He was so large, so much larger than I, with a voice that rumbled like the ocean. To me, he was the ocean. His eyes glittered with the icy blue of a frozen sea and his hair was as black as the great watery depths into which no light dares tread.
He was just as unattainable as the ocean to me as well. I knew not how to approach him and every time I seemed to get close, he would pull away like the tide, urged by the moon to fall back and we would be back where we began, with a relationship as empty as open water.
Grayson did his best to console me, telling me it was simply his way, that he would warm up to me eventually. Though I gave no indication that our lack of bond was distressing me, he seemed to sense it anyway. At times, I believed Grayson knew me better that I knew myself. He read me so well, everything I thought or felt.
He was such an important part of my life, it pained me greatly to watch him walk out the door of Wayne manor and out into the big wide world, the world where I would not be at his side. I was left alone, alone with my father, my father whom I felt didn't understand me at all but I desperately wished would love me.
But, I could not transmit this need for love of mine. How could I possibly? After all, I had not the words even to speak to Grayson, with whom I was more comfortable than anyone else.
Father bore a certain degree of affection for me, I could see it in his eyes, but there didn't seem to be any more to it than that. It left me feeling empty and even somewhat bitter. Things were pleasant around the manor, Father's voice always soothing and kind when he spoke to me, his manner towards me always pleasant and gentle, and it was better than my time with my mother, but still, there was something within me that died a little each day.
I missed Grayson dearly, a feeling I had never before experienced since, though I had missed my father when he was gone, it was simply not the same thing at all. So, when Grayson returned one weekend for a visit, I was understandably somewhat anxious to remain with him for the entire time.
I knew Dick was there the minute he arrived. His great, boisterous voice filled the manor and made me remember how things had been before. "Hello everybody, Dickie Grayson is back!" I did my best to walk slowly over to room where he was, though my heart urged me to take off at a run. He didn't notice me at first; when Bruce Wayne in a room, he generally holds all the cards.
"Bruce", he said happily, tossing his arms around the neck of his adoptive father. Father grinned happily like he never grinned when I was around and hugged him tightly.
"I've missed you so much", he said fiercely, his fingers digging into Dick's back with an intensity that suggested he never wanted to let him go. Dick pressed his head in the crook of Father's neck, giving a sigh of pleasure. Then, he moved over to embrace Pennyworth.
After exchanging a few excited words with Father and giving Pennyworth his luggage he looked around for a moment, as if searching for something. My breath caught in my chest. Finally, he noticed me. "Damian", he said happily, his face breaking into a pleased grin. He knelt down, opened his arms and said, "Who's my good boy? Come here baby."
I was planning on walking slowly and stoically to him, but somehow, my legs didn't seem to agree and I practically ran, hitting him hard and wrapping my arms tightly around him. He laughed and hugged me.
"Who's my good boy?" he said softly, whispering in my ear. He rubbed my back and ran a gentle hand through my hair. Then, he stood up, still holding me tightly, and hefted me to one hip. "I guess I'm home", he said happily, facing Father again. I just rested my head on his shoulder. It was so good to have him near, much better than I cared to admit.
He chatted with Father for a long while, standing there in the doorway and holding me. Though I found the overall exchange rather dull, Father never held me so I relished in the feeling of having another human being so close to me. It wasn't so much that Father refused to hold me, more than it was really just an over all aura of unaproachableness on my part.
I seethed the kind of arrogance that suggested contact would be shunned. I couldn't really blame him for not cuddling me like Dick did. If Dick had been anyone else, he wouldn't have done what he did. He wouldn't have dug deeper into what was beneath my seething exterior. He held me whether I let on I wanted to be or not. That was what was so good about him.
Pennyworth called us in for dinner after a little while and Dick carried me in there, high spirited as always. As we ate, he asked me extensively about my life, what was going on and things that had been happening of late. I could barely hold back my exuberance as I told him of everything.
I never spoke as much to Father and it felt so good to tell Dick these things. He seemed overjoyed to listen to me chatter on and expressed an acute desire to see me in action and witness all I had learned since he had been gone. I was so excited (though I wouldn't admit it and certainly didn't) to show off and I think Dick knew. He grinned the entire time he listened, his attentiveness heartwarming and pleasing to me. I enjoyed myself that evening more than I had in a long time.
Finally, long after we had finished the food, Father got up, stretched out his back until it cracked, and spoke. "Why don't you and Damian stay in tonight Dick", he said, "you two can continue catching up and I'll go out alone."
"Ohh Bruce", Dick said, also getting up, "Don't go out by yourself. I'm gona worry all night if you do." Father rolled his eyes.
"It's alright" he said, clapping Dick on the shoulder, "it's a routine patrol." In fact, pretty much all I'm doing tonight is surveillance. The real fireworks are going up tomorrow when I bust the Moroni heist. I'm just getting the intel tonight. You won't enjoy yourself and I know Damian will complain if he has to sit around for a few hours and do nothing." Dick grinned at me and ruffled my hair.
"That's what I used to do when I was his age."
"I know", Bruce said, "that's why Tim is my favorite kid." Dick raised his eyebrows playfully and put his arm around Bruce's shoulder.
He kissed the side of his head and said, "Be careful. I don't want to lose you again."
"I know, I know", Bruce replied, ruffling his hair, "I'll be back later. Be good Damian." I sniffed haughtily, as if the very mention of my behavior was unnecessary, and watched as Father walked out. I knew he was just playing around with Dick when he mentioned Drake was his favorite, but I couldn't help but feel a twinge of envy, as I always did when he mentioned his third "son".
