Disclaimer: Don't own anyone except for the angry couple.
Notes: A little oneshot in the 'Brotherhood' verse. This is NOT the sequel that I've been promising - there's another longer, multi-chapter fic still waiting to be worked on that is the real sequel. (I'm actually up to 10 pages in the draft.) My partner and beta, Alanah, just wanted to read some fluffy brotherly fic and I promised I'd make one if I get inspired. Well guess what, inspiration threw a pebble at my head (ouch!).
"Do you absolutely feel the need to cackle each time we swing through the air?" Damian complained after the fifth time they landed in a roll on a rooftop during tonight's patrol. Grayson's enthusiasm and Batman's current absence had the older boy challenging the younger on a rooftop-tag of sorts. Grayson held the lead while Damian used his enhanced skills to the limit to keep track of his older brother - a feat made easier by the frequent chortling.
It was an interesting game; both boys exerting themselves to catch or evade. At any other day Damian would have approved of this exercise. Running and using his skills to their limit was, admittedly, fun.
But the laughter though, made the chase not only annoying but also tenuous.
"There is no need for you to give away our position to the wrongdoers!" He ranted, wondering for the nth time how his father could stand his chatterbox of a brother.
"I'm not giving away our position!" Grayson retorted, his voice light. "I'm creeping them out with mysterious laughter."
Damian scoffed. "There is nothing mysterious about it since they know the only hero who does it."
"Okay, so I'm not laughing because of a tactical manoeuvre." Grayson held his hands up in both surrender and as a calming gesture. Then the corners of his mouth lifted in a wide grin. "But you gotta admit, flying through the jumplines is fun."
Damian huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. Grayson had been constantly nagging him to 'lighten up' - as though being younger should entitle him to spend life in merriment. Grayson never understood that Damian was not created for entertainment. But the older boy's efforts should be acknowledged. "Alright," he reluctantly admitted, "This is...fun."
"Now say it with a smile." Grayson's responding grin was shameless.
"Come on, saaaay iiit..."
Damian opened his mouth to toss back a retort but something tickled at the edges of his hearing - a sound pitched to carry but remained incoherent thanks to the intervening space. "We do not have time for your jokes. I hear screaming."
Less than a minute later, the apartment building they arrived in was meagre but well-maintained. Its dirtied walls were free of graffiti, windows intact, and some even had small potted plants growing merrily on windowsills. The neighbourhood was fairly quiet this time of night; it was hardly the place for shouting.
Damian peered in through the fire escape window, Grayson following beside him.
"-never take care of the baby! You were always Pete this and Steve that, you never have time for me!" A woman was screaming at who Damian assumed was her husband, squalling brat in one hand and several over-filled bags on the other. They were both arguing by the building's lone stairwell and attracting attention from everyone else - majority of whom looked unhappy at the disturbance.
"I work!" The woman continued, ignoring the angry stares. "I stay up late waiting for your drunk ass to come home! I bring in the money you throw away at bars and barely have enough to buy this week's groceries! Well, I can't take it anymore! I'm leaving and I'm taking the baby with me!"
"You're not leaving with my kid!" The blond-haired husband shouted back. His face was red with rage or - judging by the scent on his breath - drunkenness. Damian had been trained extensively in reading human behavioural patterns, and he could easily predict that the man's broad hands and clenching fists were precursors to what happens next.
The man lunged at his wife - to grab her or the baby, Damian never found out - but his unbalanced steps faltered and he pushed her instead. She was standing by the stair's landing at this point and she, in turn, missed a step when the man impacted with her shoulder. The bags were dropped. The baby went flying-
Grayson darted into the hall and leaped over the banister. Damian ran in to grab at the woman before she could tumble down the stairs and impede his brother. But he needn't have bothered.
The woman, instead of running after her child or turning to acknowledge Damian, spun to her husband and clocked him once in the face. "How dare you push me, you worthless piece of shit!"
"How dare you try to leave me!" The man roared, his face purpling in rage as he picked himself up from the floor. His legs bent and Damian tensed to stop him before he attacked again but-
"She's not going with either of you." Grayson's voice was quiet, and it cut through the tense air like a snapped wire. He was climbing up the stairs, face grim as he gently cradled the wailing infant to his chest. One hand was petting the baby's head in a soothing manner, gradually silencing the child's screaming. But he kept his gaze on the parents. "This little girl won't be going with either of you."
