The Final Death-Defying Act
Once I was happy, but now I'm forlorn,
Like an old coat that is tattered and torn,
Left on this wide world to fret and to mourn,
Betrayed by a boy when in his teens.
The boy that I loved he was handsome,
I tried all I knew him to please,
But I could not please him one quarter so well,
That man on the flying trapeze. (Traditional.)
-Sometime before Bruce Wayne's return from the past and the events of Flashpoint…-
-Tt- Grayson," the tall, almost eleven-year-old boy voiced with derision, glaring up at his adopted brother with his impenetrable, steel-blue gaze. His remarkable eyes were over-shadowed and looked out of place in his naturally tanned, demi-middle-eastern features.
"You consider bringing me here as a treat? The zoo, at least, was an attempt at being intellectually stimulating, this," the dark haired boy glared around at their surroundings. "This outdated, melodramatic entertainment is quaint for beings of low-brow values; or the aged longing to attend these sorts of venues for nostalgic reasons."
Long used to the derisive, (half-intendedly so,) manner of his youngest adopted brother, Richard 'Dick' Grayson raised an eyebrow as his first response, then added, "We're not here to cater to your ideas of entertainment, Damian, low-brow or otherwise. And need I remind you that I own this place, kid. I don't consider it outdated or melodramatic—"
"You believe that because you are one of the aged who get a nostalgic thrill by being here, Grayson." Damian Wayne interrupted, removing one of his hands from its previously jammed position in the front pockets of his hooded jacket, and waving his aforementioned hand around at the busy, crowded milieu.
"That and you're a circus gypsy. This is basically your idea of investing in a retirement plan." The biological son of billionaire Bruce Wayne further pointed out with a unimpressed sniff.
Fighting the urge to either roll his eyes or double over laughing, Dick put a hand on Damian's shoulder and halted the assassin-trained boy. "You could be right, squirt. But, like I said, I brought you to my circus for training, not to buy you funnel cakes and rides on the Ferris Wheel."
Grayson caught sight of a familiar face and called out: "Harry Haly, you old devil!"
An aged man in a warn fedora halted his argument with the mixed-crowd of performers and workers. He glanced curiously over his equally worn coat-covered shoulder, before letting out an amused burst of laughter and walked towards Dick, arms outstretched.
"Dickie Grayson, you young devil! Come here, son!"
Dick happily swooped up his family's former employer, and his current circus manager, into a back slapping hug, "It's good to see you, Har," he said sincerely, pulling back Haly and the older man looked up at him with an emotional smile.
"Doubly that for any chance I get to see you, Dickie. You look good, kid, filled out a bit more. Every time I see you you look more like your Dad," Harry glanced aside at the solemn, almost glaring, dark haired child by Dick's side.
"Fun night's past finally caught up with you, Dickie? Or are you making some baby-sitting money on the side, kiddo?"
Grayson chuckled and pulled back from Harry, motioning down at the Grandson of Ra's Al Gul, "Neither. This is my brother Damian Wayne. Damian this is Mr Haly," he introduced, "a very old friend."
Harry offered his hand and Damian eyed him again, before removing his hands from his jacket pockets and taking the offered hand, "Old enough to have held your hands when you took your first steps; and remember your first word being: Rube, Dickie, and the second word being: Har—ouch!" Harry removed his hand from Damian's and winced.
"Wowsers! That's quite a grip you've got there, son." The circus manager flexed his fingers with a grunt, "You take boxing or martial arts?"
Damian pursed his lips, and automatically Dick could tell his partner was annoyed with having to carry out a conversation with someone who called him 'son'. "Something like that, Mr Haly," he glanced up at his adopted brother.
"Does this training you brought me here for include improving my social skills with the elderly, Grayson?"
Dick sighed heavily and rubbed his brow, "It wouldn't hurt, but you can go wonder for a minute, Damian, and keep yourself amused...but not too much so!" He added poignantly, pointing for emphasis.