But, I didn't have long to dwell on that because Dick hoisted me up once again and said, "So, I was thinking maybe we'd watch a movie tonight kiddo, what do you think?"
"Ok", I said. "So", he continued, "What were you saying about how you busted three whole thugs in a minute? I think I need a full play by play." I couldn't help but grin and started my narrative.
It was late and though the violence level in the movie was more than Dick particularly cared to show me, I was still getting sleepy. I leaned down and put my head on Dick's thigh. He smiled and ran a hand down the length of me. I yawned and snuggled the back of my head into his stomach.
Though I had hardly meant to be so cuddly, something about Dick disarmed me and things I normally would never have done, I went ahead and did. The fact that Dick acted as if nothing was out of the ordinary helped to. It kept me from having to feel bashful.
"So", Dick said, gently stroking me, "tell me about you and Bruce. How are you guys doing?" I shrugged.
"He's not you", I murmured in reply.
"Things not so good?" he prompted gently.
"No", I replied, "they're OK."
"Do you like living at Wayne manor?" he asked.
"Of course", I replied, "I like it better than living with my mother."
"That's good", he said smoothly, running his thumb over my cheek. "Do you and him get along very well?"
"Fine", I replied, "We get along fine." He rubbed my shoulders.
"Do you feel secure?" I nodded. "Are you happy?" At this question, I paused. I had to think about that. Was I really happy?
"I guess", I said softly, slurring my voice slightly so he would think I was sleepy. It was a ploy to get him to stop asking me these questions, these questions I didn't particularly want to answer. It wasn't hard to fool him though, I really was quite exhausted. He rubbed my leg and the questions ceased. I breathed a sigh of relief.
By the time the movie ended, I was fighting to keep my eyes open. "Damian", Dick whispered, his breath tickling my ear, "time to go to bed buddy."
"Ok", I replied blearily. He scooped me up and started up the stairs, my small form cradled in his strong arms. His embrace always made me feel so secure, so safe and though I hardly admitted this to him, he seemed to sense it anyway. He was perceptive like that.
"So", Dick said, stopping at the top of the stairs, "I can put you down in your own bed or you can come to bed with me."
I lifted my head to face him and said softly, "Can I…can I sleep with you?"
He smiled lovingly at me and whispered, "I would like nothing better." With that, he carried me off to his room. Placing me on his bed, he pulled the covers up to my chin, and slid in next to me.
He rolled over so that I was facing his back. It was a ploy to see how badly I wanted to sleep in his arms. It was a game we used to play; I would pretend like I didn't care and either way and it would usually take about ten minutes for him to get antsy enough to just roll over and embrace me, but I didn't want to play tonight.
I tugged at his shirt until he rolled over and then snuggled into his embrace. He was surprised by this, but flowed with it and gathered me into his arms nonetheless. His soft lips brushed my forehead and I closed my eyes, his warm scent filling my nostrils and lulling me to slumber.
I was cold. That was the first thing I noticed when I awoke. I wondered what it was at first and realized that I had no blankets over me and that I was curled up on the very edge of the bed. I rolled over and noticed Dick, cocooned tightly in a nest of every blanket that had been on the bed.
I grumbled softly to myself and crawled slowly over to Dick. "Greyson", I growled, tugging on the sheets. He gave a moan and rolled over, flattening me to the bed. "Greyson", I snarled. He still didn't awaken so I bit him. He gave a yelp and shot straight up.
"Damian", he snapped.
I gave him a cold look and said, "You were taking all the blankets." He grinned playfully at me and lay back down, tugging me into his embrace and wrapping us both up.
Sunlight streamed in through the windows and birds were singing brightly outside. He shifted slightly, pressed his cheek to my back and murmured softly and sleepily to me. "You're such a good boy Damian", he mumbled, using the voice he always used when he was going back to sleep, "You're so perfect."
It was apparent Dick was on the threshold of sleep when his arms started to loosen and he rolled over so that he was lying on his back. I clambered up onto his chest and straddled it. He looked up at me and smiled sweetly. Ohh, how I'd missed that.
I leaned foreward and wrapped my arms around his neck, lying on his chest. "Something wrong buddy", he asked, rubbing my back.
"I missed you", I murmured. He smirked.
"I missed you too", he said, "and I missed our mornings. The ones like this one. But, I think it's about time we got up, don't you?" He sat up slowly, stretched and, since I was still attached to his chest, put his arms around me and got up. Standing somewhat precariously and swaying as if still filled with sleep, he walked downstairs.
I was surprised to see Father there, since he never usually woke up before around noon, if not later, talking with Pennyworth. He smiled when he saw us and Dick grinned back. "Morning," he said brightly, sitting down at the table with me on his lap.
"You two have a good night?" Father inquired, taking in the sight of me quietly enjoying being held.
"Great", Dick replied, rubbing my back, "How about you?"
"Boring", Father said, "I'm glad you didn't come. You would have complained the entire time." Dick nodded and grinned.
"Yup", he said, "I probably would have. And what is his majesty doing up before noon? It can't be just because I'm here. I'm not that special."
Father laughed and said, "Well, I was thinking we'd work out together for a while this morning and then go do something fun before patrol tonight."
"Sounds cool", Dick said, "What do you want to do Damian?"
"Actually", Father said slowly, somewhat awkwardly with a glance in my direction, "I was thinking just you and me would go this afternoon. Damian can work out with us though."
