This is what the first Robin remembered.
This is what Dick remembered after everything.
"There were two today. They have wronged my mother, and she will not let them live. I could have dispatched them with mercy, Richard, but I still keep Father's commandments. He has turned against me, but I am still a good and useful son. I obeyed my parents, Richard . . . there were two today. I could not save them, but I did not kill them."
It was so twisted a logic, but so uniquely Damian that it wrenched further gut-aching sorrow from Dick.
"I have not seen that servant again. I think something may have befallen her."
No mention of what Damian suspected—what Dick understood. They did not name the perpetrators; someday Damian's name might be among them.
"Timothy came back today half-dead. I do not know what task my grandfather has assigned him, but he is always injured upon his return. I could have left him to bleed out; I doubt the Timothy Drake we knew would desire continuing on like this. I know Father believes this, Richard. I know you . . . but no, Damian Wayne does not kill. Robin does not kill, and Timothy is still alive."
Dick didn't know anything of his siblings when they leave these rooms. He spent almost all day, every day confined to Damian's quarters with only Steph for company. They could not communicate, or even look at each other without spoken-direction.
When Dick recovers, he is going to sit his honorary sister down for a long chat. They'll talk until he knows everything about her, and then they'll watch bad movies or bring down a gang war together. He's going to examine Timmy with his own eyes, and learn the story behind every scar.
"My other brother's tutor almost died today for looking at the boy strangely. I arrived afterward and could do nothing. The man will be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life, but he still lives. Why do I feel as though I must count him otherwise?"
Benjamin was a sore subject, but one that Dick could not wave away or confront. Sometimes, he was angry with Damian for never mentioning the clone before all of this, for never sharing Talia's twisted plans, and for never intervening. After everything that Damian had gone through and everything the Bat-family had tried to do for him, how could Damian still be so blind? Sometimes Dick was regretful, because what would be left of this new son of the Bat by the time everything had been restored to rights?
"There were four today. They murdered women under my grandfather's protection. They performed unspeakable acts, and I felt no shame or sorrow in turning them over to the Demon Head for correction. I may attend their execution, and I won't stop it . . . but I will not kill them even though my grandfather has asked me to see to it personally. I am still my Father's son, Richard . . . am I not?"
On and on the list went—an unwritten tally between elder and younger brother. Damian counted them as victories, while Dick held them as losses.
Until the day when Damian did not provide the backstory, did not justify his actions, but just quietly admitted: "Brother, I have sinned."
The evening prior to his birthday had been a non-event. Being summoned to Benjamin's rooms in the middle of the night did not set off any internal alarm. No instincts fired on the long walk down the corridor. He was unprepared.
The woman was not.
Reflex saved him from the inexperienced slash of the knife. Within moments, Damian had disarmed her and held her captive with the cheap kitchen knife at her throat. Her pulse beat furiously against his wrist, and Damian took the opportunity to place her.
She was smaller than him, but older—a non-fighter without the calloused hands of a servant. It was the spectacles that confirm her identity as the wife of Benjamin's former tutor. She had fulfilled some function or another at Talia's side, and evidently remained even after her husband's accident.
"I will let you go," he whispered. "If you promise to leave and not return."
"I am not a fool," she hissed back. "Kill me yourself if you are so merciful, Ibn al Xu'ffasch."
Damian sighed. His family's reputation made his offer a mere formality . . . a useless attempt to hold to the traditions of the Bat in the home of the enemy. The woman was right of course; Talia would have her found and disposed of by morning no matter what Damian did.
However, it would not be Damian's hand that performed the deed.
The teenager glanced at the bed. "Get up, Benjamin. I need cord of some kind."
There is no response from the figure under the blankets.
"Enough," Damian declared sharply, and when his brother still did not acknowledge his presence, Damian shoved the would-be avenger away from him, automatically tucking the knife in the waistband of his pants as he vaulted a low table to reach his brother's bedside.
Unfortunately, the woman had brought a second knife.
Scarcely had Damian ripped away the blankets than he was forced to dive aside as the knife came down. Under other circumstances, he might have enjoyed the way triumph turned to confusion at the explosion of a pillow under her blade. Now, Damian spared only a moment on a nerve strike to put her down.
He had a brother to find.
They hadn't gotten far by the time Damian caught up. He caught sight of Benjamin's small frame only two corridors and up a recessed flight of stairs away. The offenders were a pair of anonymous black-clad underlings (some ninja couldn't help being completely unoriginal), and Benjamin had obviously slowed them down. Restraints and a gag were only minimally effective against an al Ghul's tantrum, even if Benjamin would not be trained in escapology for another year. Smarter ninja would have knocked him out or employed a nerve strike to incapacitate the child. It wasn't as if Talia al Ghul would spare a kidnapper's life for being gentle, and Bruce Wayne was an efficient sort of man, as well as much too tall to be involved in the farcical attempt.
