Hello all, hope you've been well. i'm sorry i haven't been on in a while. I've had quite a lot to do but, i found this old fellow in my discarded folder, took a second look, did some reworking and deemed him acceptable for publication. Just as a heads up, i also found an original tale of mine and decided to publish him on fiction press so if you go to fiction press and look up "The Greatest of These" (same user name) you can find him and review him! i'd be very much obliged. anyway, enjoy!

Damian trembled, gazing up at the ceiling. "How do you know it's true?" he asked softly, letting loose his voice in the darkness. It creaked like a rusty windmill and he was shocked by the quality of it.

"Because", his mother replied, "it's obvious." Damian looked at her, sitting on the bed close to him. "Why would he ever love you Damian, why would he ever even care about you? You're just a constant reminder of what he's lost. He'll never like you and he'll certainly never trust you." Damian gazed at her, eyes inscrutable. "But that's ok", she continued, "why does it matter what he thinks of you? It's your mission to destroy him anyway, it's your heritage." Damian trembled again, not from chill, but out of fear. He shook his head.

"I'm not going to kill Grayson", he murmured softly in reply, "he cares about me."

"No he doesn't", Talia replied.

"I'll show you", Damian said. He got out of bed and padded down the hallway to the master bedroom, sliding slowly inside like a cat, his mother skulking in his wake. Dick was lying sprawled upon the big bed, stretched out as much as he possibly could be with blankets wrapped at odd angles around his body.

He was snoring softly and every once in a while gave a thin snort. Talia wrinkled her nose in disgust. "See what he is", she murmured in the darkness, "he's no more than swine. It was a lapse in judgment on the your father's part to take him or any of the others on as his "sons"."

But, what filled Talia with disgust merely left her son with an odd sense of emptiness. Dick could sleep like that, Dick didn't care. Dick could be whatever he wanted and not care. Dick was real, Dick was whole and somehow, Damian didn't quite feel that way. He wasn't quite real, wasn't quite whole. And that was why he never wanted to go back to his mother. With Dick, he had the chance to become tangible, complete like he had always wanted.

It was a chance he didn't want to pass up and though he still desperately wished to please his mother, her approval was no longer as important as before. After all, she would always ask more and more from him, taking his very soul if need be, for he knew in his heart she did not value him. He was no more than a tool for her and though she possessed some small amount of affection, it was hardly enough to merit his devotion to her.

Dick on the other hand… Dick asked a great deal from him, most of it challenging and difficult, but he offered something in return. He promised Damian, not outright, but through everything he said and did, that the boy would be accepted and loved for who he was if he stayed, toughed it out, and forced back the training that bubbled within him, instilled in his soul so very long ago.

And Damian strove to rise to the challenge and attain that which Dick promised. He wanted to feel human. "I'll show you", he muttered to his mother who gazed back at him with unblinking eyes, promising him failure. Damian clambered up on the bed, careful to avoid Dick's sprawling limbs, and crawled over to Dick's head.

"Grayson", he said softly. Dick didn't wake. Aware of his mother's heavy gaze laying over him like a blanket, he gave Dick's torso a weak shove. Dick gave a loud snort and then opened his eyes slowly, blearily.

"Damian?" he murmured, voice dripping with sleep, which still graced his gaze, "What is it?"

"I um, I had a nightmare", Damian said softly. It was closer to the truth than he cared to admit, for Talia's presence carried with it a distinct dream-like quality to it, practically surreal, and definitely not in a good way.

"Ohh", Dick said, "sorry buddy." He slowly pushed himself up into sitting position and rubbed his eyes. Had his gaze flickered around the room, he would have spotted Talia, but as it was, his eyes fell upon Damian and remained fixed to him.

"Come here", he said, beckoning for Damian. Though Damian still found the physical contact somewhat frightening, it was reassuring in other ways and the boy gratefully crawled up into Dick's embrace.

Dick was still too sleepy to wonder why Damian was acting so obviously out of character and so hardly pondered why there was now a young boy on his lap. Instead, he simply did what came naturally to him and wrapped one arm around the boy, the other free to stroke his hair.

Damian faced his mother, challenging her. She said nothing. "You want to sleep with me?" Dick asked. Not wanting Dick to spot his mother, Damian nodded slowly in answer, ready for Dick to return to sleep. The more he woke up, the more likely it would be that he would spot Damian's subterfuge.

Damian wasn't sure how he would react, angrily or otherwise, and didn't particularly want to find out. Dick heaved a sigh and lowered himself onto the bed, pulling Damian gently down with him. He collected himself a little better than before and closed his eyes, leaving room for Damian to settle wherever he wanted.

He moved towards the end of the bed, lying there and staring at his mother. She moved foreward like a ghost. Suddenly, with her so close to Dick, Damian felt an odd sense of protectiveness and sat up, ready to leap to Dick's aid should his mother show any violent intentions.

"It's all just a ruse you know", she said softly, smoothly, like a cat cajoling a bird out of a tree, "he doesn't really care at all. He'll leave you the first chance he gets. You'll see soon enough my son, you'll see soon enough." With that, she disappeared back into the shadows. Damian searched the room for her and was content to settle down only when he was sure she was gone.

He could have left Dick right then, but something prompted him to stay. He moved over closer to Dick, who opened one eye when he saw him. "Were you talking to someone?" he asked sleepily.

"No", Damian said. Dick shrugged, taking him on his word, and closed his eye. His breathing began to slow and he drifted back into slumber.

"Dick", Damian said softly.

"Hmm", Dick grunted.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Shoot", Dick mumbled.

"You'll never leave me, right? Whatever happens, you're not going anywhere. I'll never be left alone."

"Of course not Damian", Dick yawned stretching for a moment before his taut form relaxed. Then, Damian did something he had never done before. He climbed up on Dick's chest and put his arms around his mentor's neck, laying his head down on Dick's chest with his legs lying loosely to the man's sides. This was so out of character for Damian, Dick reacted, albeit slowly.

"Something wrong buddy?" he asked, putting his arms around the boy on his chest.

"No", Damian replied. Dick hardly believed him, but was too tired for an interrogation and decided he didn't really care what Damian was hiding, so long as it didn't interfere with his sleep. "Dick", Damian said softly, "You do care about me, don't you?"

"Course I do, little bird", Dick replied. He ran a hand down Damian's back, rubbing it gently and methodically. "Good little bird", he murmured softly, slipping swiftly into sleep, "such a good little bird."

"Dick, do you love me?"

"Now what kind of a question is that?" Dick yawned, "of course I do. Now, go to sleep. We can play twenty questions in the morning." He rolled over on his side, Damian still pressed to his chest, and positioned the boy so they both were a little more comfortable. Then, he heaved another sigh and finally fell asleep.

Damian remained awake, fears still dancing around, but with Dick's arms wound tightly around him, they didn't seem to matter as much. "I love you too Dick", he said softly, feeling suddenly not quite as alone in the darkness as he had before, "and I promise, I'll never kill you."

"That's a nice thing to say", Dick said with a bleary grin, "I won't kill you either." He rubbed Damian's chest gently and methodically until the boy finally fell fully into sleep. Then, he himself dipped into slumber.