"Ohh", Dick said, surprised. "Well, I guess. What did you have in mind?"
"I have to go", I said suddenly, sliding off Dick's lap, "I have to get warmed up."
"I thought we were going to have breakfast together", Dick said, his voice high, questioning and disappointed.
"I'm too busy", I replied, rushing down to the cave entrance.
"Ohh, well, ok then. I'll see you in a little while." I nodded and slid behind the clock.
As soon as I was down the batpole and in the cave, I let out a roar of frustration. I leapt angrily at the training dummy in the middle of the exercise area and kicked it. I continued to beat it back and forth until I was so exhausted, I dropped to my knees.
My pajamas were soaked with sweat and I could barely breathe, but still I wasn't satisfied. I was just so angry. I never got to spend any time with Dick and here Father was, dragging him off alone without me.
But, the more I thought about it, the more that it occurred to me. Dick came a long way to get to Gotham, so why would he want to spend his time with a stupid ten year old. If my own Father didn't, why should he?
It felt as if I was deflating. But, instead of brooding darkly on my own lack of worth, I suited up and prepared for when my Father and Dick would come down.
Dick found me pounding at the workout dummy, not with as much enthusiasm as I had before, but with the same intensity. "Hey yo Damian", he called.
"What", I snapped, turning to him.
"Hey", he said, "What did I do?"
"Nothing", I muttered in reply.
"I thought you were gona show me all your new moves", he said, swaggering over.
"You don't want to see them so why are you harassing me", I replied coldly, attacking the dummy with renewed vigor. Sweat poured from me and though I wished it would cleanse me, it hardly helped.
"Buddy", Dick siad, his voice confused and upset, coming up, "What's wrong?" I continued to pound at the dummy, so he gave it a rough kick and sent it spiraling away. I snarled and leapt at him, but he batted my blows aside easily and grasped my arms. "Damian", he said sternly, settle.
"You're not my father", I snapped, ridding myself of his hands, "I don't need you to be sticking your nose in my business where it doesn't belong." I could see the hurt in his eyes at this and did my best to scoff at it, but I couldn't. I gave a sigh and he put a hand on my shoulder.
"Let's talk about it", he said. I was about to speak, pour out my soul to him, when Father suddenly bounded down the stairs with more energy than I had seen him with for a long time.
"Alright Dickie", he said exuberantly, "I've been looking foreward to sparing with you." Dick looked up at him and smiled.
"I'm gona kick your fat ass this time", he said. He looked back down at me, ran a thumb over my cheek and said gently, "We'll talk tonight, ok." I shrugged. "I promise", he affirmed, kneeling down in front of me and putting his hands on my shoulders. He tried to gaze into my eyes, but I averted them. "Just to two of us, I'll take you someplace and we'll have a long talk." He patted my cheek and backflipped away.
Father and Dick scuffled and fought each other, though I could tell plainly my Father was more interested in playing around. He was so pleased to have Dick back, it occurred to me that I perhaps didn't fill some void he possessed. What was surprising was how little it perturbed me. Was I really that callous that I didn't even care my own Father was dissatisfied with me?
They continued spar until Dick bounded over to me. "Come spar with us Damian", he beckoned. I wanted to decline, to sniff at him as if he wasn't deserving of my attention and stalk off, head held high, but my ten year old mentality, which desperately wanted to make him proud of me, won over and I faced him, legs parted, ready to fight.
He leapt at me in a classic and in my opinion, severely over used move that I knew was to end in a spin kick. I backflipped out of the way, something he hadn't seen before, and I leapt atop his shoulders. He lifted his arms to pluck me off but with a quick flip, I handcuffed him and bounded away like a stag.
"Impressive" he said, and leapt at me again, bouncing on his fingers, and dropped on top of me. I slid, slippery as a snake, out from under him and, while he was bumbling back up, kicked him hard in the ass. He toppled head over heels, but righted himself and backflipped back towards me.
I feigned an attack from the left and returned to the right, bringing the firepower. My father watched us, eyes filled with interest. We danced together for a few more moments, for everything Dick did was a dance, until finally, a lucky kick and he had me pinned.
He was grinning from ear to ear though, sitting on me, and I couldn't help but smile back. "Your form is excellent", he commented, "Bruce, you've done a much better job with him than I did. He is extremely impressive." Hands still cuffed together, he gave my hair a ruffle and bounced up. I tossed him the key and he was out in a moment.
"Well", Father said, "he has improved but there are still some things to work on. The cuffs were a nice touch, but a normal thug would just stab you, rather than reach for you. And his flips leave much to be desired. He has yet to develop his own style, which we'll have to work on. I have little doubt his fighting will be a lot more grounded than yours because he's not as lightly built or as talented as you when it comes to the bouncing around you usually do." Dick rolled his eyes and gave me a hand up.
"Bruce, he did well", he said, "So what if he's not perfect, I wasn't when I was ten. You did excellent kiddo and you, don't let him tell you any different." I shrugged.
"Alright", Father said, "I have a surprise for you Dick, come on and get changed."
"Alright", Dick said, bounding away. "I'll see you soon buddy", he called as I walked back over to the training dummy in the center of the ring. I imagined Father's face on the head. A few seconds later, it didn't have one, but that didn't do anything to ease my frustration.
I was sitting on the floor, quietly coloring. Pennyworth had told me it might help calm me and though I was at loathe to admit it, drawing that crayon methodically over the paper was rather soothing.