"Who do you think you are?" The woman screeched, "That's my baby!"
Grayson shook his head. "Not anymore. I think this little girl's dirty and malnourished state warrants investigation from CPS."
"You've been starving her!" The husband accused, whirling on his wife and moving to attack her again. But Damian quickly grabbed the man's elbow and pinched a certain nerve that rendered the man's right arm numb. "Ow! What-"
"There will be no more violence from you this night." Damian stated. "The two of you will cease this idiotic display of childish behaviour and wait for the authorities to arrive," He deliberately lowered his voice into his most intimidating, "or you will face the consequences."
The arrival of the police and Child Services took only a few minutes; the reports and gathering statements took hours. Mr and Mrs Clayburne had been neglecting their child for weeks, according to the neighbours. They'd only given little Laura the bare minimum of care at irregular intervals. Phone calls to the proper authorities had been made, but Child Services was swamped with reports - this was Gotham, after all - and promised to drop by soon. Mrs Clayburne's decision to leave just came earlier than the CPS people.
The two boys left as soon as their statements were taken. Damian took the lead this time as they both swung into the night. In return, Robin remained quiet for the rest of their patrol. Not one sign of a giggle or even a word. Damian was reluctant to admit it but, he was starting to prefer Grayson's earlier behaviour. He had gotten used to having a brother who always had a remark or two about everything, who always teased him with jokes and affectionate hair-ruffles.
Damian dropped onto a seven-storey building in the Bowery, his senses alert for other situations as he waited for his brother to arrive. When Grayson finally dropped in, it was a subdued Robin that greeted him - with shoulders slumped and movements lacking in their usual grace.
"Is something wrong?" Damian asked, "You have been silent for the rest of the night." But Grayson only shook his head sadly.
"It's nothing, Dami." The younger boy's scowl deepened at the defeated tone in his brother's voice. "I'm just sorry you had to see that."
Damian nodded and turned to face the city once again - the city his father was born in and had vowed to protect. It was a dark city, with buildings abandoned to disrepair, where madmen rose up to challenge his father. Domestic disputes and petty crime were frequent in this place. Damian would not be surprised if he would encounter a similar situation in the near future such as the one with the Clayburnes - or perhaps worse. For an outsider, it was a...distressing thought.
At that moment, it dawned on him - why his brother needed to laugh. The city was dark and depressing enough; it would turn a man insane to be surrounded by constant gloom. A human brain is wired to be dependent on light to see, on the sunlight to ward off the horrors of the night. It was then that Damian realized why his father lets Grayson chatter on and on during patrols: Because this city distorts all who live in it.
And yet here is his brother, swinging through the darkness and laughing in defiance of its reaching claws.
His voice was curious as he asked Grayson, "Is it always like this in Gotham?"
"No," Grayson shook his head. "It happens a lot but, no. Not all the time."
Damian nodded, satisfied. "Good."
Grayson's eyebrow rose in question.
He snorted as he divulged, "I do not wish to think that you, Father, and Pennyworth are the only sane people in this city."
Robin threw his head back and laughed, the sound echoing through the empty streets and somehow, making the night seem...less threatening. Damian felt something in his chest loosen and he thought his lips were quirking up into a smile - but he'll never admit it.
"Hey, you want to go for some ice cream?" Grayson was grinning again, eyes sparkling with mirth behind his mask.
The tentative smile disappeared into a frown. "At this time of night?"
His brother shrugged. "It's not that late for some shops-"
"But it is late for you." The voice burst out through the comms with nary a warning, making both boys jump.
"Bruce!" Surprise colored Grayson's voice as he grabbed for his ear comms and asked, "When did you get back?"
"Half an hour ago. The League mission ended early and I came home to find you two out past your bedtime. You have school tomorrow, Robin". The last was pointedly emphasized as a reminder of one of Batman's many rules: no names while wearing the uniform.
Instead of being chastised, Grayson only laughed. "Okay, okay! We'll be heading back now." With his usual light-hearted grace, the older boy turned and held out a hand to the younger. "Raincheck on that ice cream?"
Damian nodded and took his older brother's hand. "That will please me."