In fact, the ineptitude shown was almost criminal, and warnings started to go off in the back of Damian's head.
A kick to the chin dropped the first to spot Damian. It was a move learned from Drake, and effective when one's opponent had the advantage of upper ground. Perhaps not recommended for use on a narrow staircase, but Damian had trained hard for the mastery of balance. He successfully diverted the reeling ninja over one shoulder and down the stairs behind him. He punched the second ninja, needing a more straight-forward plan of attack to minimize the possibility of damage to Benjamin. The figure was smart enough to minimize the child's struggle by pushing Benjamin back over one shoulder (fortunate enough to realize wrapping Benjamin al Ghul's arms around anything was an invitation for death and pain). A smooth right took down the second captor with just a touch of spin, dropping Benjamin's writhing form neatly in Damian's arms.
He kept moving upward, yanking the gag over Benjamin's head as he went. It earned him a loud "Brother!" right in his ear, but Damian was already moving to sidestep the returning scout. Should have left the younger boy gagged.
Gunfire ripped past his ear. Damian promptly threw himself up the last two steps to the first floor of Talia's current estate and headed left. The inverted corner offered limited shelter, but Damian took what was available in order to safely stow his still incarcerated brother. He shifted to the right, using the reflection of the window and his own angle to get a glimpse of the shooters. There were two, both female and obviously intelligent, as the window shattered before Damian could gain any further information from observation.
It kept him from finding out whether the third ninja had been killed by the bullets that left him or her in a heap at the bottom of the stairs.
He had little to dissuade the shooters from following them up the stairs—his knives were concealed about his person, of course, and tucked into his belt was the weapon that he had confiscated from the would-be-assassin downstairs. Yet, he had nothing on hand that could be safely used to unarm or incapacitate their assailants. For all of Talia's fascination with science and grandfather's approval of more arcane methods, an al Ghul's training was heavily weighted in favor of tradition and various sharp objects. Gadgets were strictly the purview of the Bat.
A smoke bomb—or even one of Brown's favored 'gooperang' abominations—would be useful in this situation.
Instead, Damian had half a dozen knives, glass shards from the shattered window, his incapacitated younger brother and an expensive rug at his disposal.
Damian immediately began to roll the edge of the carpet, pulling it swiftly but near imperceptibly across the floor as the clack of heels began to cautiously ascend the steps. Damian moved quickly, hefting the weight of the rolled rug and wrapping both hands solidly around the end. As the muzzle of the gun passed the doorway, Damian swung his makeshift weapon out hard across the opening.
It impacted with at least one body, and Damian released it instinctively, causing a second cry as either the rug or her partner took the second woman down the stairs. Damian was right behind them, kicking a gun from one outstretched hand within moments of landing upon its owner, and grasping the second before its owner could take aim.
She scowled at him, but Damian kept the gun pointed towards the ceiling, allowing her to empty the weapon into the stone above. A ricocheting bullet fragment scored his arm, and a matching burn laced the side of his scalp a few precious centimeters above his left ear. Damian didn't release his hold until the click of an empty chamber resounded a few times in the quiet. The redheaded woman made no move to stop him from dropping her with a nerve strike, and her dark-haired compatriot scarcely had time to groan before Damian was crouched at her side with a knife at her throat.
"Who sent you?"
She laughed a little, and then moaned as the movement upset the delicate equilibrium of an obvious concussion. "Everyone knows you don't kill, Damian al Ghul."
Damian buried the knife through the back of her hand, pinning it to the wall she had clearly hoped to use as leverage if he spared her. "St. Hadrian's alumnus," he snorted. It was apparent from the heels of her shoes to the carefully coiffed hair and what would be a sharpened gaze if her pupils weren't unevenly dilated. His mother's henchwomen, although as distinct and visually unique as the few chosen flowers Talia loved, had a type.
Had they come to aid Talia's heirs or were they part of the conspiracy? Why had they fired on Damian unless they suspected him of being in league with the ninja? He tired of the power struggle between Talia and Ra's, always with such complex steps and ever-shifting loyalties.
"Dami!" Benjamin howled from the top of the stairs, and heaven only knew how the little monster had freed himself from the restraints. At least he showed a little foresight by not following Damian down the stairs into an uncertain situation. "Damian, come back!"