Damian shrugged and left the two men to their own devises, walking over to the food stalls and eying off the array of foodstuffs with a blank expression.
Dick smiled apologetically down at Harry, "Something I have to do on a consistent basis is say sorry for him, or about him."
Harry raised his brow sardonically, "Oh no, charming boy. Posh accent. He's your adopted father's biological son? Silver-spoon-in-mouth kids," Pop added when Richard nodded in assent, "you're not like the rest of them toff-nosed crowd though, Dickie. You were born to humble-folk, and you grew-up normal."
Dick shrugged, "Damian lived with his mother for the first ten years of his life in...in the middle-east, primarily. She was a perfectionist and her upbringing of the boy was hardly typical, he never had any kids his own age to keep him grounded, either." Grayson revealed, folding his arms.
"Bruce is...in Bali at the present moment; and Damian's mother has abandoned the kid. So I'm the only family around to raise Damian and try to fill in that gap of parental figure—"
"It smells like processed grease and manure everywhere!" Damian's not so distant exclamation signalled his return, and Dick and Pop looked over at the approaching boy.
Damian was holding a green candy apple, that he was looking down at distrustfully.
"The woman over there gave me this when I asked for something without grease or oil. I assume that, as it is called a 'candy-apple,' there is a piece of fruit hidden somewhere in there?"
Dick swore old Harry was either going to keel over from laughter, or suffer a stroke from the expression of wry seriousness in his adopted brother's plain expression. Grayson put his hand on Damian's shoulder and turned the boy in the direction of the big-top.
"Come on, Astroboy 2000, let's beat it before you do any more harm to human people. See-ya Har."
Damian glanced over his shoulder as they walked away, "What harm did I do? It was a litigable query about an item of food-stuffs, purchased from a vendor who is in your employ. So Mr Haly should be able to answer if this 'candy-apple' has any nutritional benefit, or if it is merely empty sugar."
Dick ran his hand through his hair, and sighed deeply, "How about you take my advice and do the normal thing a child your age would do and just eat it?" He suggested.
Damian shrugged and took a nibble from the candy-apple.
"There, see? It didn't kill you to act like a sugar-ridden American child for a change, instead of a Middle-Eastern assassin, did it?"
Damian grunted in reply and pulled away his candy-apple from his sticky lips, "Don't patronize me, Grayson," he replied promptly. Dick walked over to the big-top entrance and waved Damian forward in response.
The current Robin walked ahead of his partner and gazed up and around the striking, sunlit arena encased in the huge striped tent. "It's a lot more impressive inside," Wayne admitted grudgingly, taking another bite of his candy-apple. "It still smells, though."
Dick ruffled Damian's short-cut hair and looked out into the centre ring, where the elephant trainer was putting the Haly's elephants through their paces, including the oldest, the Indian Jumbalina and the youngest, (Dick's own elephant,) the African Zitka.
Zitka's trunk suddenly rose up in the air and she let out a questioning beat, before she turned her massive head in their direction. Letting out a joyful trumpet, the fully-grown African elephant stepped off of her platform and went all but rushing towards the current 'Dynamic-Duo.'
"Whoa, Zitka!" The trainer, Morris Tanner, yelled out, then turned to see who the elephant was lumbering towards and laughed, "Oh I see, I'm still second banana to your owner!"
Damian darted behind Dick with a look of fright, glaring up at his adopted brother who was laughing and had his arms spread open, "Are you insane, Grayson?!"
"What do you mean insane? Zitka's my oldest friend," Dick replied, grinning as the hulking, mass swaying of grey flesh halted, as the elephant stopped a few feet away; her massive shadow engulfing the two vigilante crime-fighters.
"There's my girl…whoa!" Grayson exclaimed as Zitka wrapped her trunk around his middle and lifted him off the ground, "Woo! I guess this is still easy for you, huh?"
Damian watched with disbelief as Zitka placed her owner on her shoulders and flapped her ears happily, as Dick rubbed the top of her head lovingly.