Obviously finding my new found hobby amusing, Pennyworth had purchased for me a pile of coloring books and more crayons than I thought there were colors. There was also a great deal of paper to be found so I was in the process of coloring Dick a cat (for some reason, I liked drawing cats) when I heard the roaring laughter of my Father and Dick's loud whoops of excitement as they staggered in doorway, hanging off each other.
I looked at them curiously from a flight of stairs above. "I assume you had a good time then Masters", Pennyworth said. Father nodded, still gasping for air and grinned widely.
"Wow", he said, "this kid. I think there's something wrong with your head son."
"If there is", Dick replied, panting, "Its your fault."
"May I ask what establishment had the uhh…pleasure of entertaining you this afternoon."
"We went to art museum Alf and boy was it exciting."
"I didn't know the art museum was so invigorating."
"Well", said Father, "I don't know what it is with Dick. First, all he could do was tell me what sort of body part all of the abstract art looked like, none of it appropriate I might add. You ought to wash his mouth out with soap. " Dick shrugged and giggled.
"You agreed", he said accusingly, "anyway, I guess I just never took on the refined culture of my status." He puffed out his chest and tugged on his suit jacket. Bruce rolled his eyes.
"Then, he spilled wine all down his front and we ended up in the same stall in a men's bathroom trying to get him changed.
"Why, may I ask, were you in a stall in the first place?"
"Well", said Dick, "I had to get out of those clothes, I wasn't going to stay wine soiled for the rest of the afternoon so I was trying to change but I couldn't get out of my shirt in that tiny stall so Bruce had to help me and this guy walked in on us, anyway, it was really bad."
Father started giggling again and Dick suddenly let out another roar of laughter, which prompted Father to yell in hysterics yet again. I was left watching from the balcony, feeling like an outsider. Dick chanced a glance up and noticed me. "Dammers", he said, after gaining his composure, "have a good afternoon?" I nodded.
"Are we going out on patrol," I questioned.
"Of course", Father answered, "We'll have dinner and leave after that." And together, they walked to the dining room, giggling and whispering to each other, father and son. My heart sank like rock.
The cool night air did much to soothe me. Crouching next to Nightwing atop a giant building felt so perfect, so right, so familiar, I didn't even bother trying to stay angry. It all was just too damn soothing. "Alright", Batman whispered, "Nightwing, come around the north side, Robin, you to the east. This would work better if Red Robin was here, but we should be able to effectively trap them nonetheless. All clear?"
"All clear", I whispered into my comm.
"All clear", Nightwing affirmed, and we set off in our assigned directions. I could see Nightwing on the other side of the building, picking his way along, smooth as water and lithe as a cat. The sight soothed me. I had missed the way he moved, like poetry in motion. I had missed everything about him. He caught me watching and grinned, creeping foreward on his belly.
The plan was to catch the mobsters with a three pronged attack. Batman had done all the surveillance the previous night and had mapped out the entire building. He would leap in first to scare them and draw their fire. Then, we would slip in from the back and take them out on their exposed flanks.
Routine as could be, but I still felt a bit of apprehension, as I always did when working with Batman. I wanted everything to be perfect so badly, at times it was my downfall.
The screams of the men and the sounds of gunfire were cue enough for me and Nightwing to leap heroically into action, attacking from the left and right flanks and boxing them in. It was like warfare, just with incredibly small armies.
I barreled through the men with much the same fighting style as Batman, though I incorporated a few more tricks that did not rely on my sheer size, being that I was so small.
Though I told Father I liked being small because at times it could be such an asset, secretly, I wanted to be as big as he was one day, towering above normal men and staring down at them. It was so much easier to put on the trappings of arrogance when you were physically above other people rather than just mentally and socially.
Nightwing slid by to cover my flank with the fluid grace of a stag. He was magnificent in battle and, as a child raised to appreciate warfare, I could see the aesthetic beauty of him when he moved. I was momentarily distracted by him, so much so that I sustained a heavy kick to the side.
I skidded sideways, straight into another one of the thugs, who trained his gun on me. I was about to brace for the impact of the bullet when the man was shoved backwards and Batman was standing over me, a snarl on his face. He leapt at the man again and the thug was down in an instant.
"Keep your head in the game Robin", he growled to me, and leapt off. My cheeks burned. I hated being saved by my father. It always made me feel pathetic. Well, I would make it up to him.
I bounced up and leapt back into the fray. The tide of the battle swirled around me, and though it started on the side of the thugs, it quickly turned in our favor and soon, there were only a few of them left standing.
Seeing that their comrades would quickly be subdued, two of the goons darted out the back way. I soared after them. "No Robin", Batman called, "I'll get them, stay here."
"I'll get them Batman", I yelled back, still in pursuit.
"Robin no", he yelled, but I continued after them. I would catch these men for Father, all on my own.
I rounded the bend, but in my eagerness, I failed to notice one still hiding behind a box in the room I had just exited. He raced up behind me and hit me hard on the head. Stars flashed in front of my eyes and I toppled, almost falling unconscious.
I rolled instinctively to one side in an attempt to get away, but he grabbed me by the collar, hauling me upward. "Look at what we got here Pedro, seems we caught us a little bird." His breath reeked of alcohol and, a moment later, another man came into sight.
"Look at 'em Jack", he hissed, "look at how pretty he his." He took my face in one grimy hand.