"Patience is a virtue," Damian returned dryly, only half-risen when he noticed odd shapes in the night air beyond Benjamin. His eyes had fully adjusted to the dark before even leaving Damian's room, but for a moment, Damian thought they betrayed him now. It was a costly delay. He lunged for the theoretically still-loaded gun across the hallway, rolling and bringing it up just in time to see Benjamin's eyes widen as the child was plucked from the exposed hallway above.
Swearing, Damian found his feet and took the stairs a second time, shooting as he went and diving through the broken window in time to catch Benjamin as the manbat careened towards earth with a perforated wing. Unfortunately most of the glass had predictably ended up outside the window, and Damian confirmed that detail by landing belly-first amongst the shards.
Above, more of the failed-experiments circled. Damian pushed Benjamin upright, lurching upwards after the younger boy. Though the manbats swooped overhead, they made no move to stop the boys from going back inside. Damian used the wall as a guide to make his way down the hall until he encountered a low table and more of his mother's undying flora. He would have sent Benjamin for the vase, but the pieces were starting to fall into place and Damian preferred his brother within reach. He upended the vase over his head. The limited supply and hasty application provided erratic results, but it was better than nothing.
The manbats seem to have determined that their fellow had survived the fall. They swooped back and forth outside the long hallway of windows, growing ever braver and closer with each pass. Damian debated continuing down the hall versus returning the way they came in an attempt to return to Damian's somewhat-defensible chambers. Neither choice was without flaw. It was a good fifty yards further to the end of the hall, and there was the yawning hole of the destroyed window between them and the safety of the underground.
The manbats, the women from St. Hadrian's, and ninja like those his mother had been raised amongst—Damian was surprised that she hadn't sent Todd out to remind her eldest son of his place. This was Damian's test, a terrible present to commemorate the occasion of his 'birth.'
What was the right choice? Is Benjamin bait or an actual target?
He chose to return. The manbats could crash through the windows just as easily as swoop through the current opening, and there was safety to be had in his rooms, amongst his siblings. Benjamin followed at a mere touch of the shoulder, and Damian took aim each time a creature flew at the windows along their route. The glass would be ruined either way; he might as well ground the manbats with the destruction.
He ran out of bullets only a window or two from the stairs. "Move faster," he ordered, and Benjamin darted ahead, rounding the corner before two of the manbats swept through the window in a synchronized move that spoke of long-term experience with their mutation. His mother's experiments tended to go one of two ways. Either they adapted the new form to some lingering sense of humanity, growing more intelligent all the while, or they went native—so to speak. Both outcomes led to a more dangerous, graceful opponent.
These seemed to be a complementary pair. One went straight for Damian's throat, while the other perched from above and simply looked at the teenager.
A complete set deserved deliberation, beyond the initial strike which Damian used to sever major tendons in the vulnerable wings. As he pushed the badly-damaged feral creature aside, Damian gave brief consideration to whether or not the water from the Lazarus Pits could undo the fusing of man and beast—and how painful such a process might be. Unfortunately, his soaked person was all of the substance on hand, and there was still the creature above to contend with.
Benjamin had found combat below; unconscious ninja didn't tend to stay that way for long.
Damian edged carefully towards the stairs, and the intelligent animal allowed it, although its eyes followed his move with the slight cock of the head. It opened its mouth in a screeching cry, and then something attacked Damian from behind, sinking teeth deep into the meat of his shoulder at the base of his neck. The intelligent manbat had tricked the teenager, dividing Damian's attention and keeping it from afar while its ruined fellow attacked from behind.
The creature took a mouthful of flesh with it as Damian pitched it over his head with enough force to knock the second from its perch. Then he lurched towards the stairs. Having them at his back again was a disadvantage should they recover, but while manbats liked the underground areas, they were less keen regarding low ceilings and narrow corridors. If he was fortunate, it would put them off entirely and he could focus on the other foes.
One ninja was still lying where he or she had fallen after the run-in with the former St. Hadrian's students, both of which were still out or otherwise incapacitated. One was missing, and a third ninja exchanged blows with an alert and angry Benjamin al Ghul.
"Alley-oop," Damian muttered, taking a step back to gain momentum.
Benjamin hesitated, obviously recognizing the phrase. So Talia had him studying Damian's skills; he's not sure whether he should be honored or offended. Thankfully, the ninja wasn't as observant as the little boy, and Damian's tackle brought him down. A handful of hood, decent leverage, and Damian slammed the man's skull into the stone floor a second time. His opponent didn't get back up, and Benjamin drifted closer.
"Is it over?"