"You are a freak, Grayson. Who are you? Tarzan of the Elephants?"
Grayson gave Zitka's huge head a hug and shrugged down at his adopted brother as he straddled the huge animal, "Other people had a schnauzer as a first pet, I have a African elephant. Zitka, hup," Dick pointed down at Damian, who went pale with horror.
"Oh no, no, no–ahhh!" Damian yelped in complaint, dropping his candy-apple as he attempted to doge the powerful trunk of Zitka, who easily managed to wrap her trunk around the demi-middle-eastern boy's skinny waist; and hoisted him up off the sawdust covered ground.
Dick moved further forward as his elephant dutifully dropped Damian on her shoulders behind his guardian, and the boy glared up at Dick.
"I'm going to make you pay for this Grayson…crap, it smells awful up here!" The youngest Wayne complained, holding his nose.
"Zitka! Tet-tet, hup-hup!" Dick nudged the elephant with his knees and Zitka let out a happy noise and began to lumber forward. Damian let out a series of swears –half in Arabic– as he flung his arms around his adopted brother's waist, in an effort not to topple off.
Dick glanced over his shoulder, "Zitka used to carry me everywhere. Sometimes we used to ride into the towns we were staying in," he smiled in remembrance. "I used to do handstands and flips on and off her back, freaking out and awing people on the street–"
Damian rolled his eyes, "I would make a jibe about a 'perfectly normal childhood,' but I'm not one to judge," he shook his head. "Still, I can't believe your parents let you run around like that."
Grayson smiled sadly and turned back around, "My parents encouraged me to push my limits and learn from my mistakes. It was those lessons that helped me later with your dad, Damian. Bruce's lessons in discipline were not so different from my own father's…just executed differently."
The boy furrowed his brow, "I often wonder about that, my father had grown up alone with only Alfred. It must have been difficult to suddenly have a boy my age in his care," Damian mentioned thoughtfully. "How did you deal with it, really?"
Dick folded his arms, "Patience, mostly. I knew your dad was trying, and Alfred has always been awesome and supportive, he was always there for comfort and advice as I grew," he said with a raised brow.
"I would have given anything for a little brother or sister for company in that huge manor though. I had the Titans, but you have no idea how great it's been having Tim and you for brothers," Grayson admitted with a grin back at his adopted brother.
Damian smirked, "I believe I'm almost willing to share the sentiment, I believe you to be a tolerable sibling. Drake I am not entirely convinced of. Cassandra I don't know…and the less said about Todd–"
Dick sighed as he intervened, "You may think you know everything about Jason and Tim, kid, but you don't–"
Damian's dark-blue eyes flashed, "Oh but I do. Just as I know pretty much everything about you, Grayson. My Mother insisted on me being very informed about my 'competition'," he revealed. "Although, she told me to regard you as the biggest threat, despite Drake being more like my father and more agreeable towards him. You would always be his favourite and his proudest achievement."
Dick frowned and kicked Zitka's sides with his heels, "Halt, Zitka!" He ordered firmly and the elephant came to a lumbering stop; her bulk swaying from side-to-side, as her master turned around to look firmly down at his adopted brother.
"Damian, I was made Bruce's ward when I was younger than you are. I worked side-by-side with him for the next ten years of my life. I was proud to be his partner. But what I wanted most of all was to be his son, which I was, really, in everything but name." Dick exhaled slowly and pushed his left hand through his lanky, black bangs.
"When Bruce adopted Jason only a few months after he took him in, I pretended it didn't hurt, but it did," Grayson admitted, cocking his head to the side he gave a small smile in repose to the stoic expression on Damian's face. "Do you know what I'm going to say next?"
The boy frowned, "It's what kept you and father distant for so many years. You grew to manhood and my father had trouble letting you go, so you made the break and he blamed himself, my father believed that you blamed him also." Damian folded his hands together, narrowing his eyes.
"In addition, my father was always worried that you didn't want to look at him as a parent, because you didn't want him to replace your own father." Damian raised an eyebrow, and Dick smiled indulgently.