"Unhand me", I snapped at them. They laughed. I lashed out, kicking as hard as I could. I managed to get Jack in the stomach and he dropped me with a grunt. I tried to get away, but he aimed a kick and me and sent me flying against some boxes to the side.
I gave groan as I hit the ground and he hauled me up by my hair. "You're gona pay for that", he growled in my face. I howled in pain and he slammed me against the wall. Then, he tossed me to the ground and started to kick me again.
Pedro joined in as well. One well-aimed kick in the gut had me choking up blood. "Father", I cried out, my voice arching high in fear, my head swimming in agony.
"Your daddy ain't here little bird", Pedro hissed, looming over me, "but don't worry, I'll be your new daddy." And then, his hands were all over me. I cried out in terror and suddenly, a roar filled my ears and Pedro wasn't there anymore.
I looked over at Batman, in all his fierce, fighting magnificence, beating that guy to a pulp. I had never seen anything more awe-inspiring in my life. I was just picking myself up when Jack grabbed me around the middle. I screamed again and Batman looked.
"Alright Bat boy, here's how it goes", he said, "you're gona let Pedro and me go or I'll kill him." I felt cold steel pressed roughly to my already throbbing skull. Batman gave a snarl, but released Pedro. The man slowly picked himself up and, just for good measure, gave Batman a kick. Batman took it with ease, but I could see fury tapering his form.
Slowly, Pedro and Jack inched towards the door, picking their way cautiously though the back door. Batman remained as still as a statue. I wanted to scream at him to take them out, but I could only tremble in silence. Then, Nightwing was there and the men were down.
He had snuck around the back and in three seconds, they were both on the ground, whimpering at his feet. Batman was on them again as soon as I had been thrown (and I mean that quite literally) clear. "If you ever touch him again", Nightwing growled. The thugs looked absolutely terrified, having two strangely clad men looming over them. They glanced over at me, still lying prone to the side, but Batman reclaimed their attention almost instantly.
"Don't you even look at my son", Batman spat, and with that, knocked them both out with a hit from the weighted edge of his cape. I was still trembling in the corner, my arms around myself, and watched as Batman tossed the bodies aside in disgust. Then, he turned on my with a growl.
"How dare you disobey direct orders from me, I told you specifically not to go after them, I told you specifically!" He advanced on me angrily and somehow, I wished I was still facing the thugs. "You're done tonight", he snapped, "You may even be done as Robin. If you can't even follow plain orders like that."
"I…I'm sorry", I whispered.
"No", he snapped, "that's not good enough. They almost got away and just like that, they would have been gone. I trembled even more. "You are in so much trouble young man."
"Alright Bruce", Nightwing said gently, coming up behind him and putting a hand on his shoulder, "He's had enough."
"No", Batman snapped, "no he hasn't." He hauled me to my feet. "You ignore my orders, you deliberately defy me, you don't pay attention during fights, what can you do right?" I flinched at this and a single tear ran down my cheek.
"Bruce", Nightwing exclaimed, appalled, "That's enough."
"No", Batman snapped, "it's not." Then, he struck me hard across the face. I toppled.
"Bruce", Nightwing roared, kicking his feet out from under him. Batman hit the ground hard and Nightwing was in front of me in an instant. "How dare you", he snarled, "How dare you hit him. I told you, he's had enough."
"You stay out of this Nightwing", Batman growled, picking himself up, "I'm his Father, not you. You seem to think you are, but you're not." I saw Nightwing flinch and a shudder ran though his form.
"You are not the only one who's invested in this child, I care about him to. I thought you appreciated my input. I helped raise him."
"Yea, and a fine job you did, him turning out the way he is now." Nightwing gave him an appalled look.
"Why are you acting this way?" he asked desperately. "You know, I've always vouched for you, with the league, with child services, with everyone who ever had any doubts about the kind of man you were and here you are, throwing that all back in my face. I took him in when you were gone. I didn't have to. I took him for you."
"Maybe it would have been better if you hadn't", Batman replied softly, his voice deadly, his eyes narrowing predatorily. Nightwing started to tremble and I saw a tear run down his cheek. Then, he turned around and grabbed my arm roughly.
"Come on Robin, lets go." He started to haul me out.
"Don't you turn your back on me Nightwing, this isn't over."
"Yes Bruce, yes it is", Nightwing said, swinging around. "Go cool off and come back when you're thinking rationally again. I'm taking Robin home."
"I said no", Batman replied, anger in his voice.
"I don't care", Nightwing roared, his eyes flashing like I had never seen before, "You've wronged him. I'm not a child anymore Bruce and you can't tell me what to do. I no long believe you're infallible; you aren't always right. God, I don't even know who you are anymore." With that, he stormed away, I in his wake.
The whole way home, riding in the Nightbird, Nightwing didn't say a single word. His hands gripped the wheel tightly and he stared ahead, an unreadable expression on his face. I sank down in my seat, staring at the dashboard in front of me, feeling numb and empty. We cruised into the cave and Nightwing parked the car. He tore off his mask and tossed it aside. "Come on Damian", he said darkly. I got out of the car silently.
Dick grabbed a first aid kit from a drawer in the cave and stalked up the stairs. I followed slowly after him. He walked into his room, and directed me to sit down on the bed. He left and was back a moment later with a bowl and a towel and clad in his pajamas.
Dick stormed in and slammed the door behind him. I hung my head, expecting to be yelled at again. He had stood up for me with Father, but that was no reason to believe he wouldn't do his own lecturing now that we were alone. He sat down on the bed in front of me, grumbling under his breath and wetted the towel.