Damian slapped his free hand over the boy's mouth. There was a colony of manbats pinning them down to this level, and the third ninja was still unaccounted for. He drew a blade, turning slowly and trying to use his senses to assess the threat.
It was sloppy, but fast.
Damian was light-headed from loss of blood and the bite burned even as the residual water drenching his shirt began to work. He was distracted, but when he felt the movement of something past him—heard the near-silent song of a blade—the trained instincts brought him between Benjamin and the assailant. It was not the other ninja, he realized dimly, but the woman he had found in Benjamin's quarters. She had followed, worked her way around, or relocated them, something that put her in the wrong place at the wrong time.
She was smaller than the expected ninja—more compact in height and weight—and her neck gaped open wide as she stumbled away from his bared weapon.
It flashed through Damian's mind in the time it took her to bleed out: the wife of a scholar, little more than a familiar accountant in Talia's grand scheme of things. He doubted his mother planned for her intervention. Talia underestimated the depths of other people's love frequently.
This small woman had been more dangerous than the ninja, the trained and empowered followers, or his mother's favorite experiments because she attacked out of love, not instinct, greed, or loyalty. She should have been the one spared above all the others tonight. Instead, she died at Damian's hand while the manbats and ninja promptly faded back into the dark.
Now it was just Damian and Benjamin, the unconscious and the dead. Anything still capable of movement had disappeared.
Damian had passed his mother's test. He was a murderer once more.
A small hand grasped at Damian's shirttail as Benjamin moved closer once more. "Damian?" Benjamin sounded tired and small as he hovered at Damian's side. "Is it over now?"
He held out his arms automatically. "Yes, ahki. It is over now."
Damian settled the sleeping child in his lap to clean his and the enemy's blood from Benjamin. Somehow the boy slept through the assault on his face, and Damian would have been dead a dozen times over if he had slept that deeply as a child. There had been no older brother to guard Damian's sleep. Benjamin twitched when Damian manhandled his arms free of the stained shirt, but Damian stroked his hair with a free hand until the boy settled.
Damian waited another minute to lay Benjamin down on the low couch. If anything could wake his younger brother, it would be the perception of abandonment.
Gently, Damian laid a blanket from his own bed over the younger boy, and crouched to place a kiss on his brother's brow. Grayson had taught him this. Grayson would understand. The math was simple; Benjamin was alive . . . Grayson and the others were brain dead. Yes, Grayson would understand.
Quietly, he crossed the room and let himself out of his bedchamber. He closed the door behind him, locking it with a touch of the keypad, and leaned against it carefully. There was no protest from within; Benjamin slept on.
Damian sank, sliding down the door as the events of the evening finally caught up with the teenager.
"Todd. Drake. Block the other door," Damian choked out. He didn't want his mother's company just now. He didn't want the justification for the test of Leviathan. He didn't want his grandfather to visit with further missions and theories. He simply wanted to be left alone.
Not completely alone.
Damian crawled over to where Grayson sat docilely on the floor. He lunged forward, wrapping both arms tight around his brother, and ignoring the burn of his shoulder. It had somewhat clotted from the pressure of carrying Benjamin back, and injuries were nothing to an al Ghul. There was just one thing that Damian wanted now . . . one thing he could never have.
Grayson's arms remained limp at the acrobat's sides. His balance was compromised by Damian's momentum, and it was only in pulling back sharply that Damian kept the both of them from toppling. And when Damian glanced upward through long genetically-perfect lashes, there is nothing in Grayson's blue eyes—no friendly spark, no compassion, not even disappointment.
Damian swore softly, and turned in the circle of the man's legs so that he would not have to see those empty eyes. Damian pulled his knees close to his chest, and posed Grayson's legs similarly on either side of him. He pulled his brother's arms around him as if embraced, and leaned forward so that Grayson's chin came to rest against the back of Damian's head.
Damian did not allow himself this comfort before. In the beginning, he was guilty. Then it became a weakness, and even now—Damian continued to grow. Soon, the young assassin would become taller than Grayson.
Tomorrow, he would let go as he should have in the beginning and let go of childish things. He would pocket the pills, take his little brother, and lock the doors behind him so that his comrades could die with dignity.
Tomorrow he would be a man.
Tomorrow he would serve in Ra's al Ghul's organization and overthrow his mother.
Tomorrow, Damian would be everything he had been created to be (assassin, heir, traitor, and always greater than the sum of his parts), but not tonight. Tonight . . .
Just this once . . .
. . . here, where no one could see . . .
Damian would wear his first brother like armor and pretend that nothing had changed.
"Brother, I have sinned."