Damian was far too smart and wise for his age, but considering his parents, lineage and upbringing, Dick had not been surprised, (from the moment he'd met Bruce's biological child,) by anything his adopted brother said or did.
"You're right, but that's not entirely it," Dick folded his arms. "I thought Bruce didn't care, it's true. But I spent all my childhood and teenage years trying to be everything I though Bruce wanted me to be, then I've spent my adulthood trying to run away from being like him."
Damian smiled slowly as he understood, "Now you are him."
Dick nodded, "In a way. But Bruce always intended that I take over the mission, but requested that I didn't become Batman," he explained, "I had always thought I would become Batman one day. I don't know when that changed. I never told Bruce…I only ever admitted it to Clark under duress."
"Well that only refutes my point that he was proud of you, who you became by becoming Nightwing," Damian reasoned, "in honesty, my mother told me it was my destiny to be Batman now; but I believe the honour should always be yours first, as you were the first squire," he folded his arms across his small chest.
"In addition, I believe that I am not even close to being ready for the task as I am a child still. Thus I have much to learn and be taught."
Grayson put his hand on Damian's shoulder, "And that is the most important step in succeeding, by admitting you need to learn how to get there first," he smiled, If this was Tim I could give him a hug at a moment like this, but I don't think my Robin would appreciate that.
Damian nodded, "And I put my trust in your teachings, Grayson. You are the next best thing to my father as a teacher–almost," he said firmly, ruining the moment and making his mentor laugh.
"I'm glad you think so," Dick pointed up at where the cables were strung between the High Trapeze platforms. "Race you to the top of the left platform?" He questioned, preforming a back flip off of Zitka's back before Damian could even react.
"Hey! That's not fair!" The boy shouted out, leaping off after his partner and chasing after Dick, who was already swinging up on the cables, laughing at Damian as he furiously swung up after his adopted brother.
The natural acrobatics of Grayson always drew a crowd at Haly's; and the crew were also quick to note how well the dark-haired boy accompanying their favourite son, was only a pace or two behind Dick.
Preforming an effortless one handed landing onto the left platform, Dick smiled as Damian landed with both feet firmly on the platform, glaring up at him as Dick bowed and waved to his applauding circus family.
"I can't believe I have a circus gypsy for a mentor," the dignified biological son of Bruce Wayne sniffed, watching as Dick crossed his legs Turkish style and motioned for Damian to sit across from him. The boy sighed heavily as he sat down on the wooden boards.
"What wisdom are you going to grace me with next, Grayson? How best to ride a unicycle in oversized, striped trousers?"
Folding his arms across his chest, Dick's eyes twinkled at Damian's solemn expression despite his scathing wit, "Maybe later. I want to tell you a story first, about my parents. But it's not exactly set back when I was a child."
Damian lent forward, "You mean it's set back before you were born?"
Dick knew Damian's love of history and stories, it came from his middle-eastern bloodline; and it was one of the things they had in common, with Dick's father being Romanian and his ancestors having very similar traditions.
"No. It was only a few years ago–"
"Grayson, Halloween was a few days ago, it's a bit late for a ghost story," Damian voiced, "and after what we went through with the Black Lanterns and that clone of my Father, I don't feel like–"
Dick held up his hand, "I promise it's a good story. Will you let me tell it?"
Damian's dark blue eyes narrowed and the boy sighed heavily as he waved his hand, "Proceed then Grayson," he sounded just like a miniature of his Grandfather Ra's.
Dick rested his hands on his knees as he looked up at the dome of the circus tent. "It was about four years ago in early summer. I'd just moved to Büldhaven and I still had a strained relationship with Bruce. However, Bruce was in an expansion meeting in Metropolis and Haly's was in Philadelphia; and I knew Bruce would have Tim studying in that big ol' mansion, so I decided to spring my little brother–"
Grayson smirked, "My only little brother at the time from his involuntary confinement…"