Dick took a deep breath, counted to ten and turned to me. "Alright Damian", he said in the gentlest voice he could muster in his agitated state, "lets get you cleaned up." He lifted my face slowly. I flinched at the touch. He hissed in empathy when he saw my black eye. "Alright", he said, "we'll start with that."
Dick gently swabbed at my face, cleaning it as best he could. "Get out of your costume so I can see your ribs", he said softly. I shrugged out of my tunic and moved up closer to him so he could take a good look at me. He felt over my ribs and gave a sigh after he was done. "Well, you're badly bruised, but nothing's broken so I suppose we should be happy for that. You got pretty badly beat up though. You must be in a lot of pain." I shrugged. The physical pain would pass.
I wiggled quickly out of the rest of my costume and tugged on my pajamas. We sat on the bed in silence. Dick put a hand under my chin and lifted my face again, looking into my eyes. I couldn't meet his gaze. He stroked my cheek gently. "You really had me worried there", he said softly, "I thought I might lose you." I said nothing. We were silent for a moment more before I spoke.
"Are you angry with me?" He heaved a great sigh.
"Would you like the truth?" I nodded. "Yes, I'm angry with you." I flinched. "But, we're not going to talk about that. I'm going to put my anger aside for your sake. That's what a father is supposed to do. He's supposed to keep his head. Yours just overreacted tonight." I gave a sigh.
"Damian", Dick murmured, "I know you were trying to impress him, I understand that. I pulled stunts like that many times myself. You just need to understand that he gives you orders to make sure you stay alive. He doesn't want to lose you. You follow those orders so you can stay alive. There will be plenty of times for you to prove yourself." I trembled, my bottom lip quivering as I fought back tears.
Dick drew me gently into his arms, pulling me onto his lap and pressing me protectively to his chest. "It's alright little one", he said gently, stoking my hair, "everything's gona be ok. I still love you." He allowed me to sob quietly into his chest for I don't know how long until finally, I stopped. I felt purged, empty and desolate. My soul was a wasteland.
Dick was silent for a moment after I finished before speaking again. "What happened shook you up quite a bit, didn't it?" he said gently. Though I didn't want to admit it, I nodded.
"I couldn't do anything", I murmured, my voice haunted, "I was helpless."
"I know", Dick said, "I know how that feels. It's a really scary feeling. But Bruce and I will always be here to protect you." He stroked my hair silently for a few moments more before asking his next question. "Does he hit you like that often, your father?"
"No", I replied, "he's never struck me before." Dick heaved a sigh of relief.
"At least he hasn't completely lost his head", he muttered, rubbing my back. "Are you gonna be ok?"
"Yea", I replied.
"Alright", Dick said, "Why don't you sleep with me tonight then. I'll do my best to keep the nightmares away."
"Thank you", I whispered. "I…I love you Dick." Dick smiled.
"I love you too kiddo. And for the record", he whispered, pressing his forehead to mine, "you were magnificent tonight. You've gotten so talented. My perfect little bird. I'm so proud." I cracked a tiny grin, yet behind it my heart flowered in ecstasy at his pride in my performance.
"Now", he said, "lets get some rest." So, I curled up against his chest and, soothed by the methodic rhythm of his breathing, fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
I could feel his heavy presence even before I had opened my eyes. That was the thing about him, he was just so…well, indescribable. I blinked drowsily, stretched and looked around. There he was, his face half obscured by shadows, gazing out the window. I froze. What was my father doing here?
He was sitting on a chair beside the bed, the groves and lines on his face softer than they usually were. He looked more at peace than I had ever seen him, resting beside his slumbering charges. I found Dick was still holding me tightly around the middle keeping me from moving out of my father's sightline. When I looked back, I saw Father gazing at me. I started to tremble.
He must have seen the troubled look on my face because he gave me a gentle smile and murmured, "It's alright Damian." His words soothed me slightly and I settled back into Dick's embrace. Even though I was still warm and comfortable, it was hard to fall back asleep with him there, my father. I always slept like a baby in Dick's presence, but Father was a little harder to slumber beside.
It was then that Dick yawned widely and shifted his weight. "Good morning little one", he whispered. He opened his eyes slowly and smiled sweetly at me, kissing my forehead. His gaze happened elsewhere and fell upon Father. He stiffened. Father noticed instantly, him being the Batman and all. "What are you doing here?" Dick asked. His voice was pleasant enough, but it held a weight it didn't normally in the morning.
"I wanted to talk with you", he replied. Dick sat up slowly, pulling me onto his lap. I could tell it was an attempt to comfort me. Though I tried to convince myself I didn't need the security of his embrace, it was only my father after all, I lounged comfortably on him nonetheless.
"What about?" he asked. Father looked at me. Dick seemed to sense what his former mentor's intentions were because he cuddled me gently for a moment and said, "Damian, why don't you go down and get breakfast, I'll be down in a few minutes." I nodded and crawled off his lap. I could have refused, but they wouldn't have talked either way and this was one conversation I wanted to hear. I scooted off the edge of the bed and pattered out the door. But, I didn't go downstairs. I paused by the doorway and gazed in.
Dick and Father were just looking at each other, stiff as the dead. Dick was the first to speak. "What's going on with you Bruce, talk to me, what's wrong?" Father sighed.
"I don't know", he replied, "the boy is impulsive and disrespectful and I wouldn't care so much if that didn't remind me of Jason. I can't go through a tragedy like that again. I would fall apart."
