he thought from the start.
And it seemed as though Damian was also doing his utmost to avoid being anywhere near Dick and he was surprisingly good at it even in his debilitated state. Alfred also seemed to be quite worried about him and Dick noticed on multiple occasions that for dinner Alfred would make something he recognized as a food that encouraged sleep. Dick was particularly worried when Damian's performance on patrol began noticeably slipping, he knew Damian noticed too, and he wasn't happy about it. Dick didn't know what to do but he did know that you couldn't go without sleep forever, which he had learned firsthand on multiple occasions, and eventually Damian would fall asleep, even if it was against his will.
It had been six days. Six long, excruciating days, since Damian had slept and he felt like it had been a month already since the incident with the fear gas. His body hurt, and he couldn't think straight. Patrol had been a mild disaster but Dick had said surprisingly little on the subject and simply told Damian to go to bed and get some rest, sounding rather defeated and something else Damian didn't really think about.
But he didn't care, he didn't care how long he had been fighting sleep and he ignored the fact that he couldn't keep it up forever. He sat on his floor and leaned back, beginning a routine of sit-ups. On the tenth one however his body wouldn't make it back up, he struggled but flopped back down on the floor taking deep breaths and trying to concentrate, he wasn't giving in, but his body was exhausted, maybe he could just rest for a little bit, just lay there for a few moments and then he would be as good as new.
His eyes drooped shut slowly and when he sat up from the floor he wasn't in his room anymore, he was in that dark basement. The air caught in his throat and he froze to the spot, dread creeping in as he realized where he was.
"No, no, no." He said quietly, getting up from the ground and looking around nervously, it was empty, no one was there. He could get out. He didn't know where to go so he simply picked a direction and started walking but it was better than simply sitting there and waiting for the ghosts to come. He stopped when he heard the creaking of floor boards.
"You monster." He flipped around and swung wildly at the voice whispering in his ear. Whoever it was vanished in a swirl of smoke as his fist made contact with the form. He breathed heavily and turned back around to continue his journey out but ran head long into a solid form this time. He stumbled backwards and was unable to suppress the gasp that left his lips when he recognized a very headless Spook staring back at him, holding up his own head. The head spoke.
"Your first mistake."
"What?" Damian breathed out his response, unable to muster the voice he was going for.
"I was your first mistake right?" He held his head out to swing precariously in front of Damian's face and he felt himself losing his balance.
"And I'll be your next." Damian stumbled to a stop and stared in horror at the figure of the only friend he'd ever had his own age, standing there with a batarang sticking out of his stomach and bleeding profusely.
"No." Damian couldn't stop the word from stumbling out of his mouth as Alfred's broken form appeared next to Colin. "No, no, no." He stepped backwards as they began taking steps towards him.
"No!" He yelled, putting his hands up in front of him. "I didn't do this!"
"But you will master Damian." Alfred's voice echoed hollowly in his head.
"My son the monster." Bruce suddenly appeared and Damian swallowed, feeling his throat grow tight. "The son I never asked for, the son I never wanted, look what you'll become." His face swam closer to him and Damian flinched back and told himself to swing, told himself to fight back, but his arms and legs wouldn't listen, all he could do was whine in protest.
"No, no, no, I won't! I won't be like that!" And then he fell backwards into a solid form. He felt his heart beating harshly as he looked up cautiously only to come face to face with Dick, Dick with that same expression of Shame all over his face that he had that night. "No." he whispered.
"You don't belong here. You should just leave before any of this happens."
"NO!" Damian shouted, shoving away from dick's form. "I can! I can belong here!" Dick only shook his head, advancing towards him reaching out, he did swing this time, but the ghost in front of him didn't disappear, he caught his swinging fist. And suddenly everyone was on him, attacking him from every side. "NO! NO! NO!" Damian screamed out.
And suddenly he was being thrust upward and blinking his eyes open his face made contact with soft fabric. He didn't move for a second, his head spinning, not understanding what just happened, until he recognized the steady rise and fall of the mass he was being pressed against. It was breathing.
He struggled to sit up but was held in place by unmoving arms.
"What are doing?" He hissed into Dick's chest, trying to push himself away. "Would let me go already? I'm fine!"
"No you're not." His voice was solid and unyielding and he didn't sound much like he was up for any kind of argument, but Damian never went down without a fight.
"I'm not a baby, alright? Let me go!"
"Damian it's ok to be scared-"
"Shut up and just let me go!"
"I said let me go!"
"NO! Now just shut up and listen for once in your Goddamned life!" Damian was silenced as Dick pressed his face slightly harshly into his chest. "You're a kid Damian!" He yelled. "You're a freaking kid, no matter how much you want to deny it or you wish it weren't true, it is, you're a kid, and kids get scared Damian. Hell, adults get scared, I get scared, that's for sure. But the one thing you shouldn't do, is run away from what you're afraid of." He may have started out yelling, but his voice was soft as he continued.
"You shouldn't be afraid of that stuff Damian. You do belong here, and you're not a monster." Damian made some sort of half hearted sounding noise but Dick's arms held strong and he didn't let go. "You trust me right Damian?" He didn't respond, "Right Damian?" a pause and then a very quiet yes made it's way passed Damian's lips. "Right, and I trust you Damian. So don't you think you should trust yourself?" There was no response again, Dick only felt small hands twist themselves into the fabric of his T-shirt. He took a deep breath and rested his chin on Damian's head.
"You shouldn't feel like that, but I know that doesn't mean you won't, and if you ever do you should just say something about it. We can work these things out Damian, I won't think you're weak." Dick felt him stiffen at the use of the word but only held a little tighter at that.
Silently outside the room stood Alfred, listening in and feeling more than relieved. He was beginning to wonder if this would ever be resolved. Quietly he stepped away from the door, making his way back to his own room, knowing full well Damian would not be happy to know he had heard that particular exchange of words, thinking back to what had happened the night they returned from their non-encounter with Scarecrow.
"Master Damian." He spoke with slight surprise as Damian stumbled out of the hidden entrance to the Batcave. His eyes flitted up to Alfred's face, wide in an emotion Alfred couldn't quite pin down. "My dear boy are you alr-" But before he could finish the word Damian had thrust him into a harsh hug, pressing his face roughly into his pajama shirt.
Alfred remained silent and still in surprise, and just as quickly as it had started it was over and Damian was making his hurried escape down the hall.
"Don't tell Grayson about this Pennyworth." He said over his shoulder. Alfred stood there for a moment before a small smile crossed his face.
"Of course not Master Damian."