"I know", Dick replied, "but that's no excuse. You're distancing yourself from him and he's suffering because of it. Is it so hard for you to get close to him?" Father shrugged.
"He's your son", he said dully, his voice filled with defeat. "He knows it, I know it, even you know it, though you don't say as much."
"No Bruce", Dick said desperately, "he's your son. He's my little brother. That's what I am for him, I'm just his sibling. You're his father and he needs you. He's so emotional, more so than I was at his age, he just doesn't show it. He's insecure and desperate to please. If you gave him the tiniest bit of approval, I think it would do a world of good."
"I suppose you're right", Father murmured, "you're always right, about everything." Dick rolled his eyes and grinned.
"It's a talent I got from my father. You did a good job with me Bruce and I know you'll do a good job with him. You just need a little shove in the right direction."
"I'm sorry for what I said last night", Father said softly, "I hurt you and I was way out of line. I'm glad you took control."
"You just lost it a little", Dick said, putting hand on his shoulder. "You're still a good dad." Father hugged him tightly and Dick, being so much smaller, was lost in his embrace. But, there was a look of bliss on his face, the kind I always got when Dick held me. Knowing they were going to come out the door, I bolted down the stairs.
The day passed so quickly, as it was Dick's last. I spent as much time with him as was humanly possible and even took a nap on his lap when I was too exhausted to continue. He seemed pleased to be around me and went out of his way to include me in everything. Father didn't try to keep me out of anything either. We were on pins and needles with each other, but Dick helped smooth things over.
All too soon however, it was time for Dick to go. I put my arms tightly around his leg and clung to it as he was walking out the door. "Damian", he said with a laugh, "What're you doing?"
"Don't go", I whispered, a tear running down my cheek.
"Ohh Damian", he said softly, kneeling down. I threw myself into his embrace, wrapping my arms around his neck. He rubbed my back. "I don't want to leave either buddy", he murmured, "but I gotta." "
"Why don't you stay here?" I asked desperately, "You could stay in my room." Dick laughed.
"I'm sorry kiddo", he murmured, "but things just aren't that simple. I love you so, so much and I promise, I'll come back soon. You can come stay with me at my place sometime. We'll see each other again soon enough." I buried my head in his chest, doing my best to hide my tears from my father, who was looming above us. Dick hugged me tightly and said, "I'll miss you so much little bird, but I'll think about you every night before I go to sleep. I want you to write me bunches too, ok, and draw me lots of picture."
"Ok", I said, drawing back and wiping the tears from my eyes with the back of my hand.
"There's my brave bird. Who's my good boy?" He ruffled my hair, kissed my forehead, and straightened up. "Well, I'll see you around Bruce. I had a really good time."
"Me too", Father said, hugging him tightly, "Come back soon." Dick embraced Pennyworth and then walked out the door. And, just like that, he was out of my life once again. Without pausing, I rushed up the stairs and into my room. Father called after me, but I pretended not to hear him. I leapt onto my bed and cried, letting my pillow muffle the sound.
I didn't leave my room for the rest of the evening. I just lay there on my bed, quietly wondering what I was going to do without Dick. At about ten o 'clock, I was in my pajamas, under my covers and about to turn out the lights when I heard a knock at my door. I hastily wiped away my tears and called out, "Come in."
I did my best to sound haughty, but it came out exactly as I felt, small and lost. There was my father, taking up the doorway.
"I wanted to talk you to you", he said gently.
"Of course", I replied. He came in and shut the door behind him, sitting down on the edge of my bed next to me. He cleared his throat and his eyes searched the room, as if he were unsure of how to start.
"Damian", he said, starting slowly. "I want you to know something about me."
"What?" I asked.
"I'm not like Dick, first of all, but you probably already knew that." I shrugged. "Well, you see, I'm actually a lot like you, in more ways then one, or I guess you're like me, since I came first." He looked at me pleadingly, asking me to understand. I nodded.
"Well", he continued, "my mind and yours work about the same way. We see people in rank and file. We see them as, he's better than him but I'm better than both of them and she's better than all three of us. It just has to do with the way we are, it's not a bad thing."
"It's not a real judgment on who they are as people and it doesn't necessarily affect the way we treat them either, but in the back of our minds, they're all lined up. We stick them in categories and that dictates how we approach them. Do you get what I'm saying?" I nodded again.
"Dick doesn't see people that way though," he continued. "Dick sees everyone as exactly the same. There are no ranks, no I'm better than her or he's better than me, we're all equal. That's the beautiful thing about Dick, he never passes judgment, he always takes a second look, he always digs deeper. There are no cursory groupings with him. That's why he gets along so well with everyone, he always assumes the best."
"When I met you, I didn't really know where you fit but I was trying my best to put you in a category, stick you somewhere, under some sort of all encompassing headline so I would understand how to handle you. I'm sure you were doing the same thing with me."
"I figured I would keep you at arms length until I understood where exactly you fit into this puzzle, but that wasn't right of me and it wasn't fair. I shouldn't have done that. I just never found a place for you to go so I didn't quite know how to handle you."
"Do you know where I go now Father?" I asked. He shook his head.
"Not yet, but maybe that's because you're unlike anyone I've ever met before. I can't compartmentalize you like I do other people. That's not necessarily a bad thing though. You're challenging my worldview and I've finally realized that I want to take that challenge."
"I want us to be family Damian, I want you to feel like you can come to me if you need me. I've been distant and I'll try my best not to be anymore. I'm so sorry about last night. I was way out of line and I shouldn't have dealt with you that way. And I know this won't make it right, but I want you to understand why I acted the way I did."
"I was just so scared I was going to lose you. I couldn't the bare the thought of anyone hurting you so I overreacted. But, I shouldn't have taken it out on you. Now, you did require a correction, but not half as harsh as what I gave you. I should have been gentler. So, I just wanted you to know that. Ok?" I nodded.
He heaved a sigh and got up. "Have a good night Damian", he said softly as he walked out.
"You as well Father", I replied stoically. I know he thought none of his words got through to me, but I was quietly mulling over them in my brain, wondering at them. It was his version of a flag or truce, his way of righting the wrongs. All I needed to decide now was how to deal with it.
It was about three in the morning and I had woken up from a nightmare. I was shaken up quite a bit. Pedro and Jack plagued me every time I closed my eyes, their faces looming over me, leering and reaching for me, prepared to commit unspeakable acts upon me. I trembled when I thought it them.
It was the first time I had ever considered going to my Father for aide. I wondered if he was even still up. His words had awakened something in me, something that made me hope he might comfort me.
I swiftly padded towards his room, pausing every few minutes to back track, turn around and go back the other way before deciding to go on. It was slow going; I was so riddled with indecision and resounding doubts. Finally, I made it to his door. The light was shinning through the crack, so I knew he was still up. He did keep awfully late hours.
I paused, put my hand on the door, took it off, put it back on again, and finally gave it a shove as I walked in. "Father", I called tentatively. He looked up, eyes softening at the sight of me.
"Damian", he said gently, "What's wrong?" I looked down at my bare toes for a moment, aware they were freezing, and looked back at him.
"Perhaps I might sit with you for a little while", I mumbled.
"Of course", he said, "come on up. I climbed up slowly onto the bed and sat next to him. He had a book in hand and I had obviously interrupted his reading. He touched my foot.
"Gee", he said, "Your toes are freezing." He gave it a squeeze. "Go on and put them under the blankets." I wriggled beneath the covers. He smiled at me gently, a warm, paternal sort of smile that made warmth flow through me. "Did you have a bad dream?" he asked. I nodded.
"I'm sorry", he said, putting a hand on my shoulder. I shrugged. I had bad dreams, that was nothing new. "Did it…did it have something to do with those men from the yesterday, or I guess now it would be the day before yesterday?" I hesitated a moment before nodding. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asked. He put his book to one side and turned to face me. I looked up at him.
"I know it must have frightened you, what happened. We can talk about it if you want. I promise, I won't yell."
"You won't?" I asked.
"We won't talk at all about any of that", he replied. I gave a sigh.
"I'm not used to feeling vulnerable", I started. "I'm used to being in control. I don't like having that taken away from me." He nodded, prompting me to go on. "There was nothing I could do, I was completely helpless."
"I know how frightening that is", Father said gently.
"How could you", I muttered almost bitterly.
"I've been completely helpless at times too. I could do nothing the day Jason died. I could do nothing when you went after those men. It's an extremely frightening feeling and I don't blame you at all for having nightmares. I still have nightmares. That's just the way things are."
"If I hadn't gone after them…" I began, my voice low and full of pain.
"Shh, shh", he hushed me gently, "lets not talk about that. That's behind us." I gave him a grateful look and he smiled at me.
"Are you still angry with me?" I asked softly.
"No", he replied, "I'm not. Like I said, that's behind us, there's nothing but the future." At that moment, I wanted, more than anything, to climb onto his lap, snuggle up to his chest, and close my eyes. I would have done it had it been Dick, but this was my Father and we were still on uncertain terms with one another. But, he surprised me.
Father gently scooped me up and put me on his lap, putting his arms around me. There was such a big difference between his embrace and Dick's. He was just so much bigger.
His arms made me feel instantly secure, instantly safe. His warm breath on my head, coupled with the rise and fall of his great chest and the beat of his heart all soothed me more than words could describe. Dick was always wonderful, but he never filled me with awe like this. It was so foreign, but in a good way. It was like being cuddled by the ocean. "Not quite like Dick I know", he said smoothly, "but I suppose I'll do."
"You're bigger", I replied, pressing my face to his chest. He rubbed my back. I curled up and closed my eyes. He stroked me smoothly, his fingers dancing over my skin. "I'll keep you safe Damian", he murmured gently, "You never need to be afraid. Nothing will ever get you, not as long as I'm here."
I felt so lucky right then, having this great, powerful thing here to protect me. I felt as if I would never be afraid again, lounging in his warmth. Dick made me feel safe, but never like this. Dick wasn't massive like my Father was. I knew then why my mother had fallen in love with him, he could keep her safe. He could keep my grandfather away.
"Why don't we go to sleep", he said, "you may stay with me if you wish." I nodded and he lay down, stretching out with me still pressed to his solid form. I was warm, drowsy and more at peace than I had been in a long while. "Thank you", he murmured in my ear.
"For what?" I asked.
"For coming to me, I missed having a little one around to hold." In response, I pushed my head against his chest. He collected me closer.
"I love you Damian", he whispered, "I don't know if I ever told you that but I do."
"I…I love you as well Father", I replied. He kissed my forehead and I dropped slowly into sleep, a deep dreamless kind, soothed by his form surrounding me like I was being cradled by the sea, his love rolling over me like the strongest waves. I was submerged in my father the ocean, but for once, I didn't mind drowing.